If you’re someone who likes to play it safe, I’d say stick with Costa Rica. It has a well-established tourist infrastructure, a stable government, amazing biodiversity, and sandy beaches on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. I also admire the country’s commitment to eco-tourism and sustainability. The downside? There's very little left undiscovered.
Honduras, on the other hand, is the rising star of Central America. Yes, it’s a rough place: corruption is rife, income inequality is staggering, and parts of some of the larger cities are unsafe. But the country has been experiencing something of a turnaround, and visitors will find ancient Mayan ruins, empty beaches, and a growing list of world-class lodges, all for relatively low prices. If you want to take the road less traveled, here are my recommendations.
Adventure in Honduras: Beaches
Sand and sun worshippers, not to mention scuba divers and deep-sea fishing nuts, love the reef-protected Bay Islands, which lie 10 to 30 miles off the northern coast. But for an even more laid-back and culturally rich experience, take the ferry from the port city of La Ceiba to the roadless cay of Utila. The clarity, warm temperatures, and dense aquatic life make diving in the turquoise water here as rewarding as anywhere in the Caribbean. Stay in a bungalow at the Laguna Beach Resort, which has the nicest digs on the island. The resort can book fishing or dive trips and other excursions, and the rates are reasonable, starting at $145 a night.
Adventure in Honduras: Rainforest
Take a boat upriver into the thick rainforest of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO Heritage Site, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled far up the Amazon. The parks residents include 39 mammal species, including jaguars and pumas, 377 bird species, and 126 different reptiles and amphibians. Thousands of indigenous people also live in the surrounding mountains. La Ruta Moskitia Ecotourism Alliance, an organization run by six indigenous communities, offers multi-day treks and tours through the preserve.
Adventure in Honduras: Ruins
The ancient city of Copan, in the western portion of the country, was a major Mayan outpost until it was abandoned sometime in the 10th century. The Spanish discovered its ruins 600 years later, and now the temples, plazas, and buildings on its small but impressive site are some of the best of the ancient civilization's remaining architecture. Yarangua Tours is one of the many local operators who will guide you through the ruins.