The Truth About Living in Honduras: The Upside and Downside
I’ve done volunteer service trips from the U.S.A. to Honduras, Central America for thirty-five years and have been living in Honduras for six years as a retiree. The country holds no secrets or illusions from me. I only tell things the way I see them, so be assured that this short overview is not going to be yet another glowing tourist-luring travelogue. After reading this article you might decide that living or retiring in Honduras could be right for you, and then again, you may not.
Before moving to Honduras as a retiree, I spent three years in Sarasota, Florida – “America’s Finest Small City,” bordering “America’s Most Beautiful Beach,” according to the magazines that conduct these kinds of surveys. After endless symphony concerts, ballets, Broadway and off-Broadway-style theater, art gallery openings, conferences and political fund-raising parties, I felt as spoiled, bored and saturated as one might feel from eating dozens of fancy chocolate candies every day.
I was a by-stander, watching life instead of participating in the real world which is how I felt when I was working on projects and playing on the beaches and in the hot springs of Honduras. I was also calculating the financial realities of retiring in the U.S. versus retiring in Honduras. I was fast approaching my seventies. I knew I would need help, being a single woman, not fragile by any means, but delicate, not a heavy lifter or mountain climber anymore.
I had worked in low-paying social services jobs and had no pension or savings other than a small Social Security check of $730 coming in each month. Almost all of my money had gone into renovating my little house in a traditional old African American section of Sarasota. If I stayed in the U.S., I would eventually be faced with the probability of having to move into a “low income senior independent living” apartment.
To me, this was not acceptable. I would feel like a parakeet in a tiny cage, possibly surrounded by other senior apartment dwellers whose cigarette smoke, sneezes, coughs and snores would permeate through thin walls, doors, floors and windows (as they had when I had tried living in one of these senior apartments some years back, and had only stayed for two months before the deadly second-hand cigarette smoke seeping into the apartment became intolerable.) Luckily, I had only rented out my house in Upstate New York temporarily and was able to return, in gratitude and appreciation of it after this failed experiment in senior housing.
In Honduras, it is possible to have a full-time handyman/gardener/driver plus a full-time housekeeper/cook for less than $500 per month. In the U.S. the same assistance could cost $5,000 a month or more. I figured that I would be able to sell my freshly renovated house in the U.S. and build or buy one in Honduras with enough money left over to invest and boost my retirement money by enough to live comfortable and afford the help I need, as a retiree (“pensionado”).
I also planned to find a few other retirees in Honduras who would be welcome to live with me, rent and mortgage-free, sharing only the low-cost maintenance and salaries of our assistants (and God(dess) laughs when humans make plans, right?).
I flew down and took a modern Mercedes bus, equipped with movies, bathrooms and snacks, to Copan Ruins, a small town that attracts tourists from all over the world to visit the extensive Mayan ruins there. I had been attending a yearly conference put on by Project Honduras (www.projecthonduras.com), and fell in love with the many interesting restaurants, including the venerable and traditional Llama del Bosque (“flame tree”) and Twisted Tanya’s, located on a second-floor terrace, with gourmet and vegetarian dishes and a well-stocked bar.
My favorite of the nearby attractions is a wild bird park, Macaw Mountain, which was built by two North American men. They also own a fish processing plant on Roatan, Honduras Bay Islands, and a coffee farm, so eating at the Macaw Mountain Restaurant is a delicious adventure in good eating, with fresh ocean fish and shrimp, homegrown and roasted coffee. Besides watching the exotic parrots, macaws and other birds (all rescued, not captured), it is possible to have a photo taken with a bird on each shoulder, and to swim in the mountain stream that runs through the park.
There are dozens of other attractions, restaurants and fine hotels in Copan Ruins. I won’t go into any more details about them, because all of that information is available online at www.hondurastips.com, and in the official travel guide book of Honduras, also called Honduras Tips, available at hotels and restaurants throughout the country and mailed free of charge from the Miami-based Honduras Tourism Office.
I rented a modern house in Copan Ruins and was looking for a tranquil piece of land in the nearby countryside when I learned that foreigners (“extranjeros”) were only allowed to buy 400 meters of land near the international borders. Copan Ruins is ten minutes from the border of Guatemala. This meant that I could only buy a small home in town, which was much too noisy and crowded for this country girl, or I could marry a Honduran man and thus be eligible to buy land in his name. Neither of these options appealed to me.
Friends advised me to take a look at Santa Rosa de Copan, which in the U.S. would be referred to as “the county seat,” with the municipal buildings, courthouse, police headquarters, three universities and a bilingual international school for the children. I met with the one real estate broker in town in that year. He showed me houses and land all over the surrounding areas of this charming colonial town, one hour and forty minutes from Copan Ruins.
With a referral from a well-trusted local attorney, I was introduced to a builder/contractor who described himself as an architect. I later found out, much to my dismay, that he had never graduated from architectural college, nor was he a member of the Honduras Architectural Association. He was still working on my house three years after the six-months contract that I signed with him. He once said to me “This house is my experiment.” I told him I was tired of his being two and a half years late on our contract and of his “experiment,” at which point I fired him and have gradually completed the work myself, with the expert and loyal help of the assistant I hired then to help me. Unfortunately, the house cost almost three times the original estimate, which left me without any savings at all.
When I spoke to another local attorney and a justice of the peace mediator about recouping the $15,000 in fines this contractor owed me for the extra 2 ½ years, as stated in the contract, to cover the expenses I had for renting an apartment in town during this time, I was told that there was nothing I could do. Justice is truly blind in Honduras. In fact, much of the legal system is like living in anarchy. There are laws, but they are difficult, if not impossible to enforce. That is handy for driving fast and parking illegally, but not so great if you actually have a legitimate legal grievance.
Despite this aggravation, my dream house on 17 ½ acres of wooded mountain land, just seven minutes from town, was completed and I moved in three years ago. It is much larger than I had imagined. I don’t know much about the metric system, so when I looked at the plans of the house on paper it looked like a small house, but once it was built, it turned out to be a large, impressive villa. I absolutely love it.
My loyal assistant and I have lovingly landscaped the yard, three fifty-foot long, seven feet wide terraces of baby fruit trees, bananas, pineapples, papayas, organic fruits, vegetables and herbs. We’ve created a reliable water and irrigation system and located three possible stream-side lots for little retreat cottages, similar to the caretakers’ cottage that I had built and lived in during the three years the big villa was under construction. All that’s needed now is the extra time, energy and money that it would take to continue to maintain this tropical paradise (and add a few extras, such as a lap pool in the backyard, a fish pond down near the stream, more orchids, fruit trees, re-painting when needed.).
A friend of mine is coming for a visit in April, with a definite interest in living and retiring in Honduras (and possibly volunteering to teach English or other projects). If he,and possibly one or two others come, Villa Mariposa will be our home for the rest of our lives. The weather is cool and dry, not buggy and humid and hot, as the beaches and cities anywhere south as in Georgia and Florida and here tend to be.
Santa Rosa is known for its refreshing mountain air. I never need to use the ceiling fans or the propane gas fireplace. We have a new supermarket, pharmacy and hospital within seven minutes of my house, as well as the bilingual school. My assistant and his mother take great care of the property and the house, and if our plans come to fruition we will be able to raise their salaries.
Sometimes there are lots of potholes in the roads and sometimes none. Occasionally there are problems finding U.S. made products in town and we have to ask friends from the States to bring a couple pairs of all-cotton socks or a jar of “Bacos” or some herb or vitamin that hasn’t made it into the local stores yet. This is about the extent of “roughing it” in Santa Rosa.
Crime in cities and along beaches has increased due to drug trafficking filtering in from Colombia and gangs being recruited from L.A. and Miami. There is a very low crime rate here in the mountains, and many non-government organizations, missionaries and educators are volunteering their lives to help Hondurans evolve smoothly into the 21st century. There is a lot of catching up to do, for people who lived in adobe and palm-thatched huts (“champas”) just thirty-five years ago when I first came here. Electricity, television, Internet, cars and trucks, jet airliners have changed all that. The cities have their megamalls and resort hotels, but they also have confused country folks sleeping in corners of tall cement buildings, wondering where all the great jobs are, that they saw on TV for the first time.
So, there you have it: Honduras has ups and downs, just like every other country and state I traveled in throughout a long lifetime (29 countries and 49 states, so far). I still think Villa Mariposa (“butterfly house”) is just about perfect. The only thing is I can’t keep it up alone much longer, so I have actually put photos and a description on EscapeArtist.com.
If no one comes to share my paradise, $730/month just isn’t enough anymore. Two of those checks would do it. As The Way-Shower once said, “Where two or more of you are gathered, there I will be.” I’m hoping others will come to live and play here on my mountain so I don’t have to sell it. But that may be my plan and not God(dess)’s.
If you’d like to contact me for any more information about Honduras, I’ve traveled in just about all parts of it, except for the far Mosquitia, and would be happy to answer your questions or be your hostess and tour guide should you decide to visit and check it out. I hope to hear from some adventurous Escape Artist travelers. [send me an email ]
Links to other resources on Living in Honduras