Difference between revisions of "Honduras"
Revision as of 16:50, 24 November 2012
Honduras  is the second biggest country in Central America. It has colonial villages (Gracias, Comayagua), ancient Maya ruins (Copan), natural parks (Moskitia), and a Pacific and Caribbean coastline and the Bay Islands, with great beaches and coral reefs where snorkeling and diving are exceptional by any standard.
You can find good hotels even in small towns if you are willing to pay a bit more (Honduras is not really an expensive country). Nevertheless a visit is worthwhile, especially to the ancient Maya ruins in Copán, the colonial towns of Gracias and Comayagua, and the fantastic Caribbean Coast.
During the first millennium, Honduras was inhabited by the Maya civilization in the western part and other Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures in the rest. Columbus first explored the country in 1502, and Honduras became a Spanish colony. Honduras, with four other Central American nations, declared its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821 to form a federation of Central American states. In 1838, Honduras left the federation and became independent. Political unrest rocked Honduras in the early 1900s, resulting in an occupation by U.S. Marines. Dictator Gen. Tiburcio Carias Andino established a strong government in 1932.
In 1969, El Salvador invaded Honduras after Honduran landowners deported several thousand Salvadorans. Five thousand people ultimately died in what is called “the football war” because it broke out during a soccer game between the two countries. By threatening economic sanctions and military intervention, the Organization of American States (OAS) induced El Salvador to withdraw.
After two and one-half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982. During the 1980s, Honduras was a haven for the anti-Communist contras fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and an ally to Salvadoran government forces fighting against leftist guerrillas.
The country was devastated by Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which killed about 5,600 people and caused almost $1 billion in damage, affecting seriously the development of the country and its vital infrastructure.
Honduras is hot and humid almost year-round. Temperatures vary by altitude rather than season. The average high temperature nationwide is 32°C (90°F) and the average low is 20°C (68°F). Temperatures are coolest in mountain areas. The Caribbean coast can experience a lot of rain, the heaviest being from September to February. In Tegucigalpa, the capital, the climate remains more temperate and the dry season takes place from December to May. The capital can get chilly between December and January when the temperature in the city hovers around 23°C (73°F).
Honduras consists of a mountainous interior with narrow coastal plains. The Pacific coast is short but the Caribbean coastline is long, including the virtually uninhabited eastern Mosquito Coast. The land experiences frequent, but generally mild, earthquakes. Highest point: Cerro Las Minas 2,870 meters.
When refering to Copan Ruinas many people call it just "Copan" But that is incorrect. "Copan" is actually the name of the departamento (like a state). If you want to refer to Copan Ruinas then you need to use the full name, "Copan Ruinas" which translates to "The ruins of Copan".
Major international airports with daily flights to Atlanta, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Houston are in San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa (Toncontin) and Roatan. The main international airlines serving the region are TACA, Copa Air, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Spirit, and American Airlines. Iberia, Spain operates daily flights from Madrid to San Pedro Sula via Guatemala City (connecting with TACA). Maya Island Air also has a direct lfight from Belize to San Pedro Sula (phone number 011-501-223-1140 or firstname.lastname@example.org). For interior flights check Isleña, Atlantic and Aerolinas Sosa. Note that the interior domestic airlines frequently have flight cancellations, do not guarantee service, and are under no obligation to issue refunds if a flight does not occur. However, American carriers and their international code share partners listed above guarantee travel per U.S. industry standards. Hence, it is advisable not to rely on a domestic carrier to connect to an outbound international flight without having an alternative means to get to the departure point of the foreign bound aircraft in a timely fashion. For instance, if a flight cancellation occurs in La Ceiba headed to San Pedro Sula due to insufficient ticket sales (a common occurrence), a taxi can be hired for a $50-$100 spot price to run the distance in under two and a half hours. Note that if flying out of San Pedro Sula you will be charged a hefty 37.50$ (34$ if you are from Honduras) airport tax.
Possible from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Nicaragua. Cars are a good selection, but you must always be careful since the roads are not as well developed but good enough to have a pleasant ride. Traffic enforcement outside of stops to curtail the drug trade is minimal to non-existent, and drivers should be cautious of speeding vehicles as well as aggressive driving tactics (e.g. passing on uphill, curved terrain).
Buses to and from San Pedro Sula leave to and from most major locations in Honduras, including Copan Ruinas, Tegucigalpa, Tela and La Ceiba, with some traveling direct and non-stop and others stopping in route. Each of the capitals of the countries surrounding Honduras are also served by buses: Managua, San Salvador, Guatemala City. All buses (except local metropolitan routes)come into and leave from the Main Metropolitan Bus Terminal on the south side of the city. Taxi's and local bus routes can get you from there to the center of the city and other destinations within San Pedro Sula
Major Bus Companies
Taking the local bus is a great mode of transportation from and to cities within Honduras. Buses are affordable and efficient for you to travel along with the locals. Understand that the earlier you get on a bus, the more time you can spend in the city of your choice. Depending on how many stops the driver makes determines the length of travel time. If you need help knowing the exact fare or which stop is best to get off, ask the locals. Remember the bus is an everyday activity for them.
You may use cruiselines for temporary visits to Honduras' resorts. Cruises visiting Honduras include: • Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) visits the Eastern and Western Caribbean from Miami, FL, USA. • Princess Cruises, Crown Princess visits the Western Caribbean, roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, USA. • Carnival Cruises, Carnival Legend visits the Western Caribbean from Tampa, FL, USA. The Carnival Valor departs and returns to Miami, FL, USA.
Railroads in Honduras have been built in the northern lowlands (Valle de Sula) since 1880s by two competing banana growers. They never extended to the capital Tegucigalpa or to the Pacific coast and never linked to other countries.
In 2006, three separate segments operated under the management of FNH - Ferrocarril Nacional de Honduras:
There is regular boat service from La Ceiba to the bay islands of Roatan and Utila.
Service to Roatan is on the Galaxy Wave II. The ferry trip costs less than flying, and leaves (mostly) on time. A round-trip prima class ticket costs $53; round-trip general class, $43. Both prima and general seating areas are comfortable and offer air conditioning and flat-screen TVs for your entertainment. The crossing takes about 80 minutes each way.
Service to Utila is on the Utila Princess. Tickets cost about $30 round trip and the crossing takes about 60 minutes.
Both ferries leave from the same dock. You should arrive at the dock in La Ceiba about an hour early to buy tickets and check luggage. **If traveling to the bay islands during Semana Santa (Easter week) it is highly recommended to fly, as the wait for a ferry can be up to 8 hours. If you are a Senior citizen you will find the rate very attractive. If you are prone to sea sickness, the trip North to Roatan can be very uncomfortable, as the Galaxy is fighting the currents. Windy days, re-consider. Otherwise it is a delightful trip, Utila to the West and the Cayos to the East. Last trip of the day to Roatan is awesome with a fanastic sunset.
Hitchhiking is common in rural areas, even for single women, when there is no proper bus connection. By asking around you will be pointed to the various departure points. Expect to pay the equivalent bus fare at the conclusion of your journey.
Spanish is the primary language spoken. English is hardly spoken outside of the biggest towns or Bay Islands. In some areas such as Utila, Spanish and English have hybridized in the context of low educational attainment to produce a pidgin tongue that can at times be indecipherable even to native speakers of both languages. Native languages (Lenca, Miskitu, Garifuna, among others) are spoken in various parts of the country, but a Spanish speaker should never be hard to find. Keep a tourist's eye out for "missionary speakers," that is, English or Spanish speaking Hondurans who retain the strong linguistic accents of the nations of their childhood teachers despite no personal links to such countries themselves (e.g. Irish-English overtones are prominent in Utila). Exhibit caution about commenting on linguistic skills to locals even positively, as those who do not speak mainstream Spanish suffer certain social stigmas (e.g. not “real” Hondurans, lower class, etcetera).
Expressions of Honduras
What "Punta" Means
The best known traditional dance in Honduras is punta, called banguity (new life) by the Garífunas. There are different stories about why punta is danced at wakes. Claudio Mejía, a Garífuna from La Punta, Colon explains, "If a man was a happy, popular kind of guy in life, then you want to give him a happy kind of wake." This coincides with African traditions, that when the body dies, the soul is in a kind of stupor and does not leave the body immediately. So friends and relatives party one last time with the deceased. Here, new life is understood as making the transition from being a person to becoming an ancestor. Another explanation is given by Fausto Miguel Alvarez, a teacher from Cristales, Trujillo. "People dance, because even though this one Garífuna has died, another thousand will be born." Here new life is understood to be the new life created in the wee hours of the morning after people go home. Garífunas, like the West Africans they descend from, believe in reincarnation. The spirit of the now deceased grandfather, for example, can be reborn in one of the new grandchildren.
The story behind the name punta is different from its Garífuna counterpart. Once when an enemy died, the people said, "We are going to celebrate and dance from punta a punta (point to point). The punta here refers to point - a piece of land that juts out into the sea. One Garífuna teacher said, "This is why some Garífunas do not agree with the dancing of punta at wakes. It is as if you were dancing when an enemy died." Punta Music and Rhythm Punta was originally danced just by older people. It is the only type of music played at Garífuna wakes. Punta can be sung at the end of mourning ceremonies, known as fin de novenario in Spanish. During a Garífuna wake, there are a number of activities going on. From time to time, family members wail and cry before a coffin that has been put in a specially decorated room. Then, some of the men tune up the drums to play punta. The women sing. People go in one by one or in pairs to dance. Punta music for wakes is played with traditional instruments. These include first and second drums, maracas, a conch shell and sometimes claves - two hardwood sticks that are beat together. The music is sung in Garífuna with a soloist and chorus, like African music or a Gospel music choir. Punta music sounds happy, but the words are often sad. "Yesterday you were well. Last night you caught a fever. Now in the morning you are dead," says one song.
The rhythm pattern is very complex. One drum plays 2/4 or 4/4 beat. The second drum plays 6/8. This is the beat to which the feet move. The women sing in 4/4 time. Sometimes the songs have counter rhythms. The second drum is steady, but the conch shell, maracas, and first drum improvise solos similar to jazz.
This type of sensual dance performed at wakes has also been reported in Jamaica and West Africa. Music also accompanies the dead to the tomb, a custom probably related to Yoruba burial customs, the same origin as the New Orleans jazz funeral.
There is always plenty to do while vacationing in Honduras. In San Pedro, things that revolve around shopping include visiting the City Mall and Metroplaza Mall. In these Westernized areas you can stock up on practical necessities such as adventure clothing for upcoming trips into the Honduran hinterland. Or, if you just like shopping, you can buy clothes and goods for everyday use at pleasingly cheap prices. Mercado de Artesanias Guamilito
Leather goods are particularly famous from here, though in truth you can find just about anything, from clothes to trinkets to food and drinks. The Mercado forcibly calls for you to use your bartering skills; obtaining the price you want can prove one of the more difficult—and therefore rewarding—activities in San Pedro Sula.
The National currency of Honduras is the Lempira but, like almost everywhere in Central America, the U.S. Dollar acts as a second currency and nearly every business accepts both. The U.S. Dollar is the main currency on the Bay Islands due to the frequency of cruises that come by (and by looking around, there are a lot of Americans). It is wise to carry small bills (under $20), especially $2 bills (considered lucky and makes a good tip). It is very important to use only bills printed recently and to avoid notes with tears.
ATM's can be found in most cities. Some ATM's dispense both U.S. Dollars and Lempiras and nearly all can be used in English. Be sure to bring cash to the Bay Islands because they do not have very many ATMs. Nearly all banks exchange money just make sure to bring your passport for identification purposes.
As of July 2011, there are 19 Lempiras to one Dollar and 27L for 1€. Sometimes it may be cheaper to buy in Lempiras.
If going to another country, exchange all lempiras as they are useless once you leave the country, but they can be exchanged at most borders.
Mobile (3G/GPRS) internet access
If you have an internet capable mobile phone such as iPhone, Google Android, Nokia N95 etc or USB dongle for your laptop, you just need a local SIM card (roughly 25 lempiras) and can start enjoying the prepaid access plans, which generally come in lots of an hour, a day, or a week and have a specific maximum usage.
Here is a table for the settings and activation options for various providers, including approximate costs.
Handicrafts - Honduras is famous for its Lenca ceramics and cotton sock manufacturing.
If visiting San Pedro Sula, be sure to visit El Mercado Guamilito. You will find many wonderful and cheap handicrafts like hand carved wooden boxes, Lencan pottery, hammocks, paintings, leather products from Nicaragua, and beautiful hand-woven fabrics from Guatemala.
Leather Items - Honduran leather items are of fine quality at only a fraction of the price they would be overseas, making your visit to Honduras a great time to purchase these. Bags, attaché cases, belts, wallets and even garments are a bargain. One of the producers in San Pedro Sula whose quality is up to par with international standards is Danilo's Pura Piel.
Honduras has a long history as a silver mining country. Excellent artisans work the silver and produce very artistic and high quality silver products and jewelry. There are several different jewelers in town. Another popular item are paintings by Honduran artists. These usually depict colonial towns and mountain landscapes that are typical of Honduras. The best selection of these can be found at the Maymo art Gallery.
Valle de Angeles, a town near Tegucigalpa, is also known for its beautiful handicrafts, such as carved boxes and tables, hammocks, etc.
The Honduran "Plato tipico" is the most famous lunch. It consists of rice, beef, fried beans (frijolitos), and fried bananas (tajaditas). If you are lucky, it will also come with chimol, a fresh, non-spicy salsa made of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cilantro and lime juice.
Baleadas are a Honduran original. A baleada sencilla (simple) consists of a thick flour tortilla filled with refried beans, cheese (queso), and a type of cream similar to sour cream but not sour (crema or mantequilla). A baleada especial usually also comes with eggs in it and you can sometimes get avocado or even meat.
Other choices are tacos and enchiladas, though don't expect them to be like those in Mexico. The tacos are meat rolled in a corn tortilla and deep fried. The enchiladas are a flat fried corn tortilla topped with ground beef, cheese and a red sauce.
San Pedro Sula has some of the country's best nightlife and is a great place to go out and to drink and dance the night away or to catch up on all the latest movies.
National beers: Salva Vida, Port Royal, Imperial and the newest Barena. To add, Barena is said to be the Miller Lite of Central America.
Coffee is great, and the brands from Copan are usually the best. Welches is considered to be the best by many locals. Coffee from Lepaera, Lempira, was judged to be the best coffee in the world but can be difficult to find, even in Lepaera itself, where most brands found in stores are from Copan.
Taste Central American rum Flor de Caña (from Nicaragua)
Great "licuados" -fruit juices and milk shakes- (mango, piña, watermelon, banana, etc.)
Depending where you plan to visit, you will find hotels that provide great services.
Use common sense at night. Foreigners are sometimes robbed on the streets of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula at night by thieves who stake out areas in front of tourist hotels. When taking a taxi in Tegucigalpa make sure the windows are not tinted, and check for radio dispatched walkie talkies as people have been robbed at gun or knife point. Violent crime is common enough in San Pedro Sula with robberies and even gang violence. San Pedro Sula, in fact, has the highest murder rate of any city in the world, though mainly among rival gangs seeking to control the various illicit trades. Murder is a common day to day issue in all of Honduras. Crime has been reduced in recent years compared to right after Hurricane Mitch, but does still impact tourist areas in the large cities. Use caution when traveling alone in Honduras, at night its best to take a radio dispatched taxi no matter what part you're in.
Purified water is used in big-city hotels and restaurants, but bottled water is definitely recommended for outlying areas.
Malaria occurs in rural areas, Roatán and other Bay Islands.
Dengue fever is endemic in both urban and rural areas.
It is not recommended to buy much food in the streets (people who are selling food just by the sidewalk). Remember Honduran food can be spicy too, so be careful if you are not used to it.
Many travel agencies and different places will tell you that Honduras is a dangerous country concerning illnesses, this is not true. People are just as ill all over Latin America (nothing out of what is normal), just take the necessary precautions. HIV is a problem in Honduras so be careful as you would in your own country.
Carry a first aid kit and have contact phone numbers with you.
If hiking or spending significant time in the great outdoors, be prepared for a wide range of natural threats and nuisances including snakes, spiders, scorpions, and mosquitoes. On the upside, however, you can actually pick fruit off the trees.
Despite violence and widespread poverty, Hondurans are friendly people who appreciate a respectful manner. As well as this it is important to greet and even introduce yourself if you are asking a question to a stranger. Of course, like any other country, if you do need to ask a question from a stranger be careful but most of the time Hondurans will be friendly and more than happy to help you.
Electricity is 110V/60Hz, as in the United States and Canada, however three-prong grounded plugs are not as common, so two-prong adapters come in handy.