Honduras Expat Health Insurance Guide
Granted, Honduras does not have the best reputation. As a travel destination it is often completely avoided due to its undesirable image, which, after a decade of brutal violence, is completely rational. However, Honduras has become a phoenix of the globe and has started slowly rising from the ashes of its severe issues.
The challenges ahead for Honduras are still significant, but once you dive into the country and peel back the damaged layers, there is a heart that boasts unique experiences for travellers.
For those wishing to envelop themselves in a rich tapestry of Mayan history, unparalleled white sand beaches and other-worldly rainforests, Honduras is the jewel that needs a polish in Central America’s crown….
Honduras benefits from a tropical climate, with cooler temperatures in the mountain regions, ranging from 16°C to 20°C. The north coast is blessed with offshore breezes, however, the area is still very hot and rain is prevalent throughout the year. The wet season in Honduras runs from May to October, and the dry season from November to April.
The Bay Islands have a different clime to that of mainland Honduras. The subtropical climate found here can see temperatures between 24°C to 34°C and, in contrast to the mainland, the rainy season runs from July to January, with the remainder of the year generally staying dry.
The hurricane season (June to November) does not usually affect the Bay Islands or the Caribbean coast of Honduras as they are not on the usual path. However, it has been known that Honduras can often receive the tail end of hurricanes during this time and tropical storms should be prepared for.
The best time to visit Honduras is during the high season, between January and June. During the rainy season exploring the country can be an issue, as roads can often become blocked due to flooding and rock slides. Some activities are dictated by the seasons, with kayaking and white water rafting best done after the rainy season and whale watching best in March and April.
Honduras is a simmering pot of cultural expression, not only owing to it being part of Latin America, but also due to the multi-ethnic uniqueness of the country. The population is comprised mostly of Mestizo people (a person of European and Amerindian decent) making up 90% of the citizens, with Amerindian, Black and Caucasian people making up the remaining 10%. This merging of cultures, not forgetting the Caribbean influence from the Bay Islands, makes for a unique lifestyle and variations in religion, norms and customs.
Most Hondurans are nominally Roman Catholic, which is considered the main religion of the country. However, membership in the Roman Catholic Church is declining whilst a Protestant belief is increasing. Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Rastafarians are all religions noted in Honduras, although the Catholic Church is still the only church that is recognised.
Carnivals, fairs and parades are common occurrences for Hondurans throughout the year. The Isidra Fair of Le Ceiba is a vibrant event that lasts a whole week, with music, exhibitions and food, culminating in the most popular carnival: The Carnival of Friendship.
Hondurans also celebrate the June Fair, or Feria Juniana, of San Pedro Sula. This event differs from others as it includes a variety of different musical concerts performed throughout a week, and spectators also have the opportunity to attend sporting events and exhibitions.
Another important fair is hosted in Puerto Cortes during the month of August. This is different from other Honduran fairs because it resembles the city of Venice, with its parades of gondolas and boats in Puerto Cortes’ bay that launch fireworks into the night sky.
However, by far the most popular day celebrated in Honduras is the 15th September: Independence Day. This commemoration is particularly special as schools, colleges and big companies all over the country get involved, adorning the streets with chariots and festivities. It is essentially an entire nation having a party!
In Honduras, the language spoken by most people is Spanish. There are, however, other smaller dialectics spoken in the country such as Creole English and a few languages of Amerindian origin.
The Spanish spoken in Honduras has a lot of features that are similar to the Spanish used in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Honduran Spanish has been influenced by quite a number of native dialects, and also from the Afro-Antillean dialects. It is characterised by an increase in the usage of native and slang jargon. In this dialect the letters J and S are usually removed and can, therefore, be spoken as the letter H in English. At times, these letters are not articulated at all.
Travellers from the UK can use their UK Driving Licence to drive in Honduras if they are visiting for under 3 months, but an International Driving Permit is recommended. Car rentals are a dime a dozen in the country and it is best to liaise with hotel staff or trusted guides on the best company to go with if you require a car.
It is imperative to have adequate insurance if renting a car in Honduras. If you are involved in an accident the police can be contacted on 199 and the fire brigade on 198. Be warned: if you are in a serious accident you may be held in custody regardless of responsibility. In this instance you must seek legal help and inform the British Embassy in Guatemala. In the case of an accident remember to take full details of the driver (who may not be insured) and do not rely on the vehicles number plate.
The roads in Honduras are generally poor, as is the level of driving capability from nationals. A 4×4 vehicle is recommended for travellers not driving on the main roads. It is advised to only drive during daylight hours as, at night, many nationals drive without lights and animals often wander across roads causing accidents.
It is notably safer to travel on main roads between major cities and tourist destinations. Locking vehicle doors and keeping windows closed is a must and, if possible, travel in convoy.
Public buses are often poorly maintained, overcrowded and recklessly driven, with accidents common and sometimes fatal. You should avoid travel on public buses. There has been an increase of armed attacks by local gangs on bus drivers and conductors, often resulting in serious injury or death. Furthermore, there have been reports of violent muggings, including rape and assault, against foreigners on these buses. Luxury buses, normally operated by private companies, are usually better maintained and the safest option for visitors.
Don’t travel around after dark as you can greatly increase the risk of attack. Roads that have seen attacks include routes from Limones to La Union, from Olancho via Salama to Saba, from Gualaco to San Esteban and from La Esperanza to Gracias. The isolated roads of the Department of Santa Barbara have also seen criminal activity, and hijackings of vehicles have occurred on roads in and around Tela, La Ceiba, Trujillo and El Progreso.
If travelling near the borders of Guatemala, El Salvador or Nicaragua, take great care. Travellers have been targeted by armed robbers after crossing the Honduran border into El Salvador. It is often better to cross borders in the morning as they sometimes close in the early evening or remain unmanned at night. Furthermore, there are unmarked minefields in and around the border with Nicaragua so avoid walking on unmarked paths or travelling away from main roads.
Visiting your doctor 4 to 6 weeks before a trip to Honduras to check whether you need any vaccinations or preventative measures is a must. In early 2016, Zika virus was confirmed in the country and it is best to discuss travel plans with your healthcare provider, particularly if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
Standards of medical treatment vary in Honduras: state-funded hospitals are under-resourced and medicines are in short supply. Health insurance is required in Honduras and evidence of this should be carried at all times. Making sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad is essential and private clinics should be used when and where possible, though these are only available in major towns.
Dengue fever and malaria are present in Honduras and tap water should be avoided; bottled water is safe, cheap and widely available.
If you require urgent medical attention during your trip to Honduras, dial 195 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your healthcare insurance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
The Honduran Lempira is the currency of Honduras, with 3 centavos (coins) and 8 values of lempiras currently in circulation. US dollars are widely accepted.
Banks are slow, but safe, and the best place to exchange currency for lempiras – as well as cashing American Express traveller’s cheques. However, when visitors land at San Pedro Sula or Tegus airports, you will find currency exchange desks. These can be used get enough lempiras to tide you over until you can visit a bank the next day.
It is safer to withdraw money from ATMs in shopping centres and to change money in banks in Honduras. It is advised to not withdraw too much money at one time as there have been attacks on foreigners withdrawing money.
Foreign visitors and residents can be targeted by scam artists. The scams come in many forms, and can pose great financial loss. If you or your relatives or friends are asked to transfer money to Honduras, make absolutely sure that it is not part of a scam and that you have properly checked with the person receiving the money that they are requesting it.
The public education system in Honduras is free, compulsory, and open to all citizens, but it wasn’t always this way. Before 1957 education was the exclusive privilege of the upper class and extensive education reforms replaced the old system. Today, the system begins in pre-school, continues in elementary school and secondary school, with the option to continue to university afterward.
Most children, however, do not start school until nine (the compulsory age) as a lack of schools prevents many children from receiving a full education. The costs such as enrolment fees, school uniforms and transportation costs are also not feasible for many families.
For expat students, international schools can be the perfect solution in Honduras. International schools provide similar standards of schooling around the globe, providing for an easy transition between schools.
As with most other countries, the better international schools tend to be located in major urban areas. A number offer tuition in English, meaning no worries about learning Latin American Spanish, and allow one to study for internationally-recognized qualifications. This is beneficial as it allows pupils to transition to education in other countries as and when desired.
Note that in line with most international schools the fees can be considerable. As a result expats are advised to consult their new employer before accepting a role with the aim of having school fees included in their expat package.
Food & Drink
Honduras isn’t well-known for its culinary offering, but there are some tasty local dishes to try. There are a multitude of restaurants and bars in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and other cities, and fast food is extremely popular.
Beans, rice and tortillas make the up the foundation of many dishes, and plantain is cooked in a variety of ways as a traditional accompaniment. Pork, chicken and beef are all favourites of the country and seafood is a staple in coastal areas, specifically the Bay Islands.
Hondurans class their main meal of the day as lunch and it is often beef served with refried beans, rice, sour cream and tortillas. Variations of this ‘plato tipico’ (typical dish) can be found in restaurants throughout the country.
Other specialities include filled tortillas, baleadas. Flour tortillas are filled with refried beans, crumbly cheese, sour cream and pickled onions. Many variations also contain avocado, scrambled egg or whatever meat the individual fancies.
Another tortilla based offering is the world famous enchilada, but evidently more tradition in Honduras. A flat corn tortilla is fried and topped with an assortment of ground beef or pork, cheese and a tomato salsa. Similar to this is the pastelito; a folded tortilla filled with beef or chicken, rice or potatoes, and spices (similar to a burrito).
In terms of beverages, a big hit in the country is licuados; milkshakes made from tropical fruits such as mango, watermelon and pineapple. Rum is also very popular, particularly on the Bay Islands where Pirate’s Grog is a popular label.
Many hear the name Honduras and murder springs to mind. This notion is not misjudged. In the 2013 Global Study on Homicide, executed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world, with 90.4 homicides per 1000,000 people. Comparing this to the international homicide rate of 6.2 per 100,000 people can make any potential traveller feel extremely uncomfortable.
In general, Honduras does suffer with exceptionally high crime rates, with the majority of serious crimes happening between nationals or orchestrated by two of the most powerful gangs in the country; Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio.
In a country with such high unemployment rates, drug trafficking has contributed to crime as people struggle to keep their heads above water or get involved in gang culture. Poverty and low conviction rates also impact on the overall crime rate of Honduras, and it is such a vast problem that often law enforcement officials struggle.
Generally, most serious crime does not affect tourists visiting the country, but foreigners have been known to be subject to armed robberies and sexual assaults. Tourists are advised to carry a small amount of money on hand in case of robbery, as many people have been injured or killed when resisting attack.
Many consider the Bay Island to be much safer than mainland Honduras, but there have been many attacks on visitors during the ferry journeys to and from the mainland. It is advised that, if visiting Roatan, to travel only with a guide. For those driving in the country, avoid side roads and remote areas, notably Palm Beach Road and beaches in Tela after dark.
It is not advisable to travel alone in Honduras. Visitors should be vigilant at all times and accepting lifts from strangers or attempting to hitchhike could turn out to be a grave mistake.
For visitors leaving the international airport in San Pedro Sula violent attacks on cars and buses can occur. To combat this, use a reputable tour company for longer journeys and hotel taxis for shorter distances.
Theft and pick-pocketing is a problem in most cities and tourist areas. There has been an increase in incidents in mainland destinations such as Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula so it is best to avoid walking around these areas. Visitors should be particularly vigilant at bus stations, airports, isolated beaches and whilst using public transport. Keeping valuables locked away is a necessity and avoid displaying jewellery, cameras, mobile phones and musical devices.
Political unrest is another problem in Honduras, and protests can occur with little or no notice. The vast majority of demonstrations are peaceful, but can turn violent. All foreigners should avoid demonstrations and use local press, radio and TV for updates.
Lastly, it is worth noting that there is no British Embassy in Honduras. For consular assistance, the British Embassy in Guatemala City should be contacted.
Places to Visit
Despite crime issues in Honduras, the country should not be avoided. The destination has some stunning places to visit and is perfect for those intrigued by ancient Mayan history, craving pristine diving or wanting to explore majestic national parks. It is important to be careful in cities, but other than that, Honduras is open for business.
Located in Western Honduras, Copan is a small Mayan site famous for its remarkable series of portrait stelae. The stelae and sculptured decorations of the buildings of Copan are some of the few surviving relics of the ancient Mesoamerica. The Mayan city grew into one of the most important Mayan sites, but the site was mysteriously abandoned. The neighbouring Copan Ruinas has all essential tourist facilities.
Roatan is one of the Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea. The island is one of the most popular tourist destinations because of its stunning scenery and plethora of activities. Roatan is the perfect destination for diving, snorkelling and swimming; it offers gorgeous beaches and an untouched coral reef teaming with exotic marine creatures. The Island also features many cherished attractions such as the Iguana Farm, the Cramola Gardens and the Roatan Butterfly Garden.
For those who want a white knuckle ride, Rio Cangrejal is Central America’s number one destination for kayaking and rafting. With long stretched of white water rapids, the river offers plenty of boulders and plunges for adrenaline junkies. The river has designated areas for different skill levels, ranging from inexperienced to advanced and many tour operators offer training to help novices learn the basics so they can get involved too.
Cayos Cochinos consists of two main islands and several smaller cays surrounded by the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea. For those seeking peace and wanting to experience the beauty of Honduras away from the tourist hubs, this is the place. There are no roads or cars in Cayos Cochinos, just hiking trails that link from untouched beaches to tranquil villages.
Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve
A must for nature lovers, the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is one of the few places in the world boasting unspoilt rainforest ecosystems, and plays home to a number of endangered wildlife species. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing and rafting expeditions as well as tours through the dense rainforest to view exotic birds, crocodiles, monkeys and jaguars.