Tegucigalpa just got served.
“…Tegucigalpa is dangerous and the crime is palpable . . . Comayaguela, which is very rough and tumble and not a place to linger day or night. San Isidro Market is a particular hot spot for petty theft. . . . Take taxis at night. In Colonia Palmira, gangs of transvestites have also been known to mug tourists (You won’t be spreading that news across your Facebook status update, will you?). Steer clear.”
“…Shorts and sandals quickly give you away as a foreign traveler. This should go without saying, but here goes anyway: keep your cash and valuables well hidden. Finally, seek advice from your hotel or locals before hopping on a local city bus. Some are prone to theft and ‘taxing’ carried out by gang members.”
“Downtown Tegucigalpa is safe-ish during the day, although not at night. Comyaguela is an even dodgier part of town but closer to the bus terminals. Wandering around here day or night is not recommended.”
-Lonely Planet on Tegucigalpa, October 2010
Not very encouraging, is it?
And that’s where we find ourselves in: the capital of Honduras known affectionately as “Tegus.” Lonely Planet calls it a “sprawling Central American metropolis, snarled with fume-belching traffic.” But we prefer to appreciate the fact that “the setting is spectacular — the city is nestled in a valley surrounded by a ring of mountains, and it has a certain chaotic charm.”
From Copan Ruinas, we took an 11am Hedman Alas bus into San Pedro Sula at 2:45pm in the afternoon. When we arrived, Hedman Alas quickly carted our checked bags to another bus headed to Tegucigalpa while we were processed via a relatively extensive security checkpoint.
The whole transiting process felt like transferring in and out of an airport — two times they combed through our bags, took our photos, checked our passports with those said photos, and made us go through X-ray machines simply to board a bus.
Hedman Alas Bus Station in Copan Ruinas
From Copan Ruinas to San Pedro Sula
Hedman Alas Bus Station in San Pedro Sula
A quick search would reveal that a slew of violent armed robberies had occured a few years ago on various bus routes in Honduras, particularly the one between Copan Ruins and San Pedro Sula (the one we were on), thus compelling Hedman Alas to institute this complicated security procedure for tourists and locals alike.
The whole bus ride (from Copan Ruinas to San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa) was $30 USD overall.
San Pedro Sula Main Bus Station; The dedicated Hedman Alas' station is to the right
San Pedro Sula Carnival
San Pedro Sula outskirts
From San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa
We finally arrived at 6:50pm and from the station took a cab to our place of stay, Granada #2 in Downtown Tegucigalpa.
And despite all the negative foreboding, Tegucigalpa deserves its due and we found it quite frankly…charming. Thanks to a quick Facebook referral by a mutual friend from college Cristina Handal, we befriended Andrea and Maria, who graciously welcomed us to their city with an amazing dinner at Hacienda Real.
And then we drove around, taking a tour of her city at night.
Andrea with the group!
When we got back to the hotel, we scurried up to see if the door to their rooftop was unlocked, and indeed it was:
Overall, Tegucigalpa has been a memorable, pleasantly surprising stop on our way hopping from capital city to capital city, as we stayed up to catch a 4am Transnica Bus to Managua (capital city of Nicaragua) before finally arriving in Granada.
There we ran into some trouble when the Honduras Transnica Bus Office didn’t recognize tickets I had prepaid for via Western Union a week earlier. I know that sounds sketch in the first place, but I had Googled the guy I was supposed to send money to before I made the transfer and it checked out as legit. Biting the bullet, I took that chance and unfortunately it would bite me back in the ass as I had to pay Honduras Transnica Office again in order to board the 4am bus when they refused to let me board even though I had a copy of all the emails and receipts approving my reservations.
On the flip side, I was able to reach the guy I had transferred the money to by phone, and he had reassured that he would pay me back when I arrived in Nicaragua.
To be continued…
- At time of posting in Tegucigalpa, it was 26 °C -
Humidity: 69% | Wind Speed: 7km/hr | Cloud Cover: broken clouds
The second largest collection of Mayan ruins after Tikal, the Copan Ruinas are about a 1km walk (10min) away from the quaint little town, and quite convenient to get to. Head into the parking lot that’s 1km east from the town and turn left to enter the ruins complex.
We paid the entrance fee ($15 for just the ruins; you have to pay more to see the tunnels and the museums) and headed on in:
It’s a refreshingly open, well-kept plaza of temples. Unlike the majestic quality of Tikal, Copan is restrained, humble, and yet doesn’t sacrifice that feeling that you’re walking through a big part of history.
Copan Ruinas just got served.
We found out later that you’re technically not allowed to climb the ruins as much as we ended up doing, but nobody really cared or stopped us:
We found a handful of beautiful Toucans who weren’t afraid of being close to humans:
You only need about an hour or two to see pretty much everything at Copan Ruins. We did just that, grabbed an adequate meal at Picame (get their SMOOTHIES!), and took an hour bus to the nearby Hot Springs ($10 admission fee) where we rested our weary legs. And it’s only been Day 1.
The view on the way to the Hot Springs
Cross a drawbridge, at most 3 at a time, to get to the springs.
The hot springs have an array of pools of varying temperatures (Cold, Lukewarm, Warm, Hot, and Hell on Earth) to suit your needs, along with a massage spa and a mud bath. Be careful of where you put your belongings, however, as the moment you lose sight of your bags someone else might be looking through them.
We stayed until dusk, as the hot springs close anywhere from 7pm to 10pm depending on their mood. If they let you stay late, they bring out candles to guide you along the springs, but they didn’t do that for us (jerks).
Afterwards we headed back into town, freshened up, and had an amazing dinner at La Terraza, an outdoor rooftop restaurant with a talented on-site executive chef with a constantly changing seasonal menu using fresh ingredients. I didn’t take any pictures of the food unfortunately, but they seriously had some of the best sea bass I ever had.
After dinner we went out on the town to the 3 clubs they had scattered about. There’s something for everyone, including the always welcome and always expected new friends you’d meet along the way (but what’s new).
- At time of posting in Copan Ruinas, it was 24 °C -
Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: broken clouds
To be honest, it wasn’t that bad. Not once did we ever feel unsafe driving through San Pedro Sula on our way to Copan Ruins. In fact, it looked like any other city in Central America.
Our group landed in 3 separate runs: Angela arrived at noon on Friday, Erick, Matt and Bill arrived at Friday evening and then Kym and myself arrived this morning Saturday at 6am. Because of the reports that suggested San Pedro Sula was no place for a solo traveler to wander about, plus the fact that there is pretty much nothing to see in town and that it would be better off the save the money on lodging and stay in the airport, the group did just that before Kym and I arrived.
I have to hand out mad kudos to Angela for staying in the airport for 18 hours and still keeping a smile on her face by the time we arrived. Apparently during that time she got hollered at, catcalled, and befriended a 7 year old girl traveling to Mexico City “for fun” by herself but was forgotten by the flight attendant and therefore had to stay overnight in the airport with Angela as an abandoned “unaccompanied minor.”
The airport is open 24/7 and it is possible for you to stay overnight there on hard benches in the food court if you prefer not to wander out into San Pedro Sula alone at night.
San Pedro Sula airport
Upon our arrival, the plan was to take taxis from the airport directly to the bus station and catch an 8am Casasola Express bus to the Copan Ruins, but with all the free time she had Angela did a great job scoping out direct taxis to Copan Ruinas.
She found out that if you’re traveling in a group, you might actually save money and time by taking a direct taxi from the airport to Copan Ruins instead of a taxi to the bus station, wait around for a bit, and then a bus to Copan Ruins. We took her suggestion and did just that, and this is what we saw along the way:
Too bad nobody paid any attention:
After a 4 hour drive from SPS airport, we were dropped off at a parking lot 1km east of the Copan Ruinas town:
From here you can either pay $1USD per person for a tuktuk/rickshaw to the town or do an easy 15min walk along the road. We chose the latter and finally reached our place of stay: a quaint, hospitable, well-run Hostel Berakah, 1 block north of the town’s Parque Central/Central Park.
The Copan Ruinas town
Copan Ruinas' Parque Central
We’ve just freshened up and about to hit up the Mayan Ruins and then to the nearby Hot Springs about an hour’s drive away. I guess the bottom line is that we’re totally safe, and we didn’t have to dodge any bullets to get here from SPS.
- At time of posting in ESQUIPULAS, it was 23 °C -
Humidity: 78% | Wind Speed: 4km/hr | Cloud Cover: broken clouds
To be honest, I didn’t know this until after booking my tickets…but we’re about to fly into the “one of the world’s most violent places” a.k.a. The Murder Capital of the World: San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
You might be thinking, Oh, Calvin, you CHOSE this place for that designation. But I’m telling you honestly: I had no frickin’ idea.
I did a cursory Google search and this is what I found:
Article on CNN:
CNN published this story only 3 months ago
Article on Washington Post:
The Washington Post
Article on Boston.com:
I think there is an agreement...
Even Wikitravel.org is joining in
And a disturbing photo gallery on Reuters.
I had told myself once that the city that would make me the most nervous heading into would be Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where indiscriminate killings has been the norm. How would you think I feel about learning that San Pedro Sula has already surpassed Ciudad Juarez this year in number of murders per 100,000 people?
This is the U.S. State Department Travel Warning on Honduras, issued only 2 days ago:
Messages to U.S. Citizens: Travel Warning (June 17, 2013)
TRAVEL WARNING – JUNE 17, 2013
The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens that the crime and violence levels in Honduras remain critically high. This Travel Warning supersedes the Travel Warning dated November 21, 2012, to include additional information about reported kidnappings, information for victims of crime, as well as the Honduran police force’s ability to respond to reports of crime, and also serves to update contact information.
Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work without incident. However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country and the Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to address these issues. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. These threats have increased substantially over the past several years and remain high. Incidents can occur anywhere.
U.S. citizens do not appear to be targeted based on their nationality. Crimes are committed against expatriates at levels similar to those committed against locals. Most resort areas and tourist destinations have lower levels of crime and violence than other areas of the country, though still high by international standards. Moreover, tourists traveling with group tours report fewer criminal incidents. In 2012, the government agreed to increase police presence in areas frequented by tourists, such as the Copan Mayan ruins and Roatan. The government also established special tourist police forces in Copan and Roatan and is evaluating this option in other locations. Additionally, major hotels and other tourist installations have increased security, including with the help of police, in response to the crime epidemic. These efforts are in various stages of implementation.
A majority of serious crimes are never solved; of the 18 murders committed against U.S. citizens since January 2011, police have closed none. Members of the Honduran National Police have been known to engage in criminal activity, including murder. The Government of Honduras lacks sufficient resources to properly investigate and prosecute cases, and to deter violent crime. In practice, this means police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime or not respond at all. The police often lack vehicles or fuel to respond to calls for assistance. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity throughout Honduras. The Honduran government is in the early stages of substantial reforms to its criminal justice institutions.
Transnational criminal organizations conduct narcotics trafficking and other unlawful activities throughout the country and use violence to control drug trafficking routes and carry out other criminal activity. Other criminals, acting both individually and in gangs in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, commit crimes such as murder, kidnapping, carjacking, armed robbery, rapes, and other aggravated assaults.
Kidnappings and disappearances are an ongoing concern throughout the country. Kidnapping affects both the local and expatriate communities, with victims sometimes paying large ransoms for the prospect of release. Kidnapping is believed to be underreported. Since January 1, 2012, four cases of U.S. citizens being kidnapped were reported to the U.S. Embassy. The kidnapping victims were all subsequently released.
U.S. citizens should be vigilant of their surroundings at all times and in all locations, especially when entering or exiting their homes, hotels, cars, garages, schools, and workplaces. Whenever possible, U.S. citizens should travel in groups of two or more persons; avoid wearing jewelry and carrying large sums of money or displaying cash, ATM/credit cards, or other valuables; and avoid walking at night in most areas of Honduras or walking alone on beaches, historic ruins, and trails. Incidents of crime along roads, including carjacking and kidnapping, are common in Honduras. Motorists should avoid traveling at night and always drive with their doors locked to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested downtown streets.
The location and timing of criminal activity is unpredictable. We recommend that all travelers exercise caution when traveling anywhere in Honduras. However, certain areas of the country demonstrate higher levels of criminal activity than others. Honduran “departments” (a geographic designation similar to U.S. states) with homicide rates higher than the national average of 85.5 per 100,000 in 2012 include:
Atlántida (including La Ceiba)
Cortés (including San Pedro Sula)
Francisco Morazán (including Tegucigalpa)
There are not reliable statistics for the department of Gracias a Dios, however travelers to this area should note that it is a remote location with limited government services and frequent presence of narcotics traffickers.
Well, there you have it. This ain’t Disney World anymore. Time to not be stupid.
So wish us luck, because we’re already here.
- At time of posting in La Mesa San Pedro Sula , it was 26 °C -
Humidity: 94% | Wind Speed: 2km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds