Comayagua and around

Founded on 7 December 1537 as Villa Santa María de Comayagua on the site of an indigenous village by Alonzo de Cáceres, Comayagua is a colonial town in the rich Comayagua plain, 1½ hours' drive (93 km) north from the capital. On 3 September 1543, it was designated the Seat of the Audiencia de los Confines by King Felipe II of Spain. President Marco Aurelio Soto transferred the capital to Tegucigalpa in 1880.

There are many old colonial buildings in Comayagua, reflecting the importance of Honduras' first capital after Independence in 1821. The city is looking a little jaded these days, but is still worth a visit for the impressive architecture. Comayagua was declared a city in 1557, 20 years after its founding. Within a couple of centuries a rash of civic and religious buildings were constructed. The former university, the first in Central America, was founded in 1632 and closed in 1842 (it was located in the Casa Cural, Bishop's Palace, where the bishops have lived since 1558). Others include the churches of
La Merced
(1550-1558) and
La Caridad
(1730),
San Francisco
(1574) and
San Sebastián
(1575).
San Juan de Dios
(1590 but destroyed by earthquake in 1750), the church where the
Inquisition sat, is now the site of the Hospital Santa Teresa.
El Carmen
was built in 1785. The wealth of colonial heritage has attracted funds for renovation, which have produced a slow transformation in the town. The most interesting building is the
cathedral
in the Parque Central, inaugurated in 1711, with its plain square tower and façade decorated with sculpted figures of the saints, which contains some of the finest examples of colonial art in Honduras (closed 1300-1500). Of the 16 original hand-carved and gilded altars, just four survive today. The clock in the tower was originally made over 800 years ago in Spain and is the oldest working clock in the Americas. It was given to Comayagua by Felipe II in 1582. At first it was in La Merced when that was the cathedral, but it was moved to the new cathedral in 1715. Half a block north of the cathedral is the
Ecclesiastical Museum
. One block south of the cathedral, at the corner of 6 Calle and 1 Avenida NO, is the
Museo de Arqueología
 (housed in the former Palacio de Gobernación), small scale but fascinating, with six rooms each devoted to a different period. Much of the collection came from digs in the El Cajón region, 47 km north of Comayagua, before the area was flooded for the hydroelectricity project.

There are two colonial plazas shaded by trees and shrubs. A stone portal and a portion of the façade of
Casa Real
(the viceroy's residence) still survives. Built in 1739-41, it was damaged by an earthquake in 1750 and destroyed by tremors in 1856. The army still uses a quaint old fortress built when Comayagua was the capital. There is a lively market area.

Siguatepeque

The Northern Highway crosses the Comayagua plain, part of the gap in the mountains which stretches from the Gulf of Fonseca to the Ulúa lowlands. Set in forested highlands 32 km northwest of Comayagua is the town of Siguatepeque, which has a cool climate. It is the site of the Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Forestales (which is worth a visit) and, being exactly halfway between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula (128 km), is a collection point for the produce of the Intibucá, Comayagua and Lempira departments. The Cerro and Bosque de Calanterique, behind the Evangelical Hospital, is a 45-minute walk from the town centre. The Parque Central is pleasant, shaded by tall trees with the church of San Pablo on the north side and the cinema,
Hotel Versalles
and Boarding House Central on the east;
Hondutel
and the post office are on the south side.

Southwest from Siguatepeque, the route to La Esperanza is a beautiful paved road through lovely forested mountainous country, via
Jesús de Otoro
, where there are two basic
hospedajes
and
Balneario San Juan de Quelala
, which has a
cafetería
and picnic sites. North from Siguatepeque, the highway goes over the forested escarpment of the continental divide, before descending towards Lago Yojoa. Just south of Taulabé on the highway are the illuminated
Caves of Taulabé
, with both stalactites and bats. North of Taulabé, and 16 km south of the lake is the turn-off northwest of a paved road to Santa Bárbara.

Lago Yojoa

Sitting pretty among the mountains is the impressive Lake Yojoa, 22½ km long and 10 km wide. To the west rise the Montañas de Santa Bárbara which include the country's second highest peak and the
Parque Nacional de Santa Bárbara
. To the east is the
Parque Nacional Montaña Cerro Azul-Meámbar
. Pumas, jaguars and other animals live in the forests, pine-clad slopes and the cloud forest forming part of the reservoir of the Lago Yojoa basin. The national parks also have many waterfalls. The 50-sq-km Azul-Meámbar park is 30 km north of Siguatepeque and its highest point is 2047 m. To get to any of the entry points (Meámbar, the main one, Jardines, Bacadia, Monte Verde or San Isidro) a 4WD is necessary. A local ecological group,
Ecolago
, has marked out the area and is to offer guided tours.
Ecolago
has guides who are expert in spotting regional birds; at least 373 species have been identified around the lake. At one time the lake was full of bass, but overfishing and pollution have decimated the stocks. Tilapia farming is now very important.

The Northern Highway follows the eastern margin to the lake's southern tip at
Pito Solo
, where sailing and motor boats can be hired. On the northern shore of Lago Yojoa is a complex of pre-Columbian settlements called
Los Naranjos
, which are believed to have had a population of several thousand. It is considered to be the country's third most important archaeological site spanning the period from 1000 BC to AD 1000, and includes two ball courts. The site is slowly being developed for tourism by the Institute of Anthropology and History and has a visitor centre, small museum and coffee shop and a number of forest walking trails. Excavation work is currently in progress. The local office of the institute is at the
Hotel Brisas de Lago
. From the lake it is 37 km down to the hot Ulúa lowlands.

A paved road skirts the lake's northern shore for 12 km via Peña Blanca. A road heads southwest to
El Mochito
, Honduras' most important mining centre. A bus from 2 Avenida in San Pedro Sula goes to Las Vegas-El Mochito mine for walks along the west side of Lago Yojoa. Buses will generally stop anywhere along the east side of the lake. Another road heads north from the northern shore, through Río Lindo, to
Caracol
on the Northern Highway. This road gives access to the Pulhapanzak waterfall, with some unexcavated ceremonial mounds adjacent, and to Ojo de Agua, a pretty bathing spot near Caracol.
Peña Blanca
is, according to one reader, a “very ugly town” on the north side of the lake. Almost makes you want to stay.

Pulhapanzak waterfall

The impressive 42-m waterfall at Pulhapanzak is on the Río Lindo. The waterfall is beautiful during, or just after the rainy season, and in sunshine there is a rainbow at the falls. There is a picnic area, a small
cafetería
and a good
comedor
15 minutes' walk away down in the village, but the site does get crowded at weekends and holidays.

Santa Bárbara and around

Santa Bárbara, surrounded by high mountains, forested hills and rivers, lies in a hot lowland valley 32 km west of Lago Yojoa. One of the nicest main towns in Honduras, it has little of architectural or historical interest compared with Gracias, Ojojona or Yuscarán, but it is here that you will find Panama hats and other goods made from junco palm. The majority of the population is fair-skinned (some redheads) and the people are vivacious. In addition to being a pleasant place to stay, Santa Bárbara is also a good base for visiting villages throughout the Santa Bárbara Department. Nearby, the ruined colonial city of
Tencoa
has been rediscovered. A short local trek behind the town climbs the hills to the
ruined site of
Castillo Bogran
, with fine views across the valley and the town. Heading south out of Santa Bárbara, the paved road joins the Northern Highway south of Lago Yojoa.

The Department of Santa Bárbara is called the Cuna de los Artesanos (cradle of artisans), with over 10,000 craftspeople involved in the manufacture of handicrafts. The main products come from the small junco palm, for example fine hats and baskets. The main towns for junco items are
La Arada
, 25 minutes from Santa Bárbara on the road to San Nicolás, and then branching off south, and
Ceguaca
, on a side road off the road to Tegucigalpa. Flowers and dolls from corn husks are made in Nueva Celilac. Mezcal is used to make carpets, rugs and hammocks, which are easy to find in towns such as
Ilama
, on the road to San Pedro Sula, which has one of the best small colonial churches in Honduras (no accommodation). People here also make
petates
(rugs) and purses.

Between Santa Bárbara and Lago Yojoa is the
Parque Nacional de Santa Bárbara
which contains the country's second highest peak, Montaña de Santa Bárbara at 2744 m. The rock is principally limestone with many subterranean caves. There is little tourist development as yet, with just one trail, and you can track down a guide in Los Andes, a village above Peña Blanca and Las Vegas. The best time to visit is the dry season, January-June.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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