Honduras Still Welcoming Visitors in the Wake of Hurricane Mitch
December 29, 1998
In late October, Hurricane Mitch developed into the fourth most powerful hurricane in Atlantic records and took deadly aim on Honduras. In the wake of Mitch, the Honduras economy was shattered. Coffee crops were badly damaged. Bananas were washed out, down to the subsoil. And the country's shrimp farms were washed out. Surprisingly tourism was left mostly intact.
Mitch, which has been described as the most destructive storm in 200 years, sat with its eye well over the Bay Island of Guanaja for 39 hours, then moved inland, unleashing floods and mudslides that killed 7,000 people and left over a million without homes.
However, most hotels were able to soon reopen. According to Gracia Lanza of the Honduran Tourism Institute, "One week after the hurricane we took a survey of all the hotels. Surprising, 90% of them were open with food, water and service." In the days after Mitch, the lodging industry housed many of the homeless, the relief workers, and international press covering the damage.
Since then, many of the closed hotels have been opening one by one. Lanza said one major exception is the town of Cholateca in the south, which was completely destroyed. The town's main tourist hotel remains to be rebuilt.
When people could turn from rescue and relief to look around, they found that Copan, the premier Mayan site in Honduras, was undamaged. They found that two of the three Bay Islands escaped without serious damageand that the reef that Honduras is so famous for was largely undamaged.
The capital city of Tegucigalpa was badly hit, with severe flooding in the downtown area, the loss of many lives, and the loss of key infrastructure. Inland, much of the damage was confined to steep canyons, roads along rivers, and urban areas. The dirt road to La Tigra National Park, a cloud forest preserve not far from Tegucigalpa, is still washed out.
The rainforests of Honduras, some of the most pristine and extensive in Central America, were not substantially damaged. Most of the hiking trails just require brush clearing. Most of the old colonial towns were not hurt by the storm.
Honduras has been working, non-stop, to dig itself out of the debris left by Mitch. Most transportation corridors have been reopened. Airports are all open and operating without constraints. Supplies of water, food, and medicine are secure. Electricity and telephone services are almost fully restored. The nation's efforts prevented anticipated widespread outbreaks of disease.
International relief efforts have been of great help. Assistance poured in from all over the planet. And the people of Honduras have risen to the occasion, with high school students forming a shovel-bearing army that removed mud and debris from affected areas.
Now, it's up to Honduras to put itself back together. Agriculture will not generate much foreign exchange until soils can be rebuilt and trees regrown. That leaves tourism.
Honduras was a special place to visit before Mitchand it is just as special now. Airports, roads, resorts, hotels, and tour companies are ready to receive visitors. Dive operations are up and ready. The famous beaches and bays of northern Honduras are being cleaned up.
This would be a great year to travel to Honduras. Not only will you have a rewarding experienceyou will know that every dollar you spend in Honduras is helping this hardworking nation get back on its feet.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication