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What travelling around Honduras and El Salvador is really like

Don’t travel to Honduras. Don’t travel to El Salvador. You will be ripped off. You will be mugged. You will have a bad experience. These are the words you’ll often hear from other people travelling around Central America, and do you know what I say to that? Bullshit.

Brian, Brianna and I first crossed the border into Honduras from Guatemala via Belize. Three countries, two border crossings and only a matter of hours.

With no Belizean dollars, Guatemalan quetzales, no Honduran lempira and only a handful of US dollars to our name, it was always going to be a tough ask to travel all the way into the heart of Honduras with the money we had, but that was our plan we when we set off from Belize early in the morning.

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After catching the boat from Punta Gorda in Belize to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala, we were greeted by the usual street hawkers the moment we stepped foot on dry land.

Immediately there was a cacophony of sound – “You going to Honduras? Come with me. No, there is no direct bus. No, there is no local bus. No, the bus terminal is miles away. In fact, there is no bus terminal. Look, I will take you to Honduras. Trust me. Follow me.”

Purely on where we were and where we were going, purely on reputation of what other people had said, we were wary and we didn’t want to take our chances. And there was no one we could ask.

Worryingly, immigration didn’t really have a clue, and the only person who spoke any English was one taxi driver. Just the one. This left us with little choice but to listen to what he had to say and to trust him (well, trust him much like you’d trust any taxi driver).

At times there were no buses to catch in Honduras and El Salvador

So we went with Hector (that’s our taxi driver. Hector turned out to be a one man tourist board). He told us everything we needed to know in terms of immigration, infrastructure, how much it was going to cost us and all about the other travellers who had been in our situation (obviously we weren’t the only ones), but we still had one major problem; we still had no money, the last of our US dollars going to Hector.

But Hector being Hector, a guardian if somewhat swarthy angel, and Honduras being Honduras, he told the bus conductor about our situation.

We asked if we could pay when we got to San Pedro Sula (which coincidentally is the murder capital of the world – the worse thing we witnessed there was they overcooked my fried chicken), and suddenly being cashless was no problem at all. All it needed was the helpful bus conductor to show us where the ATM was once arrived at our destination (please note: there was no mugging at the cash point or anything like that).

On the way we didn’t get murdered, we certainly didn’t get ripped off, and it was the complete opposite of a bad experience. It was a good one.

Travelling around Honduras and El Salvador was such a good experience

Next up, El Salvador. If you make it through Honduras without anything bad happening to you, well, you’re lucky, but El Salvador is a different matter; it’s a completely different beast, and your luck is bound to run out. This time you will be ripped off. You will be mugged. You will have a bad experience. Again, bullshit.

The hardest thing about El Salvador was getting there, which involved seven buses, two taxis, a tuk tuk, a bit of walking and a lot of time (14 hours to be exact).

And what greeted us when we arrived? One of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever seen with only a handful of tourists to share it with, presumably because the rest were scared away.

The only minor annoyance we witnessed in both countries was one guy, drunk, asking us to buy him some food, and you know where he was from? USA.

El Salvador had one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline I have ever seen

Negativity always breeds negativity, but the thing I hate about these scare stories is that they work; there are definitely fewer backpackers and travellers in Honduras and El Salvador, and I think that that is sad.

Both are amazing countries with so much to offer. Both are definitely worth visiting. Like anywhere, like life generally, you just need to use a degree of caution and always plain common sense.

While travelling through Central America the only times I’ve heard anything going wrong is when backpackers or travellers have fucked up themselves.

You’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve had this exact conversation:

Backpacker: “I was mugged in [insert country name here]”

Everyone: “Oh no! That’s shocking! Ohhhh, I was thinking of going there; I had better be careful. In fact, I’ll think about it.”

Me: “How did it happen?”

Backpacker: “Well, it was pretty late at night, around 2am, and I was wasted while walking along the beach. I did a bit of the naughty powder and I got kinda lost, so when some guy came over I tried to ask him for directions. The next thing I know is he mugged me.”

Me: “You’re an idiot.”

Honduras and El Salvador will surprise you, but in the best possible way

The thing is, if you’re going to put yourself in those situations then you’re always going to expose yourself to a certain amount of danger, regardless of where you are in the world. Minimise the risk, minimise the danger.

When it comes to deciding where to travel to next, my advice is this: Don’t let other people influence your judgement. Decide for yourself and form your own opinion. And as for Honduras and El Salvador, go and see it for yourself and see what it’s really like; it’ll surprise you, but in the best possible way.

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When it comes to Central America there is a lot of bad advice out there, so here's what it’s really like travelling around Honduras and El Salvador.

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Like travelling anywhere, don’t put yourself in stupid situations. You can get in trouble in London or New York too. I would add a counterpoint, that both Honduras and El Salvador are REALLY dangerous and corrupt places. I am a spanish speaking gringo who has spent significant time in Central America. One time I was in San Pedro Sula I got lunch at Power Chicken and walked across the street. 20 minutes later a fight breaks out between a gang and police and several people died at the chicken place. Another time, heading to a well recognized restaurant just north… Read more »

Thanks for this. The irony is, people get mugged and murdered all the time in the USA…Can’t wait to go.

That’s hilarious because I had that exact same convo with someone in Quito, Ecuador! We’re planning on cycling across Honduras and El Salvador – trying to decide which route to take. Which country do you prefer?

Thanks for this ❤

I’ve been to panama so I’m planning a trip from Nicaragua to cancun and have two weeks to do it. Besides a passport and tourist visa what other documents or vaccinations are required?

How challenging is it to cross by bus from Cancun–>Belize city–>Guatemal–>Honduras–>El Salvador –>Nicaragua->Costa Rica–>Panama->colombia??Basically use pUBLIC buses across Central America to Colombia.You mention previously taking 7 buses just to cross a very short border between honduras and Guatemala, is that the norm or you just did that for your own pleasure and /or to save money?Which is the easiest and most challenging country to use public Transport like buses?

I am in Belize right now and am thinking or Driving from Belize through Guat to El Salvador…. any advice on that?
(Oh and I’m also a Brit & do not speak Spanish!)

“The only minor annoyance we witnessed in both countries was one guy, drunk, asking us to buy him some food, and you know where he was from? USA.” Stupid comment. What is the point of mentioning the nationality other than to perpetuate BS stereotypes? Stupid, annoying tourists come in all shapes, sizes and nationalities, one would think your travels would show you that…

So glad find this kind of comments about my beautiful country El Salvador.
I don’t live there anymore but every time I’ve got vacations there, those are the best!

Thanks for this article! I am planning to go to San Salvador from Antigua in a week, but I am a girl travelling by myself. I have friends in San Salvador but I am scared of travelling there on a bus by myself.
Do you have any advise for me? Is it still ‘safe’ to go on a bus by self during daytime?
Many thanks for your reply!

Best, V

I really enjoyed reading this. I’m moving to Comayagua, Honduras to teach next month. My son is joining me for the first week, then whenever I have a break I plan to see as much of Honduras and surrounding countries as possible. I play fútbol with a bunch of Hondurans and they have told me everything from “You’ll love it” to “You’ll be back in 3 weeks.” But even the negative guys tell me I’ll be fine if I just use common sense. My El Salvadoran buddy told me to stay out of his country altogether. After reading your article… Read more »

I was looking into going to El Salvador and it seems since this was originally written and as described in articles and travel warnings, crime has escalated quite a lot. Can you speak to this? Thanks.

I agree with the sentiment against scare mongering, negativity/fear breeds itself for sure. However I have an issue with this article – I think its pretty poor for someone who works in the travel industry to not speak enough Spanish in order to understand immigration policy, and then show up with no background knowledge and assume there will be English speakers to help you. Hector was indeed your guardian! Educate yourself, at least for the sake of professionalism, if not for how offensive it is to the people who live in the countries you swan through. I don’t mean to… Read more »

It’s amazing how opinionated people are on places when they HAVEN’T actually been to, isn’t it? That always astounds me. Recently, a friend from Baltimore in the U.S told her mum she wanted to travel again, and she got the usual mum response – you’re going to put yourself in danger, you’re going to get mugged, you’re going to die – and I was like “You live in Baltimore, a city with one of the highest rates of gun crime right now. Where’s really safe?” As you said, you’ve just got to do things for yourself and enjoy every moment… Read more »

Mecca, thank you for your review. Tourists in Central America countries are relatively safer than the general population living in these countries. There are many cultural reasons for that, but that’s another story. The beaches are perhaps the safest places in Central America because the population migrates to urban centers where more public services are offered (education, health, electricity, potable water, etc.). Except for electricity and potable water, many beaches lack the infrastructure to support large populations so the tropical beaches are often desolate places. They are beautiful places though.

just AWESOME article! just came back from El Salvador myself and had a great time. The truth is just about every country in America will have areas that you should stay away from, I went to the beach, restaurants and nice metro areas and it was a good experience, except for the traffic. I am glad somebody took the time to say it in detailed and for that I thank you, our image has been tainted by the media with all the negativity, not sure when that became the trend.

Great article. I love hearing positive experiences that are optomistic and interpid. As your article and these insightful comments suggest, vigilance and common sense save the day regardless of locale. That said, horror stories and rose-tinted travelogues (albeit in the face of the former) often sway the experience of travelers new to the region–any region. Be prepared. Showing up with no money is ridiculous. Don’t shun the kindness of strangers or accept the malice of scoundrels. It’s an art you learn with experience. Traveling is personal, singular, and shaped by decisions in the moment. Let bloggers inform only.

Very nice blog Macca! What lake is that?

What foreign visitors have to understand about El Salvador is that crime is indeed less visible and frequent in tourist spots, but nevertheless it is present everywhere in the country. So I support your point that caution and common sense are the key to safe traveling. On the other hand, it saddens me that some beautiful places are really not very welcoming for tourists, e.g. the old city center of San Salvador, lake Ilopango, etc. so for visiting such off-the-beaten-track landmarks I’d recommend having the guidance of a local. Anyways, thanks for traveling to our little country and for your… Read more »

I am pretty surprised to find this kind of reviews about my country (El Salvador). Surprised in a good way of course! I am happy to hear that you had a great time here, I really do. Sometimes I think that we have this massive dark cloud above us all the time that never let people see what really happens here. I can say that during my whole life (I am 31 years old), I have never been mugged, robbed, hit or chased by any gang member or so, actually I have never even seen one! As you said.. if… Read more »

On behalf of a Honduran that just moved to El Salvador: thank you!! Most of us are good, honest, hardworking people that wish more tourists like you could see the beauty that we know and enjoy. Always take your precautions as you would in any other country in the world. And if possible, learn some basic spanish, you’ll be surprised how people will appreciate you speaking our language!

I’m planning a solo trip to El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. … which you’ve mentioned in other threads isn’t your favorite way to travel.

No, thank you for commenting siennita; I absolutely loved your story and it’s so nice to hear how happy you are and how much you love El Salvador.

I always feel if you completely embrace a new country with open arms, if you completely immerse yourself in the culture and the opportunities, then it can be much more rewarding that being back ‘home’.

Good luck with everything and all the best for the future.

Oh man, I did not know that place existed, otherwise I would have been there in a second. When I’m back in El Salvador I’ll definitely check it out; I love a good independent brewing company so thanks for the heads up!

Amazing! Congrats on your brothers wedding and make sure you have an amazing time in El Salvador – you’re going to absolutely love it.

I agree wherever you go there’s the need to be prudent & minimize the risks. I’m glad you liked Honduras, if you ever come back you need to try all our foods. I don’t know if you tried the baleadas, but if you didn’t you must try them. Everyone loves them! Thank you for your sincere post & trying to make travelers to not be afraid to travel to Honduras or El Salvador bc of what medias & others say, if not experience the situation by themselves. There are a lot of natural beauties & history that need to be… Read more »

We hold an international sailing event in Costa del Sol, El Salvador every year for the past 6 years. The vast majority of the participants say they feel the country is quite safe and it has a lot to offer for nautical tourists. It is unspoiled by mega-tourism and the people are friendly. Thanks for the article

It’s my pleasure Glen! Thank you for being you; thank you for being Salvadorian and for welcoming travellers such as me into your country.

I’m really happy to hear you recommend El Salvador to other travellers Chalateco; it’s good that you do that, and you should always keep your innocent playfullness regardless of what’s going on around you.

I appreciate the fact that El Salvador is not a perfect country and that there are a lot of problems in terms on infrastructure and a struggle for power, but purely from a tourist perspective I couldn’t fault the country at all.

Forever El Salvador will be in my heart!

Once again, YES! I really couldn’t agree more with you Glen.

I have been to El Salvador five times and each time I have ended up loving more the country. My parents are salvadoran and even them seem to be scared to go back because of what is said in the news but if you are carefully and make logical choices then you have nothing to be worried about. El Salvador is really a beautiful country that is worth exploring and that is I why I always encourage people to go visit it.

Yeah I agree with that – great shout.

I agree with you Dave – as long as you keep your wits about you and don’t do anything stupid and you’ll be fine.

Where abouts were you living in Honduras and what were you doing there? Also, and be honest now – how bad was that doctor fly bite!?

Thanks for commenting Rom, and I completely agree with you. No matter where you are in the world, as long as you are careful and safe you should be fine. As you say, it’s all about common sense!

Thanks for the heads up Anna! I’ve made the change now. X

I know, right!? I can imagine if you’re living in a place like El Salvador you want to keep it all to yourself. It really is a wonderful place and I am so glad I got to see it, even if it was only for a short amount of time – I definitely want to make the trip back again in the future.

Love your blog, thank you! Actually I lived in ES from 1987 to 1999. I had the same experiences described by DoctorTerror… However, I still love my country and feel super happy to know tourists see the beauty I see:)

Sad that only people that have migrated from El Salvador talk bad about it. El Salvador is beautiful you need to be careful which places to go. Obviously like soyapango and other areas. But for most of it this is a pretty country. If you have not been here for the last 5 years your opinion doesn’t count. The war was the past. Not everyone had to sleep on the floor.

Doctor Terror that was SIXTEEN YEARS AGO!!!! wahahahaha!!!!
Yours story is so fake because the war “ended” on 1992 and the gangs started in the 80s in the States and didn’t have huge presence in El Salvador back then until more resently (since around 10 years ago). More over, around 99, the MS was not called MS-13, that name came after.

I get that you had a good experience for the short time you were there but most of the people who are commenting here keep talking about being there for a short period of time. I lived in El Salvador for 12 years from 1987 to 1999 I remember sleeping on the floor when the military would engage guerrilla troops behind our house. I remember witnessing a murder at the age of 12. I remember being followed and robbed on multiple occasions while on my way to school. I remember my nanny almost getting her hand chopped off going back… Read more »

LOVE this! I’ve lived in Honduras for the last 2.5 years. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had that same conversation with travelers everywhere…always ending with, “You’re an idiot.” It’s not that bad things can’t happen here, they happen everywhere. But thank you for giving an honest perspective – this is truly a beautiful country!

Great Post. I am a Canadian living in Honduras for 4+ years and it is a beautiful country with beautiful people. Just don’t be stupid and put yourself in bad situations, like being wasted in the middle of the night by yourself. Good advice for any country really.

Great post! I will be going to El Salvador at the end of the month just for a couple of days but im excited

“You’re an idiot” – I can actually hear you saying those words, in fact you might have said them to me at some point haha. True though!