Lancetilla, the second largest tropical botanical garden in the world, was established in 1926 by American botanist William Popenoe, who was hired by United Fruit to research varieties of bananas and figure out how to best treat diseases found in the plantations. Popenoe was a curious fellow, though, and quickly began to import plants and fruits from around the world to Lancetilla, including the African palm, which has long been one of the most important cash crops in the country. United Fruit continued Popenoe's work for years after he left. The Honduran government, which took control in 1974, continues the research today at the garden.
The 1,680-hectare (4,151-acre) park has more than 1,200 species of plants, such as palms, fruit trees, and hardwoods, along with poisonous and medicinal varieties that are superbly labeled and organized. From the visitor center, which is about 2km (1 1/4 miles) from the highway, you walk through a large bamboo forest to the arboretum, which makes up the most visited section of the park. Here, you will find Popenoe's house and a small graveyard where his wife Dorothy is buried. Guides lead groups on hour-long tours of the arboretum (L95). Trails delve deeper into the biological reserve, which includes significant tracts of primary and secondary tropical and subtropical humid forests.
Botany is not the only science of interest in the park. Ornithology is a big deal here, too. Nearly 400 species of birds have been recorded in Lancetilla, as well as numerous butterflies and reptiles. Bird tours (arranged at the garden, call a few days ahead of time; L300 per group) leave at dawn in the hopes of spotting trogons, tanagers, orioles, motmots, and toucans, among others.
There's a small cafeteria and a few basic cabins with A/C and private bathrooms (L380) near the visitor center, but they're occasionally filled with researchers.