Stark, sun-baked coastal plains stretch south from Tegucigalpa all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Though a world away from the clean air and gentle climate of the highlands, this region is nonetheless beautiful in its own right, defined by a dazzling light and ferociously high temperatures. Traditionally a poor region, it’s also a little-visited one, with the foreigners who do pass through usually in transit to Nicaragua or El Salvador. If you’re really looking to get off the gringo trail, this is the place to do it.
The chief attraction in the area – and well worth a visit – is Isla El Tigre, a volcanic island set in the calm waters of the Golfo de Fonseca, while the colonial city of Choluteca offers a change of pace from the frenzy of the capital and makes a convenient stopover en route to Nicaragua.
The main transport junction in this part of the country is the village of Jícaro Galán, at the intersection of Highway CA-5 and the Carretera Panamericana, some 70km south of Tegucigalpa. Buses stop here to exchange passengers before continuing west to the border with El Salvador at El Amatillo, 42km away, or east to Nicaragua.
Top image: Gulf of Fonseca vis from Conchagua Volcano © Joey Villaflor/Shutterstock
Honduras’s fourth-largest city, with a population of around 160,000, CHOLUTECA has a fine old colonial centre, which is its main attraction. Most places of interest are grouped around the Parque Central, itself a pleasant place to enjoy the evening air. Dominating the square, the imposing seventeenth-century cathedral is worth a look for its elaborately constructed wooden ceiling. On the southwest corner of the square is the birthplace of José Cecilio del Valle, one of the authors of the Central American Act of Independence in 1821; the town’s authorities have started to turn the building into a municipal museum. It is Valle’s statue that stands in the middle of the square. Once you’ve seen the centre, there’s not much reason to hang out in the heat, and most people move on fairly quickly.
Boats depart the fishing village of Coyolito, on the coast of the Golfo de Fonseca, southwest of Jícaro Galán, for the volcanic ISLA EL TIGRE, whose conical peak rises sharply against the sky across the sparkling water. With good beaches, calm waters and constant sunshine, it’s an ideal spot to hide away for a couple of days.
The island’s only town is AMAPALA, once the country’s major Pacific port and now a decaying relic of the nineteenth century. Looking up from the dock, you’ll see ageing wooden houses clustered along the hillside, while the restored church in the Parque Central shows signs of the island’s desire to get on the tourist map. Nonetheless, during the week there’s every chance you’ll be the only visitor on the island.
From the southern side of the island there are stunning views across the gulf to Volcán Cosiguina in Nicaragua, and in some places to Isla Meanguera and mainland El Salvador. The island’s peak can be climbed in a steep and very hot two- to three-hour walk; ask for directions to the start of the trail, opposite the naval base, about 15 minutes’ walk southwest of Amapala.
An 18km road runs all the way around the island, giving access to some glorious deserted beaches; it takes four or more hours to walk the whole thing, or you can take one of the moto-taxis that hang around the end of the dock in Amapala.
A 45-minute walk or L10–20 moto-taxi ride (avoid the car taxis that may be waiting at the end of the pier – find a red moto-taxi near the square) east from the Parque Central takes you to Playa El Burro, where you can while away the afternoon people-watching – children and taxi drivers play football on the beach before cooling off in the sea. Popular Playa Grande, west of the plaza, is backed by rows of comedores serving freshly barbecued fish at the weekend. A further ten minutes west is Playa Negra, a pretty volcanic sand beach.