I’ve received a variation of this question a handful of times now from people (friends and strangers alike) trekking through Central America. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot: is Honduras really skip-worthy? I’ll give the most State Department-y answer ever and say “it depends”.
TL;DR: don’t avoid Honduras because you’ve heard it’s dangerous. Only forego this country only if you’re lacking in time, patience, or interest.
Most people who come questioning really just want to know if it’s safe. We’ve been in Tegucigalpa for almost a year and a half and haven’t had any major issues (some friends, unfortunately, can’t say the same). We’ve been very careful to opt out of traveling off the beaten path, carrying valuables, or taking public transit. Outside of the two major cities, though, the gang violence that gives Honduras its terrible reputation isn’t really an issue. Public transportation is a little sketchy, so I’d recommend skipping that scene and renting your own car. And petty crime is a given, but with some degree of vigilance and street smarts, you’ll likely be fine. Don’t let the reputation alone scare you away from a good time. But please do sign up for the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program!
Once you feel comfortable with the security situation, consider your interests carefully and budget your time accordingly. If Mayan history is in your wheelhouse, you’d be remiss to skip Copan. If you’re an avid diver, Roatan is worth the flight. If you love whitewater rafting, Rio Cangrejal in La Ceiba is a must. If you want to hike, birdwatch, and just chill out and eat good food, put Lago de Yojoa on your list. As for the two main cities, those I would recommend skipping. There’s not a ton to do and it’s just not worth the risks as a tourist. There are lesser known areas that will fill time near the capital should you be passing through. La Tigra, Valle de Angeles, and Picacho each have their charm.
The sites are not few, but they are indeed far between. Exploring the best of Honduras is not for travelers on a time crunch. Tegucigalpa is a long 7-hour drive from to the Copan Ruins, which are another 7 hours from La Ceiba on the north coast (trust me: skip Tela in favor of La Ceiba!) Sitting in the middle of all of the those is our favorite spot in the country: the tranquil Lago de Yojoa and Pulhapanzak waterfall. It’s a 3ish hour drive from any of them, so not exactly a good launching off point (though we’ve done some day trips out of there and it’s always a very, very long day.) You’ll probably need a week at least just to see these 3 sites and actually get to enjoy them properly, and even that involves a whole lot of time in transit depending on which borders you want to enter and exit.
Down south is an entirely different scenario: there isn’t a ton going on. Amapala is a decent day trip for those of us who live here and just want out of the city, and there’s a turtle sanctuary down there somewhere. But when it comes to turtles and island adventures, you can do much better elsewhere, including Roatan and Utila. Sitting just off the northern coast, the islands are renown for diving and snorkeling, and they’re only a quick hop from the mainland by plane or ferry.
So, in short: if you’re keen on fitting Honduras into your trip (or your trip consists of Honduras alone), focus on the northern half. But if you’re really just looking to enjoy some ecotourism, you could “skip” Honduras in favor of other countries with better tourist infrastructure and still do most of the activities mentioned above. Yes, there are great opportunities here for hiking, birding, ziplining, and beyond, but you might be able to fit more into your trip elsewhere. It’s all personal preference; we’ve much preferred the beaches in El Salvador, the jungles in Costa Rica, and long road trips in Nicaragua where roads rival U.S. quality.
I would never advise someone with ample time, money, and interest to “skip” Honduras entirely. But if you need to make some tradeoffs on your Central America trip due to scheduling or budgetary constraints, Honduras could be sacrificed (or at least saved for later) unless you have a particular interest. Of course, there’s something priceless about saying you’ve been there, done that…
I’m always happy to answer specific questions about traveling in Honduras, just contact me.