Sunday, July 31, 2011

Exploring San Pedro Sula in Honduras

Photo by G. Valdez
San Pedro Sula is the second largest city in Honduras and it also serves as the commercial hub for the region’s coffee, tobacco, banana, and sugar industries. It is located in the northwestern corner of the country 165 miles from Tegucigalpa and approximately 35 miles south of Puerto Cortés on the Caribbean coast. With many of the country's popular tourist attractions located close to the city, many visitors choose to fly into San Pedro Sula's Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport instead of Tegucigalpa.
Founded by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1536, the city was originally known as San Pedro, which included a mint where gold was processed from the mines in the Naco, Sula and Quimistan Valleys. The city’s name was eventually changed to San Pedro Sula during the 18th century and by the early 1900s, the city prospered due to the region’s banana plantations. This overall success also increased the population to more than 100,000 people especially after rail lines were built to connect the city with the ports of Puerto Cortés and Tela.

Today, San Pedro Sula is a bustling city of more than one million people and it continues to prosper due to its overall focus on business. Since the majority of the highways in and out of the city are well maintained, it is a relatively easy drive to many of the regional tourist attractions. But before leaving San Pedro Sula, make sure to visit some of the following locations.

Much like many other former Spanish Colonial cities in Central America, San Pedro Sula is built in a grid-like layout around a Parque Central with a series of calles (that run from east to west) and avenidas (that run from north to south). The city as a whole is divided into four quadrants: Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), Northwest (NO) and Southwest (SO), with most of the attractions in the SO quadrant.

What to See in San Pedro Sula

Parque Central: San Pedro’s Parque Central, located at Calle 1 and Avenida 3, seems to be busy both day and night. It serves as a convenient meeting point for residents and visitors and with the number of street vendors, they know it as well. Located in its center is the small gazebo that marks the spot where the city was founded and it is also the only structure that dates back to the turn of the 20th century. 

Photo by Jemito
Catedral de San Pedro Sula: Located on the eastern edge of the Parque Central, this neo-classical structure was built in 1949. It consists of high, pale-yellow walls and pillars accented with rusty-red colors on its bell towers and dome. The interior includes walls lined with paintings and hand-carved wooden statues of saints and other Catholic images. During the busier times of the Parque Central, the cathedral provides a relaxing retreat away from the crowds and overall noise of the city.

Museo de Antropología e Historia: This museum of anthropology and history is located between Avenida 3 and Calle 4, which is two blocks north of the Parque Central. Opened on January 25, 1994, it is the best one-stop location to learn about the history, culture, and geography of Honduras. It includes a wide array of pre-Columbian artifacts and ceramics as well as artwork and interactive exhibits that focus on everyday life during the colonial period. In addition, the two-floor museum also includes a gift shop and a cafeteria that serves lunch. The museum is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Mercado Guamilito: Known as The Guamilito Market, it is one of the best arts and crafts markets in Honduras. Located between Avenidas 8 and 9 and Calles 6 and 7, it is open daily from 10 a.m. to  5 p.m. and it includes almost an endless amount of booths and tables that sell everything from hammocks and pottery to cheap souvenirs and t-shirts. The handicraft section is larger and you will also find goods from Guatemala and El Salvador. You can also purchase high-quality coffee (and not-so-high-quality coffee) as well as delicious, hand-made tortillas. Many of the vendors sell the same items, so make sure to take time to search out the best deal and be ready to bargain, which is part of the overall experience.  

The Coca-Cola Sign: This is one of San Pedro Sula’s landmarks and it is often compared to the Hollywood sign in California. Located on the nearby Merendón Mountain Range, the trail head is only a 10-minute drive (or taxi ride) from downtown. After a relatively easy hike that crosses through a rainforest, it offers spectacular views of the Sula Valley and a great chance to see a variety of the region’s colorful birds. The hike takes between one to two hours to complete.

Parque Nacional Cusuco: Located approximately 12 miles west of San Pedro Sula in the Merendón Mountain Range is an 86-square-mile national park that includes some of the tallest trees in Central America. Established in 1959, it is managed by the Hector Rodrigo Pastor Fasquelle Foundation. Although the park is named after the armadillo (cusuco), it is actually home to more than 300 different species of birds ranging from Toucans to Quetzals. It also includes a waterfall, swimming area, and a visitor center with a variety of exhibits. The visitor center also provides maps of all of the forest trails including a trek to the 7,355-foot Cerro Jilinco, the highest peak in the park.
For a great way to explore the park,  take one of the tours offered by the Jungle Expedition tour company ( The four different tours of the Cusuco National Park range from a half-day to three full days in length. Highlights of the tours include four-wheel-drive transportation in modified Land Rovers and Land Cruisers, bilingual guides, horseback riding, incredible valley views, and waterfall rappelling. Best of all, the company promotes sustainable eco-tourism that supports the development of the park's surrounding villages.

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