San Pedro Sula

"Tegucigalpa thinks," goes the Honduran saying, "San Pedro Sula works." ("La Ceiba celebrates," the maxim continues, but that's a matter to be explored in the Caribbean Coast section of our guide.) Honduras has followed a different path than most developing countries, not concentrating all political, cultural, and economic power in one big capital city. By the beginning of the 20th century, the banana trade with the United States and Europe shifted Honduras's economic power to its northern lowlands and away from Tegucigalpa's mining-based economy. San Pedro Sula, with a railway to the coast that the mountainous capital could only envy, took off and never looked back.

Founded in 1536 by Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, the country's second-largest city acquired the odd "Sula" at the end of its name from the indigenous word usula, which means "valley of birds." (The million or so Sampedranos usually write the name of their city as "sps".) Now a bustling commercial center with little evidence left of its colonial past, San Pedro Sula is the fastest-growing city between Bogotá and Mexico City, thanks to being a hub for the banana, coffee, and sugar industries. Although San Pedro is slightly smaller than Tegucigalpa, it feels more "big city" than the quaint capital. Despite its single-minded focus on business, San Pedro Sula's convenient location and modern airport make it a convenient gateway if you're planning on exploring the country's western and northern reaches. Its well-maintained roads make it easy to drive east along the coast or south into the mountains.

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