Honduras - Attractions
The capital of Honduras is a busy, noisy city nestled into a bowl-shaped valley nearly 1000m (3280ft) above sea level. It has a fresh and pleasant climate, and the surrounding ring of mountains is covered in pine trees. The name Tegucigalpa means 'silver hill' in the local dialect, and it was bestowed when the Spanish founded the city as a mining centre in 1578. Fortunately, the locals call the city Tegus for short, saving foreigners the embarrassment of mispronouncing the full name. Tegucigalpa became the capital in 1880 and, in 1938, the nearby settlement of Comayagüela was incorporated into the city.
The focus of the city is the domed 18th-century cathedral, which has a baroque interior full of fine art. Parque Central, in front of the cathedral, is the hub of the city. Interesting buildings include the old university, Antiguo Paraninfo Universitaria, now an art museum; the modern Palacio Legislativo, which is built on stilts; the Casa Presidencial; and the 16th-century Iglesia de San Francisco, the first church built in Tegucigalpa.
The city is divided by the Río Choluteca. On the east side is Tegucigalpa, with the city centre and more affluent districts; across the river is Comayagüela, a poorer, dirtier market area with lots of long-distance bus stations and cheap hotels. It is cleaner, safer and more pleasant to stay in Tegucigalpa, although popular wisdom says it's cheaper in Comayagüela. If you do stay in Comayagüela, it's very dangerous to walk through the market area at night. The main area for budget accommodations in Tegucigalpa is a few blocks east of the Parque Central; in Comayagüela, the best cheap hotels are around the El Rey and Aurora bus stations, between 8a and 9a Calles. Most of the good restaurants are on the Tegucigalpa side of the river, but Comayagüela has plenty of cheap Chinese restaurants. In Tegucigalpa, Boulevard Morazán and Avenida Juan Pablo II are the main nightlife areas.
There are plenty of attractions around Tegucigalpa, including the huge Gothic Basílica de Suyapa, 7km (4mi) southeast of the city centre. The Virgen de Suyapa, patron saint of Honduras, is believed to have performed hundreds of miracles. Santa Lucia, 13km (8mi) east of the city, is a charming old Spanish town with meandering lanes and a beautiful church. Valle de Angeles, 11km (7mi) past Santa Lucia, is an old Spanish mining town restored to its 16th century grandeur. La Tigra National Park, northeast of the city, is one of the most beautiful places in Honduras. Located at an altitude of 2270m (7446ft), the pristine 7482ha (18,480ac) park preserves a lush cloud forest that is home to ocelots, pumas, monkeys and quetzal.
Roatán, Guanaja and Utila - 50km (31mi) off the north coast of Honduras - are a continuation of the Belizean reefs and offer great snorkelling and diving. The islands' economy is based mostly on fishing, but tourism is becoming increasingly important. Utila retains low-key tourist facilities, while Roatán is gradually joining Guanaja as a more upmarket retreat. Most travellers head to West End on Roatán, but Utila is the cheapest of the three islands to visit. Whichever island you visit, make sure you bring plenty of insect repellent, because the sand flies are voracious, especially during the rainy season.
The islands have an interesting history, including evidence of Maya occupation. Columbus landed on Guanaja in 1502, but the Spanish later enslaved the islanders and sent them to work on plantations in Cuba and in the gold and silver mines of Mexico. By 1528, the islands were completely depopulated. English, French and Dutch pirates then occupied the islands, followed by the Garífuna, who were shipped here by the British after an uprising on St Vincent. The islands, in many ways, still look more toward England and the US than to the Honduran mainland, and a richly Caribbean version of English is the main language.
Comayagua was the capital of Honduras from 1537 to 1880, and retains much evidence of its colonial importance. The cathedral in the centre of the town is a gem. Built between 1685 and 1715, it contains much fine art and boasts one of the oldest clocks in the world. The clock was made over 800 years ago by the Moors for the palace of Alhambra in Seville, and was donated to the town by King Philip II of Spain. The first university in Central America was founded in Comayagua in 1632 in the Casa Cural, which now houses the Museo Colonial. The museum has religious art spanning four centuries of colonial rule. Comayagua's first church was La Merced, built between 1550 and 1558; other fine churches include San Francisco (1584) and La Caridad (1730).
This beautiful village with cobbled streets passing among white adobe buildings with red-tiled roofs is 1km from the famous Maya ruins of the same name. The village has a lovely colonial church and an aura of timeless peace. The archaeological site at the ruins is open daily and includes the Stelae of the Great Plaza, portraying the rulers of Copán, dating from 613; the ball court and hieroglyphic stairway; and the Acropolis, which has superb carved reliefs of the 16 kings of Copán. There are hot springs a one-hour drive from the village, and the nearby picturesque mountain village of Santa Rita de Copán has a beautiful plaza and a peaceful colonial church.
Tela is many travellers' favourite Honduran-Caribbean beach town. It's a small, quiet place, with superb seafood, several good places to stay and some of the most beautiful beaches on the northern coast. It's basically a place for relaxing and enjoying the simple life. There are plans to boost tourism in the area, so see the place while it's still unspoilt and quiet. The best beach is east of the town, in front of the Hotel Villas Telamar. It has pale, powdery sand and a shady grove of coconut trees.
The small town of Trujillo has played an important role in Central American history. It was near Trujillo on August 14, 1502, that Colombus first set foot on the American mainland. The town sits on the wide arc of the Bahía de Trujillo and is famed for its lovely beaches, coconut palms and gentle seas. Though it has a reputation as one of the country's best Caribbean beach towns, it's not usually full of tourists, except during the annual festival in late June. Apart from the attractions of the beach, there is a 17th-century fortress, the grave of William Walker and a Museo Arqueológico. To the west of the town is the Barrio Cristales, where the Garífuna people live; this is the place to go for music, dancing and revelry.