Sixteen kilometers from Gracias by a fairly well-maintained dirt road is the Lenca village of La Campa, famed in the region for both its earthenware pottery and its annual festival, celebrated February 22–25. Even if you only have a short time to spend in this region, a day trip from Gracias to La Campa is a must, to get an idea of what village life is like in the rural mountains of western Honduras.
With only about 400 residents tucked into a small valley, La Campa is one of those supremely calm, quiet, uncomplicated mountain villages where it seems nothing, not even visits from outlandish foreigners, disturbs the rhythm of everyday life.
The Iglesia de San Matías in the center of town was begun in 1690 and renovated in 1938. It’s a fine example of the churches found in many nearby villages, complete with a carved altarpiece and painted saint statues—although only open during Sunday mass (if you ask around, you may be able to find the groundsman to open it for you). The local priest is very knowledgeable on the region and happy to talk with visitors. The smaller La Ermita church on a hill above town was built in 1890.
During the week leading up to February 22, La Campa transforms from a sleepy village into the bustling site of one of the best-known annual ferias in the region. Pilgrims from all over western Honduras and Guatemala flood the town to pay homage to the town’s patron saint, San Matías, and participate in the celebrations, which include the traditional guancascos exchange of saints with other villages, music, and ritual costume dancing. Watch for the Baile del Garrobo; a garrobo is a type of lizard, and the dance (baile) recalls when a man followed a lizard to a hole in a tree where an image of San Matías was found.
The canyon and dramatic hillsides behind town can be reached by trail. Several caves reputedly line the riverbank. On the hill behind the church, a trail winds upward, leading to Cruz Alta four kilometers away, a good day hike through the forest. This hill has long been venerated by people throughout the region. According to local legend, long ago the valley was struck by a series of earthquakes, which terrified the populace. So strong were the quakes that a new mountain was created. In hopes peace would return, the local priest advised the people to carry crosses and sacred images to the top of the new mountain. When this was accomplished, the quakes ceased, and since then, the hill has been considered sacred. A 30-minute hike takes you up to the Mirador San Juanera above town, a great spot taking for panoramic pictures if the day is clear.
La Campa is the renowned center for traditional Lencan pottery, which is brown or red, not black and white like the “Lencan” pottery that is sold in most souvenir shops across the country (that black and white pottery comes from the region surrounding Nacaome, in southern Honduras). The Centro de Interpretación de Alfarería Lenca at the top edge of town is a new museum with good displays of pottery. In three homes around town (each marked by a blue sign with a symbol of a pot), you can watch pottery demonstrations and then have a go yourself. Be forewarned; you will have to wait until the following afternoon to take home your masterpiece. Pottery made by locals is available in the homes that offer demonstrations and in a couple of other shops.
At the top of the park is a tourist information office, but it’s not always open and doesn’t always have information. You’ll have much better luck getting information at a locally run website, www.visitlacampa.blogspot.com. There is info on horseback tours (US$16 pp for a three-hour ride, four riders maximum), hiking, half-day pottery classes, and more. To book a horseback or hiking excursion, call guide Alan Reyes at 504/9867-1389, or email hiking guide Carlos David Perez at losdape1 [at] yahoo [dot] com.
Accommodations and Food
The Hostal J.B. (tel. 504/625-4737, hostal-jb [at] yahoo [dot] com, US$10.50 pp, US$2.50 each additional person, up to three per room), one block north from the bottom of the park, has five simple rooms in a large house, each with private bath. Guests can use the attractive living and dining rooms or hang out in the garden with its spectacular view of the hills. The hostal has also just opened a tiny cafeteria with empanadas, baleadas, tacos, ticucos (a type of tamal), and coffee.
The other option in town is the 16-room Hotel Vista Hermosa (tel. 504/625-4770, www.visitlacampa.blogspot.com, US$10.50 s, US$16 d, or US$8 pp for shared bath). Rooms are clean and simple with a TV, drinking water is provided for free, and the eponymous beautiful view (vista hermosa) is from a small shared balcony where it’d be nice to sit with a beer and relax. There are very basic rooms available on a monthly basis as well, for US$79; you are expected to bring any furniture you want beyond the bed.
Getting to La Campa
To get to the Lencan villages, there is a daily bus leaving Gracias at noon, passing through La Campa about 1 p.m. and onward to San Manuel de Colohete and San Sebastián. A second bus leaves half an hour later. To get back to Gracias from La Campa, your choices are either first thing in the morning (one bus at 5:30 a.m., and a second that comes from San Marcos and stops in La Campa at approximately 7:30 a.m.) or late in the evening (7:30 p.m.). Private transportation can also be arranged by asking around at the tourist office or hotels.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition