Scenic County Is Among Poorest in Hemisphere

Un tucán en Copán Ruinas, Honduras. (A toucan at Copán Ruinas, Honduras.). Photo by Adalberto H Vega, licensed via Creative Commons.


Honduras, located in the north-central part of Central America, is one of the poorest and least industrialized countries in the Western Hemisphere. With coastlines on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, Honduras is also a scenic country. Although it has had a stormy political history and gave the phrase "banana republic" to the English language, the government has been fairly stable for a third of a century. Its major exports are coffee, bananas and other agricultural products.

Vital Statistics:

The population is 8.14 million as of mid-2011 and growing at nearly 2 percent per year. The median age is 18, and the life expectancy at birth is 65 years for boys, 68 years for girls. About 65 percent of the population is living in poverty; the per capita gross domestic product is $4,200. The literacy rate is 80 percent for both males and females.

Linguistic Highlights:

Spanish is the official language and is spoken throughout the country and taught in schools. About 100,000 people, mostly along the Caribbean coast, speak Garífuna, a creole that has elements of French, Spanish and English; English is understood along much of the coast. Only a few thousand people routinely speak indigenous languages, the most important of them being Mískito, which is spoken more commonly in Nicaragua.

Studying Spanish in Honduras:

Honduras attracts some students who want to avoid the crowds of language learners in Antigua, Guatemala, but also want similarly low costs. There are a few language schools in Tegucigalpa (the capital), along the Caribbean coast and near the Copán ruins.


Like much of Central America, Honduras was home to the Mayans until around the beginning of the ninth century, and several other pre-Columbian cultures were dominant in parts of the region. Mayan archaeological ruins can still be found in Copán, near the border with Guatemala.

Europeans first made their arrival to what is now Honduras in 1502, when Christopher Columbus landed at what is now Trujillo. Explorations during the next two decades had little impact, but by 1524 Spanish conquistadores were fighting indigenous people as well as each other for control. Within the next 10 years, much of the indigenous population died due to disease and exportation as slaves. It is for this reason that Honduras has much less visible indigenous influence today than does neighboring Guatemala.

Despite conquest, a diminished indigenous population and the development of mining in Honduras, native populations maintained their resistance. Today, the Honduran currency, the lempira, is named after one of the resistance leaders, Lempira. Spaniards assassinated Lempira in 1538, bringing an end to most of the active resistance. By 1541, there were only about 8,000 indigenous people remaining.

Honduras remained under Spanish rule (administered out of what is now Guatemala) for nearly three centuries. Honduras gained independence in 1821 and shortly thereafter joined the United Provinces of Central America. That federation collapsed in 1839.

For more than a century, Honduras remained unstable. Military rulers, supported by the United States and American banana companies, brought some stability but also oppression. Worker resistance helped bring down military rule, and Honduras alternated for a while between military and civilian leadership. The country has been under civilian rule since 1980. During part of the 1980s Honduras was a staging ground for U.S. covert operations in Nicaragua.

In 1982, Hurricane Mitch caused billions of dollars in damage and displaced 1.5 million.