The capital of the Intibucá department, La Esperanza lies in the heart of the most traditional Lenca region in the country. Although the town itself only has a population of about 5,000, the market area often swarms with residents from surrounding villages coming in to trade their produce or buy goods. The market is especially lively on weekend mornings, when you can watch Lenca women wearing colorful dresses and head scarves going about their business.
Local handicrafts can be found in a few shops, most notably the cooperative Tienda de Artesanías UMMIL, with fruit wines, pottery, pine needle baskets, and the like, all made by Lencan women.
Set in a mountain valley surrounded by pine forest in the heart of the Sierra de Opalaca at 1,980 meters, La Esperanza is Honduras’s highest city. The climate is cool, with daytime temperatures normally hovering between 10 and 20°C (50–68°F). Originally, the Lenca village of Eramaní, which means “Land of Pottery” in Lenca, La Villa de La Esperanza was officially founded on September 23, 1848.
The Spanish name derives, according to local legend, from a priest who came to the area with his younger cousin during colonial times to convert the Lenca. The young cousin became enamored with a local girl and fathered a child with her. The priest promptly sent his cousin away in anger, but the girl and her child never gave up hope (esperanza) that the young Spaniard would return.
Somewhat confusingly, Intibucá is a city as well as a department—and a twin with La Esperanza, located so close together that they form a single chunk of urbanity. They share the central park, but each has its own Catholic church.
On a hill just above town is La Gruta, the cave, with a small chapel inside known as La Ermita, which is the site of religious services during Semana Santa and other special occasions. The main street running past the square turns into a stairway, reputedly built in the 1930s by recruits from the local prison, which leads up to the cave.
The Festival Gastronómico del Choro y el Vino celebrates the local wild mushrooms and fruit wines (two regional specialties) at the last weekend in June each year. A potato festival is celebrated at the beginning of August, and a Lencan crafts fair is held in December.
La Esperanza is connected by a well-maintained, 67-kilometer paved road to Siguatepeque . The road heads down out of the mountains, across the Río Otoro valley, past the town of Jesús de Otoro, and back up into the mountains to the junction with the San Pedro Sula–Tegucigalpa highway.
Buses to Siguatepeque leave roughly every hour from the terminal on the edge of town until 4 p.m., charging US$3 for the 90-minute ride. These buses are legendary for being so slow that, according to one laconic local, they will stop on the side of the road even if a chicken appears to wave its wing in the air.
An 80-kilometer road connects La Esperanza to Gracias ; it is years into the paving process and only halfway done. That said, the dirt portions are usually well-maintained, and the road passes through some lovely high-mountain country. One minibus drives to Gracias each day, leaving at a variable hour in the morning, charging US$3 for the four-hour ride. Finding a ride in the back of a pickup is also easy and safe. Get out to the junction early, and expect to pay a few lempiras for the ride.