The northern coast of Honduras was visited by Spanish conquistadors in the early decades of the 16th century.
Ethno-historical studies point to several indigenous groups on the northern coast of Honduras at the time of the arrival of the Spanish, including the Tolupanes, who had to venture into the territory due to the advance of the conquistadors.
Hernán Cortés, the conqueror of Mexico, in his second letter to King Charles I in 1525, describes the warlike nature of these natives of the region, chiefs of a great people called Papayeca who subjugated other villages and were difficult to pacify.
The limited archaeological findings in the current department of Atlántida make it difficult to know the cultures that developed there in pre-Hispanic times. Ethno-historical data from the time of contact reveal various groups that the chroniclers were unable to characterize. However, it is likely that the organized Tolupanes maintained wars, trade, and the exchange of goods and ideas with Mesoamerican and circum-Caribbean groups.
The arrival of Cristóbal de Olid on May 3, 1524, coincided with the celebration of the Holy Cross. The founding of the town of El Triunfo de la Cruz marked the beginning of colonization in the region, followed by clashes between the Spaniards to obtain spoils of war, hunting of natives, and control of precious metals. Throughout the colonial era, the area remained marginal.
In contemporary times, the process of economic and social development was reactivated with the presence of foreign capital, mainly focused on the banana business since the late 19th century, as this activity had previously been in the hands of national producers.
With the arrival of North American capital, a new stage began, characterized by the control and commercialization of the fruit to the southern markets of the United States. This situation allowed Honduras to establish itself as the world’s leading banana producer by the late 1920s.
Some populations in the current department of Atlántida, such as Esparta, La Ceiba, and Tela, belonged to the department of Yoro and other territories of the departments of Colón and Cortés before its formation.
Atlántida represents the 16th department, established during the government of Terencio Sierra. For this reason, there was a proposal to name the set of towns in the department “Sierra”; however, this did not materialize.