General Availability of Health Care
Contact the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travelers (IAMAT; tel. 716/754-4883, or 416/652-0137 in Canada; www.iamat.org) for tips on travel and health concerns, and for lists of local English-speaking doctors. The U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa (tel. 504/236-9320; http://honduras.usembassy.gov) also has a list of English-speaking doctors that you can download from their website. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (tel. 800/311-3435; www.cdc.gov) provides up-to-date information on health hazards by region or country, and offers tips on food safety. The website www.tripprep.com, sponsored by a consortium of travel medicine practitioners, may also offer helpful advice on traveling abroad. You can find listings of reliable clinics overseas at the International Society of Travel Medicine (www.istm.org).
Before You Go
Hepatitis A, polio, tetanus, smallpox, and typhoid shots are recommended (but not required) for visitors planning to be in contact with local residents on an extended basis. Hepatitis B is suggested, as well, but not required. Malaria and yellow fever are extremely rare, yet if you intend on visiting extremely remote areas in La Mosquitia, you may want to discuss with your doctor your options for prevention. A short case of diarrhea or a 24-hour stomach bug is usually the most serious medical issue a traveler will face. It can occur even if you avoid unwashed vegetables and drink only bottled water, so bring antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin to help. In most cases, you just have to drink lots of water and sweat it out.
Traveler's Diarrhea -- Few visitors to Honduras experience anything other than run-of-the-mill traveler's diarrhea in reaction to unfamiliar foods and any microorganisms in them, although outbreaks of cholera and hepatitis have occurred in recent years. Honduras's tap water should be avoided. Bottled water is widely available throughout the country and cheap. You can eat fruits and vegetables, just be sure that they are washed in purified water before you eat them; that concern applies mostly to street vendors, as any upscale or tourist restaurant knows to use purified water. If your stool is bloody or diarrhea persists for more than 72 hours, you should seek medical attention.
Cholera -- Outbreaks of cholera do still occur in Honduras on a somewhat regular basis, usually in the rainy season. To avoid the disease, always wash your hands before eating, drink only bottled water, and be careful with what you eat.
Tropical Illnesses -- Mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria and dengue fever do occur in Honduras, especially during the rainy season, when mosquitoes are most prevalent. Malaria can best be treated with chloroquine, a once-weekly pill found in most drugstores in the country, while dengue fever usually lasts for just a few days and is untreatable. The best prevention for either disease is fending off mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeve clothing, spraying insect repellent, and using mosquito nets. Repellent with 25% to 35% DEET, which should be applied to skin and clothing -- but never on open wounds, eyes, or children under 2 years of age -- will last up to 3 hours and is widely considered to be the most effective. Typhoid fever is caused by ingesting contaminated food or water. Symptoms, which resemble those of malaria, include fever, headaches, muscle aches, dizziness, nausea, and abdominal pain. It usually goes away on its own, but the use of ciprofloxacin or levofloxacin will help alleviate symptoms. Yellow fever no longer occurs in Honduras, or elsewhere in Central America, for that matter.
Bugs, Bites, & Other Wildlife Concerns -- While Honduras is a relatively untamed country with all sorts of wildlife, most animal injuries are related to someone's attempt to touch or feed an animal. This is a big no-no. Even dogs and cats in the streets should be avoided. Any animal bite should be immediately washed with soap, and then add an antiseptic such as alcohol or iodine. Visit a doctor immediately to see if rabies shots will be needed. It is wise to begin taking antibiotics, as many wounds tend to become infected.
Snake and scorpion bites, while rare, do occasionally affect the passing traveler. Poisonous snakes found in Honduras include the fer-de-lance, bushmaster, coral snake, and several rattlesnakes. Snakes rarely attack humans except when they get too close or accidentally step near them. If a venomous snake bites someone, keep the victim at rest and immobilized and take them to the nearest medical center. A digital photo of a snake or remembering the markings and color of the skin can be extremely helpful to a doctor.
Scorpions can be found all over the country. They are not life threatening, but their stings do hurt. If bitten, pack the wound with ice and go to the nearest medical facility. To prevent scorpion bites, be sure to inspect your bed before getting in, and your shoes and clothes before putting them on.
Leishmaniasis -- Sand flies, sometimes called no-see-ums, are far more annoying than mosquitoes in Honduras, in most cases. On the Bay Islands (more so on Utila and Guanaja than Roatán) and along the North Coast, they can be extra pesky, and traditional mosquito repellents don't always seem to work. Usually, their bites only cause small red, itchy bumps, but they can also cause leishmaniasis, an infection that causes ulcers to appear over exposed parts of the body. To prevent against sand fly bites, sleep with a finely netted mosquito net and wear long sleeves and pants when these critters are near.
Chagas' Disease -- Chagas' is one of those rare diseases that everyone talks about but always thinks is an urban legend. In the walls and roofs of houses, mostly substandard buildings made of mud or adobe brick, in lowland and coastal areas throughout Latin America, blood-sucking triatomine insects bite and lay their feces on human skin, usually the face. When itching, the human rubs the feces into the bite or on an open sore. The infection leads to swollen glands and fever, usually 1 to 2 weeks after the bite, and then goes into remission for periods of years and sometimes never returns. Young children are especially susceptible to this disease.
HIV/AIDS -- HIV is a very serious danger in Honduras, and numbers have spiraled out of control in recent years. The relaxed attitudes toward prostitution by men are the likely cause, and a large percentage of sex workers in the country are infected. Many continue working. San Pedro Sula and the North Coast are areas that have been hit especially hard by HIV/AIDS. Use of a condom is a wise move on many levels.
What to Do If You Get Sick Away from Home
Medical care in Honduras is a mixed bag. In rural communities, proper medical facilities may be nonexistent. Doctors and hospitals tend to be considerably better in larger cities, such as San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa, where many doctors are English-speaking. In smaller towns, always visit a private clinic instead of a public hospital. Some rural areas have only a basic clinic, and you'll need to travel to the nearest large town for more complicated procedures. We list hospitals and emergency numbers under "Fast Facts" throughout this guide.
If you suffer from a chronic illness, consult your doctor before your departure -- especially if planning to visit high altitudes. Pack prescription medications in your carry-on luggage, and carry them in their original containers, with pharmacy labels -- otherwise, they won't make it through airport security. Carry the generic name of prescription medicines, in case a local pharmacist is unfamiliar with the brand name.
For travel abroad, you may have to pay all medical costs upfront and be reimbursed later.
Like most other Latin American countries, Honduras has its good parts and bad parts concerning safety. Violent crimes do occur in the country, and foreign visitors have on rare occasions been murdered, raped, assaulted, or kidnapped. While it is mostly contained to major cities, violent crime is a serious issue and contributes to the country's frightening murder rate, which is one of the highest in the world. While tourist areas are considerably safer than other parts of the country, common-sense safety methods should be used.
A traveler's principal concerns are pickpockets and break-ins, which do occur in large cities, especially Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and La Ceiba. The downtown areas of each of these cities tend to be the most dangerous, and gang violence was a serious issue in Tegus for a number of years, though this is no longer the issue it once was.
In Olancho and La Mosquitia, drug smugglers coming up through Central America from South America do exist, though it is rare that a foreign tourist will encounter anything of the sort. Drug use and possession in general is not taken lightly in any Latin American country, and numerous tourists have been given long sentences in Honduran jails. Do not buy, transport, or carry drugs in Honduras. If you are caught with drugs, your embassy will not help you. Police presence on highways in Olancho tends to be minimal; therefore, cars are often the targets of armed robbers. You should use extreme caution when traveling in this region and never drive at night.
Chances are you won't see or have any problems, though with some very simple precautions, you will considerably decrease your chances of being the victim of a crime.
In downtown areas, do not walk alone, especially at night, and use taxi cabs called from a trusted source, such as your hotel manager, to get from place to place. Note a cab driver's name and license number, and do not allow him to pick up other passengers, agree on the fare before you depart, and have small bills available for payment. When driving, do so with your doors locked and windows up, especially in downtown areas, where carjacking is more common. For bus travel, stick to daylight hours and, when possible, go with first-class operators. Never leave valuables in your rental car, and always keep a close eye on your belongings when in public. Don't flash gold or silver jewelry, large amounts of cash, iPods, or digital cameras. Even slick new US$300 backpacks are an attractive item for local thieves and the occasional sleazy backpacker. While you may not always be able to just blend in, you do not have to act like an easy target. If you are the victim of a crime, contact a police officer immediately, either in person or by dialing tel. 199.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.