TEGUCIGALPA – The colonial city of Gracias, in the western province of Lempira, has been perhaps the fastest-growing tourist destination in Honduras in recent years due to the combined “magic” of its natural and architectural attractions.
“Gracias has grown notably in the last four or five years. We’ve ... achieved about 92 percent growth” during that period, the president of the Lempira Tourism Chamber, Mario Leonel Calix, told EFE.
He added that the city, founded by the Spaniards about 1536, according to historical data, “is one of the three tourist attractions most visited by (Honduran) nationals and foreigners.”
Calis emphasized that the contributions of the Honduran Tourism Institute (IHT) and Spain’s Aecid international cooperation and development agency – which have pushed assorted social, cultural and tourist programs – have contributed to Gracias’ growth.
“We’re very grateful as private businessmen for all the activities that they do in Gracias, which motivates us to continue investing, and so (regularly) there’s a new hotel and the attractions are growing a lot,” he said.
According to Calix, the affluence of the visitors ensures that the city’s 35 hotels remain full on the weekends with tourists attracted by the colonial churches, two hot springs and the Celaque National Park, among other things.
Other destinations near Gracias include the village of La Campa, known for the pottery made by women of the Lenca tribe.
Gracias also has the Galeano House Museum and a botanical garden recently restored by Aecid, as well as the facade of the Audiencia de los Confines building, a type of parliament during the years of the Spanish Conquest, which has been preserved intact.
The fort of San Cristobal, built after the colonization and recently refurbished for cultural events, the cobblestone streets, the storytelling, theater and children’s film contests promoted by writer Salvador Madrid and painter/sculptor Mito Galeano also make Gracias a “magic city,” its residents say.
The coordinator of the tourism project with Aecid in the Colosuca Community of five towns, Elisa Pineda, said that the area’s identity is defined by three things: nature, protected areas and colonial architecture.
“We also have intangible heritage expressed via the Lenca customs linked to ceremony and pottery, which is the country’s outstanding craftwork,” Pineda said.
Regarding the colonial churches, she particularly mentioned those of San Sebastian, San Manuel de Colohete, Belen, San Marcos Caiquin, La Campa, Belen Gualcho, San Marcos and La Merced, among others on the so-called Ruta Lenca (Lenca Route).
Pineda also said that Aecid has been cooperating since 2003 with the Colosuca area not only in economic and technical terms, but also in the training of personnel.