Honduras's fourth-largest city—weighing in at 100,000 people—is seen by most travelers as the country's outpost-slash-way station on the Pan-American Highway. Indeed, Choluteca hosts many visitors who may stop only briefly for gas and a bite to eat, but little else. Residents will tell you that "Cholu" is the hottest spot in the country, and a trip here during the dry-season months of March and April, when afternoon temperatures regularly soar to 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), will be all you need to agree.
The city takes its name from the Choluteca River, which, in turn, means "wide valley." The suspension bridge over the river just outside of town was built in the 1930s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is a city landmark. The 349 km (209 mi) waterway empties into the ocean just southwest of here. (Upriver, it also passes through Tegucigalpa.) During years of the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean, the river dries up significantly. Osmosis causes salty ocean water to be sucked into the riverbed, compounding the drought conditions. Yet, other extremes have occurred, too. This region of Honduras was the hardest hit during 1998's Hurricane Mitch, which hung over the country for days and battered it without mercy. Choluteca survived some serious damage, but many of the surrounding hamlets were wiped off the face of the map. Fortunately, those occasions have been rare.