Honduras has several islands. Some are on the Caribbean, such as the islands of Utila, Roatan and Guanaja, and some are on the Pacific. The largest Honduran island on the Pacific Coast is Isla del Tigre.
Amapala is the largest town on the Isla del Tigre, (Tiger Island) a volcanic island that is in the Gulf of Fonseca. Honduras shares the Gulf with Nicaragua and El Salvador. I should mention that the volcano on the island is extinct and poses no danger to the inhabitants or visitors who come to the island. Sadly, despite its name, there are not tigers on the island! The volcano has a perfect conical form, typical of volcanoes and has an altitude of 2,583 ft (783m) above sea level. The view from the summit is spectacular!
Because of its volcanic origin, all the beaches in Isla del Tigre are black. This contrasts with the white sand beaches you will find on the Bay Islands of Honduras, which are coral sand beaches. These black sand beaches make the ocean color darker. They also get very hot, so make sure you wear sandals on the beach to avoid getting your feet burnt!
Amapala goes back to colonial times and was an important community during the early republican years in Honduras. This was the only official port that Honduras had on the Pacific Coast. Honduran President Marco Aurelio Soto took oath as president of Honduras in Amapala in 1876. Over the years, many important people actually arrived into Honduras through this picturesque port. The Gulf of Fonseca offers outstanding protection from bad weather.
The town lost its economic stamina when the Government moved the official port from Amapala to Henecan. Henecan is next to the City of San Lorenzo on the mainland. This port has the advantage of being on the mainland. Yet, its drawback is that access is through a 32 kilometer canal through the mangrove forests of the Gulf of Fonseca. Dredging is a never ending activity to insure large ships can enter port without issues.
Since the closing of the Port of Amapala, a slow, but steady decline in the local economy began. Most local jobs at the port were no longer existent. Many of the young men left Amapala in search of better opportunities. A respite to the economy came during the years when the USA was sponsoring the contras in Nicaragua during the Cold War. This was because of the islands strategic location almost next to Nicaragua. Radar and radio bases were established on the top of the island to keep track on movements within the neighboring country. This came to an end when Nicaragua returned to democracy and the Sandinistas lost the power in the country back in the 1990s.
Today, the government of Honduras is seeks to reactivate the Port of Amapala. It is part of a major project to make of Honduras a World Class strategic logistic center. It is foreseen that the island will connect to the mainland via a highway and a railroad. Amapala offers ideal natural conditions for a deep port on the Pacific coast of Central America. It’s easy access to the Pan American Highway, known as CA1 provides fast access to El Salvador towards the West and Nicaragua to the East.
Getting to Amapala and Isla del Tigre
In the meantime, access to Isla del Tigre is possible only by boat. Boats leave from the fishing village of Coyolito, which is where the road ends. The road to Coyolito is a spin-off of the Pan American Highway just before you arrive at San Lorenzo. If you are traveling from El Salvador or Tegucigalpa in direction towards Choluteca, you can’t miss it. There is a large sign, and is a Puma gas station on the intersection of both roads. The detour is towards the right or South, just before you arrive to San Lorenzo. From the detour, there is less than half an hour to Coyolito.
This is the port where you can board a boat to Isla del Tigre. If you are driving your own car, there is parking available at the fishing cooperative that is on the left side of the road as you come up to the dock. Inquire within and pay in advance. It is a good idea to do serious bartering before you board the boat that will take you to Amapala. The cost should be no more that the equivalent of $5.00 USA per person.
Today, Amapala is struggling to become a tourist attraction. The Spanish Cooperation Agency improved infrastructure is the island. The old dock and several iconic buildings in town were renovated. There is an ongoing effort to clean the three parks within town and make them more presentable. The local Catholic Church has also been renovated. Home and business owners are being encouraged to fix the facades of their homes and businesses. A few people from the community have returned and are investing in new hotels and restaurants. There is a general consensus on the fact that tourism is the best route to escape the vicious circle of poverty that had taken over the island.
The island actually has several different smaller communities around it. A paved road goes around the island. There is a trail that leads to the top of the mountain from where you can see the Gulf of Fonseca. The view includes Nicaragua, El Salvador and of course Honduras. Sunsets in Amapala are spectacular. You should make sure you get yourself comfortable at one of the beach bars facing South or West to enjoy one to the fullest!
Amapala and Isla del Tigre are safe, and you can walk around town without problems. Perhaps the biggest problem will be the fact that there are no banks or ATM machines in Amapala. This means that you should make sure you bring plenty of cash with you. Larger hotels will accept credit cards, but the smaller ones operate only with cash. The closest ATM machines and banks are in San Lorenzo, so plan in advance to avoid running out of money! Also keep in mind that the town shuts down early. This is NOT the place to come for night life.
Hotels in Amapala and Isla del Tigre
Amapala is not a popular international tourist destination. This makes for reasonable prices, but basic lodging and services. Do not expect fancy hotels and five star services! On the upside, this is a chance to experience the authentic Honduras countryside. For an interactive stay, consider the local guest houses that operate as informal bed and breakfasts in Amapala. Perhaps the nicest of all is La Casa de las Gargolas. A nice home that has set up as a bed and breakfast.
The largest and most complete hotel in town is El Mirador de Amapala. It is on the waterfront, four blocks from central park. The hotel offers basic rooms with air conditioning and cable TV. A nice swimming pool and a full service restaurant are also available.
The largest, and most famous hotel on the island is the Hotel Playa Negra. It is on a nice, semi private black sand beach. Paz Camping Playa Negra is a family run hotel that can sleep up to 21 persons in 7 rooms. In my opinion, this is the nicest place to stay in Amapala. It is close to the Hotel Playa Negra.
On the north east side of the island you will find the community of Gualorita. The most famous spot here is La Playa del Burro. This beach (Donkeys Beach) is home to several small hotels right on the beach. Aquatours Marbella and Hospedaje Los Veleros are on this beach. The first hotel has a swimming pool, nice rooms, as well as a good restaurant on the beach.
Villas Karissa y Hotel Brisas del Sur are two other options where you can stay in Amapala. Believe it or not, none of the hotels in Amapala have their own web page! How can they expect to promote themselves without being on the web? A few of them do have a Facebook fan page.
Restaurants in Amapala and Isla del Tigre
El Mirador de Amapala has the best restaurant in town. You can also check out the Faro Victoria, located just off the dock to the right. This waterfront restaurant specializes in sea food, but the menu includes beef and chicken dishes. They also have a full international bar operating here. The restaurant is open daily from 10:00 a.m. till 10:00 p.m.
There are several restaurants at Playa Grande and Playa del Burro. All are small, basic and specialize in local sea food. Los Veleros, at Playa del Burro is one of the best alternatives when it comes to restaurants in Amapala. On the opposite side of the island you will find Playa Grande, the largest beach on the island with a series of restaurants and some basic rooms. The best restaurant is Dignita’s, where you will find local seafood, such as shrimp, fish and seafood soup.
Things to do in Isla del Tigre
Amapala is not a touristy destination. One thing is for sure, the island is NOT a tourist trap, but rather a sleepy charming island. There are several different things that you can do in Amapala, following are a few that we recommend:
Go Around the Island
Getting around the island is easy: hire one of the “moto taxis”. These Indian made motorcycle vehicles that can take up to three persons in them. You can one to take you around town or the island. A second alternative is to ask around at the dock and hire a pick up truck to take you around the island. Plan on stopping along the way, this way you will get to see the different beaches around the island.
If you are really up to it, buy some water and hike around the island. The total time will be around four hours and there are some spots where you can stop and buy a meal or a soft drink. One of the most popular areas in town is “Playa del Burro”. There are several little hotels and restaurants here. It is also one of the nicer beaches on the island. Restaurante Los Veleros is one of the better restaurants in town and they also have some nice rooms for rent. The restaurant is right on the beach and the owners are friendly. Playa del Burro is about a 45 minute hike from town walking towards the east side of the island.
Hike up to the summit of Honduras’ highest volcano!
The easiest way to the summit is to follow the dirt road that leads up the volcano. This road, built by the US to access the radar and radio bases they had during the cold war provides for a good trail. The two bases are long gone, though. The best time of the day for the hike is just before dawn. The hike up will be a good 2 to 2 ½ hours long, and its best to do it before it gets too hot. The view is always best early in the morning, before the haze created by water evaporation sets in.
Sunrise and sunset from the summit are always spectacular and worth the effort. There are no stores or restaurants on the road up. Make sure you bring plenty of water and some snacks. The round trip will take you about 5 hours in total! To find the road to the volcano, exit Amapala in a counterclockwise direction, until you get to the army outpost. Soon you will see a road on the left side that will take you to the summit.