Honduras, officially named the Republic of Honduras, covers an area of 43,278 sq mi and is slightly larger than Virginia. Honduras is located in Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Nicaragua and bordering the Gulf of Fonseca (North Pacific Ocean), between El Salvador and Nicaragua. Tegucigalpa is the capital and largest city; San Pedro Sula is the next largest city. The terrain is mountainous and the climate is tropical to subtropical, depending on the elevation. The country has only a short Pacific coast but a long Caribbean shoreline, including the virtually uninhabited eastern Mosquito Coast.
About 90% of the population is mestizo. There also are small minorities of European, African, Asian, Arab, and indigenous Indian descent. Most Hondurans are Roman Catholic, but Protestant churches are growing in number. While Spanish is the predominant language, some English is spoken along the northern coast and is prevalent on the Caribbean Bay Islands. Several indigenous Indian languages and Garífuna (a mixture of Afro-indigenous languages) are also spoken. The restored Mayan ruins near the Guatemalan border in Copan reflect the great Mayan culture that flourished there for hundreds of years until the early 9th century. Columbus landed at mainland Honduras (Trujillo) in 1502, and named the area "Honduras" (meaning "depths") for the deep water off the coast. Spaniard Hernan Cortes arrived in 1524.
The government of Honduras is a democratic constitutional republic. Once part of Spain's vast empire in the New World, Honduras became an independent nation in 1821. Honduras' agriculture-based economy was dominated in the 1900s by U.S. companies that established vast banana plantations along the north coast. Foreign capital, plantation life, and conservative politics held sway in Honduras from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century. After two and a half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982. During the 1980s, Honduras proved a haven for anti-Sandinista contras fighting the Marxist Nicaraguan Government and an ally to Salvadoran Government forces fighting leftist guerrillas. The President of Honduras, Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales was elected 27 January 2006 as both chief of state and head of government. The next scheduled election is November 2009.
U.S. Dept. of State Background Notes; CIA World Factbook, 02/2009, 05/2009