The oldest church in Gracias is Iglesia Las Mercedes, dating back to 1611. It is a few blocks off from Parque Central. At the time I visited, it was closed, and mostly fenced off from tourists. The church was in obvious need of renovation, having weeds growing in its tower. A bell tower has two nice bronze bells hanging. Apparently it took 30 years to complete this church, the two towers of which appear architecturally to be later additions, relative to the fine antique central facade.
The Parque Central has the statue of Lempira, and other memorial statues and fountains under an arbor of old tropical trees. One of the more curious statues is apparently of Mary with baby Jesus, because the way she holds arms outstretched a sexualized infant is a very rare style of art. Closer examination reveals this is a Lion's Club statue to mothers of Honduras and Districto Lempira.
Adjacent to, not facing, the Parque Central in Gracias, is the largest church in town, the Iglesia San Marcos has 18th century origins, but appears newer than this. The interior was only sparsely decorated for Christmas, not having the textiles hanging from the ceiling found in so many other churches along the Lenca trail. The altar is gold gilt, but what I liked most was the front exterior image of Saint Mark stepping on the head of a monkey, rather than a lion. The left side tower has a clock face which clearly mirrors the architecture created for the ancient clock found at the old Honduran capitol of Comayagua.
As a mining town, Gracias was subject to unrest for many years after its founding, so the San Cristobal fortress was established on the hilltop to ensure control over the miners, as much as anyone. Yet, Juan Lindo’s tomb, a former governor of Honduras, who was one of the most concerned for education in Honduras and in El Salvador, is also located inside the Fort. José María Medina, also a former governor of Honduras, and friend of Lindo, built this fort for military purposes, but he also built it to be Lindo’s tomb.
The hike up the hill is a good work out, but fortunately, this was not too far from our hotel, as it is just behind the Guancascos Hotel. I've tried to find more history on this place, but not much was there, not even a dedication plate commemorating its founding.
Another good reason to hike up to the fort is for the great views of Gracias.
One of the many Iglesias in Gracias, one of lessor importance that was closed, was very close to our hotel. San Sebastian has a cross-shaped exterior structure, but I wasn't able to confirm the chapel's interior floor plan. The grounds outside are devoted to children's play equipment and open landscaping.
The roads in Honduras are difficult, so by the time we arrived in Gracias, we were pretty eager to visit it's famed Aguas Termales, or mineral baths. There's a supply of hot water that several private and one public bath tap into, so the first thing we had to determine was which bath to visit. The private baths are mostly conventional swimming pools with hot water piped in, whereas the public baths were a civic improvement on a naturally flowing hot water resource. So we gambled that the public baths would be safe and enjoyable, and for the most part we were right.
Ask for directions before going, or get a cab. They are a few miles out of town on the road to La Esperanza, but there is a worn and rusty sign announcing them at the turn-off. Then, the road meanders down a slope for another mile or so until it dead-ends at the parking lot for the baths. These are the baths favored by locals and by Hondurans here for a vacation, but parking is not a problem here.
Adults pay 25L ($1.30), which I feel was very cheap given the great experience. The dressing rooms are not particularly clean nor well cared for, but I managed to make a quick change in them nevertheless. There are signs in Spanish all around asking people to not take drinks or smoke at the baths, but some people violated these rules nevertheless. As a result, some upper baths had floating debris.
But, the major swimming hole of the baths was really great. There's plenty of warm water. The city has great pride in the construction of these baths, so check them out.
On the unpaved road towards Celaque, you will find this church, amid considerable litter. This is the only church I saw in Honduras with a little color on the façade - like a novice nun wearing a touch of blush. I believe that churches in Nicaragua often sport such colorful accents.
The San Marcos church is the largest in Gracias. It was built it the late 1800s, and what makes it distinctive is a series of curtains, almost like sails, hanging from the ceiling.
The light plays with the curtains in the most interesting way, and the caretaker will let you take as many pictures as you wish.
This 19th Century fort located on a hillock just behind the Hotel Guancascos never saw any action. However, reaching it makes for a very pleasant stroll, and it is from the Castillo that you will see the most beautiful view over Gracias.
This is a fancy colonial house near the South end of town, which has been refurbished into a small museum of Lenca culture, with some financial assistance from Spain.
Behind the casa, there is a botanical garden with many local species of trees.
Sleepy Gracias is a very pleasant town to walk around. I felt safe on each and every street, as the town is probably too small to have distinct good or bad neighborhoods.
The center is quite colonial, with a deserted Parque Central, and handsome churches. The outskirts suffer from the Mesoamerican bane of unfinished masonry block houses.
This is a wonderful but tiring hiking area, so I encourage you to find a ride from town to the park entrance - as I did: Froni from the hotel took me to the house of the guide she had hired for me, and she picked me up five hours later.
As soon as you enter the no-vehicle area, the park is simply gorgeous, with dappled light and a profusion of interesting plants. On the day I visited, the tourist center and ticket control were not manned.
After one hour gently going uphill, you will cross two streams, which involves wading up to your knees in icy water (very refreshing), at which point there is a choice between several trails. We picked the Bromeliad Trail to the Waterfall Mirador. Soon after the streams, this trail (the mildest of all, I believe), becomes very steep, with exhausting switches. I was panting while admiring the magnificent cloud forest. My litro of Agua Pura lasted me but an hour, and I refilled my bottle in a stream - with no ill effect.
It happened to be the season for orchids, and I saw many gorgeous specimen. Finally after three hours going steeply uphill, we reached a wiewpoint which was truly memorable. We had climbed from 1,000 meters to 2,000 meters.
The hike downhill was a breeze, and I was so looking forward to crossings the streams again. The guide's wife was waiting for us with a great lunch of vegetable, rice and beans.
Ironically, we saw less animal wildlife than on a Pennsylvania bike ride...
While I was in Gracias i did a day hike to Celaque national park. It was about a year ago so forgive me if I can't remember all the details.
to arrange it your guide book will tell you to go to a hotel restaurant run by a belgian woman (can't remember the name sorry). We did this and it wasn't that difficult. Because of the transporation guide costs I would recommend that you do it in as large a group as possible. There were just two of us but we went to the restaurant and found 3 others to team up with.
While I was in central America I visited a number of cloud forests and this one was definatley my favorite. As the slope is so high you go through many levels of varying vegetation on your way up. There are orchids and bromilliads, moss dripping from the trees, it really does look like a magical forest where the pixie folk might live.
The guide that we had (from the restaurant) was very knowledgeable about the plants and wildlife and it was worth paying the money for him.
One thing I would say is don't come here hoping to see a quetzal or even any wildlife, we spent the whole day there and only heard one bird song the whole time
Much more ancient (early 1600s) is the church of La Merced. It is chunky but haunting, with much touching detail inside and out. Even under the roasting noon sun, such churches remain quite cool.