Is Honduras a Safe Country for Expats to Live?

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A typical palm-lined beach in Honduras. Image: Stephen T. King
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In the heart of Central America lies the Republic of Honduras. It’s a fantastically scenic country that has everything from white sandy beaches to impressive Mayan ruins and gorgeous landscapes in the interior of the country. With its natural beauty and multifaceted culture, it could be paradise on earth. But for many years, Honduras was known more for that fact that it had the highest murder rates on the planet.

For despite all its abundance and beauty, Honduras is one of the most insecure countries in the world. The creepy panorama is only complemented by ongoing drug wars, an enormously high corruption rate and extreme poverty. So why on earth would expats choose to settle in Honduras?

I admit that the first thing I had to do when contemplating a move to Honduras was open the atlas to be sure where Honduras even was. But the small country was quickly found. A little research then told me that Honduras not only has the second largest barrier reef in the world, but also has a lot to offer culturally, besides its beautiful islands, dense rainforests, and incredible biodiversity.

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Typical hillside expat housing in Honduras. Image: Michelle Raponi

Mystical Mayan ruins near the border to Guatemala, an emotional and colorful carnival on the Caribbean coast in the north, artistic street carpets for various Catholic processions during Holy Week, and much more – Honduras comes up with many impressive spectacles. Just thinking about Honduras makes me go into raptures.

And that is by no means everything. Honduras also has a lot to offer in terms of cuisine. From juicy pupusas to tasty baleadas and creamy tamalitos to exotics like sopa de mondongo (soup made from beef stomach or tripe) and fresh seafood, the Honduran menu is long. It is worth trying – but particularly at the beginning, I would suggest not to ask in detail what was cooked in the pot.

Besides classics like the country’s delicious rice, the typical red beans and lots of tortillas, I got my culinary taste for coffee in Honduras. As a convinced coffee connoisseur, the country grabbed me in this respect from the very beginning. Although Honduran coffee has long been known worldwide, the strong beans taste even better and more intense in their country of origin.

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There are over 1,000 different species of birds in Honduras.

But back to the beginning. I set foot on Honduran soil for the first time during my school years. The plan was just an exchange year – mainly to learn Spanish. At that time, there wasn’t much online to find and read about Honduras. An official site in black and white and equally gloomy outlooks regarding the general security in the country made my parents in particular list a multitude of reasons why I should not move to Honduras. Against all logic, however, my decision had long been made.

Having heard about the everyday life of Hondurans being full of joie de vivre and seeking new cultural challenges, I boarded the plane to the capital, Tegucigalpa, for the first time in 2002. During the landing approach, I was told that the airport was one of the most dangerous in the world. Fortunately, the landing was accomplished without incident and I found myself in the midst of the tumult of the country’s largest city.

A tangle of people, voices and street dogs, winding alleys, ambulant vendors, a mixture of different flavors and regular piles of garbage – Tegucigalpa captured me with all my senses. And that has not changed even today.

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Street art on a wall in the city of Tegucigalpa. Image: David Diaz

While the megacity of Tegucigalpa and the economic hotspot of San Pedro Sula in the north of the country are still considered social hotspots, Honduras always requires vigilance. Because, despite it being a tropical idyll, the drama here ranges from classic pickpocketing to armed robberies and kidnappings. Not a great place to fall in love with at first sight like I did.

However, you don’t have to necessarily give Honduras a wide berth. While the current government is steadily promoting tourism, expats from all over the world continue to be drawn to the Honduran Republic. Cheap real estate, excellent international schools and a magical climate weigh particularly positively.

If you can manage to draw as little attention to yourself as possible, avoid displaying valuables, do not travel after dark and avoid lonely areas as well as public transportation, you can actually enjoy the beautiful sides of everyday life in Honduras.

Exploring Honduras

Whether you visit Honduras for a short trip or vacation or move there for a longer stay as an expat, you will want to make the most of your time in this unique country. You shouldn’t miss out on at least some of the Republic´s many highlights. When someone asks me which they shouldn’t miss seeing in Honduras, various dream destinations come to mind.

Without question, top of the list are the wonderful Bay Islands of Utila and Roatán. Safer and more touristy than the rest of the country, these two Caribbean jewels invite you to explore and relax. So don’t miss the chance to enjoy their palm-shaded beaches and plunge into the warm tropical waters for snorkelling or diving, or to sip the juice of a fresh coconut in one of the many bars and restaurants. Roatán is especially popular with expats.

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Colorful buildings at the port of Roatán. Image: Michelle Raponi

If you haven’t had enough of the Caribbean feeling after visiting the Bay Islands, you should treat yourself to an excursion to the magnificent Cayos Cochinos. This small group of islands in the northeast of La Ceiba is another place to relax and unwind.

A trip to Cayos Cochinos can be combined with a visit to La Ceiba. Today, this colorful port city is known primarily for local ecotourism. And the dreamlike Pico Bonito National Park is only a stone’s throw away. Whether it’s a relaxing boat trip, a hike through the lush forests or white water rafting for the adventurous – you certainly won’t get bored here.

Not far from La Ceiba, Tela is also worth a visit. Take enough time to explore Honduras’ unique botanical garden and don’t miss the opportunity to make a detour to the Punta Sal National Park. Far away from the hustle and bustle of the Honduran cities, everything here revolves around one thing: untouched nature! Wild toucans, colorful corals, exotic fish and magical sandy beaches enchant even the last skeptic.

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Well preserved Mayan ruins at Copán. Image: Juan Cernas

After exploring the coast, I can only recommend discovering Honduras in the interior. The impressive Copán ruins are especially on top of my personal list. Not without reason, the almost 2,000-year-old Mayan city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by breathtaking nature, red macaws and giant butterflies, steles, altars and an enormous hieroglyphic staircase remind us of times long past. Thus, you can breathe in pure culture and fresh air en masse here.

But even if you have already visited the north coast of Honduras and the fantastic Mayan ruins in Copán, you can still discover a lot of other treasures in the country. These include the crystal-clear Lago de Yojoa, the enchanting La Tigra National Park near Tegucigalpa or the black sand beaches on Isla del Tigre in the south of the country, to name just a few.

Some final words of advice

If you are thinking about moving to Honduras, ideally you should take the time to live locally for at least a month or two. Get a feel for the country and local security. Familiarize yourself with local customs and polish up your Spanish.

And if you do get mugged, keep your nerve and don’t resist. Realize that cash, a cell phone or documents are replaceable. Survive with a scare and don’t let it take away your euphoria for this beautiful country. The adventure of your life may just be waiting for you here.

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