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Guide to San Pedro Sula
by Dean Milverton
LOCATION Located in the north of Honduras on the edges of the fertile Sula Valley, San Pedro Sula is Honduras' second largest city with approximately 800,000 citizens. It is the business and commerce capital of the country and home to a modern airport, which is serviced by International Airlines. These include TACA, American Airlines, Continental, Iberia, Copa, Sol Air, Atlantic Airlines and others. The city is also situated close to the Merendon Mountain Range, which creates an impressive backdrop when you are downtown looking north or when you are flying into the city's airport.
LOCAL HISTORY Nomadic people are believed to have traveled in the Sula Valley from before 1500 BC. Around 700 BC groups began to settle in the valley and agriculture began. Squash, corn, beans, wild chilies, herbs, bell peppers and cacao are believed to have been the first plants cultivated while turkeys, ducks and dogs were domesticated.
Objects of clay, stone, bone and shell from this period have survived until today. During 200 AD until 900 AD numerous villages existed in the Sula Valley. During this period, the area's art reached its highest point technically and aesthetically. Pottery and ceramic vessels were taken to Copan and further afield into Central America. Also, during this time, the major architectural structures were built in the valley.
During 900 AD and 1500 AD the local population began to decline. No one is certain why, but recent discoveries have pointed towards the possibility of a plague, severe erosion, soil degradation and/or a long drought as possible reasons.
Pedro de Alvarado founded the city of San Pedro Sula in 1536. The city was to serve as a warehouse for goods flowing to and from the Honduran North Coast Ports to Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. It was also a collection point for cocoa, indigo, leather, sarsaparilla and canfistula (a plant used medicinally).
Due to continual attacks of the city by pirates, the local residents decided to move away from the city into the countryside where they lived a self sufficient life. The city was nearly deserted until the later colonial era when it became a base for cattle ranchers.
In the mid 19th century, San Pedro Sula's fortunes changed when commerce picked up at the port of Omoa and San Pedro Sula again became an important commerce spot in Honduras. But it was the growth of the Banana Industry and the reopening of Puerto Cortes that really set the city in motion to become Honduras commerce center.
Today San Pedro Sula is one of Central America's fastest growing cities. Business and commerce continue to grow to today as does the city's modern facilities and services.
ATTRACTIONS The Museum of Anthropology and History is located a few blocks from Central Park on 3a Avenida between 3 and 4 Calles NO. The museum is a must see for anyone visiting San Pedro Sula. Its displays will take you through the Pre-Columbian to modern day history of the Sula Valley. The museum has a wide range of Mayan artifacts that have been found throughout the area and is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am to 4pm, is closed all day Tuesday, and Sunday it opens from 9am to 3pm. The entrance fee is $2 for foreign visitors and 20 lps (lempiras) for national visitors.
Guamilito Market is one the Honduras' best handicraft markets. The market is between 8 and 9 Avenida and 6 and 7 Calles NO. The market is open daily, usually until around 5pm. The market is a great place to pick up souvenirs and gifts. Items of note are Honduran cigars, mahogany carvings, Mayan replica pottery, woven baskets, hammocks and a range of colored T-Shirts. Spend some time browsing and do not be afraid to bargain on the prices.
The Central Park of San Pedro Sula and the main Cathedral are definitely worth a look. The Cathedral, which was built in 1949, has just been remodeled and restored. The new Central Park (Parque Central) is open, fresh looking and at well lit at night. The park is always busy, with people coming and going and moneychangers and street vendors plying their trade. It's a great place to sit back and people watch or to strike up a conversation with some locals. If it is a little hot outside, a popular place to hang out is the Espresso Americana Café, which fronts onto the park. It's air conditioned and serves up great coffee and pastries.
The Coca Cola sign can be seen most days from the downtown area in its position on the Merendon Mountain Range, which is a only a 10 minute taxi ride from downtown. At night, if running, the sign flashes Coke colors and fades in and out. Whether you are a coke fan or not, a hike up to the sign is a good way to escape downtown and to see some great views of the Sula Valley. The walk takes about 1 to 2 hours and goes through some nice rainforest where Toucans and Motmots are regularly seen. Motmots are a brilliantly colored bird and Honduras has more species than any other country. Being a big city, San Pedro Sula has modern comforts and a range of activities such as sporting events, shopping centers, restaurants and nightlife. See the below sections for more information.
ACTIVITIES San Pedro Sula is a good place to stay to enjoy the facilities of a large city and to see another side of the Honduran experience, big city life. The city has good banking, business, communication and hotel facilities. There is a wide range of restaurants and nightlife, places to shop. Sampedranos, what the San Pedro Sulans are called, are a friendly and helpful people. The city is home to a few football teams from the national league and a game is quite an experience to see, not just for the high quality of football but also for the atmosphere of the crowd and for the local passion that is a part of true Latin American Football. North Americans will know this brand of football as soccer. Games are regularly held in the Olympic Stadium or the Francisco Morazon Stadium, which is located on 1 Calle between 13 and 14 avenida. Tickets start at US$3 depending on the seating and the game.
San Pedro Sula is a good place to base yourself during a visit to Honduras, especially if you like the comforts of a big city. Day trips can be organized to Tela, Lake Yojoa, Omoa and the Mayan Ruins of Copan, with local travel agents or tour operators. Many rental car companies have offices in San Pedro Sula, which is another option for traveling around to explore the many nearby attractions.
INTERNET CAFE Over the past year or two there has been an Internet café explosion in the downtown area of San Pedro Sula. Instead of listing places here I suggest you just walk a block or two from Central Park in any direction and you should find an Internet Cafe. Currently prices are around $.50 to $1 per hour and a few places have Internet phones for calling internationally.
NIGHTLIFE San Pedro Sula has some of the country's best nightlife and is a great place to go out and to drink and dance the night away or to catch up on all the latest movies.
The Mall Multi Plaza, Mega Plaza and Metro Plaza all have cinema complexes. Closer to downtown you will find 2 or 3 cinemas, Multicines Plaza being the best. Movie releases are a few months behind the USA or Western Countries. Most movies are shown in English with Spanish subtitles. Ticket prices range from $1.20 to $2.50 depending on the cinema and to extent the quality of their facilities. So if you enjoy the movies and like nice chairs and good sound try one of the more up market places. Movies are usually shown at 3, 5, 7 and 9 PM. Tuesday is a popular day, with 2 tickets for the price of one, but be prepared to go early to get a seat, as sometimes tickets do sell out. All local papers have a daily cinema schedule. San Pedro Sula is home to a lot of bars. A fun night can be had in Zona Viva going from bar to bar. A local favorite and fun place to hang out is La Cava in Barrio Los Andes 2 and 3 Calle, 16 Ave NO. Great Karaoke nights and occasional live music on the weekends packs the people in. Jerry the owner mixes a range or cocktails. Watch out for the Barcardi 121 or ask if he has some Guaro for a fire packed drink. There is a good selection of music and the patrons are always happy to have a chat. Karaoke Club in Zona Viva is a popular place with the locals and even if you are not a Karaoke fan it can be a good place to catch some quality music. The quality of the singers is at times surprising and at other times not so surprising. Big Daddies, Caribbean and Gators Sports Bar are also all popular spots in Zona Viva. Bars do come and go regularly in San Pedro Sula, so just look for a place with some people and some music.
TGI Fridays, Applebee's, Ruby Tuesdays and Fogancito's are all popular places to eat and drink on the weekends. All places are well located near the Circunvalcion. For a bit more local color and atmosphere, consider visiting a local disco. Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are the most popular. But most discos are open every night except Monday. Check the local papers for promotion nights such as ladies night, live music, beer promotions or open bar (cover charge, then all you care to drink).
The pick of the discos is Kawamas Bay, which is located on the Circunvalcion. The disco plays a lot of Latin music and has a friendly staff. It can get very busy on the weekends usually around 11.00 PM. The disco stays open to 5 AM or 6 PM and it is a place to dance. You will find more people on the dance floor than at the bar or tables and chairs for most of the night. So put on your dancing shoes and be ready for some Salsa, Merengue and Punta. No need to worry, since you will still get a bit of house, rock and techno music. Cover charges vary from $2.50 to $6, depending on the night.
Confetti's Disco is also popular and is only located a block on from Kawamas Bay. Confetti's also fills up on the weekends and stays open to around 5am or 6am. The disco plays a variety of music on the weekends and a bit more house and techno music than Kawamas Bay. Cover charges vary from $2.50 to $6.
Millenium Disco is located in the Social Club Arabe at the end of Barrio Rio Pierdas the disco is the classiest place in town. Friday and Saturday nights are busy and cover charges vary from $3.50 to $6.
The Sampedrano Cultural Center holds regularly events such as concerts, performances and art shows. Call (504) 553-3911 or 553-3768 for event schedules.
For safety reasons, be sure to take a taxi when traveling even just a few blocks after dark. Walking around Zona Viva is OK but only within a block or two radius of the area. Otherwise just get a taxi, most fares cost $2 to $3, but prices do go up the later the night gets.
WHEN TO GO AND WHY San Pedro Sula can be visited at all times of year. Two special times to visit are during the Fair of June or Feria de Juliana. The month long celebrations range from Cultural Events, Live Music, Street Carnivals, AGAS Agricultural Fair to the Expo Centro Fair, which includes live music and food.
The Fair, though not as well known as Carnival in La Ceiba, offers a good chance to join the Sanpedranos in celebrating their city. Again at nights be sure to take a taxi other than that it is a great time to visit San Pedro Sula. The other special time to visit is during the Folkloric Festival, which runs over 2 Saturday nights in September. The festival is a cultural event, which includes country food stands, music and national presentations of music and dance from different international cultural groups that have made their home in San Pedro Sula. To top this off a famous Latin American Group also plays. If you are visiting Honduras for a long period of time be sure to pencil this event in, as it is one of the country's best.
HOW TO GET THERE The Ramon Villeda Morales - San Pedro Sula Airport is located 13 kms from downtown. TACA, Continental, American, Iberia, Sol Air, Copa Air (from Panama) and Atlantic Airlines (from Belize City and Managua) all fly into San Pedro Sula. While Islena, Sosa and Atlantic Airlines connect the city to major destinations such as Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba, Roatan, Guanaja and Utila.
Buses to and from San Pedro Sula leave to and from most major locations in Honduras, including Copan Ruinas, Tegucigalpa, Tela and La Ceiba, with some traveling direct and non-stop and others stopping in route. Each of the capitals of the countries surrounding Honduras are also served by buses: Managua, San Salvador, Guatemala City. Each bus company has its own station but most are found a few blocks west of Central Park.
MAJOR BUS COMPANIES
Hedman Alas Barrio Guamalito 7 and 8 Avenida, 3 Calle NO Telephone: 553 1361 First Class buses to and from Guatemala City, Copan, Tegucigalpa, Tela, La Ceiba and the San Pedro Sula airport.
El Rey Express Barrio Paz Barahona 9 Avenida 9 and 10 Calle Telephone: 550 8355 Direct Buses to and from Tegucigalpa, hourly
Catisa-Tupsa 2 Avenida 5 and 6 Calle SO Telephone: 552 1042 Direct Buses to and from Tela and La Ceiba, hourly
Toritos and Copanecos Barrio Lempira 6 Avenida 8 and 9 Calle SO Telephone: 553 4930 Direct Buses to and from Nueva Ocotepeque via Santa Rosa de Copan, 7 to 8 buses daily
Citul Barrio Lempira 6 Avenida 7 and 8 Calle SO Telephone: 553 0070 Buses to and from Puerto Cortes, hourly Tica Bus Texaco, Monumento a la Madre Telephone: 556-5149 Direct buses to and from Managua and El Salvador
TRAVEL TIPS - SAFETY San Pedro Sula, like so many large and growing cities, does have its fair share of crime. Travel common sense should be used at all times, such as taking taxis at night or when you are not sure of where you are going. Fares should range between US$2 in the downtown area and should cost US$10 from the airport to the downtown area. Visiting poor areas (slumming, as some call it) is never a good idea. Also, do not wear fancy jewelry, watches or expensive sunglasses and don't carry large amounts of money or valuables with you. American Express Traveller's Checks should be carried instead of cash.
OVERNIGHT STAYS A lot of people, as they say, get stuck in San Pedro Sula awaiting connecting flights. Hopefully this guide may give you with some ideas on how to fill your time. To squeeze as much in as possible in an overnight, I would visit the Museum of Anthropology and History, shop in Guamalito Handicrafts Market, visit Central Park, admire the Coca Cola sign from a distance while pondering the influence of multinational companies worldwide. There is a good view of the sign from the Cathedral's front steps. And then treat yourself to a nice meal and a few drinks or go catch a movie.
NOTE: Things can change quickly in San Pedro Sula, so the information provided, including recommendations and prices are subject to change.
About the Author
Dean Milverton has spent many years living and working in Central America and is also the creator of Travel-to-Central-America.com a guide to travel in Central America.