Backpacking through Central America was not even part of my plan when I first landed in Costa Rica, but it did happened anyway. One rule I stuck with though while travelling overland was that if I felt unsafe about a certain place, I will only proceed if I’m lucky enough to meet someone who is travelling there as well, at least having a companion. Which is also why I skipped El Salvador especially having heard a lot about the most dangerous gangs in the world since young, namely MS-13 and Barrio 18, leaving a rather negative impression till date, in terms of safety.
About a week prior to crossing the border to Honduras, I arrived at another town in Nicaragua where I was hoping to meet other travellers that is heading to Honduras as well, but those that I’ve met were travelling south instead. It was still okay up to this point until I reached the next and last stop planned for Nicaragua.
I was in Somoto to explore a Canyon and naturally had high hopes meeting other tourists as well since it is a pretty sought-after attraction in Nicaragua. As you might have guessed by now, yes, no luck again and in fact, was the only guest together with an Australian couple in the hotel that I stayed at. Somoto might be able to pass off as a peaceful town, but the quietness creeps me out and got me worried about my next destination. That is also when I started to look online into the security of Honduras just to get myself better prepared and to my horror, found that it has the highest homicide rate in the world. And when I asked the receptionist at my hotel how to get to the border, she also advised that it is dangerous and asked me to be extra careful.
Unlike El Salvador where one could still choose whether to head to Honduras or Guatemala (and was also ready to leave out El Salvador if I wasn’t meant to be there since I already know about the high risks prior to my trip), my only choice was to proceed as planned being close to the border already. Okay, to be fair, I could have also chosen to go back into the city and fly over Honduras, straight to Guatemala instead. But I held on to my one last hope – for other travellers to be at the border.
Might have felt less insecure if I had not gone and read about all the dangers in Honduras the day before, but moving on….
I set off early the next morning before dawn even breaks. Did not think about what I was going to face when I went to bed the night before actually, but hardly anyone was on the street and the bus terminal was pitch-black with no lights, making me anxious again. Luckily there were some stalls by the terminal that have already started business and I joined them for a hot coffee in the cold early hours while waiting for the bus.
On a side note: Heart felt lighter instantly, overjoyed to be exact, when Singapore was heard from the radio on the bus to the border, announcing that Lonely Planet named it the top destination in 2015. Imagine for the past few months when I told the locals I am from Singapore, some did not even know where Singapore is or thought that it is a part of China. Now, I am on a chicken bus 11,000 miles away from Singapore hearing them share about my country, my home.
But as luck would have it, I arrived 7:30am at the border not just as the only tourist, not-too-positive news kept pouring in, like the bus to the capital which I wanted to take will only leave at 9:30am. Worst, I was the only female traveller there. With 2 hours of waiting time, I went into a mama shop on Honduras side for “refuge” after crossing the border and enquire more about Honduras from a lady tending the cash register.
Most of the time you would hear people say not to read too much on the internet, that things are not usually as bad as projected over the news, that they are exaggerated. But so many concern people was worried for my safety and warning me along the way, including the lady in the mama shop who is a local herself said “yes, it is very dangerous” when I asked if what I’ve learnt are true. She was nice to suggest that I take the other bus which was leaving earlier to another city that has more connecting buses to the Capital instead of waiting for 2 hours at the border, but added that this other city was equally dangerous. I was like “why does it sounds bad wherever I may be. So where is it safer exactly?”. Did not went ahead with her suggestion especially when I had not done any research on that route. At that point of time, I can only go with the most confident and familiar choice.
Went back out to wait for the 9:30am bus and still, I was the only female crossing the border. Not sure if I should be relieved or what, but no one gave a damn that a Chinese girl is sitting alone at the border, not a single glimpse given, and that made me even more paranoid as, there would be some sort of conversation struck usually no matter what. At Honduras, it was totally different. Everyone was just doing their own thing and seem like unsociable people.
8am.. still alone. 8:30am.. still alone. *clock ticking* 9am.. and still alone.
It was only until the driver for the minibus that I was going to take came to prepare, that I saw 3 seemingly tourists got off a chicken bus, heading to cross the border finally!! *throws confetti*
Not sure if I would have turn back and travel in Nicaragua till I meet someone who is heading to Honduras had these 3 tourists not been there that day because later at the capital, we are required to take a taxi to catch another bus to our destination, which departs from a different terminal 10minutes away. And during our 10mins ride to the other terminal, it was the first time I saw armed forces patrolling the city like I have seen in movies, which got me thinking how dangerous it is exactly that this have to be implemented.
We then decided to travel together after almost a week of diving. Completing our diving course, we headed to our next destination where we had to transfer at the most dangerous city in the world – San Pedro Sula. It was not even funny that when we arrived at the terminal in San Pedro Sula for transfer, a news about a murder just occurred in the city which we passed the murder scene when our connecting bus left the terminal. A crime scene so close to us made us realised that we are at risk all times.
So lucky I was to have met the other 3, at the very last minute, my last hope, and I think it was meant to be. It was just the right capacity for 1 cab and we got great diving course deal signing up as a group of 4, occupying an entire apartment on our own.
The reason I had such confidence that I will definitely meet someone to travel with when heading to Honduras, at least at the border, was because Honduras is one of the top diving destinations in the world and all the other backpackers I met along the way recommended me to go diving there for sure saying that they have been or are definitely going to when I made the decision to backpack across Central America.
Thank God for the arrangement and that I am safe & sound here. But please do not panic upon reading this. I am just sharing what I have experienced, and other than these 2 occasions where I worried a little, the rest of the time spent exploring Honduras felt safe enough. Just wish that I had done more research then and have more options if things did not work out.
Some practical information:
(1) Getting from Somoto, Nicaragua to La Ceiba, Honduras by public transport:
- Take the bus to Ocotal, Niacaragua [C$14 ; 45mins ~ 1hour ; frequent and fixed timetable.]
- From Ocotal, take the bus to Las Manos border [C$14 ; 1hour ; frequent and fixed timetable.]
- After crossing the border at Las Manos to Honduras, take the direct minibus to Tegucigalpa (not much information online but from what I have gathered, there is only one direct bus, which is the one leaving at 9:30am) [L97 ; 2.5~3hours (*we arrived at 12:30pm)]
- Alighting at Tegucigalpa, take a cab to Transportes Cristina bus terminal [L40/pax shared between 4 person ; approx. 10mins] (*suggestions: because of safety issue, would not recommend walking between these terminals)
- Transportes Cristina coach from Tegucigalpa to La Ceiba [L274 ; approx. 7hrs ; has a frequent and fixed timetable (as shown above) though additional service may be added at times.]
(2) Search and Book for accommodation in advance
I may have previously suggested to hunt for accommodations upon arrival for budget backpacking, but travelling from Nicaragua to La Ceiba, Honduras, one is almost certain to arrive in the city late at night and I do not think it is wise to walk around negotiating rates with the high homicide rate facts.
We stayed at Banana Republic Guesthouse, paying L168 pp (US$8) for twin sharing with shared bathroom. A bed in the dormitory cost US$12/pax. Banana Republic Guesthouse is 5~10mins away from La Ceiba bus terminal by cab and cost us L40/pax.
(3) Try to travel in groups if possible. Be vigilant.
Honduras was probably the only place where I was that on guard. Though I did not encounter any specially dangerous situation, and it may have been because of reading articles about how dangerous Honduras is that caused me to worry, it is always better to travel in groups in regards to safety whatever the case is.
P.s. the mama shop at the border of Las Manos on Honduras side sells really delicious Baleada (traditional Honduran dish).