We arrived in Honduras under the cover of darkness—a fitting start to our month-long adventure in the country once dubbed the ‘murder capital of the world’. As we watched the shadowy streets of Tegucigalpa recede into rural roads, flashing lights pulled us over and a local policía leaned in for a chat. Despite my Spanish skills having peaked in my school days, our enthusiastic driver managed to communicate the reason for the spot check: a few days ago, a man had been caught in the area with a dead body in the trunk of his car. Welcome to Honduras, I thought, as we drove on into the darkness.
Being budget-focused backpackers, Honduras appealed to us for its bargain prices and close proximity to the cerulean waters of the Caribbean Sea. However, a closer look behind the facade of pristine churches and balmy coastline reveals the consequences of a country struggling with severe poverty. Gang activity is rife, and while the war on drugs holds the government’s focus, Honduras continues to suffer one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, with near total impunity.
In fact, just last summer, BBC headlines branded Honduras on ‘red alert’ over the number of women being murdered, reporting that of the 463 cases over the past year, only 15 were investigated. With ABC News describing the Latin American country as “one of the most dangerous places on Earth to be a woman,” is it sheer madness for a solo female traveler to go to Honduras?
The crime rate of the country has given Honduras a bad reputation, meaning it is frequently overlooked by safety-conscious travelers. However, the true victims of this violence are local women and those involved with or who cross the gangs. Tourists tend not to be targeted. If you are considering adding Honduras to your itinerary and consequently helping to boost the local economy, be sure to take the right precautions and avoid the high-risk areas. You may just find the breath-taking natural scenery and warm, welcoming communities are the light that cuts through the darkness.
For the solo female traveler in Honduras, the beaten path is your friend. Fortunately, as the country receives a relatively low number of tourists compared to other Latin American destinations, you don’t need to strike off into the heart of the unknown in order to enjoy an authentic experience.
The big cities of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa have the most unsavory reputations. Our Honduran-French Canadian host, Nicole, warned us of the gangs there that will “kill you for your mobile phone”, and we felt no need to put this statement to the test. If you do choose to linger, ensure you travel by established taxis (ask your hotel to call for transport and check the Driver’s ID before getting into the car) and be especially cautious after dark.
Better to head to escape the cities and head to the seaside town of Tela for easy access to sultry beaches and the vibrant Garifuna communities of the Caribbean coast. The scent of warm coconut bread, freshly baked by local ladies, fills the air of this beachside community while a leafy town square offers people-watching opportunities aplenty.
The Bay Islands are a long-time traveler favorite, offering a deliciously laid-back slice of seriously therapeutic island life. Reefs that form part of the second-largest barrier reef system in the world have given rise to a thriving and uncrowded diving scene while the community spirit of the backpacker favorite, Utila, is second to none.
A final favorite on the list of Honduran hotspots for safe travel is the breezy mountain town of Copán Ruinas where cornflower skies, verdant hills, and cowboys tipping white stetsons guarantee a colorful stay. The charming cobbled streets are lined with traveler-oriented places to eat, drink and sleep while the incredible Mayan archeological remains that give the town its name—though not quite on par with those across the border in Tikal—make for an atmospheric visit due to the lack of crowds.
These particular areas, as well as the port town of La Ceiba, have a special tourist police force, set up to boost security for the traveling community. However, don’t rely on an abundance of officers to be roaming the streets or for the police to necessarily speak English. Instead, maximize your chances of staying safe by applying an extra layer of vigilance to the usual solo traveler advice, even in these tourist-friendly areas. This includes avoiding being flashy with cash, jewelry, and tech equipment, as well as steering clear of traveling, visiting ATMs or wandering deserted areas by night. Finally, in a worst case scenario, never resist a robbery attempt, this is when violence towards tourists is most likely to occur.
All this being said, by taking into account local advice, planning your route with care and keeping your wits about you, the highlights of Honduras become not just an accessible experience for solo female travelers, but a truly enriching one too. While it’s good news for solo female travelers that the lighter side of Honduras is one in which they can partake, this should not be without paying due respect to the local women who face and fight against violence on a daily basis.
These are the women like Berta Cáceres, an environmental activist shot dead in 2016 after opposing projects slated to take place on ancestral, indigenous lands. Women like 18-year-old student nurse Marianela Julieth Rios Ramos, found beaten and stabbed to death with a hand-written note on her body, stating this was an act of personal vengeance. Women like beauty queen Maria Jose and her sister Sofia Alvarado, buried in a shallow grave by a boyfriend suspected of murdering the girls in a fit of jealousy after seeing Sofia dancing with another man at a party.
Local female-led organizations such as CODEMUH, Las Hormigas, and Visitación Padilla are dedicated to advancing women’s rights and raising the profile of the conversation about femicide and violence against women in Honduras, especially to a government that has historically turned a blind eye. A 2015 investigation by the United Nations revealed that the Honduran administration paid “minimal attention to gender empowerment” and social reform, while according to Human Rights Watch, president Juan Orlando Hernández has actively contributed to the oppression of women in Honduras with actions such as the re-criminalizing of abortion (in all cases, including rape). Hernández was controversially re-elected in November last year.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera, Alexandra Suazo, of Oxfam-funded initiative PoletikaH, which aims to widen the scope of the conversation amongst politicians, emphasized that to see a real change in gender violence, it’s essential that women’s rights issues must be addressed first.
“As long as women can’t get out of these situations [of poverty],” Suazo says, “as long as they don’t have guarantees for a dignified life, improvements in their labor rights, and access to land, technology, and credit, the country will not develop no matter how much foreign investment comes. We are aware that as women and feminist movements, we will always have to fight for some of our rights to be fulfilled. But we really need candidates and politicians in Honduras to start to understand the importance of women’s rights and ensure they are respected.”
For female travelers keen on visiting Honduras, the country may open its arms to you, you may enjoy the privilege of being able to travel to beautiful Honduras and help to support the local community with your hard-earned dollars, but remember the local women who are at risk, and those that pay for their rights with their lives.