Honduras is a democratic republic in Central America, known as the original “Banana Republic”. This moniker is fitting. From the late 19th century to the 1950s, Honduras was run by powerful American fruit companies who controlled the country’s banana trade, which during that period generally accounted for about 70% of Honduras’ foreign exports. During this period, however, U.S. influence extended well beyond Honduras’ fruit exports. The Americans also ran the country’s banks, factories, and railways. And in the 1980s, Honduras served notoriously as the training ground for CIA-backed counterrevolutionaries meddling in the politics of neighboring Nicaragua and El Salvador. Today, U.S. influence has subsided. But in the aftermath, Honduras remains the poorest and least developed country in Latin America. And its tourism lags behind its neighbors as well – sad, because Honduras is a natural biosphere worthy of admiring visitors.
The extent of Honduras’ history is unclear, but it has witnessed the rise and fall of several civilizations, evidenced by archaeological sites and ruins. In particular, the site in Copan actually retells of the ancient city’s history in uncovered carvings, shedding light on past Honduran civilizations. It was not until 1502 when the first European, Christopher Columbus, discovered Honduras. The country experienced semi-colonization by the Americans from the late 1800s to the 1950s.
More recently, Honduras was hit in 1998 by the devastating Hurricane Mitch, which destroyed the country killing thousands of people. Its capital, Tegucigalpa, was flattened with large parts of the city’s valleys and highlands turned into craters of mud. Despite the aid of the international community, Honduras still lingers in disrepair from the catastrophe. And poverty and crime remains widespread.
Today, the hopes and dreams of Honduras seem to rest on its ecotourism. The country has a tropically-humid Caribbean coastline with hundreds of miles of palm-fringed beaches that are constantly stroked by sapphire ocean waves. Coral reefs enclose the shores, creating natural swimming pools as well as dwelling grounds for eagle rays and other marine life. Most alluring, however, is Honduras’ cool and jungly cloud forests in its interiors where the rain is abundant and the landscape colored by ferns, bromeliads, and orchids and inhabited by exotic iguanas, monkeys, ocelots, and jaguars. Much of these forests have been marked as national parks, reserves, and wildlife refuges – Parque Nacional Sierra de Agalta in eastern Honduras and Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve in La Mosquitía being two of the more prominent reserves.
The best part about Honduras is that its natural beauty can be enjoyed in virtual solitude. The country is sparsely populated; it is five times larger than El Salvador but somehow less populated. Many tourists enjoy this non-commercialized travel environment. Aside from the hotspots of Copán and the Bay Islands, there are few crowded areas in Honduras.
The bad news about Honduras is that it isn’t the safest country in Central America. Particularly dangerous towns are Trujillo, La Ceiba, and Tela. It is never a good idea to trek out at night or even travel during the day alone. Some major cities like San Pedro Sula are also havens of crack cocaine and gang violence.
The people in Honduras, however, are generally good-humored and generous. But there are few indigenous villages; most people are mestizo. There are also few isolated villages that you can visit to experience the traditional Honduran way of life. One exception is Garifuna in the northern coast. This village is made up of Afro-Caribbean residents, originally from Roatan, who have maintained a strong cultural identity. The village is known for its traditional music and dances.
Honduras is not known for its cuisine, but you’ll find a few dishes that are surprisingly mouth-watering. The plato tipico is a good one and consists of meat, rice, cheese, beans, plantains, and occasionally mixed in with some eggs and avocados. The sopa de mondongo, a tripe and vegetable soup, is a particular favorite among tourists. You should also try the pupusa, a fried patty of corn, cheese, and beans served with cabbage and onions. And the frita de elote is absolutely delicious, a deep-fried mash of corn and sugar often sold along the streets and roads. The fruits in Honduras are heavenly as well, especially the mangos like mango verde (a type of baby green mango).