Comayagua is a small city in Honduras, located some 60 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa. Comayagua is on the highway between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, making it a frequent stop for travelers. The town is known for its Spanish Colonial era architecture and as the unofficial cultural capital of Honduras. And in recent years, Comayagua has become one of Honduras’ main tourist destinations.
Comayagua was founded in 1537 by the Conquistador Alonso de Cáceres under the orders of Francisco de Montejo, the Governor of Yucatán. For the next three years, the newly founded city was the scene of one of the last resistances staged by the Lenca and Nahuatl people, both groups initiating a revolt in 1539. After the revolt was crushed, Comayagua was named the capital of Honduras in 1540 and remained so until it gained full independence in 1838. From then on, the capital alternated between Comayagua and Tegucigalpa, until President Marco Aurelio Soto finally gave this designation permanently to Tegucigalpa in 1880. The move brought in a century of decline for the Comayagua. Only recently has the city redefined itself as a colonial-era city of historical and cultural sites, spurred on by the Honduras Institute of Anthropology and History’s declaration of Comayagua as a national monument in 1972.
Comayagua is full of cultural and historical sites. Most of the city’s colonial churches are within blocks of each other. The city also has some first-class museums, and all of them are within walking distances of each other. Comayagua is also lively most of the times, especially during the week before Easter in “Semana Santa”, when bright-colored sawdust carpets decorate the city center and processions line every street corner.
Perhaps the most prominent of Comayagua’s colonial churches is the early 18th century Catedral de Santa Maria, located at El Parque Central (or Central Plaza). This is the largest of Comayagua’s churches. Its interior is richly ornate, decorated with hand-carved wooden and gold altars, and statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and other saints. The church’s tower has an iconic 800 year-old clock donated by Phillip II of Spain, supposedly the oldest clock in the Americas.
Another important church is the 16th century Iglesia San Francisco, located in the northern part of the city. While the Catedral de Santa Maria likely has the oldest clock in the Americas, the Iglesia San Francisco probably has the oldest bell in the Americas. The bell in the church’s tower was brought over from Spain and dates back to 1460. The Iglesia San Francisco is also famous for its baroque interior and its elegant carvings.
Another notable church is the Iglesia de la Caridad, which is a couple of blocks from the Iglesia San Francisco. This church has an open-air chapel, used originally to convert the indigenous people. The Iglesia de la Caridad is famous for the Lord of the Burro Statute (El Sehor de la Burrita) which is paraded in processions during Palm Sunday.
The 16th century church, Iglesia La Merced is another landmark. It was the first church built in Honduras and the oldest in the Americas. It houses some magnificent interior decorations and a magnificent altar piece.
Comayagua, however, also has some of the best museums in Honduras. Two museums, the Museo de Antropologia and the Museo Colonial, are considered the two best in the country.
The Museo de Antropologia is located in what was Honduras’ first presidential palace. This museum showcases Lenca culture and has a collection of artifacts and fossils from old sites around Comayagua. It also has a jade and ceramics collection. Perhaps most striking is the museum’s exhibit of cave art.
While the Museo de Antropologia is located in a former presidential palace, the Museo Colonial is located in a former university – Central America’s first university in fact. The Museo Colonial houses a collection of 15th to 18th century art and includes various paintings, sculptures, statues, and jewelry. Among the museum’s collection includes the mythical Christ sculpture. This sculpture has violet eyes and some say will help you reawaken your long-lost dreams if you stare into the eyes.
It is also worth spending some extra time at Comayagua’s El Parque Central (or Central Plaza) in addition to visiting the Catedral de Santa Maria there. The central plaza is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is the place where the town’s people gather to celebrate festivals, holidays, and marimba concerts. The City Hall, a neoclassical style 16th century building also stands right in front of the plaza.