San Pedro Sula, the loud, brash, economic transportation hub of Honduras (241km/150 miles north of Tegucigalpa) often serves to introduce visitors to the western part of the country, if not the country as a whole, although many hightail it out of here almost immediately after arriving. This town holds little of interest to passing tourists, other than a few good hotels, westernized malls, North American chain restaurants, a few good markets, a couple of museums, and some upscale clubs. The chaotic, sometimes dangerous core -- a true-to-form, unbearably hot concrete jungle within the Circunvalación that's full of rough-and-tumble residential neighborhoods -- lacks much charm, and the city's wealthy cling to the suburbs on the outskirts and surrounding hillsides. The authentic Honduras jumped ship long ago, except for a few bright spots. The best way to make the most of your time here is not to expect to be awed, but to take it in stride. Check out the market and museum, catch a movie, find a nice restaurant or bar to dine and have a drink; better yet, make that a few drinks. Chances are your time here will be short.

The city was founded on June 27, 1536, by Don Pedro de Alvarado and was originally named Villa de San Pedro de Puerto Caballos, although it was quickly renamed San Pedro "Sula," from the Usula word that means "valley of birds." The town was intended to be a point of transfer of goods from Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala onto the coast at Puerto Cortes. However, persistent pirate attacks nearly destroyed that mission, and the town was practically deserted by the 19th century. It remained a rural backwater until the 1920s, when the United Fruit Company set up shop here to expand their banana plantations; the population subsequently exploded from about 10,000 to 100,000 in just a few years. Much of the country's industry and exportation still revolve around the city, which is the second-largest in the country, after Tegucigalpa. The population today is just over 500,000.