Omoa, Honduras - The ramparts stand empty these days. The cannons that used to be mounted in the gun ports are now stacked in neat rows on the grassy fields at the centre of the fortress. Only cobwebs remain in the deep ammunition galleries that run along the rust-stained ironstone walls. The only sentries in the covered watchtowers on the corners are ghosts of long-gone soldiers. Fortaleza de San Fernando de Omoa began as Spanish fortress guarding the port from pirates, was held briefly by the British and the Miskito Indians and served for a short period as a prison in independent Honduras.
The fortress still guards the small fishing village of Omoa on Honduras's Caribbean coast. The fort's been restored to its original condition and is maintained by the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia (admission 25 lempiras, about $2).
The visitor centre contains weapons and other artifacts. There's also a detailed scale model, various period pieces of artwork, some Mayan works and a small gift shop that sells handicrafts.
An ancient steam engine sits on the ground beside the visitor centre. Behind the fortress, in a small clearing by a mangrove swamp, a well-maintained ancient cemetery holds headstones that tell the history of the fortress and its inhabitants.
The village of Omoa surrounds the fortress. The beach is now a kilometre away from the fortress walls, the water having receded in the past century. Most of the present village has been built on this reclaimed land. You can take a dip in the warm water of the Gulf of Honduras, laze on the beach or pass the day with a great seafood meal, a cold drink and good conversation in one of the dozens of thatch-roofed open-air restaurants that line the beach.
That's why Omoa has long been a favoured destination of the backpacker crowd. The main border crossing from Guatemala to Honduras for this region is only a couple of hours down the road.
Among the dozens of restaurants and beach bars to choose from, Champa Johnsons, El Paraiso de Stanley, Michelles, and the Sunset Bar and Grill are recommended. All but the first double as popular evening hangouts for the surprisingly large expat population. Canadians own the last two.
For its size, Omoa has a fair number of accommodations, most of which fall into the hostel category. One exception, the small but elegant Hotel Flamingo right on the beach, is inexpensive and comfortable. Michelles, run by a Canadian, is a good bet for those on a budget.
Out by the main road are several small stores and a bank, but no ATM. Anything that can't be found in the village can most likely be purchased in Puerto Cortez, Honduras's main seaport, about a 30-minute drive away. A regular frequent bus service runs between Omoa and Puerto Cortez.
Omoa may be a sleepy village during the week, but that's not the case on weekends. San Pedro Sula, Honduras's second-largest city, is only a couple of hours away, and this is the nearest beach.
Every weekend, hundreds of locals descend on Omoa from San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortez for respite from the city. The beaches, restaurants and bars all fill up with boisterous fun-seekers. Accommodation becomes scarce and prices naturally rise.
By Sunday evening, though, everything returns to normal.