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.

Wherever you travel in Honduras or El Salvador there is beauty all around you

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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AA

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 of San Salvador, we were stopped by the police who proceeded to extort us because one of our traveling companions wasn’t carrying identification or a passport. Central America is gorgeous and worth the trip. I’m not saying don’t go, but it absolutely isn’t ok to ignore that there is significant risk.

fergusnicoll
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fergusnicoll

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

Kelly Sheldrick
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Kelly Sheldrick

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?

ClimberGirl
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ClimberGirl

Thanks for this ❤

junior morales
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junior morales

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?

Blackguyy
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Blackguyy

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?

Ben
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Ben

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

Carl D
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Carl D

“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…

Elizabeth
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Elizabeth

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!

Vèronique
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Vèronique

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