Honduras, the world’s most violent country, has become a popular destination for both upscale and backpacker tourism. Islands, national parks, jungle, mountains; Honduras has it all. But if you want to get to any of it, all roads lead through the world’s most violent city, San Pedro Sula.
For the fourth year in a row, San Pedro Sula earned this distinction with a murder rate of 171 per 100 000. When traveling Honduras, it’s nearly impossible to not stop at some point in the second biggest city and economic hub of the country. Both the main airport and bus terminal in Honduras are in San Pedro Sula. Even if you did try to bypass a night in San Pedro Sula, almost anywhere you’re traveling from will send you to the bus terminal to connect to a different bus, no matter how far out of the way it seems. They simply don’t have the highway or bus infrastructure for anything different.
Well hey, if you’re in San Pedro Sula, why not stay a while and check out the loads of things you can do in the World’s Most Violent City. Located in the beautiful Merendón Mountain range it’s become a home to culture, fashion and nightlife. However, most tourists who come to the city hide in their hotel, but you’re braver than them, right?
FRIDAY – Arriving/hiking/drinking
1:00 – San Pedro Sula Welcomes You with Baleadas
First things first, when you touch down in Honduras you need to eat a Baleada immediately. Start easy, by finding a Baleada express (the McDonald’s of Baleadas can be found everywhere), and pick up two of this simple Honduran treat. A large soft flour tortilla filled with your choice of beans, cheese, egg, avocado, and meat.
2:00 – Check into La Hamaca Hostel.
By far the coolest place to stay in the city, la Hamaca is located in a safe zone with a pool and pool table, a gym next door, close to food, and nightlife. Grab a free copy from the desk of El Ombligo de America (The Belly Button of America), a pocket-size culture magazine that’s free around the city. It gives advice about where to go and what to do, and is a great resource to stay up on the ever changing scene in San Pedro Sula. It also has an online equivalent at http://www.segunmoncho.com/
3:00pm – Take a taxi. Always take a taxi.
People don’t walk in this city. The streets are eerily calm. Today’s going to be your inner city nature day because tomorrow you’re going to be hungover.
3:30pm – The Coca Cola Hike.
Located in a nice neighborhood on the edge of San Pedro Sula you enter through a guarded gate and walk up a paved road through the beautiful Merendón Mountain range. After about 30 minutes, you reach San Pedro Sula’s equivilant of the Hollywood sign. Overlooking the city are large letters spelling Coca Cola where you can enjoy the view.
For the athletic types out there you could even run up the path where next to the sign is an outdoor workout area if you feel like doing an upside down sit-ups. Then you can go down, or continue up further. Five minutes past the Coca Cola sign is another mirador with benches and a bathroom. For the adventurous you can continue further up as the trail gets more and more steep, and treacherous. Get to the rotting metal uphill track, continue two more minutes past that up a tiny dirt trail. You’ll eventually reach a strange (I think) abandoned guard house or something with a so-so view. Not recommended for the out-of-shape and hungover.
6:30 – Delicious Dinner
Take a break from Baleadas again, and check out Jalapenos, a typical Honduran restaurant near your hotel with big plates for $4-7.
8:00 – The Quiet Before the Storm
“If you really want to get to know San Pedro Sula, you have to get down and dirty in the nightlife,” said Tesla Oviedo, professional photographer and owner of La Hamaca. You can start your night there at La Hamaca, where the hostel doubles as a bar. Meet some cool locals and see where they’re going that night.
10:00 – Hittin’ the Town
A great place to start out is Jardines Del Valle, a street close to the University with several different bars on it. It’s safe and attracts a lot of the young people going for cheap buckets of beer and live music. Two recommendations here are Dog House and Wings and Buckets.
On the other side of town, and my personal favorite is Cuchillo De Palo. A relaxed bar that somehow manages to pull off graffiti by San Pedro artist Rei Blinky on the walls, combined with a life size poster of Charles Barkley, and a framed NWA poster.
A little more upscale is Musa Gastropub, a tapas bar and the place to be and be seen by the local cultural elite. Several local artists hang their work here. FYI, not the cheapest place in town.
SATURDAY – Culture, Art, Shopping & the Seedy nightlife
8:00 – The Morning After.
Shake off your “goma”, Honduran slang for a hangover, with some breakfest baleadas; eggs, beans and avocado. Today you’re getting some culture in to impress your mom.
10:00 – Learn the History.
Head to the Museum of Anthropology, an incredibly in-depth look at the long sad history of Honduras. From cannibalistic tribes, to genocidal colonists/pirates, to modern day Honduras; take a trip through history with incredible artifacts and paintings depicting the long troubled history. Oh, and there’s a skinned jaguar on the wall.
12:00 – Shopping and Food.
First head to the Guamalito Artists and Food Market. Come here to get your typical touristy this and that’s: T-shirts, wood-carvings, coffee, cigars, hammocks, etc. I bought two knives – a butterfly and a switch blade – and a neon green T-shirt that says San Pedro Sula. In the back is a food market where you can get typical Honduran food, and buy fresh tortillas and vegetables. Estelina’s and Marie’s are both recommended.
2:00 – New Threads: From Boutique to ‘Bultos’
Honduras has had an emerging fashion scene for a while and San Pedro Sula is the epicenter. Right now there are a couple hot spots to get clothes, especially vintage. The Heels and Boho Chic are two popular boutiques that cater to women’s fashion where you’ll be able to find some great additions for your wife’s wardrobe for a fraction of the prices of in the States and Europe. For guys and girls, keep an eye out for the clothes of Carlos Ortiz, a local artist who paints each piece by hand with intricate and beautifully crafted images. These can be bought at The Heels and some other places around town.
But if you really want to have some fun you have to go downtown. In the blocks between Calles 1-5 is where you’ll find the ‘Cuchumbos’ or ‘Fardos’ a.k.a pile stores. If you thought hunting around in Salvation Army was fun, wait until you hit the ‘bultos’ (piles); big boxes of clothes with little to no organization. You can spend hours finding gems that are usually between $1-5. This is the digging in the crates of fashion shopping.
4:00 – Treat Yourself to some Art and Cigars.
Honduras has become one of the premier countries in the cigar trade, creating world renowned stogies you can purchase for quite cheap. Check out Tobacco and Co. to get something delicious to bring back for the fellas at home.
Art in San Pedro Sula has also made a resurgence of late as artists try to create alternatives for locals to the violence that surrounds them everyday. Street Art collectives have taken to the calles trying to make their city a little more and right now, the main man on the scene is Rei Blinky. His work can be bought throughout the city, but mores specifically, at La Musa Gastropub.
7:00 – Search for Something New to Eat
Hunt down Tajadas; fried plantains made to be like chips, drenched in some sort of secret sauce (although I suspect it is ketchup, mayonnaise, and pepper). It usually comes on the side of a big piece of meat and beans and every San Pedrano has their own “best street stand in town to get them.” Personally, I recommend across the street from the 105 Brigade. There are three stands/restaurants next to each other. One has a big sign that says Ana Fres. Go next to it to the sign-less one named Championes. You can thank me later.
9:00 – What Happens in SPS, Stays in SPS.
Spend a night out at Epic, the most popular club in town nowadays. Girls in miniskirts, guys in v-necks; it’s a very novel concept. Or just skip all that and go around the corner to the Pink Pussycat, a strip joint that feels like it was taken from the 1970’s. Unfortunately, maybe it was the Thursday night shift, but a lot of the dancers looked like they were born in the 1970’s too. This place doubles as a brothel, or at least that was what I assumed when one stripper offered me ‘the special package’ which I politely declined.
SUNDAY – A Traditional Morning in the Historic Center, or chew off your arm.
9:00 – Head Downtown
Spend your final morning in the Historic Center of San Pedro Sula enjoying the Parque Central and the main Cathedral, that together make a pleasant little plaza where men sitting around doing nothing, watching the days pass. On Saturdays the shops around set up outdoor markets selling various goods like fake sunglasses, fake soccer jerseys and real avocados. On Sundays, the walking streets nearby fill with traditional food stands and locals do folkloric dancing in traditional dresses from about 9am to mid afternoon. Enjoy some street food, and tradition, before heading to the bus terminal or airport to begin the rest of your trip in beautiful Honduras.
Or forget the entire trip and hunt down Flora Cundi a.k.a Atropa belladonna. A natural growing plant that can be found around the city and when ingested causes the user to break out into vivid hallucinations. Most people don’t recommend it since it is nearly impossible to gauge your dosage and often people are left in pain for close to 24 hours.
“I had a friend take one sip of it in tea and had to go to the hospital.” Said one local you had tried it. “The problem is you don’t know how you’ll react. You could be fine or you could chew off your arm.”
But you know, if you feel like pulling a Castaneda and talking to Don Juan give it a try.
Alright, have fun and don’t get shot.