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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Honduras 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Honduras. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Honduras country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Honduras at Level 3, indicating travelers should reconsider travel due to crime. Do not travel to Gracias a Dios Department due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tegucigalpa as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. While the risk from crime in Honduras remains a concern, most U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Honduras are unaffected by violence and visit for tourism or humanitarian aid work without incident. Cruise ship industry contacts report that approximately one million U.S. citizens enter the country by ship every year, primarily in Roatán, but also in La Ceiba on the northern coast. Airlines estimate that approximately 250,000 U.S. citizens flew into Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, or Roatán in 2019. Many of these U.S. citizens are church and humanitarian aid volunteers working throughout the country, including in gang-controlled neighborhoods. The U.S. Embassy estimates at least 30,000 U.S. citizens reside in Honduras.

As a result of Honduran government efforts in close cooperation with the United States, homicide rates have fallen from 86.0 per 100,000 residents in 2012 to 43.6 per 100,000 at the end of 2019. Kidnappings declined by 82% since 2013, from 92 in 2013 to 14 in 2018, and 12 in 2019. Hondurans continue to be affected by MS-13 and Calle 18 gang activity in cities such as Tegucigalpa, Choloma, La Ceiba, Tela, and San Pedro Sula. Most crime victims are members of rival gangs, small business owners who resist gang extortion, passengers on public transportation, or those involved in land tenure disputes. Violence linked to land disputes also occurs, particularly in the Bay Islands and Bajo Aguan Valley in northern Honduras.

The location and timing of criminal activity are unpredictable. There is no information to suggest that criminals specifically target U.S. citizens or foreigners. While there are no areas in major urban cities free of violent crime, notably dangerous locations in Tegucigalpa include the areas surrounding Suyapa Cathedral, downtown Comayagüela, downtown Tegucigalpa, and neighborhoods in the outskirts of the city that are generally controlled by gangs. The San Pedro Sula area has seen armed robberies against tourist vans, minibuses, and cars traveling from the airport to area hotels. International non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and USAID implementing partners have reported threats and violence when visiting some rural communities. Those traveling with tour/missionary groups report fewer criminal incidents. Review OSAC’s report, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Major cities (e.g. Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba) have homicide rates higher than the national average, as do several Honduran departments (a geographic designation like U.S. States), including Atlántida, Colón, Cortés, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, and Yoro.

January to December 2019, Secretariat of Security – Honduran National Police

 

January to December 2019, Secretariat of Security – Honduran National Police

Since 2010, there have been approximately 60 murders of U.S. citizens reported in Honduras. These deaths included several in San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba involving U.S. citizens murdered shortly after arriving in the country. These crimes may have been the result of tips from sources surveilling the airport arrival area. In 2019, there was one murder case involving a resident U.S. citizen in Roatán.

Armed robberies, burglaries, vandalization, home invasions, and extortions occur; closely guarded officials, businesspersons, and diplomats are not immune. There is street crime even in gated communities commonly referred to locally as Barrio Seguros; these are generally safer areas in which to reside because of their heightened security measures. In April 2019, one or more individuals attempted a surreptitious breach of perimeter fencing at a U.S. Embassy residence. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

During 2019, multiple vehicles belonging to U.S. and Honduran employees of the U.S. Embassy were burglarized and/or vandalized on side streets around the Embassy compound. In October 2019, a thief stole the side view mirrors from a U.S. employee’s personally owned vehicle while it was parked on a side street near the Embassy.

Roatán and the Bay Islands are geographically separate from the mainland and experience lower crime rates even when compared with other Caribbean islands. However, visitors have reported being robbed while walking on isolated beaches. Thefts, break-ins, assaults, rapes, and murders do occur. Additionally, illegal drugs are for sale in many of the popular tourist areas during the evening hours.

There are an estimated 7,000-10,000 gang members in a country with an approximate population of ten million people. The 18th Street and MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gangs are the most active and powerful. Gangs are not reluctant to use violence, and specialize in murder-for-hire, carjacking, extortion, and other violent street crime. Gangs control some of the taxi services. Violent transnational criminal organizations are also involved in narcotics trafficking and other illicit commerce.

Cybersecurity Issues

Extortion threats commonly originate through social engineering. Criminals sometimes obtain personal information through social media, the internet, or a victim’s family member. NGOs have reported anonymous attacks via social media, alleging that civil society actors are engaged in, or supportive of, criminal activity in Honduras.

Credit card skimming is common. Embassy employees and others have experienced skimming at well-known restaurants, hotels, and retailers. There is often a spike in skimming in December and June, when the working population receive Christmas and mid-year bonuses in the form of one extra month’s salary. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Other Areas of Concern

The U.S. Embassy has restricted U.S. government personnel travel to the Gracias a Dios Department in eastern Honduras because of credible threat information against U.S citizens. Those planning travel to Gracias a Dios should consider postponing their travel. Gracias a Dios is a remote location where narcotics trafficking is frequent, infrastructure is weak, government services are limited, and police/military presence is scarce.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Driving in Honduras can be dangerous. In 2019, there were 1,500 traffic fatalities throughout the country. Roads have poor lighting and markings. Due to the lack of enforcement of traffic laws, travelers should make an extraordinary effort to drive defensively. Even when traffic signals are working, drivers often ignore them. Passing on blind corners is common. Vehicles often drive at night without adequate lighting. Animals and people wander onto the roads. Traffic signs, even on major highways, are often inadequate; streets are often unmarked even in major cities. Major cities connect via an inconsistently maintained, two-lane system of paved roads, with many unpaved secondary roads. A significant percentage of vehicles are in disrepair, underpowered, beyond their lifecycle, and would not meet U.S. road safety standards. The Honduran government is modernizing some of the main transportation road networks to four-lane highways, which can lead to increased travel times because of ongoing construction.

The U.S. Embassy strongly discourages intercity car and bus travel after dark. Avoid traveling at night and always drive with doors locked and windows rolled up to deter potential robberies at traffic lights and on congested downtown streets. Always carry a mobile phone in case of emergency. Exercise extreme caution driving on isolated stretches of road and passing other vehicles on mountainous curves.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

January to December 2019, Secretariat of Security – Honduran National Police

Public Transportation Conditions

The public transportation sector is a regular target of extortion, and experiences higher levels of homicide than many other sectors. There have been multiple incidents of gang members destroying city buses and taxis, and reports that gang members rob, assault, rape, kidnap, or murder passengers.

Passengers on public buses have been the victims of robbery at roadblocks and bus stops, during daytime and nighttime hours. Avoid using Collectivos (white sedan taxis with a sticker on the windshield denoting its established route), Roleteros (private white sedan taxis with no established routes), and Rapiditos (small buses that pick up multiple riders). According to a November 2019 study entitled “Plan for Sustainable Urban Mobility for the Central District and Comayaguela,” 48% of passengers reported having been assaulted one time in the past 12 months while traveling on a Rapidito, 31% twice, 11% three times, and 10% more than three times. Meanwhile, 59% reported having been assaulted at least once while a passenger in a taxi (Colectivo and Rolatero) in the past 12 months, 32% twice, 6% three times, and 3% more than three times.

According to the Honduran Commission for Human Rights (Conadeh), 75 people died in attacks against the public transport service in Honduras between January and July 2019. Most of these attacks involved gang members demanding extortion payments. During July 2019 alone, the cities of San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa recorded 11 attacks leaving 15 people dead, mostly taxi drivers and bus drivers. In March 2019, the Honduran Government created the National Urban Transportation Security Force to combat extortion and other crimes perpetrated by gangs. Some passengers opt to travel armed when using public transportation, which sometimes results in armed confrontations where innocent bystanders are injured or killed in the crossfire. Some would-be muggers and gang members keep to a daily schedule, riding city buses from one stop to the next, committing criminal acts with impunity along the way. 

Other Travel Conditions

Cruise ship passengers should take safety precautions, avoid unfamiliar areas, and book only with reputable tour companies during their stopover in Honduras. Cruise lines and port agencies offer approved tour companies offering packages. Port agencies have worked to improve taxi service to/from ports. Most cruise line passengers experience no problems, but there have been reports of associated armed robbery and carjacking.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Terrorism Threat

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tegucigalpa as being a LOW-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There are no known international terrorist groups operating in Honduras. The country does not appear to be a terrorist safe haven. There are no legal cases involving instances of terrorism affecting U.S. citizens or facilities brought before the Honduran judicial system, and no reports of judicial developments that would have a negative impact on U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

The CA-4 agreement among El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras allows for the inspection-free movement of citizens among these countries, reducing overall inspection at land crossings. Limited inspections could facilitate movements of terrorists. Nicaragua used to be part of the CA-4 agreement, but in late 2017 began requiring travelers to register their travel purpose and destination online seven days in advance. Honduras decided in late 2018, based on reciprocity, to institute the same reporting requirement. As a result, there is no longer free travel between Honduras and Nicaragua.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

Civil Unrest

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Tegucigalpa as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Civil unrest in Tegucigalpa and other parts of Honduras remains a constant challenge. Avoid protests, which can quickly turn violent. Spurred by anger with the government over accusations of public corruption, allegations of involvement in narcotics trafficking, and efforts to pass controversial education reform, protests and demonstrations were near-daily occurrences at times during 2019. Most demonstrations were concentrated in or around city centers, public buildings, and other public areas. However, protesters will also block, key intercity transportation routes and intracity intersections with burning tires, rocks and other debris, to include the roads leading to the international airports in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, and the CA-5 and CA-11 highways. While many protests remain relatively peaceful, demonstrations can escalate into violent confrontations with the police resulting in destruction to public and private property. On May 30, protesters blocked several main avenues in Tegucigalpa, including access to Toncontín International Airport (TGU). Responding police fired tear gas in and around the main terminal to regain control after protesters entered the building and airport grounds. The following day, protesters started a fire outside of one of the U.S. Embassy’s entrances during demonstrations against public-sector reforms in the country.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Indigenous and ethnic minority communities are frequently located in rural areas, which enjoy lower levels of criminal activity. However, there can be communal tension over land ownership, natural resource allocation, and exploitation. These tensions have resulted in intense protests and violence. Due to the remote nature of these areas, the government’s ability to respond to violence or other problems is often very limited, as is access to medical facilities. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

Honduras has a long history of sustaining damage due to powerful tropical storms and hurricanes. The rainy season usually runs May-November. Nine significant tropical storms/hurricanes since 1995 have affected Honduras. While hurricane winds are a concern, much of the damage to infrastructure comes as a result of the ensuing flooding and rock/mudslides.

Critical Infrastructure

The limited capacity of the government to enforce international standards related to natural resource exploitation has resulted in higher levels of conflict in the extractive and electrical generation industries. In addition to complying with local laws, companies involved in natural resource extraction or energy generation should ensure they fully consult with communities in accordance with international standards. Honduras is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s 169 Convention, which requires free prior notice and informed consent from indigenous communities before any development projects can begin; the congress has not approved a law regulating this process.

In November 2019, Tegucigalpa authorities began developing a luxury housing project in the La Tigra bioreserve, just outside of the city. This resulted in multiple protests by environmentalist groups claiming the project is illegal due to the damage to the bioreserve and exacerbating the city’s already dire water shortage.

Economic Concerns

U.S. organizations and citizens report corruption in the public sector and the judiciary is a significant constraint to investment in Honduras. Historically, corruption has been pervasive in government procurement, issuance of government permits, customs, real estate transactions (particularly land title transfers), performance requirements, and the regulatory system. Since 2012, the Honduran government signed agreements with Transparency International, the Construction Sector Transparency Initiative, and the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative. Honduras received support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation in the development of an e-procurement platform and public procurement auditing. Following anticorruption protests in 2015, President Hernandez signed an agreement with the Organization of American States to form the Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH). Since its inception in 2016, MACCIH has worked with the Public Ministry to achieve success on several significant cases, including against current and former public officials. Despite significant international and local public pressure, MACCIH’s mandate ended in January 2020 without agreement for its extension between the OAS and the Honduran government.

Land title procedures have been an issue leading to investment disputes involving U.S. nationals who are landowners. Title insurance is not widely available in Honduras and approximately 80% of the privately held land in the country is either untitled or improperly titled. Resolution of disputes in court often takes years. There are claims of widespread corruption in land sales, deed filing, and dispute resolution, including claims against attorneys, real estate companies, judges, and local officials. Although Honduras has made some progress, many perceive the property registration system as unreliable and a constraint on investment, particularly in the Bay Islands. In addition, a lack of implementing regulations leads to long delays in the awarding of titles in some regions.

Cable signal theft and counterfeit products are the most prevalent violations of intellectual property rights in Honduras. Counterfeit products are predominately but not solely in the pharmaceutical and apparel industries. Counterfeit medicines are available in pulperías (private home-operated convenience stores), but have also been reported in Farmacias del Ahorro.

Counterfeit Honduran lempiras (currency) are common, especially in the 100 and 500 denominations. Counterfeit U.S. currency is also common.

Personal Identity Concerns

Same-sex sexual activity is legal in Honduras. Discrimination occurs against ethnic minorities and the LGBTI+ community. Members of the LGBTI+ community have reported violent assaults because of gender identity and sexual orientation. The government has a police investigative unit dedicated to investigating violent crimes against the LGBTI+ and other vulnerable communities, composed of Public Ministry prosecutors, members of ATIC (prosecutor’s investigative agency), and the Honduran National Police; however, it has limited resources and functions primarily in the major urban areas.  Many activists report that crimes committed against the LGBTI+ community go unpunished. There have also been cases of police harassment of patrons in LGBTI+ nightclubs. LGBTI+ travelers should exercise caution, especially when expressing affection in public. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Honduran law requires access to buildings for persons with disabilities; however, there are limited facilities for individuals with disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Drug-related Crimes

Drug trafficking and gang activity, which includes local micro-trafficking of narcotics and extortion, are the main causes of violent crime in Honduras. Penalties for the possession, use, or trafficking of illegal narcotics are strict; convicted offenders can expect lengthy jail sentences and fines.

Kidnapping Threat

According to the Honduran National Police, there were 12 kidnappings reported nationwide during 2019. The municipalities in which kidnappings were reported include: Districto Central (4), Jacaleapa (1), Trojes (1), Siguatepeque (1), Puerto Cortes (1), Lejamani (1), Tocoa (1), Tela (1), and Comayagua (1). Although reports of kidnappings have dropped considerably in recent years, they continue to affect both the local and expatriate communities, with victims sometimes paying large ransoms for the prospect of release. Reports of kidnappings of U.S. citizens are not common, with zero reports for 2019. However, kidnapping figures are likely lower than reality, as families of kidnapping victims often pay ransoms without reporting these crimes to police out of fear of retribution. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Police Response

The government lacks resources to investigate and prosecute cases; police often lack vehicles/fuel to respond to calls for assistance. Police may take hours to arrive at the scene of a violent crime or may not respond at all. As a result, criminals operate with a high degree of impunity.

The government places specially trained police forces in areas tourists frequent (e.g. the Copan Mayan ruins and Roatán). The government is implementing similar programs for other locations (e.g. La Ceiba, Trujillo) and major hotels; other tourist installations have increased private and police security. The government has also begun implementing a series of police reforms; it has formed groups such as the National Inter-Agency Security Task Force (FUSINA) and the National Anti-Gang Task Force (FNAMP) to combat crime.

The police, along with the Ministry of Defense’s Military Public Order Police (PMOP), routinely establish checkpoints and review documentation (e.g. driver’s licenses, vehicle registration). The Honduran National Police wear blue uniforms, while the PMOP normally wear green camouflage. Uniforms and vehicles are all clearly marked.

Detained U.S. citizens should insist on speaking to U.S. Embassy representatives as soon as possible. The police generally treat detained foreigners well. Except in some very rural locations, police are aware of a U.S. citizen detainee's right to contact the Embassy. Travelers should be aware, however, that the assistance the Embassy can provide is limited to making sure U.S. citizens are not treated differently from local detainees and providing them with a list of local attorneys. The Embassy cannot secure the release or act as legal representation for any U.S. citizen.  Local law allows the police to detain someone for up to 24 hours for administrative processing. This is a common practice for most automobile accidents where personal injury occurs, and for cases in which someone is accused of a criminal act.  Seek legal representation before admitting or signing any legal form that acknowledges culpability.

If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime, contact the local police and U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa. Reach the local police anywhere in Honduras by dialing 911. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

For fire and public safety emergencies, dial 911. Fire Department operations: +504-2231-1667.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is limited. Emergency services, even in Tegucigalpa, generally are basic. There are few U.S.-educated physicians in Tegucigalpa.

Red Cross ambulance: 911, (504) 2227-7474 or (504) 2227-7575. The ambulance does not have paramedics or emergency medical equipment; it functions solely as transport to hospitals.

Fire Department Ambulance is fully equipped with emergency medical supplies and medical staff. Dial 911 for emergency or call (504) 2232-4092.

The Honduras Medical Center (HMC) is the primary private hospital that the Embassy uses for emergency response and when hospitalization is required. Despite being considered the best private hospital in Tegucigalpa, it is not Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited; JCI is an independent, not-for-profit organization that evaluates and accredits healthcare organizations. Although its specialists occasionally cannot provide the U.S. standard of care, the hospital and diagnostic departments do have the capability to provide most medical procedures. HMC’s lab was reviewed by the Regional Medical Laboratory Scientist and found to be up to U.S. standards and quality assurance practices. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy/Consulate website.

Travelers are responsible for ensuring that they have adequate health coverage while in Honduras. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s webpage on insurance overseas.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

The following diseases are prevalent in Honduras: Chikungunya, Dengue Fever, Malaria, and Zika. Honduras requires proof of Yellow Fever immunization if coming from another country endemic with Yellow Fever. Honduras lacks the infrastructure to maintain water purity and food safety. Diarrheal illness is very common even in large cities and luxury accommodations. Only sealed commercial water containers (bottles) are considered safe to drink. Air pollution can aggravate or lead to respiratory problems during the dry season due to widespread forest fires and agricultural burning. Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Honduras.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Honduras Country Council generally meets monthly on a rotating basis in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula and has approximately 70 members. Contact OSAC’s Latin America team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa

Avenida La Paz, Tegucigalpa

Hours of Operation: Monday-Thursday, 0730-1630; Friday, 0800-1500

Tel: +504-2236-9320; After Hours: +504-2236-8497

Website: http://hn.usembassy.gov

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/embajadahonduras/

U.S. Consular Agency San Pedro Sula

Banco Atlántida Building, 11th Floor, across the street from Central Park, San Pedro Sula

Hours of Operation: Monday-Thursday, 1200-1600

Tel: +504-2558-1580

Website: https://hn.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/spsca/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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