Honduras is a set up as a Central Republic. Thus, it has departments instead of states. The biggest difference is perhaps with the Honduras departments is that the population does not elect its governors. As a matter of fact, although governors in Honduras are named directly by the president, they do not have any real authority. Each department has several municipalities. These are governed by a mayor and a city council that is elected every four years.
There are a total of 18 Honduras departments. These vary in size, with the Department of the Bay Islands having the smallest territory and Olancho the largest. Olancho is so vast, that it is bigger than the country of El Salvador! Many of these departments date back to old colonial times, and some have changed names over the years.
Following are the names of the departments in Honduras, which are the equivalent to Honduras States. I am listing them in Alphabetical order.
Atlantida is on the Caribbean Coast of Honduras. This was where most of the banana companies established themselves. It became a department back in 1902. This in part to create the proper local conditions for the two big banana companies that came to Honduras: The United Fruit Company in Tela and the Standard Fruit Company in La Ceiba. Today, Atlantida boasts the largest concentration of protected areas in Honduras. It is also one of the most promising destinations for ecotourism activities in Central America. Because of its location, it has fantastic connectivity with the Bay Islands of Honduras.
La Ceiba is the Capital of Atlantida. It is interesting to note that Atlantida has the highest living standards in Honduras. This of course is thanks to the Banana Companies. The population has a higher percentage of English speaking citizens than the rest of mainland Honduras. Today, Atlantida is a commercial, agricultural and tourism hub. It is also the gateway to the Bay Islands of Honduras.
This department is just east of Atlantida and gets its name from Christopher Columbus himself. Columbus did indeed land in the bay of Trujillo of August 1502 during his fourth and last voyage. From there he sailed towards the east until he cleared cape “Gracias a Dios” and continued south. This is the first landing on continental America for Columbus. Colon´s capital is the city of Trujillo, which was originally established by Columbus himself.
In the past, the department of Colon was vast, almost equivalent in size to Olancho, the largest department in Honduras. However on February 21, 1957, the National Congress of Honduras created a new department called Gracias a Dios. This new department is also known as La Moskitia, or the Moskito Coast. It is remote and has very little infrastructure. Colon is famous for its great beaches in the Bay of Trujillo. There is also a strong Garifuna presence in the area, with communities like Santa Rosa de Aguan and Limon being the largest Garifuna villages in the World. Colon is also an agricultural hub. Bananas, limes and African palm plantations are huge here.
Comayagua is one of the original departments in Honduras. It dates to colonial times. Its capital is the city that bears the same name. This was the original Capital of Honduras and is a colonial gem worth visiting. There are many different colonial towns in the area. In addition, Comayagua is one of the departments that share Lake Yojoa. Tourism wise, Comayagua attracts many travelers who have an interest in colonial buildings. Religious tourism during Easter Week is also big in Comayagua.
The department has two main cities within its territory. Comayagua, the capital and Siguatepeque, which is in the central highlands of Honduras. It is easy to get to Comayagua from both Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula via the CA5 highway.
Copan is in Western Honduras and is famous for the quality of the coffee produced here. But without doubt, the biggest claim to fame for Copan comes from the magnificent Archaeological Park in Copan. This is the most splendid and artistic of all Mayan sites in Central America. It´s high relief sculpture is unique in the Maya World. It is also home to the longest hieroglyph left by the Maya.
During Colonial times, Copan had a great reputation as a tobacco producing region. To this day, fine cigars are hand wrapped at La Flor de Copan. They are one of the most reputable cigar manufacturers in Central America. Copan is in Western Honduras and is a geographical mountainous area. The department borders Guatemala. The capital city, Santa Rosa de Copan offers some of the best night life in Honduras. If you enjoy gourmet coffee, a visit to Santa Rosa de Copan is a must!
Cortes is relatively new as a department. Yet it has become the most important and influential and is second only to Francisco Morazan. Cortes was declared a department by congress on July 4, 1893. Cortes, together with Atlantida, were created to favor the banana companies that came to Honduras. Although San Pedro Sula, the Department Capital was established in 1536, it was a non-distinct city. There were no important buildings from the colonial days in the city. However, the banana boom, as well as the closeness to Puerto Cortes, did wonders to jump start the economy of San Pedro Sula.
Today, San Pedro Sula is the largest non-capital city in Central America. It is home to the busiest airport in Honduras and has become the main manufacturing hub in Honduras. It is even an important financial center in Honduras. Its closeness with Puerto Cortes, which today is the largest port facility in Central America has been an important factor for development. There is no doubt that the department of Cortes in Honduras is the main gateway into Honduras. Most visitors use the San Pedro Sula airport as their entry point in Honduras.
The city has a fine selection of hotels, including large international franchise hotels. Small boutique hotels are also to be found in the city. It is a great hub to visit National Parks, beaches and cultural attractions in Honduras.
Choluteca is on the Pacific coast of Honduras and is one of the original colonial departments of Honduras. Its territory borders the Gulf of Fonseca to the south and Nicaragua to the East. To the West, is the department of Valle. Choluteca´s capital has the same name as the state and has the best preserved colonial city in Honduras. The Pan American highway crosses the city of Choluteca in Honduras. It is worth noting that the only Central American capital that is not connected by the Pan American highway is Tegucigalpa! Choluteca is not on the regular tourism map for visitors coming to Honduras. It offers a great old colonial town worth visiting.
Choluteca is also an important agricultural hub. Cantaloupes, watermelons and cashews are grown here for export. Cattle farming is also an important activity. Last, but not least, there are multiple shrimp farms in the mangrove areas around the Gulf of Fonseca. Choluteca is quite close to both El Salvador and Nicaragua and is very close to the port of Henecan on the Pacific. This port is in the neighboring department of Valle.
El Paraiso is a small department that is famous for its high altitude coffee and fine cigars. It is in the Eastern side Honduras and borders with Nicaragua. One of the main border crossings between both countries is the Las Manos border. This is very close to the biggest city in El Paraiso: Danli. Danli produces fine cigars. It turns out that several cigar producing families from Cuba managed to escape just before the revolution and brought some Cuban tobacco seeds with them. The soil and weather in Danli proved ideal and they have been producing cigars ever since. With the seeds and knowledge, they have had great success.
The capital of El Paraiso is the small colonial town of Yuscaran. This is an old colonial mining center that has a lot of charm. It is relatively close to Tegucigalpa and about halfway between the capital and Danli. A short detour from the main road will bring you to Yuscaran. One of the main attractions in town is a visit to the moonshine or “guaro” distillery called Yuscaran. El Paraiso is off the regular beaten path of tourists. Most of the limited tourism infrastructure is in Danli. This city is on the shortest route between Tegucigalpa and Managua in Nicaragua.
Francisco Morazan bears the name of one of Honduras´ Independence heroes. In the old days, it was called Tegucigalpa. Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras is also the capital of the department of Francisco Morazan. This is the most populous department in Honduras. This is also where the seat of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the Republic of Honduras. Although it is not the very popular as a tourism destination, it is very important as a Political hub, and this is where all the international agencies have their offices. It is also where all the foreign embassies are located. Tegucigalpa boast some great museums that are worth a visit if you have the time and interest!
Tegucigalpa and Comayaguela, Twin Cities Separated by a River
Tegucigalpa and its sister city, Comayaguela, have an interesting collection of old buildings. During colonial times Tegucigalpa was not the capital. It was non the less, an important economic hub for the province. This is because this was the main silver mining center in all Central America. Nearby charming colonial towns, such as Santa Lucia, Ojojona and Valle de Angeles offer a nice opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Tegucigalpa has an international airport and good highway connections with the rest of Central America. It is easy to travel to Managua, Nicaragua, as well as to San Salvador from here. It is also a good launching pad to visit southern Honduras, as well as Comayagua, La Paz, Olancho and El Paraiso.
There are many fine hotels with international franchises in Tegucigalpa. You can also find some nice boutique hotels that have a lot of charm. There are also many fine eateries in town. You will find the widest selection of restaurants in Honduras here. There is on doubt that a visit to Tegucigalpa is worth your time!
Gracias a Dios
Most people call this region “La Moskitia” It is a vast territory with very little infrastructure. This department is not to be mistaken with the original department of Gracias a Dios, which is now called Lempira and is in Western Honduras. La Moskitia lies on the Caribbean coast of Honduras and borders Nicaragua. The area offers one of the last great frontiers for adventure travelers. Perhaps the most intense nature trips in the Central America can be had here. La Moskitia is home to the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve. The ultimate overland adventure in Central America is traveling from Honduras to Nicaragua through this vast territory.
Intibuca is home to the largest native American population in Honduras. This is the land of the Lenca ethnic group. It´s capital is the city of La Esperanza, that boasts the coolest climate in Honduras. La Esperanza sits just over a mile high in the central highlands of Honduras. It´s market is famous for its fresh produce. You can also visit some artisan looms and see how the local women weave colorful cloths. This is the heart of the Lenca Trail and is a must if you are seeking an experience of scenic beauty and a friendly culture. There are several nice hotels in the area of La Esperanza and the surrounding mountains.
It is easy to combine a trip from Siguatepeque to Gracias and Santa Rosa de Copan via La Esperanza. Although off the beaten tourist track, foreigners are not unusual in Intibuca. Many international NGO´s have programs going on in this part of Honduras!
Islas de La Bahia
The Bay Islands became part of Honduras after the signing of the treaty of Comayagua in 1860. The department of Islas de la Bahia, AKA the Bay Islands was created by Congress on March 14, 1872. The Bay Islands have a rich British heritage and English is the main language on the islands. The department includes the islands of Utila, Roatan, Helene, Morat, Barbaretta and Guanaja. It also includes all the small cays around these islands and the Hog Cays or Cayos Cochinos.
By far, the Bay Islands are the most visited of all Honduras departments. The Juan Manuel Galvez airport in Roatan receives regular flights from several US gateways. Roatan is a major port of call for cruise ships. With two passenger terminals on the island, it receives over a million visitors every year! The Bay Islands are World famous for their diving in the Meso American Reef. This is the most biodiverse barrier reef in the World! The islands also boast the best beaches in Central America. This is destination worth visiting!
This is the smallest department on mainland Honduras. La Paz is also one of the least visited and poorest areas in Honduras. It borders with El Salvador towards the south and west. The biggest claim to fame for this small department is the outstanding coffee produced in the area around the city of Marcala. If you are a coffee lover, you should keep an eye out for coffee from Marcala while traveling through Honduras. The hotel infrastructure in Marcala is quite basic, so do not expect anything fancy there. The Capital of La Paz has the same name as the department. The biggest landmark in the city is a modern soccer stadium. This was built by an ex-president and the city has never had a soccer team to speak of!
This department was the home territory of Lempira, the chieftain who was Honduras´ first hero. In the past, this departments name was Gracias a Dios. However, the name was changed to honor the chieftain who lost his life fighting the Spanish Conquistadors. Lempira has many beautiful small towns that have changed little in the past century. Its capital Gracias, was once the local seat of government for the Spanish Crown. This was between 1536 and 1548. It was then transferred to Antigua Guatemala.
Gracias a Dios retains a charming colonial ambiance. The towering Cerro de las Minas, AKA Montaña de Celaque is the highest peak in Honduras. Nearby are some pleasant hot springs in the community of Arcilaca. There are many different hotels and restaurants to enjoy in Gracias. Visiting the rural towns of La Campa and San Manuel Colohete offers a window into life in rural Honduras. Gracias is one of my favorite destinations in Honduras.
Ocotepeque is the westernmost department in Honduras. It is the only department that borders with two different countries: El Salvador and Guatemala. It´s territory is very mountainous, although it does have a large, fertile valley within it. I am referring to the Sensenti Valley, or Valle de Sensenti. The two largest cities in Ocotepeque are Nueva Ocotepeque and San Marcos de Ocotepeque, which is in the Sensenti Valley.
The old capital was destroyed when a flash flood struck the city back in 1934. The town was destroyed by the flood, but miraculously, the old colonial church survived. Ocotepeque has an economy that depends on coffee and agriculture. Besides coffee, they produce potatoes, cabbage and other vegetables. Although tourism is not big in Ocotepeque, there are some nice old towns to visit in addition to Antigua Ocotepeque. My favorite by far is Belen Gualcho, located on the slopes of Montaña de Celaque.
Olancho is the largest department in Honduras. It is so big, that you could fit the country of El Salvador within Olancho´s territory! Many think of Olancho as the Honduran Wild West. Except of course, that it is on the East, not the West! The two largest cities in Olancho are Juticalpa and Catacamas. Olancho is home to some of the most pristine National Parks and protected areas in Honduras. This includes part of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve, as well as Patuca National Park and Sierra de Agalta National Park. This is an agricultural land where cattle ranching is at its best.
Hotel infrastructure is limited, but available. The biggest claim to fame for Olancho are the Talgua Caves. These are some impressive limestone caves that were used centuries ago by an old and yet to be studied culture. The caves are famous for their glowing skulls. Until recently a trip to Olancho was kind of a dead-end trip. By this I mean that you would visit Olancho and must backtrack to Tegucigalpa. However, this in no longer the case. The new highway from Juticalpa to Trujillo is now open and connects these two destinations. If you are looking for a different experience, try visiting Olancho and then Trujillo.
Santa Barbara is just west of San Pedro Sula. This is one of the original departments in Honduras. People from Santa Barbara have white skin and light eyes. Many are descendants of the original Spaniards that settled in Honduras during colonial times. There are many colonial towns with interesting church buildings. Some towns, like Trinidad, have unique traditions, like the “chimeneas” or furnaces that they set on fire once a year to celebrate their patron saint.
Santa Barbara is a mountainous territory. The second highest peak in Honduras, Montaña de Santa Barbara is within its territory. This peak with over 2600 meters of altitude is on the northern side of Lake Yojoa. Because of the altitude, this is fine coffee growing land. A visit through this department will allow you to see many different coffee estates and farms.
The capital of Santa Barbara is the city of Santa Barbara. The city itself does not have much to offer. But you will feel tempted to visit the ruins of an old building overlooking the city. This is the Castillo Bogran. This lovely old estate belonged to one of rich families in Santa Barbara. A stroll through Central Park is always pleasant. Hotel and tourism Infrastructure in Santa Barbara is very basic.
Valle is one of the more recent departments in Honduras. Its capital is Nacaome, whose claim to fame is the be hottest city in Honduras. This department has many lovely old colonial towns with some of the best churches in Honduras. You can find examples of such in Langue, Goascoran and Pespire. These are all nice quaint colonial times.
The largest city in the department is San Lorenzo, which is where you will find the port of Henecan. San Lorenzo reputedly has the best night life and sea food cuisine in southern Honduras. The department got its name from one of the fathers of Honduras, Jose Cecilio Valle. Valle is famous as a wise and incorruptible person. His birth place was in the neighboring city of Choluteca. There are not many hotel facilities in Valle, but you can find good alternatives is you look.
The most popular destinations in Valle are the town of Coyolito in the Gulf of Fonseca. This town, together with the volcanic island of Amapala are quite popular with locals from Tegucigalpa. Especially during the hot summer months, when they flock to the beaches.
Yoro is a fairly large department with many colonial towns. Most of the department is mountainous, and it boast many pine tree forests. Forestry and agriculture are the main economic activities in Yoro. This area has long been under the influence of Jesuit. All of the cities in Yoro are small, and tourism infrastructure is very basic. Some of the towns have nice old colonial churches. A fine example is Luquigue, a small town in a small valley with a fine old church building. The largest city in Yoro is El Progreso, which is close to San Pedro Sula. El Progreso has a nice park that features the banana company railroads.
Without doubt, Yoro´s most important claim to fame is the fact that once a year, usually during the month of May, it rains fish! This happens at the start of the rainy season. The sky gets dark, there is a strong thunderstorm with fierce rain. As the rain subsides, the people from the community run out with a basket and collect fish! I have read of this happening elsewhere, but it is usually near a lake or by the sea. Yoro is landlocked!