Honduras is beautiful country in Central America, with a Latin American/Caribbean feel that is unique to the region. The population that contributes to that feel is a mix of indigenous, mestizo, and Garifuna (Afro-Caribbean) people that mix their traditions to create a colorful culture. A cruise to Honduras will land in a country that, in addition to a rich culture, has some of the richest wildlife in Central America. Honduras is an eco-tourist’s dream, with an extensive network of reserves, national parks, and biospheres that protect rare and beautiful species across the country.
The Conquest of Honduras
Modern-day Honduras was home to several Mesoamerican civilizations in pre-Columbian times, the most notable being the Maya. The city-state of Copan flourished on the Caribbean coast, and today are some of the most impressive ruins in the country. A cruise to Honduras will reveal ancient sites all over the country, but Copan should not be missed. The Lenca were another powerful group who occupied the west-central region.
Columbus landed on the coast of the country in 1502 and christened it Honduras, meaning the Depths, in honor of the deep waters off its shores. He was followed shortly thereafter by Hernan Cortes, the famous Spanish conquistador. Cortes left Pedro de Alvarado in his place to conquer Honduras and its people. However, a well-known warrior chief of the Lenca people, named Lempira, had pulled together more than 200 other tribes to fight the Spanish presence, tribes that has previously warred with each other and yet put aside ancient rivalries in order to defend their lands, culture, and lives.
The native force made their fortress on top of a great rock called Cerquin, where they ambushed an unsuspecting Spanish company. The Spanish governor, Montejo, found the fortress impossible to defeat alone, and so he mobilized natives from Guatemala and Mexico, as well as all Spanish troops at his disposal. Cerquin remained invincible, and Lempira ordered several Spanish strongholds to be placed under siege by his tribal forces.
Montejo was at a loss and desperate. He invited the noble Lempira to a peace conference, but Lempira refused to surrender. Montejo gave a signal and the Lenca chief was shot in the head by a hidden sniper. With the great leader’s death, nearly 30,000 natives fled or surrendered to the Spanish. The conquest moved rapidly through Honduras after that.
A Rich Environment
Honduras is a beautiful place to visit as an eco-tourism destination. The country is sparsely populated, and so the vast tracts of wilderness contribute to its amazing biodiversity. Honduras has the most extensive enclaves of cloud forests and primary forests in Central America.
In order to preserve this pristine bounty, Honduras has designated several areas as reserves, national parks, or biospheres. One of the most amazing of these is called Moskitia, known as the Mosquito Coast. It is one of the last remaining undisturbed areas of wilderness in the world. The forest there is a large remnant of the ancient forest that once covered the entire isthmus of Central America. It encompasses savannahs, tropical rainforest and mangrove swamps. Moskitia is also scattered with little-known ruins, and is rumored to be hiding the legendary White City of the Maya in its depths.
Honduras’ network of protected areas is extensive, yet it comprises only half of the total 25,000 square miles earmarked for eventual protection by the Honduran government.
Geography of Honduras
Honduras is the second-largest country in Central America. It is bordered by Guatemala to the north, El Salvador to the west, and Nicaragua to the south. Its borders are defined by waters. The Caribbean Sea stretches across the sum of Honduras’ coast, and Honduras is bookended by the Rio Montagua and the Rio Coco. These waters also contain a number of islands that fall into Honduras’ territory, both small and large.
Beautiful mountains are the defining feature of inland Honduras. They make up over 80% of the country’s land area. The western mountains are breathtaking, the highest peaks reaching to nearly 9,000 feet. Honduras’ mountain ranges are split by a long depression that runs from north to south and forms the only lowlands in the country’s interior.
The north coast of Honduras is made up of river valleys and low coastal plains. The coast near the Guatemalan border has been heavily developed; the eastern beaches are definitely more welcoming to travelers looking for a little seclusion on their small ship cruise to Honduras. Honduras does have a very short coast along the Pacific, which is somewhat swampy and dotted with mangroves.
Tropical Weater Patterns
Honduras is a land of abundant sunshine. Although the whole of the country falls within the tropics, Honduras has three climatic zones: Caribbean lowlands, interior, and Pacific lowlands. The Caribbean zone is frequently hot and humid, and rainfall occurs fairly evenly throughout the year. Highs on that coast range from 80-90 degrees F. The mountainous interior has a range of temperatures, depending on elevation. The capital, Tegucigalpa, has highs year around from 75-85 degrees F in a sheltered valley in the interior. Meanwhile, frost and freezing temperatures can occur at higher altitudes. Summer in the interior happens from November to April, which is the dry season for that region.
Travelers on a cruise to Honduras should be aware that the country’s Caribbean side lies along a hurricane belt, and should plan to avoid traveling during the late summer.
Honduras: Caribbean Living
Honduran culture is rich mix of indigenous, Garifuna, and mestizo traditions. About 6% of the population identifies with an indigenous group, the main ones being Lenca and Xicaques. Although native languages and some religious aspects have been lost through the centuries, many cultural traditions remain: dress, food, drink, and pottery are still important elements of life.
The Garifuna culture is very strong in Honduras. There are other Garifuna communities in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and the island of Roatan. When their boat wrecked off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, escaped African slaves found Yellow Caribs on the island, a group that originated from the intermarriages of Venezuelan Caribs and Arawak Indians. The Garifuna emerged from the intermixing of these three peoples. The Garifuna language is a derived from Arawak and Carib languages, and is still practiced today. Music is full of vibrant drum beats and combinations, and the punta is the traditional Garifuna dance.
Most of the population of Honduras is Roman Catholic, and Spanish is the national language. But there is a distinctly Caribbean feel to general Honduran culture, and some old religious traditions are still in practice. A Caribbean cruise to Honduras will provide a glimpse into the laid-back and colorful way of life in this Central America country.
Honduras Local Cuisine: Corn and Tropical Fruit
The cuisine of Honduras is as colorful a combination as its culture. The pre-Colombian staples of farther north such as corn, beans, and squash mix with those of South America, and a Caribbean flavor is thrown.
Corn is definitely one of the most common ingredients, and a cruise to Honduras should provide some of the most delicious tamales (cornmeal stuffed with various vegetables or meats and steamed in the husk) ever cooked. Tortillas will also come with nearly every meal if you’re visiting the central and western regions of the country. The eastern lowlands favor South American root crops, such as cassava and yucca, with rice. Seafood is popular all over the country; on the coast, it is often cooked in coconut milk or with tropical fruits. These fruits are an important part of the Honduran diet, from plantains and bananas to mangoes and passion fruit.
The baleada is a delicious traditional dish of Honduras, which is a flour tortilla rolled over refried beans and quesillo (salty cheese), sometimes with meat or eggs added. Another traditional deal is made of Copan-style pork, which is an entire pig stuffed with spiced corn dough and roasted in an adobe oven.
Honduras remained under Spanish control until 1821, when the country gained its independence. Mexico annexed it as a territory for a short time, but Honduras joined the United Provinces of Central America in 1823. The federation fell apart 15 years later, but restoring Central American unity remained the chief goal of Honduran foreign policy for nearly the next century.
Honduras, like some other Central American countries, came to be practically run by the United Fruit Company, which established banana plantations in all of the arable lands in the country. The term “banana republic” was coined from this era of American history. The United Fruit Company dominated the economic and other infrastructures of Honduras until 1954. Banana workers across the country went on strike due to inhumane working conditions, and the company’s influence in Honduras began to crumble.
The banana workers’ strike paved the way for a liberal reform in Honduras. A new constitution was ratified in 1957, along with a new labor code. Unfortunately, political unrest ensued in the following decades, including a brief war with El Salvador and several coups.
The United States established a military presence in Honduras during the 1980s to aid the Nicaraguan Contras and the El Salvadoran military. The U.S. was also involved in Honduran politics, pressuring the government to call democratic elections. Several questionable elections took place in the ‘80’s, and Honduras became a staging ground for the Contras in Nicaragua. When the war ended in Nicaragua, Honduras began to establish stability and peace. A cruise to Honduras today will land in a country without conflict.
Politics of Honduras
The government of Honduras is a presidential representative democratic republic, which means that the president is head of government and head of state under a multi-party system. The two main parties are the Liberal Party of Honduras and the National Party of Honduras. Democratic elections were held in November, 2005, and Manuel Zelaya took office as President.
A Plethora of Animals
Honduras is particularly rich in birdlife. There are over 700 species of birds that inhabit the country, including rare Harpy eagles and brilliant blue quetzals. Because Honduras has such a diver array of habitats—jungle, coastline, rivers, mountains—there is an equally diverse array of wildlife. Primates include spider monkeys and howler monkeys among many others. Rare species such as anteaters and tapirs may be seen by those who are lucky, and those who are very lucky may catch a glimpse of the big cats such as ocelots, pumas, or jaguars. Other animals that may make an appearance on your Honduran cruise are coatis, deer, sloths, several kinds of snakes, and dolphins and turtles on the coast. This list is by no means exhaustive: the wildlife of Honduras is plentiful and colorful!