Reading a news story about the city where you live is like hearing a recording of your own voice. It can be jarring, uncomfortable. Is this how other people hear me? Is this how other people see this place?
Tegucigalpa, Honduras has mala fama. A bad reputation. Google it and you’ll read stories about gangs and homicides, protests and poverty, chaos and corruption. The number one question people ask me about the city where I’ve lived for the past four years is not about the culture or the people or the best place to eat, it’s something simpler—are you safe?
It’s true that Tegucigalpa is home to violent communities and crippling poverty and that these issues deserve attention and action. But to zoom in on the city’s ugliest parts and stay there isn’t fair to the people that love their home and are doing so much to make it better. Tegucigalpa ranked thirty-ninth on the world’s most violent cities in 2018—but Baltimore ranked twenty-third and Saint Louis fifteenth, and people still find positive things to say about Maryland and Missouri.
Tegucigalpa, “Tegus,” is bigger and braver and more charming than its headlines give it credit for.
If you visit Tegucigalpa, you should spend some time walking. Did someone tell you it was too dangerous? If you look out the window of your taxi you’ll see hundreds of people walking, passing you as you’re stuck in the traffic that builds up on the steep, winding roads that were built for another time and far fewer vehicles.
Walk downtown. Start in the central park, where the orange-yellow Cathedral of Saint Michael Archangel towers over the square. Walk past the food trucks and the Burger King and the street preacher and you’ll find the stunning Cathedral Los Dolores, blue and white and flecked with pigeons. From there it’s just another block to the post office and the National Art Gallery and the phenomenal National Identity Museum, with its history exhibits and rotating art galleries, free weekend movies and evening events.
Take the winding roads uphill. From Parque La Leona you’ll see the city in panorama, beautiful from a distance. Another road will take you even higher, in a car this time, to Parque El Picacho, where the twin of Rio’s emblematic Jesus looms over the city. The vast park contains a joyfully confusing mix of elements—a zoo and a zip line and a statue of Confucius, a replica of Mayan architecture and a hall of funhouse mirrors.
Take the road up higher still and you’ll end up in La Tigra, a stunning cloud forest preserve with waterfall hikes and quetzals. On the way back down, watch how as the sun sets, the city’s lights flicker on—blue and gold lights glinting like stars, marking roads and houses over the rolling hills as far as you can see.
If you visit Tegucigalpa, you’ll find more than you expect. You’ll meet poets in Café Paradiso and entrepreneurs in Casa Quinchón, jazz musicians in the Manuel Bonilla Theater, and salsa dancers at Sabor Cubano. You’ll meet coffee roasters and beer brewers, graffiti artists, performers, activists, and teachers. You’ll find kind people, generous people, creative people, dreamers who live in the city and who love the city and are doing what they can for the city. Maybe then you’ll start to love it too.
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).