“Here’s a reason to retire to Honduras,” writes Correspondent Michael Paladin: “No one over age 65 can be sent to prison…not for anything.
“Here’s another: Obtaining retirement residency is a straightforward matter. Show proof of US$600 a month in income to qualify for the pensionista visa or US$1,000 a month in income to qualify for the rentista visa.
“And here are some more: As a foreign retiree resident, you can own real estate free and clear; purchase up to a maximum of three-quarters of an acre, or 3,000 meters, of land; import a car and appliances duty-free; and live very well for less than a US$1,000 a month.
“Property prices are dropping, terms are available. The second-home market fueled by the go-go years of easy money has hit the wall of reality.
“Where in Honduras might you think about settling? I scouted the country recently, from the mainland to the Bay Islands, in search of an answer to that question.
“One of the five Central American provinces that broke away from Spain in 1821 to become independent, Honduras is a study in contrasts. The second-largest of the original five renegade states, today it is the second-poorest. It is the most mountainous and the only one of the five that does not have active volcanoes.
“Honduras is primarily rural. Its two biggest cities are Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Visualize a semi-triangular pie-shaped country wedged between Nicaragua to the east, El Salvador to the southwest, and Guatemala to the west, with a small port on the Pacific coast and some 800 kilometers of coast on the Caribbean side.
“The easiest way to navigate Honduras is by first-class bus or 30-minute plane rides, with the prices set by the government and cheap. If the weather is bumpy, the bus can be a better option but slower.
“Locals advise: If you want to party, go to La Ceiba. La Ceiba is known as Honduras’ girlfriend.
“‘Tegucigalpa piensa, San Pedro trabaja, y La Ceiba divierta,’ they say.
“That is: Tegucigalpa thinks, San Pedro works, and La Ceiba has fun.
“I’ll get to La Ceiba in a minute. First, Tegucigalpa.
“The kindest thing I can say about Teguc is that it looks better at night, when the lights of the city shine among the many small hills that ring the central area. By daylight, the common color is gray…as in unpainted cement.
“On the highest mountain overlooking the city is a lighted statue of Christ…just above a Coca Cola sign. A reminder of the forces that have driven this country.
“Tegucigalpa is the seat of the government. At 1,000 meters, the weather is cool and gray, just like the architecture. Population is just over a million. Originally a mining town (gold and silver), Tegucigalpa grew out of its confines and sprawled throughout the valley over time. Today it is a maze of barrios, slow-moving traffic, and row after row of tin-roofed shanties.
“Maybe the reason San Pedro Sula works is because it’s the best place to fly into. Avoid Toncontin Airport at Tegucigalpa unless you’re coming in on a prop-jet. The runway’s too short, and TACA (locally, Take Another Chance Airline) planes landing here have been known to run out of runway.
“San Pedro Sula’s population is a million-and-a-half. The city is hot and humid, but at least the bus terminals are new and clean. The shopping malls are nice, too. San Pedro is the center for the maquilador/free-trade-zone/import-export companies that provide a major source of employment for the area.
“Most of the expats and retirees living on mainland Honduras have flocked to the north of the country, beginning at Copan, variously described as the Athens and the Paris of the Mayan world.
“Copan Ruinas, 20 minutes from the Guatemalan border or three hours by a good bus from San Pedro (Hedman-Alas, US$18 first class), is a small hillside town of colonial-style houses and inns, red-tile roofs, and cobblestone streets. Situated in the western highlands at 3,500 feet, the weather is temperate (75 to 80 degrees).
“The population is about 5,000 people, including about 60 retired expatriates of an amazing variety (including Twisted Tanya and Monkey Bill). Primarily a tourist destination for the magnificent Mayan ruins located on the outskirts of the town, some 200,000 tourists pass through every year.
“I saw short- and long-term rental options starting at US$350 per month (for a furnished one-bedroom apartment). In town, everything is close, and walking is safe. There are banks, markets, and an English-speaking doctor. It’s quaint. You’ll like it. The area is famed for its coffee, and you cold live well for US$700 a month.
“La Ceiba, population 115,000, isn’t pretty. In the daylight, you see that her mascara has run. By night, a different side appears, and the discos and bars fill with Caribbean reggae and working girls.
“Stop by the Expatriate’s Bar, on 12 Calle, two blocks east of Avenida San Isidro, for excellent grilled food, the latest gossip, and the best expat bulletin board. Recently acquired by a couple of French-Canadians, the place serves as a watering hole/post office for most of the retirees and expats in town.
“Rentals in La Ceiba range from US$350 a month for the smaller, older, two-bedroom downtown houses upward for the larger, newer homes on the city’s perimeter.
“Real estate is for sale all over town, of course. Why you’d buy a house here, I don’t know.”
P.S. Tomorrow, Roatan…
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