Squeezed between El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize, Honduras is the second-largest country in South America but it’s also the least-visited. Decades of gang violence, drug wars, and political corruption mean most people skip over the country en-route to the palm-fringed beaches of Belize but, slowly, the country is undergoing a renaissance. Curious to find out more about this Central American nation? Here are a few interesting facts about Honduras to get you going.
Interesting Facts about Honduras
1. There’s a huge collection of Mayan ruins in Honduras
Honduras was home to a handful of important Mesoamerican cultures, including the Maya. The Unesco World Heritage Site Copán, an ancient Maya city, is one of the most important sites of Mayan civilization and one of the most densely populated urban areas of the Maya world between AD 426 to 820. Once upon a time, it functioned as a political, civil and religious centre of the Copan valley.
Diego García de Palacio discovered the site in 1570 but it wasn’t excavated until the 19th century. Today, you can wander around the ruined citadel and imposing public squares which were abandoned in the early 10th century. Among the five plazas is the Ceremonial Plaza, an impressive stadium with richly sculptured monoliths and altars, and the spectacular Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza.
2. It’s home to a sacred bird
Honduras is a bird-watchers paradise, home to over 700 bird species. The Scarlet Macaw (Aro Macao), with its distinctive red, blue and yellow plumes is Honduras’ national bird. It lives in forests across northern Central America, but most of them inhabit the pine forests of Gracias a Dios. The Congress of Honduras declared it the national bird of Honduras in 1993. Sadly, its population is declining precipitously due to poaching. They make a popular pet too, often sold on an international market. Of the 600 scarlet macaws inhabiting the Gracios a Dios, one family protects 38 macaw nests. The birds survive on a diet of rice, beans and dried dog food.
3. It was the first country to ban smoking in your own home
In 2011, Hondourus enforced a new law banning smoking in public and private spaces came into action. It isn’t actually illegal to smoke in your own home, but if a visitor or a family member complains, it could result in a visit from the police and a US$311 fine. That’s the equivalent of the monthly minimum wage in this Central American country. In open spaces, smokers must stand at least 1.8 meters away from nonsmokers too.
In Honduras, around 30 percent of the people smoke, and nine out of 10 Hondurans suffering from acute bronchitis live in homes where there is a smoker, according to Honduran health authorities. According to the Health Department, for every dollar the tobacco industry makes in Honduras, the state spends $10 to fight smoking-related diseases.
4. Its nickname was the Banana Republic
In political science, a Banana Republic describes a politically unstable country with an economy dependent upon the exportation of a limited-resource product. The first person to coin the term was the American writer O. Henry, who used it to describe Honduras in 1904. In the early 20th century, American businessman Sam Zemurray played an instrumental role in establishing the ‘banana republic’ stereotype, when he entered the banana-export business in 1910. In 1911, he conspired with the ex-President Manuel Bonilla to stagee a coup in Honduras and overthrew President Miguel Dávila. This was a seminal event in the creation of Honduras as a banana republic, as the country became economically dependent on just one export. By 1929, Honduras was the main exporter of bananas in the world.
5. Honduras owns one of the oldest clocks in the world
Built in 1634, the Comayagua Cathedral (also known as the Immaculate Conception Cathedral) is one of the oldest cathedrals in Central America. It’s also home to the oldest clock on the continent and the second-oldest clock in the world. The clock, which was constructed around 1100 AD by the Moors, hung in the Alhambra Palace in Grenada. Some say that the Duke of Consentania gifted it to the city, others claim King Phillip II of Spain gave the clock to Jerónimo de Cornella, the newly named Bishop of Comayagua. The clock needs winding every day and strikes quarter hours as well as the hour.
6. There are a lot of bats in Honduras
Bats make up over half of the country’s mammal species. Most of the bats live in protected habitats. It’s home to cute species like the fluffy Honduran White Bats, which measure between 3.7 – 4.7 cm and have tiny orange ears, faces, noses, and wings.
7. They take football seriously
In July 1969 a 100-hour war broke out on the Honduras–El Salvador border, sparked by a football match between the two countries. Deeper, more serious tensions around illegal migration, were really at the root of it though. In June, the two countries began a series of qualifying matches for the 1970 World Cup. Honduras won the first match in Tegucigalpa and at the second game spectators booed the Honduran national anthem and attacked visiting fans. At the third match, the El Salvadoran army bombed targets in Honduras and advanced 40km into Honduran territory. After three days, the OAS negotiated a ceasefire and established a 3km-wide demilitarized zone along the border. It’s still known as The Football War.