We parked the car at the central plaza, and I immediately looked up the street to a sweeping set of stairs and the Inmaculada Concepción de Lourdes at the top, which as the time appeared like a chapel on the hill. We really didn't have much more than an hour, however, so as the mean spirited dictatorial leader of our exploration party I ordered my slower moving wife and friend to mill around the plaza while I jogged up the steep steps to see what this place actually was. I was very winded at the top, but younger folks were also up there admiring the city view. The photo on the introductory page was taken from just above the Inmaculada Concepción de Lourdes, which is the name painted over the entrance to the memorial shrine, that goes into a cave known to the Lenca as La Gruta. The cave, therefore, predates the Catholic shrine, and from my research I learned that according to folklore Lempira hid here from the Spanish. There's a brass memorial set into the stone of the mountain commemorating construction of the shrine in 1934, and its restoration in 1987, and but it names the place La Gruta. Yet, the small chapel in the cave is known as La Ermita according to the Moon guidebook. There are also series of steep rock cut stairs to the hilltop above the cave and memorial shrine.
According to several guidebooks, the Lenca and Ladiño communities within La Esperanza share the central plaza, but then we were never able to actually cross the Rio Intibucá river and see the civic division between the two cities either. Unfortunately, I was pressured by my companions to drive with all undo haste toward the south coast. Nevertheless, after several hours of unpaved road, we parked and walked around the central plaza.
On my job back down the big hill, I zagged to a rooftop that I could see on my right. This turned out to be a small church on a narrow street. These churches have a lot of beautiful decorative fabric that must be made locally.
The road from Gracias to La Esperanza is paved most of the way, with beautiful mountain scenery until the last 25 miles or so. This section is not likely to be as impassible as the guidebooks say even in the rainy season because the most challenging part of the unpaved road seemed to be ruts, cavities, and sharp rocky terrain. Of course, with a good rain, these ruts could be rivers. Fortunately, we did manage to avoid any rainy weather, and found instead parched rough and poorly graded rocky trails, which required concentration on the part of the driver to reduce scraping bottom or vibrating passengers to tears. But, if the driver's pace is too cautious, it will take forever to arrive in La Esperanza.
Passengers should get their cameras out as it doesn't get any bumpier than this. Along this part of the road, horses, mules, and oxen are as common as motor vehicles. We drove an economy rental car from the airport at San Pedro Sula--a two wheel drive Toyota Corolla--without suffering any equipment problems, but I recommend that fuel, tire pressure and tread wear be considered back at La Entrada or Santa Rosa de Copan where services are plentiful. Gracias will be your last chance to check these things out, but it doesn't offer much. We fueled up at La Entrada, where the fuel prices appeared lowest, and then drove all the way through. At La Esperanza we fueled again for the balance of the trip to La Paz. There are good fuel stations and mechanics available in La Esperanza, but fuel and parts prices won't be low until one reaches the main highway going to Tegucigalapa, at La Paz.
Of course, if you are short on money and have plenty of time, take the Lenca trail bus from Gracias to La Esperanza as shown in the image below.
We passed San Juan, an sizable pueblo on flat ground recognized by the guidebook literature, but in the few miles that remained before La Esperanza, we stopped briefly at Yamaranguila, perched on a knoll, and having a fine church undergoing restoration. I got some good shots of the rocky road and locals on horseback coming into town.
If anyone seeing these tips knows the name of the pueblo and church, please contact me so I can improve this tip! I really liked the church in this tiny Lenca village.