by Gary Carlson
UPDATED FROM SEPTEMBER 2015
Writing about the crime rates in a country where you are trying to promote tourism is like playing with an 800 pound gorilla, you shouldn't do that! With a long record of ignoring good advice, we are gonna play anyway.
There is no getting around it; the country of Honduras has some pretty dismal statistics when it comes to crime. Almost every site listed on a Google search of the country’s name will off-handedly mention in the first few sentences that Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. However this has fallen in recent years by 25% due to a new administration's crack down on drug gangs and traffickers.
It’s true. The situation is a sad recipe for disaster. With political corruption, it’s location on the cocaine routes from South America, poverty, illiteracy, and inadequate police force, drug gangs have infiltrated the major cities. San Pedro Sula and the capital Tegucigalpa, #’s 1 and 4 on the murder rate list respectively, have appalling crime rates in major areas of the cities. However the crackdown on crime and corruption by the present Honduran administration has shown to be effective. Formerly the cities of San Pedro Sula, and the capital Tegucigalpa, were #’s 1 and 4 on the world murder rate list respectively, but now San Pedro Sula comes in at #26 behind St Louis and Baltimore, with Tegucigalpa not even making the list!
Both cities have robust business districts, residential areas, shopping and traffic. Getting around in these areas is easy and not too intimidating. However like any major city there are certainly areas you would not want to go. The cities have also gone over to contemporary penitentiary landscaping in the gardens and areas around homes and businesses using sometimes tastefully colored brick walls topped with barbed and concertina wire. Heavy gauge steel doors seem to be popular. Upon questioning residents of either city about the horrible statistics you often get the response; "It's not that bad really, you keep the doors locked, don't go out alone, and only park in lots with an armed guard......"
This is not the Island of ROATAN
Roatan has a different history than mainland Honduras, a different physical location, a different culture, higher education rates, and far less crime. Roatan being a small tight knit community, has a history of policing themselves. It is unusual to hear of violent crime, and gang activity literally doesn't exist.
The first noticeable difference in the island communities from the mainland, is the openness of the yards, the children playing together in the streets, and folks relaxing the shade talking, rather than the concrete walls of the big cities. Yes, most windows have bars, but this is a tropical climate (hot), and being able to keep your windows wide open while you step out is comforting in a few ways.
With the tourism Roatan brings to the country in the form of scuba divers, cruise ship passengers, international travelers and the money brought in by these groups, the Honduran government makes a special effort to protect the island and its visitors. The 40 miles of open ocean between the mainland and the island helps as a barrier to walk-in criminals. The ferry, as well as the airports, require positive ID and any suspected criminals are not allowed across.
There is also a newly appointed police force geared to assisting visitors and policing the tourist areas. Dressed in their new white and black with red trim uniforms, they are a constant and casual presence here in West End.
To be sure Roatan is not crime free, nowhere is. Violent crime is rare on the island, but with the disparity of wealth, opportunistic and petty thievery can and does happen. Truth is if you lay your iPhone 12 down and walk away from it (seriously why did you bring it?), you may no longer own it.
With the new administration's crime crackdown, and the subsequent increase in the police force partly made possible from the tax revenues of tourism business, even the word of mouth reporting of these incidents, and petty crime has significantly decreased.
Do yourself a favor and don't bring your iPhone, this is your holiday away from all that. Leave your Rolex at home, we aren't impressed, and there is a guy down the street with a whole armload of them for sale. Gucci sunglasses(?) he has them too, five bucks. Like to flash a few hundreds(?) never a good idea anywhere, and here they are useless, nobody has change! Bring twenties. Be smart and travel smart.
Pack your flip-flops, bathing suit, shorts, a shirt, camera and your dive gear (we'll take care of that for you), grab a non-stop to Roatan (weekly outta Houston and Atlanta) and leave your cares and worries behind. Come join the rest of us, who are here day to day, safely, in paradise.