You could easily find yourself on the losing end of Final Jeopardy if you don’t know the capital of Honduras — for most of us, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. So, if you do find yourself in said precarious position with thousands of dollars on the line, remember this: It’s Tegucigalpa (pronounced tay-goo-si-gal-pa), or Tegus, as the locals call it. This bustling Central American city, 3,198 feet above sea level, doesn’t garner much respect in advance — which is exactly why visitors who stumble upon the colonial relics in its historic downtown and the shops in its upscale commercial district around Plaza Morazán always come away feeling like they got a lot more than they bargained for. Just be aware of what’s above you, as more than 1,000 species of birds call the city home.
Within sight of the entire city, the stunning Gothic Basílica de Suyapa
, located on Suyapa hillside, stands sentinel over Tegucigalpa like a stained-glass warrior on 24-hour sanctimonious alert. It’s a nice spot to take in the views after visiting the new Museo para la Identidad Nacional
(Calle el Telégrafo and Avenida Miguel Paz Barahona, 011-504-222-2299, www.min.hn), a high-tech museum in an 1882 colonial building that’s located in the barrio Abajo. Check out the virtual exhibition of Copán, home to the country’s most important Mayan ruins and located a few hours north of the capital.
Tegucigalpa offers all the usual suspects, but why not go local? The best spot for authentic comida Hondureña is El Patio
, a candlelit, brick-oven-warmed spot along Boulevard Morazán that serves local specialties like pinchos, a sort of Honduran shish kebab (don’t skip the yummy sauces), and anafres, a refried-black-bean-and-cheese fondue fired up in a clay pot. For killer seafood (the country is sandwiched between the Pacific and the Caribbean, after all), locals head straight to Tony’s Mar (Boulevard Juan Pablo Segundo, 011-504-239-9379).
The charming 23-room Hotel Portal del Angel
(from $110, 011-504-239-6538, www.portaldelangel.com) — the country’s only boutique hotel — marries colonial elegance and a hip urban edge. Rooms feature parquet and caoba floors that nicely accentuate the Honduran folk art and hand-carved artesanías that dot the interiors. Its location in the Colonia Palmira barrio is only steps from the city’s best cafés and nightlife, there and around La Zona Viva. A little farther from the city center is the quaint Humuya Inn
from $57, 011-504-239-2206, www.humuyainn.com), a B&B in the Colonia Humuya barrio. Indigenous arts and crafts, vaulted ceilings, and ceramic-tile floors make this former Spanish-style home a cozy and quiet retreat from the hubbub of the city. It has a gorgeous courtyard with a garden, which makes a wonderful breakfast spot.
Just outside town is the country’s first (and still one of its best) nature preserves, the lush Parque Nacional La Tigra
. You’ll catch glimpses of the real thing in this 93-square-mile park, which is home to some 200 species of birds (look out for the rare quetzal) and a slew of armadillos and rabbit-size rodents called agoutis. The rich habitat makes for one of Central America’s most outstanding day hikes.