Tegucigalpa has become the second largest city in Central America, and is actually one of the oldest capital cities in Central America. Officially founded the 29th of September of 1578, it is older the current city of Guatemala, Managua, and San Jose, but not as old as San Salvador and Panama City. The old colonial core of the city has mostly been lost, however if you look closely, there are still many charming colonial and picturesque areas within the city, that are unique points of interest, plus some really nice colonial towns nearby that can easily be visited.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Suyapa
Other than downtown, the most visited area of Tegucigalpa is the shrine of Our Lady of Suyapa, the national Patron of Honduras. Traditionally Honduras has been a very Catholic population, and although in the recent years different evangelical churches have gained presence in Honduras, the population is still predominantly Catholic. Suyapa is represented by a tiny wooden sculpture of a virgin that was found by a peasant while camping in the rural areas around Tegucigalpa, and was soon attributed a series of miracles. A church was built in her honor, in the village of Suyapa, hence its name. This small church is visited by many in search of a miracle or to thank the Virgin of Suyapa for a favor which they attribute to her. As such, the shrine is continuously visited. The church is a small building, actually quite austere, but at the same time clean and cosy. The day that the Catholic Church celebrates this Virgin is on the 3rd of February, and believe me that there are hundreds of thousands of persons who come from every corner in Honduras to pay their respects to their beloved Lady of Suyapa. A new building, which was given the status of Basilica, was built nearby, and is by far the largest catholic building in Honduras, however the small statue of our Lady of Suyapa remains in the old, much smaller church, because it is common belief that she is “more comfortable” there. She is only moved to the larger building to commemorate the anniversary of her discovery every month of February. Visiting this shrine, which is only minutes away from Tegucigalpa gives you a clear view of typical Honduran folklore, as you will see locals paying their respect to their holy patron, and also find a series of local goods, such as flowers, candles, and even food in the small plaza in front of the church.
La Leona Park
Another spot in the heart of Tegucigalpa that is worth while visiting is the La Leona Park. It is located up on the hill just above downtown, and offers spectacular views of the city, including the Choluteca River that flows through the city and divides the cities of Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela. The park is well kept, with nice gardens, a small kiosk in the center and a low wrought iron
railing around it. Around the park you will find many grand buildings that are old residences, many of which have seen better times as the well to do families that own them have chosen to move out due to the heavy downtown traffic they have to deal with on a daily basis to get to and from this area. It is worth your while to stroll a couple of streets from the park, where you will find many different narrow cobblestone streets with old colonial style homes standing one next to the other. The architecture here can take you back to the mining days of Tegucigalpa, when the Spaniards built the city in a most unlikely place just because it was convenient to live close to the rich mines that silver and gold.
El Picacho Park
On the same mountain, but much higher above La Leona Park, you will find “El Picacho”, another park that is home to the iconic statue of Christ overlooking the cities of Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela. To access El Picacho you must take a different road, the one leading up “El Hatillo” a mountain top area that is still forested with pine trees and that has become one of the preferred residential sites for the wealthy Hondurans. As a matter of fact, the Residence of the US ambassador to Honduras is located in this neighbourhood! The Tegucigalpa Zoo is located in the area within El Picacho Park.
La Tigra National Park
Past El Picacho you can continue up the road to eventually arrive to the La Tigra National Park, a towering peak of over 7,000 feet above sea level that provides much of the water for the cities below. The vegetation in La Tigra is that of a tropical cloud forest and offers an excelent opportunity to visit this unique habitat from Tegucigalpa. Although the last part of the road is dirt, it is normally in fairly good condition and you do not need four wheel drive vehicle to get up to the visitors center. There are several trails in La Tigra, which by the way, has two different access points, one is through El Hatillo, and the other is past Valle de Angeles, through the old mining community of San Juancito, which is where the old Rosario Mining Company operated at the end of the XIXth and beginning of the XXth centuries. For complete information on La Tigra National Park visit www.amitigra.org
Real de Minas Route
A tourist route that includes three distinct and unique communities, Santa Lucia, Valle de Angeles and San Juancito, all three of them important mining towns in the past has become popular with locals and tourists alike. Probably the most visited attraction outside of Tegus is Valle de Angeles, a small community located about 18 miles from Tegucigalpa. This small town is extremely popular during the weekends, when many different families in Tegucigalpa escape the city in search for a pleasant more rural atmosphere. Many different restaurants and shops are available here and the
town is a really nice place to walk around and take a stroll before you sit down at one of the many street side cafes and restaurants for a bite. An added benefit is the fact that there are a lot of different artisans that produce handicrafts here, so there is a huge variety of products that you can purchase; anything from a small hand made souvenir key ring to a finely carved mahogany chest. There are many different atmosphere options around here, you can choose from an outdoor experience with ponies and horseback riding prior to getting into town or for a street side café on a cobblestone street in town.
Other entertainment options include a canopy tour or a short trip to San Juancito, the old mining town that today is close to being a ghost town, but that at its peak in the early nineteen hundreds was the first town with electric power in all of Central America and also had the first modern bottling plant in the region! The old buildings that belonged to the Rosario Mining Company can still be seen up in the mountain, and one of them has actually been refurbished to function as a hostel for visitors wanting to spend the night here before or after the explore the trails into La Tigra National Park.
Halfways between Valle de Angeles and Tegucigalpa, you will find a truly picturesque town, Santa Lucia, another old mining post. The town seems to cling on a mountain top, overlooking the Tegucigalpa Valley below. Santa Lucia is located almost 2000 feet above the capital city and offers pine clad mountains, a pleasant small town atmosphere and has become popular as an option to live in for people in Tegucigalpa, as it is located only 5 miles out of town! The famous US writer and painter, William Lewis, alias Guillermo Yuscaran has made of Santa Lucia his permanent residence. There are a couple of hotels and restaurants in Santa Lucia if you choose to spend the night here or have a bite. It is only about 15 minutes from Santa Lucia to Tegucigalpa.
South of Tegucigalpa
If you were to go south of Tegus, on the CA5 highway that leads towards the Pacific Coast, you will pass several different old colonial towns that are interesting. The first town is located very close to Tegus, just as you arrive at the Cerro de Hula, a high ridge from where you can actually see de Gulf of Fonseca on a clear day. Incidentally, this is the area where the largest wind mill park in Central America is located. Here, at approximately Km 24, you will find the detour to Ojojona, a lovely small mining colonial town where time seems to have stalled a couple of centuries ago! Ojojona is located about 11 kilometers from the main road, via a paved highway that takes you through the town of Santa Ana before arriving to your destination. Ojojona offers several small eateries, as well as a truly nice, homely hotel owned by one of the distinguished families in Tegucigalpa. This is also a good spot to purchase locally made ceramics, and if you look around, you can even find some good artwork locally, as several of the more distinguished painters in Honduras have either established themselves here or visit the town on weekends to find inspiration for their art. There are three pleasant colonial churches in Ojojona, however they are only open on Sundays during the weekly Catholic mass celebration.
Back to the main road, heading south you will soon pass the town of Sabana Grande, this town is famous for its rosquillas, a locally made bread from corn that has the form of a thin donut. Another local product are the “tustacas” which are also made of corn, but have some caramel sugar on them. Without doubt, the thing to do here is to stop at one of the roadside restaurants and order some rosquillas. You can even buy these already packaged to take back home with you if you like them! Sabana Grande is located about 45 kilometers, or about 30 miles from Tegucigalpa, and has a nice quiet feeling to the town. The main building, the Church, is actually a miniature replica of the Cathedral in Tegucigalpa, and is the pride and joy to the natives of this town. About 20 miles past Sabana Grande you will arrive at the town of Pespire, without doubt one of the nicest colonial towns in Honduras. Pespire has a unique church with three arched domes on the roof over the façade, a really nice little park and a typical wooden city hall like every town in Honduras used to have. Accommodations and facilities in town are quite limited, but if you like the idea of exploring small, out of the way towns, this one is a must. There are only one hotel in Pespire, the Hotel Palmeras. Both Pespire and Sabana Grande are very safe and you can truly enjoy walking around town without any risk to you or your belongings!
If you are in the mood for some good seafood, then perhaps you should continue down the road to San Lorenzo, which is only another 25 kilometres down the road. Before you arrive at San Lorenzo, you will come to the junction of CA5 with CA1, which is the Pan-American highway, a right turn will take you towards San Salvador, a left turn will eventually lead you to Managua, Nicaragua. At the junction, you should take the road to the left, which will bring you very soon to the Port City of San Lorenzo, on the Pacific coast of Honduras. The city is famous for its sea food restaurants, so you should go into town and come to the mangrove shores, known as Barrio Las Cabañas, where you will find a line of restaurants that are right on the water. I recommend Mariscos Celso or Por La Mar, in this last one you can enjoy your meal on small champas right on the water and with the good service provided by owner Armando, who is usually on the premises. There is a great variety of fresh seafood dishes in San Lorenzo and you will certainly enjoy yourself if you decide to stop by for lunch. Remember that the your return trip from San Lorenzo to Tegucigalpa will take a good two hours and that as a general rule it is not a good idea to drive after dark in Central America, as your chances of having an encounter with cattle on a dark road or trucks without tail lights are really almost astronomical!
East of Tegucigalpa
There are also some interesting spots east of Tegucigalpa that you might want to explore. The road to Danli, which is the largest city in the department of El Paraiso takes you past the Jamastran Valley, home of the world famous Escuela Panamericana de Agricultura, better known as Zamorano. Zamorano is famous internationally, and offers university and graduate classes to students majoring in agricultural production and management. This school attracts many students from throughout Central and South America. It has some truly spectacular campus facilities and many of the classes are more practical than theoretical. Most of the valley is under the management of this university and students learn a lot from a hands on experience. Zamorano is only 30 kilometers from Tegucigalpa, and you will find restaurants and shops where you can buy produce that is elaborated right here by the university students. A bit past Zamorano, continuing towards Danli you will come upon a detour to Yuscaran, one of the most charming towns in Honduras.
Yuscaran is an old mining town, and its cobblestone streets, nice central park and old homes seem like if they all have a story to tell you. Today there are only about 2000 inhabitants in the town, yet the town is kept clean, and its cobble stone streets are in good shape, winding up towards the mountain side. Perhaps the most important industry in town today is a local factory that produces Aguardiente, a local raw rum that has the same name as the town and is quite famous throughout Honduras. You can actually get a tour of the Yuscaran Distillery which is located only two blocks from the center of town. Yuscaran is the capital of the department of El Paraiso, however with the mining activity having basically shut down in town, it is really neither the largest or most important city in the department. There are a couple of hotels and restaurants in Yuscaran. By far the best lodging facility is Casa Colibri, a two bedroom bed and breakfast located right across the street from the central park. For eating, your best option for typical Honduran food is Comedor Lita, facing Casa Fortin, one of the old traditional buildings in town, where a small, somewhat run down museum operates. If the Museum is closed, ask around, as the owners are usually nearby and will gladly open the doors for you!
After your visit to Yuscaran, you must return to the main Tegucigalpa to Danli highway. Here I recommend that you continue to Danli, the most important city in the department of El Paraiso and also the most important cigar manufacturing center in Honduras. Danli is a much larger city that Yuscaran, and offers a variety of hotels and restaurants where you can enjoy a good meal or spend a comfortable night. Danli is only about 90 minutes from Tegucigalpa if you are driving your own car or if you hired a guide with a car to take you there. The main attraction in Danli are the cigar manufacturing facilities. Several Cuban families that fled Cuba during and immediately after the Cuban Revolution came to Honduras and established themselves in area of Danli, which had a similar climate to that of Cuba, and even brought some of the Cuban tobacco seeds with them to restart their business in Honduras. The result has been outstanding, and Honduras today produces fine cigars that have nothing to envy from the Cuban cigars, except perhaps the legendary fame of their Cuban counterparts. Today 40% of Danli’s economy is directly related to the production of cigars, and thats many people if you consider that there are approximately 70,000 souls living in Danli! There are at least 6 cigar factories established and producing export quality cigars, and you can actually buy some cigars here at a fraction of what you would pay in the US or Europe. You can visit the Puros Indios factory (http://www.purosindioscigars.com ) or call (504) 2763-1486.
North of Tegucigalpa
About 90 kilometers north of Tegucigalpa, on a newly renovated 4 lane highway, you will arrive at the old colonial capital of Honduras: Comayagua. The city, which was the capital of the province of Honduras during colonial days was also the first capital during the early republican days, prior to it having been moved to Tegucigalpa in 1880. There are several lovely old colonial churches in the city, with the most important one being the Cathedral of Comayagua, a lovely old building that has the claim to the oldest working clock in the Americas!
Comayagua was a gem that needed a good face-lifting, and about 16 years ago, with the help of the Spanish Cooperation Agency, and the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History, the major of Comayagua set out to do just that, with the intention of restoring the old colonial monuments and parks back to their original look and glory. The result has been truly impressive and Comayagua today is a glistening gem that is attracting tourism. Best of all, the local community has changed their attitude towards the city and are really proud of the city, its heritage and are investing more and more in it.
By car it will take you approximately one hour to get to Comayagua, so it is an easy day trip from the capital city. IF you are interested in spending the night, there are many hotel options, and I recommend that you stay in one of the downtown hotels so that you can stroll around town and enjoy the city. There are several different options, and I suggest you see our section on the best of Comayagua to choose hotels and restaurants to enjoy while staying here.
A tip, while in Comayagua, ask at the Cathedral to see if you can get a tour to the church belfry, it is a steep climb up some narrow stair cases, but you will get to see the centuries old clock, the antique bells and the best view of town! Your best bet for information and help here would be at the Restaurante Villamil, with the Zapata brothers, Tirso and Juan Carlos, they know everyone in town and are friendly and very helpful.