Backpacking in Honduras
Islas de la Bahía (Bay Islands) – a paradise for divers
While we’re on the ferry from La Ceiba to the islands, with the warm breeze around my face, the bright sun beaming down, the island vibes kick in. We’re floating towards palm trees on glistening turquoise water in the Caribbean sea.
The crystal-clear sea over here is not only perfect to jump in after sunbathing, but also for diving and snorkeling. Everyone we’re talking to on the ferry is either already a diver or planning to do dive courses on the Bay Islands while backpacking in Honduras.
Located right in the Belize Barrier Reef, the islands Utila, Roatán and Guanaja are incredible diving spots. With a span of over 1000 km from Yucatan down to Honduras, this is the world’s second-largest coral reef, just after the Great Barrier Reef. Did you expect that? So no wonder that diving in the second largest coral reef is one of the most fascinating things to do in Honduras.
Even though the islands are in Honduras, where Spanish is the main language, you’ll notice that English is widely spread and even spoken among locals on the islands. This goes back to the pirate history of the Islas de la Bahía. Due to their strategic position, pirates used the islands as an operational basis in the past.
Once we arrive in Utila and walk past the dive schools, I already get the feeling that I’ll like this place. The vibe kind of reminds me of Koh Tao in Thailand, where I did my diving license seven years before.
And that’s for good reason. Utila is also considered one of the world’s best and cheapest places to do get your Padi certification.
With its many dive schools and a laid-back vibe, it’s the perfect place for backpackers. And the prices are perfect as well. You can do a Padi Open Water for around 300 US$ including 4 nights of accommodation. That’s as cheap as it gets anywhere else in the world.
The water is super clear and during certain times you even get the chance to see whale sharks.
As it was recommended to us by other travelers, we spent a week at Underwater Vision dive school
for courses and fun dives. They have nice dorms right next to the turquoise sea, professional dive instructors, a great bar, and laid-back vibes. I can totally recommend staying there when you’re backpacking in Honduras and want to spend some days diving or getting a diving certificate. If you do courses with them, you even get free accommodation.
Once the sun sets, the main road gets busy with local restaurants and a handful of bars. Every evening one of the dive schools organizes some kind of events such as karaoke or burgers&boardgames. A good way to get together with your fellow divers, rave about today’s dives and let the day unwind.
There are many places on the island where you can get great food such as Hotspot Café, La Casita and, of course, Baleadas at every corner.
But I’d like to point to two which have a sustainable approach:
– a café with an eco-friendly focus, serving their dishes with reusable utensils (e.g. metal straws). You can bring your own container to get zero waste takeaway food
. There’s also a small shop where you can buy shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes, cutlery kits
, and more.
Utila Brewing Company
– large dishes and lots of vegan options. They also sell bamboo cutlery for your travels.
Besides diving, hanging out in cafes and beach bars, and indulging yourself with good food after a day in the water, you can explore the small island a bit.
Rent a scooter or hike across the island to Pumpkin hill for an awesome view all over Utila from the top. There’s even a tower you can climb if you’re brave enough.
Also, don’t miss stopping by Utila Chocolate Co.
– they make delicious organic chocolate without any additives and other organic products from cacao beans. Besides, their cafe is definitely the one with the best scent on the whole island.
The neighboring island of Roatán is much bigger and more known for cruise tourism and higher prices than Utila. It used to be a place where hippies hung out but due to the many hotels and dive schools, there’s not much left of a laid-back hippie vibe.
With a length of 60 km, Roatán is the largest of the Islas de la Bahía (Bay Islands). The most touristy area can be found around West Bay with its many resorts. The Half Moon Bay reaches from there until West End.
More beach vibes
Cayos Cochinos – remote, tiny islands
These two tiny islands are near the Bay Islands, around 30 km from La Ceiba, but remain unknown by most travelers. Yet, they are a dream come true if you love pristine beaches. They’re located in a marine park which is perfect for snorkeling or hanging out by the untouched beaches in hammocks.
You can reach them by boat from either La Ceiba, Utila, or Roatán. But you have to ask your way around, as they’re not very well known. A true hidden gem off the beaten path when backpacking in Honduras!
Tela – beach vibes on the mainland
Another nice place for some relaxing days by the beach is Tela – a beach town on the mainland. Around its enticing bay with several shallow, remote beaches, it spreads Caribbean vibes among Garifuna villages. Besides, prices are affordable over there. A few days in Tela are among the most popular things to do in Honduras also for local tourists.
Over there, you can also head to a viewpoint for panoramic views across the bay.
Pico Bonito National Park & Congrejal River Valley – the largest jungle in Central America
Not far from La Ceiba, the town where the island ferries leave, you can find a gem in nature. Along the winding river Congrejal, the rainforest has a lock on nature.
Besides amazing hiking trails and jumping into the river, you can opt for some adventure activity in the Congrejal river valley. One of the best things to do in Honduras! It’s all about whitewater rafting and canyoning in the fresh river.
A great day hike is the Mapache Trail to the Waterfall El Bejuco.
Located right next to the river, the place to stay when backpacking in Honduras is Jungle River Lodge
. For many travelers, staying here is a highlight of their Honduras backpacking adventure.
Copan Ruins – on the trails of the ancient Mayas
A group of large colorful Macaos is flying above us, their impressive wings shining in reds and greens and blues through the treetops, just after we enter the park.
As my gaze follows them, I can see the impressive ruins peaking through the majestic trees.
Being the most significant ruins in the country, the ruins in Copan are among the most spectacular things to do in Honduras. As opposed to the neatly excavated ruins of Tikal in Guatemala, these ruins are mostly intertwined with nature. Trees have taken over the power of the site, a somehow magical view.
During the main Mayan period from the 5th to the 9th century, Copan used to be one of the major Mayan cities. Nowadays, the archaeological site makes up the most significant ruins of Honduras and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Within just a short 15-minute walk outside of Copan town, you reach this ancient site with its temples, monuments, and carvings. The entrance fee is 15 US$.
Besides Macao parrots, we also spotted a small colorful snake and a tiny Colibri. So keep your eyes open to what nature has to offer. Well, actually that’s always a good thing to do in Honduras, no matter where you are.
While the ruins are the main reason for travelers to stop in Copan, the place is not only about the ruins. The cobblestoned town itself is super pretty and has some nice cafes and restaurants. Definitely worth a stroll!
And check out El Lugar del Te & Chocolate
. They have delicious organic chocolate treats in an awesome lush location a short walk outside of town. Their furniture is made out of old tools used for traditional chocolate production.
Also, there are hot springs nearby that you can check out.
is the place to be for backpackers in Copan Ruinas. A great hostel with yummy food!
Tegucigalpa – in case you want to see the capital
Well, the country’s major cities are not the most appealing places on your Honduras backpacking trip.
Even though you might have to pass through Tegucigalpa or San Pedro Sula on your Honduras itinerary, I wouldn’t recommend staying there. Criminal rates are the highest and there are much nicer things to do in Honduras.
In case you want to spend some days seeing the capital, often referred to as “Tegus” by the locals, it offers some colonial architecture. Worth seeing are the Basílica de Suyapa and the hill with the statue of Christus von Picacho.
Besides, you can explore some markets and the urban chaos of the city.
Good to know before you go
Itinerary for Honduras backpacking
With a great local bus network, it’s quite comfortable to explore the dotted highlights and beautiful things to do in Honduras.
There is also the option to take tourist shuttles to and from the major places.
However, they’re way more expensive than public buses. So we decided on only taking a shuttle for the border crossing from Guatemala
and sticking to local buses for the rest of the trip.
Also, many shuttles have stopped operating during the pandemic as there are not enough tourists. From Copan down to El Salvador
, for example, we had no choice but to go by public buses.
Here’s a suggested route for your Honduras backpacking trip for around one week to ten days:
Bay Islands (Utila or Roatán ) – 4-5 days
Especially if you’re coming from the north of Guatemala, the Bay Islands are the perfect place to start your adventure backpacking in Honduras. There are direct shuttles from Río Dulce and Livingston to La Ceiba, the gate to the islands.
The trip takes around 9 hours including the time for the border crossing.
For a diving course, you have to stay at least 4 days. Without diving, you can also move on earlier.
If you’re keen on some pristine beaches, head to Cayos Cochinos.
Pico Bonito National Park & Congrejal River – 2-3 days
When you come back from diving and hanging out on the islands, you have to pass through La Ceiba again. That’s the perfect opportunity for some hiking and river adventures, as you only have to drive a few kilometers out of the city into the Congrejal River Valley.
Copan ruins – 1-2 days
Next on your trip, you can head down to Copan Ruinas to visit the ancient Maya temples. The ride by public buses is quite comfortable. Hop onto the bus to San Pedro Sula where you have to change to another bus to Copan Ruinas. Starting in La Ceiba each bus takes around 4 hours.
If you want to spend a few more days backpacking in Honduras, you can add a beach stop in Cayos Cochinos or Tela on your way to San Pedro Sula.
In case you want to go further down to El Salvador
, as we did, be ready for a longer trip and for changing buses many times. But even long bus rides are honestly one of the most uncomplicated things to do in Honduras.
From Copan to El Salvador, we first took a local bus to La Entrada, then hopped onto another one down to Ocotepeque close to the border and eventually a short ride to the border El Poy. It was uncomplicated, the next bus was always already waiting and so it took us around 4 hours. From the border, you can get a chicken bus on to San Salvador or change once more if your destination is Suchitoto or Santa Ana.
Even though the majority of dishes are heavy on meat, I never struggled to find something as a vegetarian.
We found the food very similar to Guatemala
with the Tipico breakfast
(tortillas with eggs, bean puree, avocado, and fried platano) and Burritos and Tacos
Around the Caribbean coast, people rave about seafood dishes such as Machuca or Tapado – a coconut stew with seafood.
The signature street food that you see everywhere is Baleadas – fried tortillas filled with beans, cheese, and sometimes avocado or eggs. Among all the things to do in Honduras, you should really try some Baleadas! It’s also the cheapest food you can get starting at 15 Lempira (0,50 US$) for a simple Baleada Sencilla (only beans and cheese).
As for snacks, you can often find pan de coco (coconut buns) or galletas de coco (coconut cookies) and of course fresh tropical fruits such as mango, melon, or pineapple and their juices. The fruits just taste so much better over here. And you can finally eat tropical fruit with zero kilometers and without being conscience-stricken.
Sustainable travel in Honduras
Honduras is not very touristy yet, so there are many local places to stay and to eat which is great to support the local economy.
Also, you can join a beach clean-up
– one of the best things to do in Honduras to help the country. You could do one when you’re in Utila with Underwater Vision
dive school. Every Sunday they organize a beach clean-up somewhere on the island. And it’s very much needed, as you realize once you see the amounts of plastic waste washed ashore.
Places like ReThink encourage you to get your take-away food in your own reusable containers
. However, this is possible almost everywhere. Just bring your own Tupperware or silicone zip bag
and ask the food vendor to put your dish in there.
With a bamboo cutlery kit,
you always have your straw with you and can decline any lid and straw when you order fruit juice.
Unfortunately, like other Central American countries
, Honduras has a huge problem with trash
. Most takeaway foods are packed in single-use plastics and most locals have no understanding of the impacts of littering the environment. We’ve seen so many people on buses throwing empty plastic bottles and packaging out of the window.
So if you’ve got some time, look into environmental organizations that you can support. Either financially or through volunteering. Through community work and environmental education at schools, the level of education can improve in the long run. Hopefully, this will lead to less littering in the future.
What’s the best time to visit Honduras?
With many hot, sunny days, the dry season lasts from November until around April/May. It’s a great time for backpacking Honduras in order to get the most out of your time.
During my time in Honduras in February, it only rained once and that was very light rain. It remained warm and after a few minutes, the rain was gone again.
How to get around Honduras?
No need to take an overpriced shuttle to explore the things to do in Honduras! The local bus network in Honduras is surprisingly well developed. For example for a bus trip across the country from La Ceiba at the Caribbean coast down to Copán Ruinas we only had to change buses once in San Pedro La Sula. And the trip went smoothly. From one comfy bus, we just had to hop onto another one in the large bus station of San Pedro. The trip took around 8 hours and was 265 Lempira each (less than 11 US$) in comparison to a similar time by shuttle for 40 US$.
Also, the local bus rides are usually fun, too. Locals chatting loudly and singing along Spanish folk songs and street vendors jumping in and out of the buses while selling drinks and snacks. I always enjoyed these trips.
Is Honduras safe to travel?
Well, I can only tell about our experiences and what we heard from other travelers.
We didn’t have any bad experiences
backpacking in Honduras, even though it’s considered one of the most dangerous countries in Central America
However, the high crime rates are mainly due to incidents between criminal gangs. As a tourist, chances are extremely low that you get involved in gang riots.
Especially in places like the Bay Islands or Copan which are visited by more travelers, you can walk around without any worries. We felt super safe there.
Still, better leave your valuables at the accommodation and just take a bit of cash when you’re out.
Yet it takes a bit to get used to seeing armed military in front of shops and regular road checkpoints. But remember, they’re only there for your safety.
Also, avoid traveling by night and you’re better off avoiding the big cities.
If you don’t feel confident taking public transport (which we experienced as totally fine), you can also stick to tourist shuttles. But you won’t reach all the good places that way.
Is Honduras cheap to travel?
Coming to Honduras from its neighbor Guatemala, we found traveling a bit cheaper here. You can get great stays in hotels or hostels for around 10 US$ per person per night and dishes in restaurants between 130 – 160 Lempira (around 5 – 6.50 $).
If you’re on a really tight budget you can stick to eating Baleadas which are quite filling and start at 15 Lempira (around 0.50 $).
Public transport is also very cheap and even the taxis are affordable if you have to take one for a short bit.
Backpacking in Honduras – a wrap-up
Honduras in three words: corals | baleadas | macaws
Did you know? Honduras is where Columbus set foot on American land – namely in Trujillo. Allegedly, the name Honduras also goes back to the deep sea Columbus had to sail through in front of the country’s coast (“hondura” meaning “depth” in Spanish).
Favorite photo spot: On top of Pumpkin hill in Utila
Favorite food: Baleadas with avocado (cheap and yummy!)
Can’t miss: Diving (or a dive course) in Utila
Have you been backpacking in Honduras before? Any tips, experiences, or things to do in Honduras that you’d like to share? Leave a comment below!