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La Ciudad Blanca: The White City of Honduras

New World history is a rich field that is constantly being analyzed for new material. The complexity of these tales never fails to amaze me.

A picturesque and partially realistic view of La Mosquitia in southeastern Honduras.

A picturesque and partially realistic view of La Mosquitia in southeastern Honduras.

Where and What Is La Mosquitia?

Similar to the Spanish word "mosquito," (yes we use the same word in English), La Mosquitia, is a large region of dense rainforest situated in northeastern Honduras, near the Nicaraguan border. Most recently, this nearly impenetrable wilderness has been discovered to contain numerous pre-Columbian ruins. The archaeological evidence suggests a dense pattern of settlement throughout the region that may have lasted into the first years of Spanish settlement.

Presently, the region is sparsely settled. It is also home to several indigenous groups as well as a few drug smugglers and cattle ranchers who have removed small parcels of the forest to create places for grazing.

The Legend of the White City

“It’s not what you find, it’s what you find out.” Christopher Begley

The concept of an ancient outpost of pre-Columbian culture, called La Ciudad Blanca or the White City is nothing new to the residents of Honduras, for it has been part of the collective consciousness of the Central American nation for many generations. La Ciudad Blanca is fundamental to the Pech people, an indigenous group that exists on the outskirts of the vast tract of tropical rainforest known as La Mosquitia.

It is important here to note that the so-called "Lost City" is not really a city in the traditional sense of the word. It's actually a place in the jungle that is nowhere close to urban, even though many archaeological ruins abound in the area. Moreover, it is a belief of a place where the ancient Gods have retreated and found sanctuary. And furthermore, many believe that this place is protected by the ancient deities in such a way that any intruder or invader will be struck down if they venture too close to the ancient settlements.

On this map, La Mosquitia is clearly marked as the green area on the right side of the image.

On this map, La Mosquitia is clearly marked as the green area on the right side of the image.

Where Is Honduras?

Honduras is an impoverished Central American nation, situated between Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The small nation should not be confused with British Honduras, which is today known as Belize and is located just a short way north of Honduras on the Caribbean Coast of Central America. Unlike most Central American nations, Honduras only has a tiny outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

Rugged forest-covered mountains can be found  in the northeast corner of Honduras, where La Mosquitia, el Rio Platano and the "Lost" White Cities are situated

Rugged forest-covered mountains can be found in the northeast corner of Honduras, where La Mosquitia, el Rio Platano and the "Lost" White Cities are situated

The Rio Platano Biosphere

Deep within La Mosquitia in northeastern Honduras, there is the Rio Platano (Banana river), that has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. This river begins in the low mountains near the Nicaragua border and flows east to the Mosquito Coast. Several indigenous villages can be found along the slow-moving waterway, including the Pech, Tawahka, Miskito and Garífuna tribal groups. Also present are several Mesitzo communities.

What Is LIDAR?

LIDAR, which stands for Light Detection and Ranging, is a recently-developed remote sensing method that is now being employed to map the earth's surface in much greater detail than ever imagined before. Essentially, LIDAR consists of a complex instrument that sends out numerous beams of pulsed lasers and then collects the reflected light to be used later as a mapping tool. LIDAR has been successful in locating ancient Amerindian structures in dense jungles, where heavy foliage often conceals the ancient sites.

After surveying the rugged rainforest along the Rio Platano, researchers found three remote valleys filled with ancient structures. Unimaginatively, these three valleys were named T1, T2, and T3. The National Geographic exploration team first visited T!, as this place was most easily accessible from the network of rivers and lagoons that flow through the Rio Platano region.

Is this an image of the legendary "monkey God"?

Is this an image of the legendary "monkey God"?

Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis

One of the more sinister legends associated with the legendary Ciudad Blanca or Lost City of the Monkey God suggests that anyone who ventures into the "lost city" will be struck down by one of the ancient deities. Strangely enough, members of the National Geographic survey group that camped at the T1 location, were all afflicted with a nasty flesh-eating parasite, known as Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis.

Basically, this disease is caused by a protozoan parasite that is transmitted by sand flies from an unknown host animal to warm other blooded mammals and birds, including man. When a person is infected, persistent skin lesions develop. And if they are left untreated, the parasite attacks the mouth and nose in a most ugly way. Just about every member of the Geographic survey group developed the disease in some form, including the author Douglas Preston, who details his experience in his bestselling book, The Lost City of the Monkey God.

A Sketch of the Old Cities

Of the three sites described by Douglas Preston in the Lost City of the Monkey God, only one has been explored, so there is still a lot to learn about the region and the indigenous people, who once lived there. Still, enough information has been uncovered to suggest that the people, who inhabited this region, built beautiful temples and homes, constructed from stone, mahogany and woven tapestries. Today, only the stone bases and artifacts remain, as the wood and cloth have been devoured by the jungle.

The Dissenters

Inspired by the explorations and discoveries of Transylvania University (Kentucky) professor, Christopher Begley, a handful of archaeologists and college professors have taken issue with the findings and methods of the National Geographic team, which included the author of The Lost City of the Monkey God. Among the most contested issues are the sensationalization of the project and the sometimes cavalier attitude of the main body of researchers and scientists towards the Native groups, who live in La Mosquitia.

Professor Begley was part of the group. His travels and explorations in the region beginning around 1990 have tagged Begley as the Indiana Jones of the Mosquito Coast.

Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Femicide, murder of women, is especially prevalent here, as noted in this street protest.

Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Femicide, murder of women, is especially prevalent here, as noted in this street protest.

Travelers Beware

Honduras has always been one of the poorest places in Central America and due to recent political strife, most of the country is considered to be unsafe for travel by foreigners, especially Westerners. The Northeast corner of the country, where La Mosquitia and the Cuidad Blanca are located is considered to be the most dangerous part of this lush, sub-tropical nation.

Only the English-speaking Bay Islands can be placed in a category that is anywhere close to being safe, yet a few attacks on foreigners have still occurred here, especially at night.

P.S. In 2012, the Peace Corp withdrew all volunteers from Honduras and as of 2018, they have yet to return.

The Lost City of the Monkey God

Informative and Interesting- Worth the Read

Despite a slightly sensational title to the book, Douglas Preston has done a remarkable job of detailing a ground-breaking jungle expedition of which he was a part. His incite into an Amerindian culture that was not quite Mayan is well done and thorough. His reporting on the activities of the current Honduran government officials, including the president and how they have protected the site and the numerous artifacts that have been dug up from the soil, is also done quite aptly.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of reading the book is the revelation of the encounter the entire expedition had with the flesh-eating disease, known scientifically as Mucocutaneous Leishmaniasis. The explanation of how this disease interacts with people and how it may be in someway tied to the huge die-offs that the Native population experienced shortly after the Spanish arrival is most informative.

Sources The Lost City That's Not Lost, Not a City, and Doesn't Need to Be Discovered Honduras Archaeologists condemn National Geographic over claims of Honduran "lost cities" Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve Kentucky professor a real-life Indiana Jones

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Harry Nielsen


Jean Rodriguez on July 25, 2020:

The proyect of Ciudad Blanca was stolen from Bruce Heinicke the actual founder of the city did u mention Bruce and Mabel Heinicke in the book ? U know stealing is not nice

Elkin is a fake and a thief

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on February 10, 2020:

Glad you had a chance to read the book.

Karen Plante on February 09, 2020:

Just finished Doug Preston's book The lost city of the monkey god. Just to correct, It was never ascertained that the leidhmaniasis was were the Curse came from, but quite likely during the Spanish invasion of the Americas, that brought with it a scourge of diseases that caused the genocide of innumerable native peoples.

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on December 14, 2019:

My guess is that you are talking about The Forbidden Kingdom made in 2008. I haven't seen the movie, but nonetheless, I would be surprised if there's a connection.

Jynett Rosario on December 13, 2019:

Well there is a movie from Jackie Chan and Jet Li of an asian monkey god, is too much coincidence, could it be the same god

Lew Marcrum from Ojojona, Francisco Morazán, Honduras on March 23, 2018:

Hi, Harry, I understand. Forgive me for being a bit overzealous in defense of my newly adopted country. I try to promote tourism when I can legitimately do so. But it does take a little of the adventurous spirit.

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on March 23, 2018:

Thanks Lew for sharing your insights on Honduras. Glad to hear that travelers are finding their way to this most interesting Central American nation. It's been a quite a while since I have traveled in Central America and the closest I went to Honduras was the small city of Puerto Barrios in nearby Guatemala. This article is basically a response to having recently read Douglas Preston's first-person account.

Harry Nielsen (author) from Durango, Colorado on March 22, 2018:

This article was inspired partly by th book, The Lost City of the Monkey God.

CaribTales on March 22, 2018:

Thanks for sharing the history, the legends and the sights of Ciudad Blanca, Honduras. An introduction for me. Good read!

Lew Marcrum from Ojojona, Francisco Morazán, Honduras on March 20, 2018:

I read with great interest your article above. I caused quite a stir in Honduras when the new broke here. A very good article!

By the way, "Mosquitia" is a Spanish/English corruption from long ago of the original "Miskitia", derived from the name of the principal ethnic group in that area of Gracias a Dios and northeastern Nicaragua. Miskitia is the term most commonly used by locals. It was named for a people, not a bug.

Your travel warning did, however, give me pause. I've lived in Honduras several years and have never had a problem personally, though as shown by my avatar I stick out like a neon sign among the locals. I've traveled over most of mainland Honduras, sometimes alone, and have met with nothing but the greatest of respect from the locals, which I go to great lengths to repay in kind. I spent last week in Copán, one of my favorite places, and saw many dozens of tourists from many countries, including France, Germany, Great Britain and even New Zealand. All were having a great time, and none were in danger. Had they never left the Bay Islands they would have missed one of the world's most beautiful and mysterious destinations..

It's safe to come to Honduras if you follow a few simple guidelines, none different than you would do in any US inner city. Don't try to buy or sell drugs, don't flash money or expensive jewelry, don't exchange money on the street, don't act afraid, and don't be the archetypical Ugly-American. Honduras earns a lot of revenue from tourism and needs all it can get.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 20, 2018:

How interesting. The scenery looks stunning.