4 Breathtaking Heritage Sites to Experience in Honduras
Looking to take an adventure that is both immersive and sustainable? Then Honduras very well might be your next stop! For those looking to bag several UNESCO World Heritage sites, 2 designated locations can be found in Honduras, with 4 more being on the tentative list. From cultural ruins of the Mayans at Copan to the living indigenous communities near the Biosphere, you’re next heritage exploratory journey can be filled with eco-friendly excitement, awe and adventure that will have your family and friends chomping on the bit to hear more about your Gulliverian travels. First stop, a latin Acropolis.
Maya Site of Copan
Discovered in 1570 by Diego García de Palacio, the Maya site of Copan is one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilization. The site is functioned as the political, civil and religious centre of the Copan Valley. It was also the political centre and cultural focus of a larger territory that covered the southeast portion of the Maya area and its periphery.
The first evidence of population in the Copan Valley dates back to 1500 B.C., but the first Maya-Cholan immigration from the Guatemalan Highlands is dated around 100 A.D. The Maya leader Yax Kuk Mo, coming from the area of Tikal (Petén), arrived in the Copan Valley in 427 A.D., and started a dynasty of 16 rulers that transformed Copan into one of the greatest Maya cities during the Classic Maya Period. The great period of Copán, paralleling that of other major Mayan cities, occurred during the Classical period, AD 300-900. Major cultural developments took place with significant achievements in mathematics, astronomy and hieroglyphic writing. The archaeological remains and imposing public squares reveal the three main stages of development, during which evolved the temples, plazas, altar complexes and ball courts that can be seen today, before the city was abandoned in the early 10th century.
The Mayan city of Copán as it exists today is composed of a main complex of ruins with several secondary complexes encircling it. The main complex consists of the Acropolis and important plazas. Among the five plazas are the Ceremonial Plaza, with an impressive stadium opening onto a mound with numerous richly sculptured monoliths and altars; the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with a monumental stairway at its eastern end that is one of the outstanding structures of Mayan culture. On the risers of this 100 m wide stairway are more than 1,800 individual glyphs which constitute the longest known Mayan inscription. The Eastern Plaza rises a considerable height above the valley floor. On its western side is a stairway sculptured with figures of jaguars originally inlaid with black obsidian.
From what is known today, the sculpture of Copán appears to have attained a high degree of perfection. The Acropolis, a magnificent architectural complex, appears today as a large mass of rubble which came about through successive additions of pyramids, terraces and temples. The world’s largest archaeological cut runs through the Acropolis. In the walls of the cut, it is possible to distinguish floor levels of previous plazas and covered water outlets. The construction of the Great Plaza and the Acropolis reflects a prodigious amount of effort because of the size of its levelled and originally paved expanse of three hectares and the latter because of the enormous volume of its elevated mass, which rises some 30 meters from the ground.
Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve
Located in the Mosquitia region of Northeastern Honduras, Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve is the largest protected area in the country with 350,000 hectares. The property protects the entire watershed of the Río Plátano all the way from the headwaters in the mountains to the river mouth on the Caribbean Coast. Adding to its importance, the property is an integral part of a significantly larger conservation complex encompassing Tawahka Asangni Biosphere Reserve and Patuca National Park, among other protected areas. Taken as a whole, the conservation complex in Northeastern Honduras is contiguous with Bosawas Biosphere Reserve in neighbouring Nicaragua, jointly constituting the largest contiguous forest area in Latin America north of the Amazon. Besides the remarkable dense rainforests in the mountains, there is a highly diverse array of distinct ecosystems in the coastal lowlands, including wetlands, savannah and coastal lagoons. Recognised as a nature conservation gem, the property also harbours notable archaeological and cultural values, with numerous Pre-Columbian sites and petroglyphs, as well as the living cultures of the various local and indigenous communities. Indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent in and around Río Plátano include the Pech, Tawahka, Miskito and Garífuna, living alongside the Mestizo (Ladino) population.
The property boasts an extraordinary diversity of ecosystems and species. For example, 586 species of vascular plants have been reported in the low lands of the reserve. The over 721 species of vertebrates comprise more than half of all mammals known to occur in Honduras and include the critically endangered Mexican Spider Monkey, the endangered Central American Tapir, the vulnerable Giant Anteater and West Indian Manatee, as well as the near-threatened Jaguar and White-lipped Peccary. The endangered Great Green Macaw, the vulnerable Great Curassow and the near-threatened Guiana Crested Eagle and harpy eagle stand out among the impressive 411 documented species of birds. Taken together, reptiles and amphibians total about 108 species, with several species of poisonous snakes and 4 species marine turtles (Loggerhead, Leatherback, green turtle and hawksbill turtle) . Freshwater fish include the economically important migratory Bobo Mullet or Cuyamel.
San Fernando de Omoa Fortress
The San Fernando Fortress is located in the bay of Omoa on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. In the municipality of Omoa, there are altitudinal differences that go from zero at sea level to 2,242 meters above sea level in the Sierra de Omoa, which causes climatic variations in precipitation, temperature and relative humidity1.
This region is part of the Sula Valley, which, in pre-Hispanic times, was inhabited to the west by peoples belonging to the Mayan ethnic group, and to the east, by the Tolupán ethnic group, a group that still survives in Honduras. This area was part of the trade circuits of the Mesoamerican economy, and was one of the main suppliers of cacao to the Yucatán peninsula2. The Toqueguas were also located on the north coast in the Indian village of Chivana between Puerto Caballos and Omoa3. From the end of the 15th century, the surviving peoples continued to exist as indigenous villages in some cases until the 19th century, several of which were close to Omoa. This was the socioeconomic context that Hispanics encountered at the beginning of the 16th century, when they arrived in Honduras and began the conquest. Later, the Port of Omoa was established and consolidated as one of the most significant in the Central American region.
The fortresses were used to defend commercially relevant ports from attacks by corsairs, pirates and naval fleets from Spain’s rivals such as England, thus proving the importance of the transcontinental trade route known as the Route of the Indies, and its economic, political and military implications. From Cadiz, the convoy of trade ships crossed the Atlantic and sailed into the Caribbean to unload their goods in ports such as Veracruz (Mexico), Havana (Cuba), San Juan (Puerto Rico), Portobelo (Panama), Trujillo and Omoa (Honduras), where the trade continued in carriages or mules along royal trails through inland provinces and on to the towns, forming an entire commercial supply network4.
The role of the port of Omoa in the Spanish colonial commercial system in America was evident between the metropolis and the Capitanía General de Guatemala as the point of trade between the two, where silver and gold extracted from the mines of the Alcaldía Mayor de Tegucigalpa in the Province of Honduras was exchanged.
Thus, the construction of a fort was planned to safeguard the port’s integrity on the Caribbean coast of the former Capitanía General de Guatemala, which would form a line of defense together with the forts of San Juan de Ulúa and Campeche in Mexico, San Felipe in Río Dulce, Guatemala, and Santa Bárbara in Trujillo.
The Fortress is not a unique and isolated building, but rather part of the El Real Fortified Enclosure compound, the first fortification built to protect the construction of the Fortress, where the King’s storehouses are located: the lime and brick ovens of Milla Tres, an endroit of evident colonial origin given its design, construction material, the brickwork and the dry moat6, a characteristic element that makes it different from most other fortresses on the coasts of the Caribbean Sea.
El Gigante Rockshelter
The El Gigante rockshelter is located on the southwestern part of Central Honduras over the Estanzuela River valley floor at a height of 1,300 MASL, allowing for a panoramic view of its surroundings. It is a completely enclosed site with a restricted entrance, given that the lower rim of the shelter is some 3-4 m. above the slope leading to it. Since the vault protects the shelter’s interior from rain and wind, the sediments inside have accumulated through thousands of years of use. This peculiar situation has preserved a long sequence of occupation in a very dry micro-environment where not only stone artifacts have been registered, but also remnants of woven fibres and leather. In fact, El Gigante has one of the largest collections of preserved basketry and textiles in Mesoamerica. The 10,300-year-old cordage is the oldest directly dated perishable artifact from Mesoamerica. Also human remains are present and a variety of bones from faunal species (dear, armadillo, rabbit, crabs), as well as plant remains (hog plums, avocado, soursop, and wild beans), and in the most recent phases, also cobs of early domesticated corn. The large assemblage of well-preserved corns, beans, and squash provide unique information on the timing and trajectory of plant domesticates in Central America, also of importance for Mesoamerica proper. The use of a wide range of semi-domesticated tree resources (ciruela, coyol palms, several sapote species, acorns among others) provide valuable insight into how humans managed their resource rich tree environment. Specially, the large sample of thousands of avocado rinds and pits provide an unparalleled view of this very important tree domesticate. The early settlement at El Gigante stretched from around 11000 years ago (calibrated C14 dates performed on botanical remains obtained from the shelter) in the Archaic period through the transition of extensive to intensive cultivation of corn between 5700 and 2000 years ago in the Formative period, when the original tropical forest receded in the nearby valleys as a direct result of massive burning during which the presence of Zea mays pollen intensified in the archaeological record. Populations therefore moved from the highlands to more favourable settings for grain agriculture in the valley floors, abandoning the predominantly pine-oak landscape. Although there are other rockshelters in Central Honduras, none of them have comparable deposits, because, unlike El Gigante, they are all exposed to the elements. In terms of size, none of the shelters compare to the magnitude of El Gigante, whose impressive chamber measures 42 m. wide, 17 m. deep, and 12 m. high. In contrast to the other much smaller shelters, the rock-art repertoire at El Gigante is practically reduced to a few negative paintings of hands. So far, there is no other rockshelter in Central America of the dimensions and setting of El Gigante.