When the Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO) asked me to go to Honduras for three weeks to assist looking at trail development and for eco-tourism opportunities in the San Pedro de Sula valley I was very skeptical. Every government travel website I checked (Canadian, US, British, Dutch) warned against travel in Honduras. As a matter of fact one of the sites stated that the city of San Pedro de Sula was the murder capital of the world. Who would want to go there? After checking with people who had been on a CESO assignment in Honduras and had had no problems at all, I decided to take the chance and go.
As soon as I landed in San Pedro Sula (SPS) after an 8-hour flight via Mexico City from Vancouver (only a 1 hr. time difference with PST) and was driven to my hotel I noticed how similar the city of one million looks like cities in SE Asia (Vientiane) and Africa (Lusaka). Lots of garbage everywhere, lots of old buildings, but also several brand new hotels and businesses. After arriving at the hotel I was warned not to go outside after dark, too dangerous. During the day it was OK to be walking around in this neighbourhood, but beware. So on several occasions I walked to a large shopping center 15 minutes from the hotel. By the time you had walked those 15 minutes you were sweating pretty good. The temperature is well into the 30’s during the day and air conditioning is a must to be comfortable. Many days in the late afternoon or evening tremendous thunderstorms would occur with heavy thunder and lighting strikes. In no time the streets are inundated with water and cars drive through 2” to 6” of water. But soon after the rain stops the elaborate drainage system takes care of the water and within a few hours the streets are dry again.
As part of the work I was asked to do here I have been driven to some 10 of the outlying communities around SPS in the valley, including one of the national parks. Several of the other outlying communities are too dangerous to go to, just like one particular road up to the National Park had to be avoided. I found the surrounding area quite beautiful, lots of green forests, banana plantations and coffee plantations. The roads are mostly in good shape, however some road sections to smaller villages are atrocious and it takes hours to drive around potholes at 10 km per hour. There is a lot of poverty in the country, some websites identify it as one of the most impoverished countries in Central America. Unemployment is roughly at 27-28% and several of the outlying communities appeared to be half empty. When I asked about that I was told that many people try to move to North America and end up as illegals, much of the time being deported back again. When I had lunch in a restaurant (Pizza Hut, but there is also McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Subway among others) one of the servers spoke reasonably good English. When I asked him where he had learned that he said ”New York”, he had spent 6 years there before he got deported. Unfortunately many Central American gangs are made up of deported LA gang members. Especially El Salvador is notorious for having drug gangs. The Honduras government has worked hard the last few years to change that and is making progress. The last few years the GDP also has gone up (7% growth) and a lot of new construction on roads and buildings is evident.
The security is still a major problem. At night a security guard is stationed in front of the hotel. In the shopping Center dozens of armed guards walk around. Every bank has an armed guard at the door. I was warned against using public transportation since it is not safe for foreigners.
The people are very friendly and helpful, few people speak English. At times my work was quite challenging because I don’t speak much Spanish and as a result missed much of the discussion that took place around me (without me). One thing that I noticed was that very few people smoke. In the few weeks I have been here I have seen exactly 2 people smoke a cigarette. However I also noticed that many people are overweight. That may be not difficult to explain because going for a jog or even an extended walk is close to impossible in this humid / hot environment. And not many people can afford the membership of the few indoor fitness centers.
The primary purpose of my assignment was to look for opportunities for trail development. So after seeing some of the poor trails I developed a manual for trail planning and development. The secondary purpose of my trip was to look for eco-tourism opportunities. I found quite a few. I think it would be interesting for a north American tourist to be able to visit a banana plantation and packing facility, or a coffee plantation or have you ever seen a cacao plantation? I never knew how cacao grew, interesting to discover how it grows and is turned into chocolate bars.
In summary: I would not (yet) go to this country as a tourist because of the security situation. However as far as its natural beauty is concerned, I am impressed. If the government manages to get the drug trade and subsequent murder rate under control, improves the road system this country can become a major tourist attraction.