Honduras101: Hidden Gems of a Banana Republic
Honduras for the Adventure
Honduras, except for a few Indiana Jones films, is nearly unknown to the rest of the world. The very name evokes visions of steamy jungles, streams full of crocodiles, jaguars and ancient rites of human sacrifice. Most of these romanticized visions can be realized for the truly adventurous traveler who wishes to explore a land very much off the beaten path. We still have the jungles, the jaguars and crocodiles, but the sacrifices stopped a while back. At least that's what we're told.
This is a very basic introduction to one of the most beautiful tropical adventure-lands still available to the wanderers of the world. You can have your own jungle adventure.
Ball Court, Copán
Honduran Roots: The Ancient Maya
Around eight thousand years ago, back in the misty reaches of time, a few small bands of stone-age peoples wandered into the mountain valleys of Central America. Pushed by the forces of starvation and hostile neighbors to the north, they abandoned what had been their dry desert homeland for more promising surroundings. What they found, compared to their native lands, was surely the Garden of Eden. Mist-shrouded mountains, appearing to reach past the sky itself, lush green jungles teeming with wild fruit, game animals and spectacular floral wonders greeted their eyes, matched only by the crystal-clear gushing rivers winding through magnificent dark shadowed canyons on their seaward journey. With no desire to migrate farther from this dreamlike place, they settled permanently, and began to build what would become a vast and wonderful civilization. These were the Mayas.
Early Mayan culture was concentrated primarily in what is now Guatemala and very southern Mexico. Yucatán had not yet been settled. A few of the more adventurous Maya ventured farther south and settled in the Rio Copán valley in modern Honduras. Here they were insulated from the depredations of their former enemies by other Mayan tribes in Guatemala, and were safe from any serious enemies from the south by sheer distance. They found they had a unique opportunity to build a civilization, with its attendant arts, astronomy, and architecture over several hundred years uninterrupted by fears of outside conquest.
Today much of the ruins of Copan has been restored by the painstakingly hard work of archaeologists and their volunteer helpers. Much remains to be done, but their efforts are hampered by lack of both money and skilled workers. The buildings, temples and pyramids that have been at least partially restored are almost overwhelming in their unique beauty and historical significance. Thousands of artifacts have been unearthed and are available to view, both on site and in the National Museum.
No visit to Central America is complete without seeing Copán Ruínas. The site can be accessed by comfortable busses from San Pedro Sula or Tegucigalpa, with schedules to fit your plans. They will bring you safely down the winding mountain road to the little village where the local descendants of the Mayas are friendly and trusting, good restaurants with great food abound, hotels are more than reasonable, and where you can buy unique hand-made jade and other Mayan items crafted by local artisans. This will be a fond memory that you will cherish forever!
Mayan Maiz God
Honduran Liberty Bell
José Trinidad Cabañas
Honduras' Spanish Heritage
When the Spanish arrived in the Americas in the early 1500's, they brought their language, their religion, new domesticated animals, their surnames and their genes. Nearly all Hondurans today speak Spanish, and the people are universally Roman Catholic. More than ninety percent of Hondurans are mestizos, a mixture of Spanish and local Native American genetics, and nearly all, even those of unmixed blood, have Spanish names.
Shortly after founding their first capitol at Trujillo, the Spanish discovered gold in the rivers of Olancho and rich silver deposits in the central uplands. They found a ready, if not willing, source of labor by forcing the local campesinos (poor native farmers) to work the gold placer sands of the Juticalpa and Guayape rivers, and to burrow deep into the earth for silver near the present locations of Tegucigalpa and San Juancito. Eventually they moved their administrative capitol to Comayagua, to be closer to the main sources of metallic revenue.
By the early 1800s, anti-Spanish sentiment was rife in Latin America, and many of the semi-autonomous Spanish colonial fiefdoms clamored for independence. In 1821 Spain gave up most of her claim to her former American colonies, and in Honduras freedom rang from their very own Liberty Bell in Comayagua. Even as in the US, this Liberty Bell developed a crack from its over-enthusiastic use. The bell can be seen by the public today hanging over the entrance to a plaza next to the Comayagua Cathedral.
Freedom from Spain did not bring peace to Honduras. Mexico became the self-appointed heir of Spain as the leader and ruler of Latin America north of Panama, and through a surrogate state, Guatemala, put pressure on Honduras to conform to its wishes. It took decades, and the sweat and blood of patriots like José Cecilio Díaz del Valle, the editor of the Honduran Declaration of Independence, Francisco Morazán, Josê Trinidad Cabañas, and many others to finally bring about a free and independent country.
Today, Hondurans are a fiercely proud and independent people, but who still retain strong cultural and sentimental ties to Spain.
Iglesia de La Virgen de Los Dolores
Cathedral of Saint Michael Archangel
Spanish Legacy: Cathedrals and Churches
The most visible remnants of Spanish culture today are the many cathedrals and churches scattered around the country. Nearly every little town has its cathedral or parroquia, usually the largest building in town, invariably facing the city plaza or park.
One of the oldest, and most interesting for its history and primitive artwork, is La Iglesia de La Virgen de los Dolores, in Tegucigalpa, dating from the early 1730s. It faces a fairly large plaza with a fountain and a magnificent statue of Saint Michael Archangel. Very noticeable in the plaza of Los Dolores is the sheer number of pigeons, literally thousands, perched on the facade of the church, as well as huge flocks on the ground waiting for the throngs of people to toss bits of food. It has become a tradition on Sundays for people to bring little children to the plaza to chase the pigeons. No pigeon is known to have ever been caught, but the kids have great fun.
A couple blocks from the plaza of Los Dolores is the Cathedral of Saint Michael Archangel. It is a little more modern, 1800s vintage, and is a gorgeous salmon colored building that faces the Central Plaza of Tegucigalpa. At night it is spectacularly lit up in colored lights, and is definitely worth the view.
At Easter time the Cathedral of Saint Michael is the starting point for the "Procesión", symbolizing the walk of Jesus to his crucifixion, down Avenida Cervantes on the "Alfombra", a carpet of brightly colored sawdust in artistic designs.
Saint Michael Archangel
Garífunas: Fiercely Independent Africans
The Spanish imported a number of black Africans as slaves to work the plantations around Trujillo and the placer gold deposits of Olancho. In the late 1700's the British greatly increased the number of people of African descent by exiling a lot of "Black Caribs" to the Bay Islands of Honduras, many of which escaped to the mainland and relocated in the jungles near the north coast. They called themselves Garífunas, a name by which practically everyone of African descent is known today in Honduras. Even after slavery was abolished in 1820, the Garífunas maintained a unique culture, including their own language and culinary traditions.
Today the Garífunas live primarily in their own little villages near the north coast. They have many lively, and very colorful, festivals. Besides being important culturally, the Garífuna festivals are a major source of revenue since they have become a much sought-out tourist attraction. The festivals are resplendent and the food is great! They are well worth a trip to the Atlantic coast.
Honduran Festivals and Holidays
Honduras has three main holidays: Easter (Semana Santa), Independence Day (September 15 ), and Christmas. When Holy Week arrives, thousands of people lock their doors and head for the beaches of the Atlantic. The towns of Tela, Omoa and La Ceiba are packed with sun-worshipping revelers. Those who didn't go to the beach are downtown in Tegucigalpa and Comayagua preparing the Alfombra, and watching the Procesiónes put on by different groups of Catholics celebrating the crucifixion of Jesus.
Every year hundreds of volunteers gather to create a gorgeous carpet of vividly colored sawdust covering more than thirty blocks of Cervantes Avenue in downtown Tegucigalpa. The next day, Good Friday, thousands of people line the Alfombra to view and photograph the passing of the icons of Jesus, the Cross, the Virgin Mary, María Magdalena and numerous other saints and angels. Anyone in Honduras at Easter-time should not miss this most important of Honduran holidays.
Independence Day is celebrated with a huge parade consisting of marching bands from the various schools and academies in Tegucigalpa. Brightly colored uniforms, flags and banners, pretty girls twirling batons, and band members marching to the beat of various musical cadences strut past. The police academies and the military get in on the act, too, with their own colorful marching band contributions. In the evening the whole city erupts with the crackling and booming of seemingly never-ending fireworks.
Christmas is very family oriented, but the fireworks display is deafening. It is like Chinese New Year in Spanish. Though technically illegal, every household in the city has a boatload of fireworks, and they are all going off at once. This cacophony lasts for hours without a letup, and by one or two in the morning the powder smoke is so thick it looks like the whole of Tegucigalpa is afire. Nowhere will you see such fireworks at once.
Hondurans love a party. Most every little pueblo has its own festivals, celebrating everything from corn harvests to local fairs and history. Nearly all include lots of food, music, local costumes and A LOT of dancing.
Independence Day Parade
Local Festival, Intibucá
Sopa de Capirotadas
Honduran Food: What's a Rosquilla?
Though using mostly the same ingredients as Mexican food, Honduran cuisine definitely has its nuances and peculiarities. Beans are everywhere, and few Honduran meals do not include them in some form, but there is a difference. Hondurans eat almost exclusively the small red beans, not white or pintos like in Mexico. They are harder, more difficult to cook and have a stronger flavor, however they are so popular you will be hard pressed to find any other kind in a market anywhere in Honduras. There are tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas in Honduras, but they are not the same as you would see in a Mexican restaurant.
Other great Honduran foods include rosquillas, pupusas, Sopa de Capirotadas and the spicy chorizos barbacoas. A trip to Honduras is the culinary equivalent of a voyage of discovery!
Latino food is a very complex subject, about which volumes can be and have been written.
What IS a Rosquilla?
Honduras is GREEN!
The Beauty of Nature in the Jungle
Honduras is a naturalist's paradise. The jungles here are like entering another world. Every year dozens of new and unique plants and animals are discovered, and the country has been declared one of the most promising locations in the world for the potential discovery of new species. Once you venture into the misty cloud forests, you will understand why.
Flowers are everywhere, from the jungle floor underfoot to the higher reaches of the green canopy above. Some blossoms are very tiny, yet magnificently beautiful, others large and spectacular, most are completely new to first-time visitors.
Honduras' Greatest Asset: Her People
Honduras' greatest asset is her people, industrious, hard-working and honest. Most are mestizos, the vast majority are Roman Catholic and all speak Spanish. Most Hondurans have a certain naiveté and air of innocence, especially in rural areas. As you walk down a cobblestone street in any small pueblo, people of all ages will greet you with a friendly "Buenos Dias!" Gaggles of school-girls stare and giggle at strangers, and, wonder-of-wonders if the strangers happen to have blue eyes!
The rural campesinos still use the stereotypical burros and ox-carts in their day-to-day work, and many people walk for miles to get to the nearest bus stop when they need to go to the city. It's almost universal practice for those with a pickup to offer a ride to people walking on the rural roads. Crime is rare in most rural areas, and the pedestrians are always very grateful.
The future of Honduras lies with the young, though the traditional culture is rapidly changing. Many teens, except for the desperately poor, have cell phones, and texting has become a way of life for them. Even in the smaller towns, cell phones are common, and music from the US is a favorite. Classic rock is popular, and many of kids know just about everything to do with contemporary American musicians. Rap is making an inroad into the large cities and, combined with Reggaetón, is having a rather negative influence on some young people. Most youth, however, are still a pretty conservative group.
Hope of a Nation
Honduras In Pictures
This is a slight introduction to a beautiful country, a beautiful people, and to Central America which sometimes is all but forgotten in the grand mix of world geography.
Honduras is a gorgeous country, and very under-utilized as a tourist destination. In recent years more tourists and visitors are discovering the wonders of this lush green land. During the Easter holiday of 2014, more than 50,000 foreigners came for the festivities, the sun on the beaches, the culture of Copán and other Maya and Lenca sites and for some serious back-to-nature hiking in the forests.
Tourism is a large industry here, but should be burgeoning considering what Honduras has to offer. Hopefully, as more people discover its wonders, tourism will be a major positive force in the economy for the good of all. For those interested in culture and adventure, it's certainly worth a visit, and one never to be forgotten.