A 783m (2,569-ft.) conical volcano of Cerro Vejía, often enshrouded in clouds and fog, looms overhead and forms the center of this sleepy island. Once the major southern port in Honduras, Isla del Tigre is no more than a shade of its former glory, with fewer than 3,000 people living here. A visit here is like a walk back in time. Small communities of red, yellow, blue, and turquoise wooden houses are loosely strung along the one road that circles the island and survive mostly on fishing and subsistence farming. The scent of mangos and flowers sweetens every breeze. Dogs lie on the pavement and hardly twitch when cars pass a mere snail's length from their bodies. Traffic picks up during Semana Santa, but only mildly during summer weekends, with day-trippers from Tegucigalpa and elsewhere in the south. For the rest of the year, you might be the only tourists there.
The Golfo de Fonseca was discovered in 1522 by Andrés Niño, who named it after the Archbishop Juan Fonseca; however, the Spanish quickly moved on. Pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, frequently used Isla del Tigre as a base for raids on Spanish ships carrying gold and riches being exploited from South America. The first town was built in 1770 by El Salvador, but it wasn't until Honduras founded Amapala in 1833 that the island began to take off.
During the Republican era, the island became significant as the only official Pacific port. When the port moved to Henecan near San Lorenzo, though, it has been downhill ever since. Perhaps the last event of any interest occurred when the United States, which was assisting the Contras in their fight against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, added a small radar and radio base on the top of the island to monitor troop movements, though it was deserted when the Sandinistas lost power.
There are rumblings of turning Isla del Tigre into a large-scale deepwater port, but for time being, the community has set its sights on tourism, giving the dock a facelift, organizing a homestay program, and encouraging building improvements and beautification projects around town.
The Tri-Border Gray Area
The rights to the Golfo de Fonseca have been frequently disputed among Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, the three countries that share the 261km (162-mile) shoreline. The chamber of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) settled the case in 1992 and awarded shared rights of the gulf among the three countries. Isla del Tigre, however, went to Honduras, and Meanguera and Meanguerita went to El Salvador.