Earlier this year I had the chance to spend a month in La Ceiba, Honduras, learning Spanish and volunteering in an orphanage. I organised this trip through Frontier, a UK-based organisation specialising in gap year travel and volunteering opportunities. Although I was nervous and apprehensive to begin with, the month contained some of the best experiences of my life. Four weeks was a surprisingly short amount of time, so I wanted to share my top five pieces of advice to make the most of a similar experience.

1. Speak as much Spanish as possible

It may seem obvious, but the more you speak the local language, the faster you will begin to correct your mistakes and gain confidence. For me, it was the combination of daily Spanish lessons, living in a homestay, and everyday life that brought me to a good conversational level. Although it may seem daunting talking to locals who are fluent in the language, they will appreciate your effort and sometimes mistakes can provide a good laugh. I’ll never forget the time I confused ‘los bomberos’ (the firemen) for ‘los bombónes’ (the sweets) and told my Spanish teacher a newspaper article was about lollipops!

2. Try the local food

Living with a Honduran family allowed me to try an array of different food, both good and bad! I quickly fell in love with balleadas (tortillas filled with refried beans and cheese) – I think my record was about five in one day. A less enjoyable experience was chicharrón (boiled pig skin), which was very difficult to pretend to enjoy out of politeness. Eating locally demonstrates the two-way relationship of ecotourism; you are able to benefit from a new experience and the local economy can benefit from the money spent. Other ways to support the local economy include using local transport and buying locally-sourced souvenirs.

3. Involve yourself

When volunteering or travelling abroad, it is useful to remember that the more you put into an experience, the more you are likely to get out of it. This was definitely true when volunteering in the orphanage; the more I played and talked with the children, the more they let me into their lives and I could appreciate them for the friendly individuals they are. Learning their stories was often an inspirational experience; one teenage girl was paralysed from the neck down since birth, but wrote and did amazing artwork using her mouth. Spending time with these children made me re-evaluate my own life; it was an incredibly rewarding experience.

4. Try something new

Trying things outside your comfort zone can sometimes bring the most unexpected results. Although I am not religious and not fond of dancing, in La Ceiba I was convinced by another student from my Spanish school to try everything from salsa lessons to local church services. At the salsa lessons I learnt that dancing in Honduras is not only a hobby or form of art, but also a vigorous exercise routine! At church I found myself surrounded by the friendliest group of Hondurans who invited us to eat at their houses, play volleyball and even attend a camping trip. It taught me that some of the best experiences can come from something you wouldn’t necessarily expect to enjoy.

5. Be spontaneous and flexible

Whilst in La Ceiba I learnt about “Honduran time”: a concept which meant someone could arrive a couple of hours earlier or later than planned and still consider him or herself on time. I soon learnt this concept exists throughout Central America, only is renamed according to the country: for example “Guatemalan time”. Although initially frustrating, it taught me to be spontaneous as often plans were cancelled or made at the last minute. Some of my best memories from La Ceiba include a spontaneous car trip to run along a deserted beach, and taking a local “chicken” bus (named after their purpose of transporting livestock in rural communities) to complete a canopy tour of 18 zip lines before relaxing in natural hot springs.

My month in La Ceiba brought me a newfound appreciation of Honduran people and their customs and increased my self-confidence. I learnt I was capable of not only surviving in a completely new situation, but making the most of the experience and enjoying every moment. My final piece of advice would be to travel without expectations; you are less likely to be disappointed if plans do not work out, and an open mind means you will say yes to new experiences.

Your thoughts on "Five pieces of advice for travel in Honduras"

  • Ahhh I spent my summer in Honduras too, absolutely loved it. I think it's one of those countries that loads of people just seem to miss out when they do Central America. You should have gone over to Utila or Roatan if you didn't, such beautiful little islands and incredible for diving! Very easy to get to aswell. Also, all of these points are more general Central and Latin America travel advice... not so much Honduras specifically...

    on October 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm Reply
  • Love Honduras, We're on our way back for my fourth time in November!!! I first went here traveling solo, now I'm showing my kids and husband the beauty of it. We just recently came back from Copan and next month are off to the Bay Islands.

    on October 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm Reply
  • Thanks for sharing these tips. They are really helpful. The point that you made regarding knowing the language of the land to where you travel is absolutely correct. If a person who travels to an unknown country but knows their language, it can make the travel an entire comfort and relaxing, but failing to know the language can make the journey hard, as communication is what matters the most in a travel. I come from Asia, but i think a tour to South America country can be an unforgettable experience with the heritage sites and the culture you get to see there! Wish i can travel someday to Honduras soon. Thanks for the post. It definitely helps.

    on October 12, 2011 at 9:18 am Reply
  • Thanks for the comments! I agree that knowing a few words of the language goes a long way - it not only improves your travel experience, but also shows respect for the local people. And indeed I think these pieces of advice could be adapted for use when travelling in any developing country. I did have the opportunity to visit Utila - I learnt to scuba dive there and absolutely loved it, definitely one of my favourite places in Central America! The Bay Islands are beautiful, Cayos Cochinos are worth visiting as well. Copan is a very interesting place too - the preservation of the engravings on the ruins is very impressive. Thanks again for the comments :)

    on October 13, 2011 at 6:56 am Reply
  • Hi I loved reading your article about Honduras. And it is absolutely true. Unfortunately there are a lot of negative news in the media about Honduras. I moved to Honduras some time ago...left my homecountry Switzerland to start a new life in Honduras. To summarize I REALLY LOVE MY NEW LIFE!!! Eliane

    on October 21, 2011 at 3:33 pm Reply

Would you like to leave a comment?