In today’s World Cup match, the scrappy Central American long shot of Honduras vs. the country at the bottom of South America – Chile. Instead of lots of running around with little scoring to show for it, we’re going to pit the two teams against each other on the tourism field. Which will come out the victor for travelers on a budget?
Taking Chile’s side is Wayne Bernhardson, author of Moon Handbook Chile and editor of the Southern Cone Travel blog. Representing Honduras is Amy E. Robertson, co-author of Moon Handbook Honduras & the Bay Islands.
Where should I go on vacation, Chile or Honduras?
Wayne for Chile – Chile has a very unique topography and has been called a “geographic extravaganza.” In this string bean of a county you’ve got a mirror image of the whole west coast of North America. You get one of the driest deserts on the planet, with some fascinating ghost towns scattered around. The central part of Chile has California-style weather. Then Patagonia is like Alaska without the people, with no areas that are overpopulated. You get the whole temperature and topgraphy spectrum: ski and surf the same day in certain parts of the year.
Amy for Honduras – Honduras boasts Caribbean beaches and colorful coral reefs, intricately-carved Mayan ruins, sleepy colonial towns and extreme jungle adventures. It’s all compactly tucked into an area roughly the size of the state of Virginia, making it easy to squeeze a smorgasbord of relaxation and escapades into the number of days you have to spare. Plus you can get here from the U.S. in just a few hours.
What can I do there for free or cheap?
Chile - Well, this is not a cheap country, though by North American standards it is not expensive. Hotels knock off the value added tax (19%) for foreigners, so a hotel listed for $100 is more like $80. One of the best cheap activities is visiting Valparaiso, which is kind of like the San Francisco of Chile. You ride this funicular cable cars up to neighborhoods in the hills. You stroll around and have great views, but it costs almost nothing—like 30 cents. It suffered a bit in the earthquake, but not too badly. Likely be some good values in the upcoming season because traffic will be down post-earthquake. Most museums are inexpensive in the cities. There’s a new museum of memory and human rights a little west of downtown Santiago, by Quinta Normal park. In Santiago the subway is about a dollar, but it’s a flat fee to go as far as you want. Public transportation in general is relatively cheap.
Honduras - Hiking costs only as much as the entrance fee to whichever of the country´s 107 protected areas catches your interest (fees range from nothing to a few dollars). Lolling around on the powdery sands of the Bay Islands is free, as is admiring the angelfish, moray eels, hawksbill turtles and other sea life if you’ve brought your own snorkel equipment (renting gear will set you back US$5-$10/day). The mainland´s golden shores are equally appealing for a day relaxing under palm trees and swimming in the lapping waves.
Scuba diving in the Honduran Bay Islands is as cheap as it gets, with two-tank dives for US$35 and certification for as little as $250 (and practice dives are in the crystal waters of the Caribbean rather than some dank YMCA pool).
What can I get to eat for $6 or less at lunch?
Chile – Eat the “complete” – a giant hot dog slathered in mayonnaise, ketchup, and more. You get it at a stand for a couple bucks. When I was a backpacker I ate them all the time. Now I can’t even stand to look at them. (See Anthony Bourdain chowing on one here.) Barros luco sandwiches are a popular staple, made from beef and melted cheese for three or four dollars. Another features chicken and avocado, but ask them to hold the mayo or it’ll be drowned. There are mid-day specials at restaurants that are right around that $6 mark, maybe with fish if you go to the Mercado Central in the cities. Try to get your fish grilled, not fried.
Honduras – A typical Honduran meal is made up of refried beans, salty cheese, scrambled eggs and abundant corn tortillas, all for only $2-$3. If you’ve got $6 to spend, sautéed shrimp or fried fish with rice and fried plantains make for great meals.
These are two good adventure tourism countries. What/where are the best adventures that would be hard to duplicate elsewhere?
Chile – It’s hard for anyone to beat Chile for the variety of adventure activities. You can climb Andean mountains along the borders with Argentina and Bolivia, with some of the world’s highest peaks outside Asia. There are also volcanoes to climb, ski resorts to swish down, and plenty of spots for surfing without the crowds. The Futaleufu is one of the top whitewater rafting rivers in the world and some think it is the best. Plus there’s trekking in Torres de Paine and the rest of Patagonia. Plus don’t forget that Rapa Nui—Easter Island—is part of Chile. There’s nothing of its kind anywhere else in the world. On July 11 people there will see a full solar eclipse over the giant stone figures.
Honduras – Wandering the Mayan ruins of Copán in western Honduras, once called “the Athens of the ancient world” for its elaborate carvings. Building your own balsa raft and floating down the Plátano River to the fabled Mosquito Coast, spotting jaguars and tapirs along the way if you’re lucky. Spending the morning white water rafting the jungle-lined Cangrejal River near Honduras´s north coast, and the afternoon swimming in the Caribbean near the town of Sambo Creek (both activities about half an hour from the city of La Ceiba).
What are the best bets for finding cheap places to sleep?
Chile – Hostels are a good bet when you can find them, but hostels are not as widespread in Chile as they are in Argentina. A lot of them have comfortable private rooms for $30 or so, or you can get a bunk bed for $10-$15 a night. Lodging prices in Chile are fairly stable, so there are few big shocks after arrival. The B&B equivalents are $50 and up. Some of these are quite nice., with a lot of character. Business hotel prices are about the same as in the U.S. now.
Honduras – Just about any town or city has a decent place to sleep in the range of $5-$10/night per person. While the per-person price system of hostels works out great if you’re traveling alone, if you are traveling with others you may find a better deal at a hotel that charges by the room than at hostels that charge per person.My favorite cheap sleeps are the thatch-roof huts on Chachauate in the Cayos Cochinos ($8/night per person). Hosted by a small settlement of Garífunas (descendents of Carib Indians and African slaves), visitors wake up to the sound of the local kids playing soccer, spend the day snorkeling and swimming, and stuff themselves on shrimp and fried fish.
For those looking for a few more comforts, there are B&Bs scattered across the country that provide some of the best values for a night’s rest in Honduras. Casa de Café with its elegant rooms and lush gardens in Copán, the sleek and modern Casa Guacamaya in San Pedro Sula, and homey Linda Vista in Tegucigalpa all offer rooms in the range of $40-$60
Wayne Bernhardson first traveled to Chile in 1979, during the Pinochet dictatorship, wrote his M.A. thesis on llama and alpaca herding in the Norte Grande’s Parque Nacional Lauca, and has returned repeatedly ever since to broaden and deepen his knowledge and appreciation of the country. He has driven well over 100,000 km through every Chilean region and Pacific island possession, and has also visited Chile’s Antarctic bases in the South Shetland Islands and the Antarctic peninsula.Wayne earned his PhD in geography from the University of California, Berkeley, but abandoned academia for a perpetual Latin American road trip that many university faculty envy. He is the author of Moon Handbooks to Argentina, Buenos Aires, Chile, and Patagonia. Wayne has also written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the American Geographical Society’s Focus, Business Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Latin Trade, Travel Holiday, and Voyageur. When not in South America (he owns an apartment in Buenos Aires), Wayne lives in Oakland, California.
Amy E. Robertson is the author of two Moon guides for Honduras. She is a Seattle native who has long been obsessed with travel. She studied in Boston and Madrid for her bachelor’s degree, and upon graduating took a job with an international consulting firm. This position led Amy to a life of globetrotting – she traveled to more than 50 countries in less than three years. She then returned to school, earning a master’s degree in development studies at the London School of Economics, where she also met her husband, who hails from Italy. They moved to Honduras in 2007. Her writing has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel and Travel + Leisure, among others. Amy currently resides in Tegucigalpa with her husband and two young children, but spends three months a year divided between her family’s hometowns: Seattle, Rome, and Messina, Sicily.
For info on the real futbol thing, visit the World Cup Blog.