Honduras is a mystery to most people, even experienced travelers. Is it safe? What is there to do in this Central American country, and how do the locals feel about tourism? Despite what you may have heard, Honduras is a quiet, mostly mountainous nation of hardworking people who know how to enjoy a good time. They are eager for a boom in tourism in their homeland, and will gladly assist visitors.

Situated between El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, Honduras is a biodiverse, multi-ethnic kingdom. Outlying islands in the Caribbean north are a popular cruise ship destination. In the south, volcanic islands are a sweet escape for anyone willing to hop on a small boat or ferry. The Mayan ruins in the west are proof of an advanced ancient society. In the east, the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve contains over 200 archaeological sites and a wealth of animal and plant species.

Hondurans, or Caltrachos as they call themselves, are protective of their legacy. They love their country and want you to love it as well. Hospitality, generosity, and adventure await the open-minded traveler who dares to discover the forgotten beauty of Honduras.

01See the Gulf of Fonseca from the Top of a Volcano

Isla de El Tigre, en el Golfo de Fonseca, perteneciente a Honduras. Vista desde el muelle de Coyolito Photo by Alfredobi

Isla del Tigre is home to the largest dormant volcano in Honduras. There are no bridges connecting to the island, but a ride on a fisherman's boat from Coyolito is an inexpensive way to enjoy the warm climate. Local drivers and residents can help you find the old U.S. Military road that leads to the volcano's summit. The hike up may take about three hours, but the beauty and serenity of the experience will rejuvenate you.

02Go Night Diving in the Caribbean

Bay Islands, Roatan, Honduras Michelle Maria / Pixabay

Islas de la Bahia are a group of islands popular with divers and fishermen year-round. Most hotels and several private businesses provide diving packages, but for a unique underwater experience, book a night excursion instead. Lobsters and octopi come out after dark, and night divers can feast their eyes on the colorful phenomena known as strings of pearls. These bioluminescent organisms flash in chains of moving lights; in the right conditions, these twinkling lights will surround you like a galaxy of stars.

03Watch an Ancient Sunrise Over the Jungle

Photo of an ancient ornate doorway in Copan, Honduras. Copan is an ancient Mayan site located in western Honduras, Central America. benedek / Getty Images

The ancient ruins in Copan are some of the most detailed and sophisticated structures attributed to the Mayans. For over a century, archaeologists have studied the hieroglyphs carved into these temples and statues. They're still working on the text, but it's almost a certainty that the Mayans must have enjoyed the beautiful sunrise from atop these structures. Arrive at the ruins early to climb the temple and behold the same morning view that greeted the ancients.

04Travel the Lenca Trail

Copan is famous for its Mayan ruins located nearby

While most people associate Honduras with the Mayan culture, the Lenca people remain a significant part of their history and culture. They make up the largest indigenous community in the country; many of them live in the rural towns along the Lenca trail in Western Honduras. Spanning from Santa Rosa de Copan to Choluteca, this scenic route travels through towns, colonial cities, and lively markets where you can find genuine Lencan handicrafts and archaeological sites. The preservation of these communities and their culture depends heavily on tourism, so be sure to put it on your itinerary.

05Visit the Waterfall that Inspired Walt Disney

Pulhapanzak Waterfalls near Rio Lindo Honduras Central America Robert_Ford / Getty Images

Lake Yojoa is an essential destination for anyone seeking a range of outdoor activities; perhaps the most famous stop is the Pulhapanzak Waterfalls. Rumored to have inspired Walt Disney's cartoon interpretation of The Jungle Book, the largest waterfall in Honduras is a source of pride for Caltrachos. A guided tour is the safest option and will provide access to several secluded spots and a cave behind the waterfall. For those seeking an adrenaline rush, there are a couple of high rocks from which you can jump into the water below.

06Spot a Number of Endangered Birds

Macaw Parrot Bird in Macaw Mountain Wildlife Reserve near Copan Honduras AutumnSkyPhotography / Getty Images

Thanks to its staggering biodiversity, Honduras is a natural habitat to hundreds of species of amphibians, reptiles, and over 700 species of birds. Bird watchers favor Honduras for the wide varieties that might populate the cloud forests near Lake Yojoa or the jungles of the Rio Platano Biosphere. Honduras' national bird, the Scarlet Macaw, is endangered, but conservation efforts have proven effective. Look for these vivid creatures at the Copan Ruins, where macaws bred at the nearby preserve are released.

07Spend Some Time at a Coffee Plantation

Coffee plantation in the highlands of Honduras MarcPo / Getty Images

Did you know that Honduras is one of the top coffee exporters in the world? Over a hundred small coffee growers contribute to this expanding industry, with several estates and cooperatives providing overnight stays for the ultimate coffee experience. Tour the plantations at any of these farms, and take advantage of any hiking trails or horseback riding excursions while you're there. You can follow the harvesting process more closely during peak season when millions of Central Americans get to work in the fields.

08See How Cacao is Processed Organically

Roasted cacao beans are ground by hand in Honduras for preparing a traditional drink Nolmedrano99 / Getty Images

Many countries worldwide are famous for producing gourmet chocolate, but this sweet snack originates with the Maya and Aztecs of Central America. In present-day Honduras, the gourmet chocolate industry is growing, and small plantations are hoping to stimulate and strengthen their economies. Look for chocolate shops in the surrounding neighborhoods for a peek at the traditional processing of cacao beans. Ask for a hot cup of the traditional drink tiste, and don't forget to buy some chocolate to take back home.

09Do Your Part to Help Protect Sea Turtles

new born baby turttles in choluteca Honduras

The Bay Islands Conservation Association, or BICA, is a non-profit organization that aims to protect the islands' natural resources. One of their responsibilities includes patrolling the beaches at night for nesting sea turtles and baby turtles emerging from the nests. These endangered animals are vulnerable to predators and illegal poachers, so locals put a lot of effort into keeping them safe. Try contacting BICA before your arrival, and ask about volunteering for the overnight turtle-watch shift.

10Familiarize Yourself with Honduran Cuisine

Plato tipico, national dish of Honduras

Honduras is not very close to Mexico geographically, yet many people assume their cuisines are the same. While some dishes may be similar, this Central American country boasts a wide variety of cuisines with Spanish, Caribbean and African influences. Food served here is fresh and locally sourced, and most of the time, inexpensive. Don't leave Honduras without trying their national dish, baleadas. These are similar to tacos, but with thicker tortillas, refried beans and a variety of other fillings.