Moon Honduras & the Bay Islands (Moon Handbooks) - Amy E. Robertson (2012)
THE NORTH COAST
Seemingly endless golden shore. Lush jungles raucous with wildlife. The steaming hot, verdant mountains, banana tree-blanketed plains, and sandy coastline of the Caribbean coast have a whole different style of life than the rest of the country. The north coast is a polyglot melting pot, closer to the Anglo-African Caribbean islands than the more reserved Hispanic culture of the interior. North coasters are more extroverted: They like to dance, to party, to get out and have a good time.
Travelers will likely find themselves spending a lot of time on the north coast, in particular in the unofficial coastal capital of La Ceiba, both because of the many attractions in the region and also as a way station on the way to and from the Bay Islands or the Mosquitia. Settled by the Black Carib Garífuna, North American banana men, Honduran job seekers, and immigrants from across the globe, the north coast is so diverse one never knows whether to address a stranger in Spanish, English, or Garífuna; chances are they know a bit of all three.
For the traveler, the north coast boasts the perfect trio of sun, sand, and sea. Superb beaches, where you can sling a hammock between two palms and enjoy the gentle offshore breezes in peace, line the entire coast. It’s no surprise the north coast is home to a large contingent of expatriates.
Add to that several of the country’s most important natural protected areas, including the mangrove wetlands and lowland jungles of Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, and Cuero y Salado, as well as the mountain jungles, cloud forests, and rivers of Parque Nacional Pico Bonito. Visitors can boat through the many estuaries and lagoons in search of monkeys, parrots, and manatees; hike to waterfalls; or white-water raft on the spectacular Río Cangrejal and Río Zacate.
LOOK FOR TO FIND RECOMMENDED SIGHTS, ACTIVITIES, DINING, AND LODGING.
La Feria de San Isidro: Party-lovers won’t want to miss La Ceiba’s annual festival of music and dance, the most famous revelry in the country (see here).
Río Cangrejal: For a dose of tropical adrenaline, go for a day of white-water rafting down this jungle-clad river right behind La Ceiba, or find a quiet trail or peaceful cabin with one of the area’s community tourism projects (see here).
Parque Nacional Pico Bonito: The emerald-green, diamond-shaped mountain behind La Ceiba has the densest primary tropical jungle outside of the Mosquitia (see here).
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado: At this coastal wetland, a network of waterways through dense mangroves, the quiet is broken only by the chatter of monkeys or squawk of a parrot (see here).
Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas (Punta Sal): This coastal reserve west of Tela is a picture-perfect deserted beach with lush forests behind it (see here).
Triunfo de la Cruz: Of the many laid-back Garífuna villages lining the north coast, Triunfo de la Cruz is one of the most interesting to visit, with plenty of beach as well as a couple of decent hotels, and good places to eat Garífuna-style seafood (see here).
Beaches of Trujillo: The golden sands and swaying palms of remote Trujillo have seduced many a visitor to stay…and stay…and stay… (see here).
Plenty of hotels, restaurants, and nightlife can be found on the beaches near Tela, Trujillo, and La Ceiba, while adventurers looking to get away from the crowds may be drawn to the laid-back Garífuna villages set along the coast. There are luxury ecolodges and well-maintained community-run cabins dotting the coast, particularly around Pico Bonito.
Most of the north coast is a narrow plain extending roughly 350 kilometers from the Guatemalan border west of Omoa to Cabo Camarón, east of Trujillo. Backed by the rugged Sierra de Omoa, Nombre de Diós, and Colón mountain ranges, the plain is only a few kilometers wide for most of its length, extending farther inland only along the deltas of the Ríos Chamelecón, Ulúa, Lean, and Aguán, which flow north out of the highlands to the sea.
The coastal plain is primarily dedicated to fruit plantations (mainly banana and pineapple), coconut palm groves, and pasture. The most intensive cultivation, due to the rich alluvial soils, is along the river deltas. Coastal mangrove swamps were also once extensive but have been hemmed in to a few protected areas (Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, Cuero y Salado) by the steady growth of plantations and cattle-ranching.
The coast is hot February-August, with average mean annual temperatures around 25-28°C (77-82°F). The prevailing easterlies of the western Caribbean Sea dump 200-300 centimeters of rain annually, with a short (sometimes nonexistent) dry season March-May. Both the amount of rain and its timing vary dramatically from year to year, and wet weather can arrive at any time.
Tropical storms and, less frequently, hurricanes are an annual ritual, with heavy rains October-December, which frequently cause flooding, especially in the Valle de Sula.
PLANNING YOUR TIME
There are so many choices of ways to spend your time on the Caribbean coast that trips of any length are possible. If time is short, four or five days is sufficient to get a flavor for both the beach and one or two of the many nature reserves. One itinerary would be to spend a day at one of the natural areas surrounding Tela, like Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, or Lancetilla Gardens, and another at one of the nearby seaside Garífuna villages of Tornabé, Miami, or Triunfo de la Cruz. Then move on to La Ceiba and take a trip (rafting or hiking) into the Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, combined with a night out of food, drink, and music in La Ceiba’s party scene. Those who haven’t stayed out too late can rise early the next day to explore the mangrove wetland reserve at Cuero y Salado, while those taking a slower pace can head to the lazy beaches of Sambo Creek. From there, one more day can be whiled away on a day trip to the mini-archipelago Cayos Cochinos, whose powdery sands and transparent waters form part of the Bay Islands, and is just 19 kilometers out to sea.
Those really after a lotus-land beach vibe should head out to Trujillo, a sleepy town on a big bay at the end of a long dead-end road, where the days will slip by unnoticed. The more energetic might want to spend a few extra days in and around Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, the jungle-covered mountain range right behind La Ceiba, hiking, rafting, ziplining, horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking, river swimming, or soaking in thermal baths.
Once a hub for Central American travelers on their way down from Guatemala and Belize, sleepy Omoa, west of Puerto Cortés, continues to attract the more adventurous of the international backpacker crowd, and is another soporific spot for hanging out in a hammock under a palm tree along a golden shore.
A number of guide companies specialize in different aspects of north coast touring, all with a focus on nature and outdoor adventure travel.
Of the several companies offering rafting trips on the Río Cangrejal near La Ceiba, the most professional is Omega Tours (tel. 504/2440-0334 or 504/9745-6810, www.omegatours.info), operating out of a lodge near the river. Half-day rafting trips cost US$59 per person, lunch included, as well as a night in their guesthouse or US$20 off on a stay in their cabins. Omega Tours is the only operator in La Ceiba with internationally licensed rafting guides. In addition to rafting, Omega offers kayaking, mountain biking, hiking, white-water swimming, horseback riding, and a number of multiday trips around the La Ceiba area and in the Mosquitia.
La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras (Colonia El Toronjal, tel. 504/2441-3279 or 504/9929-7532, www.lamoskitia.hn, 8 A.M.-noon and 1-5 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.), run by veteran Honduras explorer Jorge Salaverri, offers rafting trips on the Cangrejal for just US$40 per person, including lunch and a night either at their hostel in town or at their riverside jungle guesthouse. A visit to Cuero y Salado is US$73 per person for two, or US$53 per person for groups of 7 or more. He also organizes highly regarded multiday tours hiking in Pico Bonito, Olancho, or to the Mosquitia jungles.
Based in La Ceiba, Turtle Tours (tel. 504/429-2284, www.turtle-tours.com) is a small, highly regarded company run by a pair of Germans who offer popular tours along the north coast, as well as to Copán and the Mosquitia.
Tourist Options (tel. 504/2443-2460, www.hondurastouristoptions.com) is a traditional tour company with mixed reviews, but it has tour options across the north coast, including in Trujillo, a region that none of the other companies cover, as well as to Copán Ruinas and the Bay Islands, and cultural tours that visit the diverse ethnic communities in Honduras.
Garífuna Tours (tel. 504/2448-2904 in Tela; Av. San Isidro and 1 Calle, tel. 504/2440-3252 in La Ceiba; www.garifunatours.com) has offices in both Tela and La Ceiba, and can arrange multiday trips to the Mosquitia and elsewhere in Honduras. The quality of the guiding can be hit or miss, but as one of the best-known operations, there’s a steady stream of travelers signing up for their tours, which can be a big advantage if you’re traveling solo and can’t put together a group for a tour yourself.
Based in Tela, Eco di Mare (tel. 504/2439-0110 or 504/9932-3552, www.ecodimaretours.com) offers similar Tela tours as Garífuna Tours, but for a few dollars less.
All the main towns along the north coast—La Ceiba, Tela, Trujillo, and Puerto Cortés—have problems with street crime. The smaller towns along the coast are less of a problem, but care should be taken nonetheless. In particular, it is not recommended to walk alone at night, or along deserted sections of beach away from towns.
Archaeological and historical evidence suggests that at least three indigenous groups lived on the Honduran north coast in pre-Columbian times, but because of the hot climate and lack of easily cultivated land, habitation was sparse.
The Maya are believed to have extended their influence to western Honduras around A.D. 300, and although settlements were located mostly in the highlands around Copán and near the Guatemalan border, they did farm land in the lower Valle de Sula. On the coast itself, the Maya maintained several important trading posts, the farthest east at Punta Caxinas near Trujillo. Similarly, Nahuatl traders from central Mexico had outposts on the Honduran coast as far east as Trujillo.
Although Jicaque, or Tolupán, people inhabited the entire north coast region from the Guatemalan border to the Mosquitia, their settlements were almost all in the mountains, and they apparently ventured down to the coast only to trade.
Following Columbus’s first landing on the Honduran coast near Trujillo in 1502, two decades passed before Spanish explorers returned. But when they did, they converged on the country in three opposing factions led by Gil González Dávila, Cristóbal de Olid, and Francisco de las Casas. In the midst of their power struggle, the three factions’ bands of soldiers managed to establish settlements by 1525 at Puerto Caballos, now Puerto Cortés; Triunfo de la Cruz, near present-day Tela; and Trujillo.
The nascent colony was briefly ruled from Trujillo, but by the 1540s the seat of government and most colonists had moved to western Honduras. If the lack of gold and quality agricultural land, uncomfortable heat, and danger of disease didn’t scare away most colonists, the pirates who appeared in the western Caribbean by the mid-16th century certainly did. The pirates sacked the relatively unprotected towns of Trujillo and Puerto Caballos with regularity. By 1643, Trujillo had been abandoned, and only a small settlement remained at Omoa, near Puerto Caballos.
The first widespread settlement of the north coast was undertaken by the Black Caribs, or Garífuna, who were forcibly deported to Honduras from the Caribbean island of San Vicente by the British in 1797. The Garífuna first established a community in Trujillo and then migrated up and down the coast, building villages from the edge of the Mosquitia as far north and west as Belize. Apart from a few refugees from 19th-century violence elsewhere in Honduras, the north coast remained sparsely populated until North Americans and Europeans developed a taste for bananas.
The Banana Industry
The development of the modern north coast is essentially the story of the growth of the banana industry. Bananas were introduced to Central America by Spanish missionaries in the first years of colonization but were cultivated only on a small scale for local consumption. Banana exports began in the 1860s, when locally owned plantations on Roatan started to sell their fruit to passing tramp freighters, which in turn sold their loads in the United States and Europe at a tidy profit.
For the first few decades, Hondurans owned and worked the banana fields, meaning local growers could sell to the highest bidder and make significant profits. By the turn of the century, however, North American exporters realized they could boost their earnings by running their own plantations, and set about gaining control of as much of the Honduran north coast as possible. The north coast soon became a virtual North American colony, led by three companies: United Fruit (now Chiquita), based first in Tela and now in La Lima; Cuyamel, which controlled lands west of Puerto Cortés; and Standard Fruit (now Dole, but often still referred to as Standard), centered around La Ceiba.
Some land was actually purchased by the companies, but much more was awarded to them by the government in massive concessions, in return for railroad construction and jobs. Although the government was generally in favor of the concessions, wanting to modernize its backward country, the companies took no chances. To help their cause, company officials resorted to bribery and arm-twisting, even fomenting the occasional revolution to ensure a friendly, concession-generous administration.
By the second decade of the 20th century, the banana companies held almost one million acres of the country’s most fertile land, were making huge profits, and unabashedly manipulated government officials to maintain the status quo. One historian writes: “If Honduras was dependent on the banana companies before 1912, it was virtually indistinguishable from them after 1912.”
In the course of building their fiefdoms, the companies completely transformed the north coast. Puerto Cortés changed from a sleepy seaside village into one of the largest ports in Central America, and Tela and La Ceiba were essentially created out of nothing. The companies drained swamps to create plantations, constructed railroads between the plantations and newly built warehouses and docks, and drew migrants from across Honduras and around the world with the lure of quick money. The country’s first modern banks, breweries, hospitals, and myriad other services were built by the companies to suit their own needs.
Coastal development never strayed far from the direct interests of the banana companies, falling far short of what many Hondurans had envisioned when the generous land concessions were awarded. For example, railroads were built only between plantations and docks, and the companies preferred to pay token annual fines rather than fulfill their contractual promises to extend lines inland, connecting the coast to Tegucigalpa. To this day, the north coast has the country’s only railway lines, and now that the companies use trucks, the lines have been allowed to fall into disrepair. The supposed original intention of the banana concessions, that the railroads would stimulate the Honduran economy, was forgotten long ago.
The industry has fallen off steeply from the glory days between 1925 and 1939, when Honduras was the world’s top producer and bananas constituted 88 percent of the country’s exports. Still, Chiquita (the biggest banana company in the world) and Dole remain the top economic forces on the north coast and have diversified into pineapple, African palm oil, and other fruit products. The two companies are still easily the largest landowners in the country, after the Honduran government, and almost all of their holdings are on or near the north coast.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, the north coast has been the most dynamic economic sector of the country, and with the rise of San Pedro Sula as a major center for light industry and commerce, this trend has accelerated. Although San Pedro is not on the coast, its success is due to the short rail and highway connection to Puerto Cortés (the biggest port by volume in Central America), and the city’s growth has stimulated the entire north coast. In terms of population and economy, the four coastal departments comprise Honduras’s fastest-growing region.
The largest city on the north coast, with a population of just around 115,000 and growing, La Ceiba is not particularly attractive at first glance, but those who give it a chance may find themselves charmed. The beaches are dirty, there is no architecture of interest, and it’s almost always steaming hot, but La Ceiba has a certain carefree Caribbean joie de vivre that has earned it the nickname “Honduras’s sweetheart.”
According to a Honduran saying, “Tegucigalpa piensa, San Pedro trabaja, y La Ceiba se divierte” (“Tegucigalpa thinks, San Pedro works, and La Ceiba has fun”), and indeed, the bars right along the beach get packed on weekends. The town’s good times culminate in the annual Feria de San Isidro, or Carnaval, a weeklong bash of dancing and music held the third week of May.
The main reason travelers come to La Ceiba is not to visit the town itself, but rather to use it as a convenient base to explore nearby nature refuges, such as Pico Bonito, the Cuero y Salado wetlands, and the rapid-filled Río Cangrejal, as well as the nearby beach towns of Corozal and Sambo Creek. It’s also an inevitable stop-off point for travelers on their way to the Bay Islands, Trujillo, or the Mosquitia, and a good place to take care of any business that needs attending to while on the road.
The area around La Ceiba was first settled by a few Garífuna families from Trujillo who built a village on the west side of the estuary in 1810. They were followed by Olancho immigrants fleeing violence in their homeland in the 1820s. One of these olanchanos, Manuel Hernández, built his house near a massive ceiba tree, which became the town’s informal gathering place. The tree, described by the original Garífuna settlers as “the ladder God used when he came down from heaven to visit earth,” was cut down in 1917 to make way for the customs building, but the name stuck.
In the late 19th century, La Ceiba was in the midst of the booming banana industry. The first banana plantations on the mainland were planted near the mouth of the Río Cangrejal, and others soon followed in the vicinity. But the population of La Ceiba was still only about 2,000 when the Vaccaro brothers of New Orleans arrived in 1899, scouting for banana lands. They were awarded a concession at Porvenir, just west of La Ceiba, and quickly built a railroad track to transport their fruit to La Ceiba, where it could be shipped north. By 1905 the Vaccaros had moved their company headquarters to La Ceiba and began transforming the town.
The company offices and housing for American employees were built in what came to be known as the Mazapán district, unsubtly surrounded by high cyclone fencing. The Vaccaros—who by 1926 had named their operation the Standard Fruit and Steamship Company—built the city dock, managed the town port, supplied the city’s electric power, set up the first bank, built the D’Antoni Hospital, and even brewed the first version of Salva Vida, one of Honduras’s most popular beers.
Standard’s business quickly expanded to the Trujillo region and into the rich Valle del Aguán, in the process attracting workers from across the globe and turning La Ceiba into one of the north coast’s great cultural melting pots. Garífuna, Honduran campesinos (peasants), Jamaicans, Cayman Islanders, North Americans, Arabs, Italians, Spaniards, French, and Cubans, to name only the most prominent, all lived side by side in La Ceiba, and their mark can still be seen on the city today.
Standard Fruit—now Dole—is still La Ceiba’s largest employer, although it has long since diversified its products. Most of its produce is now shipped out of Puerto Cortés, near San Pedro Sula.
Although La Ceiba is the largest city on the north coast, visitors usually spend most of their time in a relatively small area bounded by the square, the sea, and the strip of discos and beach to the east of the estuary, which divides the downtown area from the La Isla and La Barra neighborhoods. The main drag in town is Avenida San Isidro, running from the ocean south past the square all the way to the Burger King on 22 Calle.
If you’re planning to be out partying, the safest way to get back to your hotel is by making arrangements in advance. Most hotels have taxi services that guests can use for pickup; just ask.
La Ceiba proper is not bursting with tourist sites—most people come either because it’s a stop-off point to the Bay Islands or to visit natural attractions in the area near La Ceiba. The town’s beaches are downright filthy and not very safe, which is unfortunate since they could be attractive if cleaned up. Swimming at the beaches in town is not advised, as the water is not kept clean.
The downtown parque (park) was under renovation at the time of writing, although we were told that the planned renovation included the cutting of the park’s leafy trees. The nearby main commercial district, centered on Avenida Atlántida and Avenida 14 de Julio, between 4 and 6 Calles, is a lively and colorful scene. The central market is a 1931-vintage, weather-beaten wooden building at 6 Calle and Avenida Atlántida.
Anyone with an entomological inclination should be sure to visit the Museo de Mariposas e Insectos (tel. 504/2442-2874, 8 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Sat., US$4 adults, US$2 children), displaying some 17,000 butterflies and other insects from 139 countries in glass cases lining the walls. Included are examples of the two largest butterflies in the world. Those especially interested can take advantage of the free guide service, if one is available on the day you visit. The museum is in Colonia El Sauce, Segunda Etapa, Casa G-12 (a little behind Hotel La Quinta). Take the main entrance to El Sauce and turn left on the last paved road, then look for the museum 2.5 blocks up on the right side.
ENTERTAINMENT AND EVENTS
La Feria de San Isidro
In a town notorious for partying, La Feria de San Isidro is the party in La Ceiba—a several-day bash culminating in a blowout on the third Saturday night in May that attracts some 500,000 revelers from across Honduras and the Caribbean, according to the city’s tourist bureau. The country may have other national celebrations, but the Feria is Honduras’s time to cut loose.
According to La Ceiba legend, three Spanish immigrants started the feria. The Spaniards—supposedly named Norquer, Artuche, and Pallares—arrived in the village in 1846, bringing with them the tradition of honoring San Isidro the Laborer. The annual fiesta became a popular event with both the Garífuna and the campesinos. It quickly became a local institution. The feria was declared La Ceiba’s official annual fiesta in 1886, and in 1968, the tradition of parades and floats was added.
On the final Saturday of the Feria de San Isidro, floats bearing scantily clad women proceed down Avenida San Isidro beginning in the late afternoon, headed by the Queen of the Carnaval. After the parade has passed its twenty-two-block route, well-known Honduran and Central American bands on stages lined up and down the length of the avenue crank up, and the music keeps going until morning.
Many visitors, expecting to see crazed dancing in the streets, come away from Carnaval a bit disappointed. The only ones dancing, usually, are the fans at the band stage who have a grand time head-banging and slam dancing, and the occasional group of gringos in front of one of the salsa or punta (traditional Garífuna music) stages.
The secret, for those who really want to dance, is to enjoy the stage music on the avenue until midnight or 1 A.M. and then head out to the discos on 1 Calle. Normally packed anyway on weekends, the discos are bursting at the seams during the feria and should not be missed by the serious partyer. When out on the streets during the feria, beware of pickpockets in the crowds.
Saturday may be the official biggest party, but many locals insist that the “real” bash is on Friday night in Barrio La Isla, with bands on 4 Calle on the east side of the estuary from downtown. Other mini-ferias take place the previous Sunday in Sitramacsa and Miramar colonias, Monday in Barrio Bellavista, Tuesday in Barrio Alvarado, Wednesday in Colonia Alhambra, and Thursday in Colonia El Sauce. La Ceiba on the Sunday following Carnaval is usually utterly and completely dead, with most people rousing themselves only if there’s a decent soccer match on TV.
As the party capital of Honduras, La Ceiba boasts a hopping nightlife, mainly centered around the discos on 1 Calle east of the estuary, the so-called zona viva, or live zone. Foreigners, mainly men, have been known to get addicted to the scene, spending days or weeks on end drinking, dancing, chasing local women, and consuming the odd illicit substance until all hours night after night.
Monday and Tuesday are slow, but even then the discos are open until at least midnight. Thursday and Saturday are best, when the strip is an adventure, with large crowds in all the discos and milling around on the street until the wee hours of the morning.
The odd shooting or stabbing is not unheard of, and fistfights are considered just good fun. Generally, unless you do something stupid like try to pick up someone else’s date, none of the violence is directed at foreigners. The crowd is totally mixed—ladinos (people of mixed Spanish and indigenous blood), Garífuna, Bay Islanders, Miskito Indians, and gringos all enjoy themselves shoulder to shoulder.
One musical twist sure to amuse visiting foreigners who are expecting to hear only the hot rhythms of salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and punta (the traditional music of the Garífuna) is the popularity of American country and western music on the north coast. Don’t be surprised to walk into a disco and see couples doing a slow two-step to the latest Nashville hit.
Warning: The area on 1 Calle around the discos, and in particular near the poorly lit Parque Bonilla, can be dangerous at night. If you do go out dancing, use a taxi to get back home. And it’s simply not a safe idea for women to go solo.
Considered the most upscale (read: expensive but relatively safe) of La Ceiba’s clubs is Hibou (tel. 504/2442-0933), just east of Hotel Partenon, also on the beach side. The club is open Thursday-Saturday starting at 7 P.M. Come dressed in style. A few blocks away is another popular place is La Casona (“the big house”), which, despite its farmhouse appearance, gets packed with 20- and 30-something ceibeños. The music is mainly techno and reggaeton. Discos open and close with regularity, but generally the better ones are at the far end of 1 Calle, while the close end, near the estuary, is considered a bit of a red-light district by locals.
GUILLERMO ANDERSON, ICON OF HONDURAN MUSIC
Many of Guillermo Anderson’s songs are infused with Garífuna rhythms such as parranda and punta, and folklore of his native north coast; others are ballads with intimate guitar and vocals, with lyrics that touch on everything—Ceiba’s Carnaval, national foods, romance, and the sea that Guillermo loves so much. A native of La Ceiba, here are a few of Guillermo’s favorite things in his hometown, and across the country.
Where do you like to eat in La Ceiba, or to go for a drink?
Guapos facing the sea in the zona viva. Good cocktails and bar snacks. Caseta Deportiva de Gorcha Collins is a classic bar, and it has the best guiffiti! The restaurant Chabelita, in the same neighborhood, has the best fish, and sopa de caracol (conch soup).
When you have a little free time, what do you like to do besides play music?
Visit the Cuero y Salado reserve, go hiking, raft or kayak in the Río Cangrejal. Hang out in a Garífuna village like Corozal or Sambo Creek. Watch the sunset on the beach in La Ceiba, close to the pier.
You’ve traveled through much of Honduras. Beyond the La Ceiba region, where do you like to visit?
I really like going to the northern side of Roatan and visiting its small communities; it’s an area that very few visit. I love to go to the Cayos Cochinos, stay there, and explore the big island. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. I really like to visit the Garífuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, as several of the musicians with whom I travel live there. It’s a good place for relaxing on the beach. The sea and bay are both beautiful. Away from the sea, I like the city of Gracias—visiting its historic sites, the market, trying typical foods in different restaurants, and having a coffee in the main square.
More information about Guillermo and his music, including some clips of performances, can be found on his website www.guillermoanderson.com.
To check out some punta sounds, find out what’s happening at Centro Cultural Satuyé in Barrio La Isla, a Garífuna cultural center that frequently hosts live bands and dance.
If the disco scene sounds a bit too energetic, but you’d still like to go out for a few drinks, there are many bars open every night of the week in Barrio La Isla (the zona viva). A top hot spot, La Palapa, next to the Quinta Real, is a bit of a chameleon, changing from low-key restaurant to sports bar to disco, depending on what’s happening in town, and hours vary depending on the crowds. There’s a deejay on Monday and Thursday and live music on Saturday. This giant champa (thatched roof hut with no walls), has a lengthy list of cocktails and frozen drinks, and a full menu is available (most plates US$7-9). It gets even more packed than usual during Semana Santa, when it’s best to call ahead to reserve your table and you can expect to pay a cover charge.
A couple of blocks away is Aquabeach (tel. 504/9693-8658, 4 P.M.-2 A.M.), a similar kind of open-air, food-available environment as La Palapa, but on a smaller scale. The bar is situated above the restaurant Mr. Arepa. Half a block away (heading away from the beach) is Manhattan Lounge, located at the Hotel Versalles, a sleek and popular bar with dancing to Euro-American pop hits.
For an even more laid-back scene, The Garage is a U.S.-style sports bar with plasma TVs and live music some nights. Expatriates bar on 12 Calle, two blocks east of Avenida San Isidro, continues to be a popular place for a laid-back beer. The bar TV is invariably showing the sporting event of the moment, and they serve food until late (there’s even an after-midnight menu).
Take care at the bars and discos just over the estuary, closest to town—that’s the local red-light district.
Cine Milenium, on the second floor of the mall at the southern end of town, has two screens.
Parque Bonilla near the waterfront has abundant children’s play equipment, perfect for burning off some of that energy.
Next to Mango Tango restaurant is a mini-golf, operated by the same owners as the restaurant.
The water slide park Water Jungle (9 A.M.-5 P.M. Fri.-Sun.), 20 kilometers outside of town adjacent to the Palma Real hotel, is the largest park of its kind in the country, complete with wave pool, and there are pool games for smaller children.
SPORTS AND RECREATION
The adventure travel possibilities in the area around La Ceiba are legion, from white-water rafting on the Río Cangrejal to hiking up jungle paths to waterfalls in Parque Nacional Pico Bonito. Travelers can head out to these places on their own or choose from several tour operators based in La Ceiba. The prices quoted are all per person and can vary depending on the number in the group.
the popular bar and restaurant, Expatriates
Note: Any of the adventure trips offered by these companies, and particularly the rafting trips, have a certain level of danger and should not be taken lightly. They are best done by travelers who are fit and active, and it’s essential to pay close attention to your guides at all times.
Omega Tours (tel. 504/2440-0334 or 504/9745-6810, www.omegatours.info) is an outfit run by expat German and Swiss rafters who work out of a lodge in the Río Cangrejal valley, about 10 kilometers upriver from the bridge at La Ceiba. Half-day rafting trips cost US$59 per person; hikes with experienced local guides through the dense jungle surrounding the Río Cangrejal to the El Bejuco waterfall cost US$44 (there is a surcharge for English-speaking guides); horseback riding on the beach costs US$76; and a day trip to the Cacao Lagoon is US$75. All tours include a night’s accommodation in Omega’s guesthouse or US$20 off lodging in one of its cabins, and a free lunch, but do not include Honduras’s hefty 12 percent sales tax. Omega Tours is the only operator in La Ceiba with internationally licensed rafting guides, some with more than 10 years of experience rafting around the world. Omega consistently earns positive reviews from those who have gone on its tours, and has a strong reputation for safety in rafting.
La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras (Colonia El Toronjal, tel. 504/2441-3279 or 504/9929-7532, www.lamoskitia.hn, 8 A.M.-noon and 1-5 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.) is run by veteran Honduras explorer Jorge Salaverri. Famed for his trips to the Mosquitia jungles, Jorge also offers many trips around La Ceiba, such as half-day white-water rafting for US$40; day treks in the jungle-clad flanks of Pico Bonito near the Río Zacate, including a light snack, a guide, and pickup and drop-off, for US$35-54; and tours to Cuero y Salado for US$73. La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras also gets high marks from those who have toured with them in the Mosquitia; they offer kayaking trips to Cacao Lagoon (US$40) and snorkeling trips in the Cayos Cochinos as well. A free night in either the Ceiba dorm or the Río Cangrejal guesthouse is included with any tour (US$8 without a tour).
Tourist Options (tel. 504/2440-0265, www.hondurastouristoptions.com) also offers a number of hiking and exploring tours with bilingual guides, including hiking in Pico Bonito for US$39; a visit to the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge for US$69; day trips to Cayos Cochinos, Tela Trujillo, and the Bay Islands; and culturally focused tours in other parts of Honduras as well.
A new dive shop, Pirate Islands Divers (tel. 504/3328-0009, www.pirateislandsdivers.com), based at the Paradise Found Hotel in Sambo Creek, offers dive trips, snorkel trips, and dive courses in the Cayos Cochinos. At US$321 for either Open Water or Advanced Open Water, including accommodations and meals, it is one of the best-value dive centers in the Bay Islands. One-day Discovery Scuba courses are US$65, while snorkeling trips to the Cayos with lunch included are US$46. Tony, the shop owner, is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, which in short means he’s really, really experienced (dive master internships are available), and although his shop is new, he previous managed a dive shop in Utila, so he has lots of local experience as well. Accommodations are either in the village on the island of Chachahuate, or on the private cay next door (Chachahuate II).
Two local first-division teams are Victoria and Vida, the former generally much more successful than the latter. Vida fans are known for their perennial meager hopes—invariably dashed at the end of the season, to the resignation of the long-suffering supporters. Vida sufrido, as the saying goes in La Ceiba.
Both teams play at the municipal stadium, on the east side of the estero. Tickets, easily acquired the day of the game, cost US$2-10, depending on the seat location. Best to go in a group.
Souvenir El Buen Amigo 3 (Barrio El Imán, opposite Expatriate’s Restaurant, tel. 504/2440-1075), has the best selection in town of Honduran handicrafts, with leather, carved wood, Lenca pottery, paintings, cigars, T-shirts, and gourmet coffee. Sister store El Buen Amigo 2 (8:30 A.M.-noon and 2-6 P.M.), right in the city center, has a smaller, but similar, selection. Stop by the adjacent Tipicoffee for some joe or a snack after you shop.
Out near the highway is the modern shopping mecca of La Ceiba, Mega Plaza Mall, with dozens of fancy stores, Internet cafés and banks, and a movie theater with two screens.
La Ceiba has dozens of hotels in all price ranges. With a little effort, visitors should have no trouble finding a room that suits exactly their taste and budget. During the mid-May Feria de San Isidro, hotel owners raise prices considerably, sometimes as much as double, and rooms fill up fast. Usually, it’s possible to get a room as late as Wednesday during the feria week, but don’t count on it after that. Many of the cheap hotels fill up on regular weekends, with people in town from the islands, the Mosquitia, and elsewhere in Honduras.
Most inexpensive hotels are found between the square and the ocean, on or between Avenidas San Isidro, Atlántida, and 14 de Julio.
Popular among backpackers for its location on the beach near the discos is the two-story Hotel Rotterdam (tel. 504/2440-0321, US$16 d, US$23 t, cold water only). We visited during low season, when it had a somewhat depressed feel, compounded by the worn paint and Formica flooring, but it’s right next to the beach and a good price. Trips with La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras can be booked here, and there is other tourist information available as well.
Located right behind the Mega Plaza Mall, La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras (Colonia El Toronjal, tel. 504/2441-3279 or 504/9929-7532, www.lamoskitia.hn) has a guesthouse in La Ceiba that has beds for US$8 and can house up to 50 people. Rooms are free if you book a tour with them.
One good option in the downtown area is Hotel Caribe (tel. 504/2443-1857, US$13-16 s, US$21-24 d, cold water only), whose double rooms come equipped with two fans, and all have lots of light.
Hotel Álvarez (Av. Atlántida between 4 and 5 Calles, tel. 504/2443-0181, email@example.com, US$16 s, US$20.50 d, US$24.50 with a/c; cold water only) is a decent value, with a pleasant lobby, cheery yellow and orange hallway, and good security. Rooms have saggy beds and aren’t sparkling, and some could use a new paint job, but the towels are better than most at this price point. Down a block toward the market on the opposite side of the street is the Hotel Granada (Av. Atlántida, between 5 and 6 Calles, tel. 504/443-2451, US$11.50 s, US$13 d with fan; US$18.50 s, US$21 d with a/c; all cold water only), with slightly stinky rooms with private baths around an interior courtyard. You can save US$2.50 by foregoing the TV. Sheets have holes, and we found the sign reading “Please don’t spit or stain the walls” rather worrying, but the inner rooms are quiet and a bit dark, which could be a plus for late sleepers.
Another acceptable option downtown at 5 Calle and Avenida 14 de Julio is Hotel Florencia (Av. 14 de Julio, at the corner with 5 Calle, www.hotelflorencialaceiba.amawebs.com, tel. 504/2443-0679, US$13 s, US$16 d with fan, TV, and bath; US$18.50 s, US$24 d with a/c, TV, and bath; all cold water only), with 15 spacious and tidy tile-floored rooms on the second floor of a corner building, near the market on Avenida 14 de Julio.
Over near the stadium is Apart-Hotel El Estadio (tel. 504/9730-5690, U.S. tel. 617/939-9298, www.hotelelestadio.com, US$11 dorm, US$22 s, US$29 d), perhaps one of the best options in this price range. The owner is helpful in arranging excursions and transportation, guests have reported clean rooms, and all rooms have hot water, air-conditioning, TVs, wireless Internet, and kitchen access.
One of the best values in this price range is the Gran Hotel Ceiba (tel. 504/2443-2747, www.hotelceiba.com, US$32 s, US$39 d), about halfway between the central square and the waterfront. Rooms are spacious and clean, some have balconies, and all have a desk, TV, air-conditioning, wireless Internet, and a mini-fridge. There is a nice little restaurant in the hotel, open 6 A.M.-8 P.M. daily, and the hotel also has a gym, laundry service, an ATM, and a computer with Internet for guest use in the lobby. Note to families with babies: Cribs are available here.
Another very good option, popular with middle-class Hondurans and tourists alike, is Hotel Iberia (Av. San Isidro between 5 and 6 Calles, tel. 504/2443-0401, US$30.50 s, US$37 d). Rooms are nice, with decent furniture including a small desk and chair, air-conditioning, and cable TV. The doubles are spacious. Street-side rooms have a small balcony, but they also tend to be noisy, so those seeking quiet should opt for a room facing the inner courtyard.
Back over near the highway is Hotel Cibeles (Prolongación Av. San Isidro, www.hotelcibeles.jimdo.com, tel. 504/2241-0027, US$40.50 s, US$46-63 d), a modern hotel with a small but nice kidney-shaped swimming pool. Rooms are comfortable enough if a little spare, and the pricier rooms are “deluxe,” which are marginally nicer.
The new 10-room Bed and Breakfast Express (8 Calle between Av. 14 de Julio and Av. San Isidro, www.bbexpresshn.com, tel. 504/2443-2116, US$31.50 s, US$45 d, breakfast included), located half a block from Ceiba’s central square, is a good value. Rooms are clean and modern, equipped with flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning, and wireless Internet, and the hotel has private parking.
Out on the highway near the mall is Posada La Caribe (tel. 504/2442-8227, US$31 s, US$46 d), with slightly spartan rooms. Suites with either two queen beds or one king are US$55. All rooms have wireless Internet, TVs, and air-conditioning, and some have a mini-fridge. The hotel has a decent restaurant open 6 A.M.-9 P.M. daily.
First opened in 1912, the Gran Hotel París (8 Calle, between Av. República and Av. San Isidro, tel. 504/2443-2391, www.granhotelparisonline.com, US$47-81 s, US$56-89 d), on the square, is a La Ceiba landmark. From the outside the hotel looks to have seen better days, but there are some rooms in a newer section that are decent if nothing special, with an attractive lobby, restaurant, and interior courtyard with a pool and bar (wireless Internet is available in the pool and lobby areas only). Rooms are spacious, with white tile floors, desks, and armchairs, and some with king beds, a few with mini-fridge, and all with air-conditioning and cable TV. The older rooms show their age, so be sure to check what kind of room you’re getting.
One of two new hotels right along the beach, Hotel Art-Deco Beach (tel. 504/2442-2220, www.hotelartdecobeach.com, US$51 s, US$58 d) has many rooms with ocean views. Each of the 42 rooms has a TV, air-conditioning, and a coffeemaker—But not the luxury one might expect from the sweeping entrance or photos on the website, and in need of a little maintenance frankly. The swimming pool wasn’t sparkling clean at the time of our visit, but acceptable, and the little balconies off each room can be a plus for smokers. The biggest drawback is the neighborhood, which becomes pretty sketchy at nightfall.
Around the corner is U.W. Oasis Hotel’s (1a Calle, between Av. La República and Av. San Isidro, tel. 504/2440-4383, firstname.lastname@example.org, US$43 s, US$61 d), a newly remodeled hotel with tastefully decorated rooms, modern touches of art, and good security. Rooms are set along a breezeway with wooden rocking chairs, and each has a flat-screen TV and air-conditioning. There’s no real beach view, but there is beach access through the courtyard (although if beach is what you want, we suggest finding a hotel along one of the much cleaner and safer beaches outside of the city).
Not far from the beach, and in a little better part of town, Hotel Versalles (tel. 504/2440-2405, www.hotel-versalles.com, US$53 s, US$63 d) is well-located for those who want to be near the city’s zona viva. All rooms have two double beds, a mini-fridge, air-conditioning, and TV, and the furnishings are nice, if a little baroque-ish. Suites with kitchenettes are also available. The hotel has a restaurant, and a popular bar, Manhattan Lounge, part of the zona viva circuit.
The Quinta Real’s sister hotel, La Quinta (south end of Av. San Isidro facing the D’Antoni Golf Club, tel. 504/2443-0223, www.hotellaquintaonline.com, US$58-116), near the highway, is no longer the plushest spot in town, but its 113 rooms spread out over a large area interspersed with grassy patios, a pool, and even a few slot machines make for a comfortable enough stay. Room price depends on size and location in the hotel. Inside, Maxim’s Restaurant serves good seafood and steaks for US$9-12 per plate and sports an extensive wine selection. Note: This hotel and its sister property on the beach are not affiliated with the U.S. chain La Quinta.
US$100 and Up
Right on the beach, the Quinta Real (tel. 504/2440-3311, www.quintarealhotel.com, US$90 s, US$122 d, US$197 suite) is a sprawling, tile-roofed, beige-and-white, resort-style hotel with all the amenities, including a pool, restaurant, three bars (one of them poolside), a spa and gym, a beauty salon, tennis courts, and a business center. The 81 rooms and suites offer air-conditioning, telephone, TV, and Internet access. Those facing town are also just across the street from the very popular (and noisy) La Palapa bar, so unless you plan to be up late as well, it’s worth springing for an ocean view. There have been very mixed reports about service. The grounds are attractive and they keep their portion of the beach clean, but if you’ve come for the beach, there are much better options outside of town. Unfortunately, the ocean at La Ceiba is unswimmably filthy from city sewage.
Near the Bus Terminal
There are two convenient choices for those arriving late or departing early by bus. Facing the terminal, Hotel Molina (tel. 504/2441-2490, US$15 s, US$19 d) is a tidy and large hotel with 70 rooms, some of them spacious, and a rather worn, but clean, swimming pool. Air-conditioning is available and about US$7 more). The hotel offers free transportation to the airport and ferry dock.
Less than a block away is Hotel Inka Maya (tel. 504/2441-1248, US$21 s, US$32 d), a smaller, marginally nicer hotel with mismatched linens and lime-green walls. The 13 rooms come with air-conditioning and cable TV; bathrooms are clean but have cold water only. To get here from the bus station, take the main road heading to the right, and cross the street at the police station. You’ll see the hotel sign on the main road; the hotel itself is half a block down the narrow side street.
Near the Airport
If you have an early flight, Rainbow Village (tel. 504/2408-5696, www.hotel-rainbow-village.com, US$38 s, US$51-65 d) is the perfect place to stay. Five cottages have two bedrooms each (it’s possible to rent just one of the bedrooms, in which case you may have to share the bathroom), a kitchen, and a living/dining area, and there’s wireless Internet and a swimming pool. The hotel also offers packages that include transportation to and from the ferry terminal or bus station, and transportation to and from the airport (a minute or two away by car) can usually be arranged for free. If you’re around on a Sunday, try the buffet at its German restaurant.
Eateries in La Ceiba are almost exclusively low-key, but many can keep the discerning palate satisfied.
Cafés and Bakeries
A baker from the once-famous Laura’s Bakery (which is now closed) has opened Dole’s Bakery (tel. 504/9762-7874, 8 A.M.-5:30 P.M. Mon.-Fri., until noon on Sat.), is making American specialties like apple pie and pumpkin pie, along with the usual baked goods. He supplies the luxury hotel Las Cascadas on the Río Cangrejal. They were talking about changing location at the time of our visit, so call before heading over there.
Ki’bok Café (7 A.M.-8 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 8 A.M.-noon Sun.) is a cozy spot serving coffee and desserts, as well as breakfast items like omelets (all day) and sandwiches. There is a small book exchange—a perfect spot for whiling away a rainy day. The café is between La Plancha Restaurant and the Cuquis plant, behind the Esso gas station on the street that runs from downtown to the stadium.
Opposite Expatriates and adjacent to a large souvenir store is Tipicoffee (8 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Sat.), brewing Honduran coffee and serving it with comida catracha—Honduran specialties like baleadas, tamales, pupusas, and tacos for low prices.
No Honduran city would be complete without multiple branches of Espresso Americano; one is located right on the park (6:15 A.M.-8 P.M. daily).
Pupusería Universitaria (1 Calle and Av. 14 de Julio, 10:30 A.M.-10:30 P.M. daily), with its charming interior of bamboo and woven mats, has particularly good and generously sized pupusas (US$0.90 each, two here is a good meal, three should leave you stuffed), a sort of fried tortilla stuffed with cheese and meat, as well as beef pinchos and roast chicken (US$5).
Very inexpensive and popular with locals are Baleadas Ceibeñas and Baleadas Doña Tere, selling the namesake bean-stuffed flour tortillas along the rail tracks near the park, for US$0.50-1.30.
Cafetería Cobel (7 Calle between Av. Atlántida and Av. 14 de Julio, tel. 504/2442-2192, 7 A.M.-6 P.M. Mon.-Sat.) is a Ceiba institution, serving good home-cooked Honduran fare, cakes and pastries, and fresh fruit juices. Food is good and the prices are great (most meals US$3-4), keeping the restaurant busy from morning till night.
Cafetería Masapan (7 Calle, between Av. República and Av. San Isidro, 6 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), right behind the Gran Hotel París, is an extremely popular, cavernous buffet restaurant. The extensive buffet always has a lot of low-priced choices, including a few vegetarian plates. A typical meal here ranges from US$3.50-7.50, and they also sell baleadas for US$0.70-1. Next door they operate the equally popular Masapan Chicken, where fried chicken and fries combos are US$1.50-3.50.
Located in a white cement building with an air-conditioned dining room and small brick courtyard, the Garífuna restaurant Chabelita (1 Calle, just short of the Río Cangrejal, tel. 504/2440-0027, 10 A.M.-10 P.M. Tues.-Sun., dinner only Mon.), has some of the better seafood in town, though you may die of hunger before the food arrives. Don’t go in a hurry and you’ll enjoy yourself. Flavorful conch soup, fried snapper, and monster shrimp are served at reasonable prices (US$6-12 per entrée).
For eats right on the beach, try El Guapo (4-11 P.M. Tues.-Thurs., 11 A.M.-11 P.M. Fri.-Sun.), in a champa a few steps west along the beach from the Quinta Real. El Guapo serves a variety of seafood plates, including fish, shrimp, and ceviche for about US$5-10, as well as a good plate of pork chops.
Chef Gentle (tel. 504/2440-1314, 11 A.M.-9:30 P.M. Mon., Wed., Thurs., until 10:30 P.M. Fri.-Sat., until 8:50 P.M. Sun., cash-only) is another beachfront restaurant, recently opened by a Garífuna chef who mastered his trade as a chef on a cruise ship. Service is slow (as usual in Honduras), but the outstanding fish, shrimp, and seafood soup are worth the wait. Those who prefer something other than seafood can order chicken or beef; all meals come with your choice of tajadas or patacones (two types of fried bananas), rice and beans, soup, and a mini green salad. Most plates are US$9-13, and the seafood platter, with shrimp, crawfish, conch, crab legs, fish, and calamari, is US$24. Portions are generous. The restaurant has a pool table and good cocktails as well (but, oddly enough, no bottled water).
Locals heartily recommend the seafood at the Garífuna seafood restaurant La Kabasa (5 Calle in Barrio La Isla), especially its ceviche.
One of the most popular places to eat in town is Expatriate’s Bar (12 Calle, two blocks east of Av. San Isidro, tel. 504/2440-1131, 11 A.M. onward daily), a favorite haunt, as the name suggests, of many foreign residents living in La Ceiba. The menu, including hearty, American-style burritos, barbecued chicken, stuffed baked potatoes, salads, quesadillas with chicken and guacamole, and a generous ribs plate, is of excellent quality and in hearty portions—not cheap but a good value at around US$8-13 a plate, and there is a lunch menu and an “after-midnight” menu that are more reasonably priced. The large thatched-roof bar and patio is on the building’s second story. This is also a good place to come for a beer or two. Locals know it as “Expatriados”; tourists will love that it offers free calls to the United States and Canada, and also that it faces a good handicraft/souvenir store.
If you’re out by the airport, or don’t mind the drive, the restaurant at Rainbow Village (tel. 504/2408-5696, 4-9 P.M. Mon.-Thu., noon-9 P.M. Fri.-Sun., breakfast and lunch for guests only) has all the Honduran standards, along with German specialties like schnitzel and sausage with fries (US$6-8.50), seafood, steaks, and salads. Restaurant guests can use the swimming pool and wireless Internet with an order of US$5 or more.
With all the fresh fish around, it’s nice to hear that a good sushi place has opened in town. Look for the plastic sign that says “sushi” on the opposite side of the street from the mall, by Pizza Hut. It comes highly recommended.
Mango Tango (1 Calle in Barrio La Isla, tel. 504/2440-2091, 6-11 P.M. Wed.-Sun., plus holidays), a large champa restaurant near Hotel Versalles, is a popular spot with a good selection of seafood, as well as pork chops and steak and always at least one vegetarian dish for about US$5-12 a plate. Most entrées include a trip to the salad bar.
Just across the street is the Mr. Arepa, serving up Colombian-style arepas (corn cakes) with a variety of stuffings, from cheese to seafood (US$2.35-6).
Next door to Mango Tango and across from Hotel Versalles is Mamma Mias, serving pizza and sandwiches (including a Philly cheesesteak). There is a mini-golf here too.
Anyone with a hankering for a steak should head to the open-air restaurant La Ponderosa (Av. 14 de Julio between 17 and 18 Calles, open for dinner only), which serves up generously portioned churrascos with salad and sliced plantains, as well as grilled chicken and pork, and shrimp 10 ways (US$9.50-12). There is often live music on the weekend.
La Plancha (tel. 504/2443-2304, 11 A.M.-2 P.M. and 5-11 P.M. daily), just off 9 Calle by the Esso gas station, near the stadium, serves arguably the best steaks in town (US$12), pinchos, and other hearty Honduran standards in a two-story converted house, complete with linen tablecloths and napkins. Those who have had their fill of meat can choose from fish, shrimp, calamari, and conch in a variety of preparations, or from an assortment of pastas (US$8-12.50).
While the market is a good source of fresh fruits and vegetables, the supermarket Despensa Familiar (7 A.M.-7 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 7 A.M.-4 P.M. Sun.), right at the corner of the market, is perfect for picking up the rest of the items on your list. There is another branch opposite the bus terminal, next door to Hotel Molina.
INFORMATION AND SERVICES
A fairly good resource for tourist information is the Unidad Turística Municipal (8 Calle between Av. 14 de Julio and Av. San Isidro, tel. 504/2440-3041, email@example.com, 8 A.M.-4:30 P.M. Mon.-Fri.), half a block from the central park, with information on hotels, local attractions, and tours. Each week they update their information, which can be especially helpful for airline and bus schedules. David Meza, the office’s Culture, Arts and Sports Coordinator, speaks English, and can also be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504/9555-2151.
A somewhat helpful online source for tourist information can be found at www.visitalaceiba.com.
For airline tickets and other travel information, try Paso Travel Service (Av. San Isidro between 11 and 12 Calles, tel. 504/2443-1990, email@example.com, 7:30 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Sat.). Some English is spoken.
Several banks downtown will change dollars, including Banco Ficohsa, Banco Atlántida, and Banco de Occidente. Ficohsa and Occidente also receive Western Union wires, while Atlántida receives MoneyGram. BAC Bamer (Av. San Isidro, between 5 and 6 Calles, tel. 504/2443-3330, 9 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 9 A.M.-noon Sat.) advances cash on Visa and MasterCard accounts with no commission. There’s a Citibank on the west side of the park, but be forewarned that U.S. accounts are not fully linked here. If you need a bank on a Sunday, try at the Mega Plaza Mall, where at least Banco Atlántida (who isn’t requiring an account to change dollars) is open 10 A.M.-4 P.M. There is also a branch of Western Union and an ATM right next door to the Unidad Turística Municipal, and an ATM around the corner from the Gran Hotel París (head to the left when walking out the door of the hotel).
Honducor (Av. Morazán between 13 and 14 Calles, tel. 504/2442-0030, 8 A.M.-4 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.) is several blocks southwest of the square, and Express Mail Service is available. Hondutel (one block east of Av. 14 de Julio between 5 and 6 Calles—look for the orange tower) is open 24 hours a day.
Of the many Internet cafés in town, the national chain MultiNet (7:30 A.M.-8 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 8 A.M.-4:45 P.M. Sun.) has a branch two blocks north of the park on Avenida San Isidro, and charges US$1 per hour, with webcams, fax service, and phone booths (US$0.05/minute to U.S. and Canada) available too. Next door to the Gran Hotel París on the central square is the Internet café Europ@net (8 A.M.-6 P.M. Mon.-Sat. and 9:30 A.M.-1 P.M. Sun.), which charges US$0.25 for 10 minutes or US$1 per hour. Over in Barrio La Isla, there is an Internet café around the corner from La Kabasa. At the bus station, two doors down from the Banco de Occidente, Universal Internet Café charges US$0.80 for half an hour of Internet and US$1.30 for an hour; calls to the United States are US$0.08 per minute.
Run by an English-speaking owner who spent some time in the United States, Lavamatic Ceibeño (Av. Pedro Nufio between 5 and 6 Calles in Barrio La Isla, tel. 504/2443-0246, 7 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), not far from downtown, has American-style, self-service washers and dryers for US$1 per load, and drop-off service for US$1.50 for a wash and dry with soap.
Lavandería Super Clean (16 Calle just off Av. San Isidro, 8 A.M.-5:30 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.) is south of the square toward the highway.
For anyone looking to take Spanish classes in La Ceiba, there are a couple of choices. Central America Spanish School (Av. San Isidro between 12 and 13 Calles, tel./fax 504/2440-1707, www.ca-spanish.com) has offices in La Ceiba and the Bay Islands. The bright, motivated small staff offers 20 hours of individual classes, as well as a homestay with a local family, for US$220, or US$150 without a homestay (add US$50 to either option for a one-time application and materials fee). At least once a week, classes are held outside of the classroom at a nearby destination like Pico Bonito or Sambo Creek. The school has offices in Roatan, Utila, and Copán and can arrange multiweek Spanish study between the different locations if desired.
Another option is Centro Internacional de Idiomas (tel. 504/2440-1557, www.hondurasspanish.com), offering 20 hours of classes per week for US$140, or with a week’s homestay with three meals a day for US$230. They can arrange “eco-adventure” tours that combine with Spanish lessons, and also offer classes specializing in medical Spanish.
There are pharmacies all over town, including Kielsa (Calle Hospital Vicente D’Antoni and 15 Calle, tel. 504/2443-2970) and VaVer (9 Calle between Av. 14 de Julio and San Isidro, tel. 504/2443-3545).
If you need to see a doctor, and not just a pharmacist, the biggest clinic in town is the Hospital D’Antoni, on the road heading toward the sea and city center by the mall. The hospital was established by Standard Fruit of Honduras (Dole) to service its workers, their families, and the community. Another highly regarded clinic is Medicentro, on 13 Calle just east of Avenida 14 de Julio.
For the police, dial 504/2441-0795, or simply 199. For the fire department, dial 504/2442-2695 or 198. If you need an ambulance, call the Red Cross at 504/2433-0707 or 195.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Because of its strategic location in the center of the north coast, La Ceiba is a major transportation hub for the Bay Islands, the Mosquitia, and other towns and villages on Honduras’s Caribbean coast.
Golosón International Airport is 12 kilometers from downtown La Ceiba on the highway toward Tela. Airport taxis parked at the terminal usually charge US$8 for a private cab to the city center, or US$10.50 to the ferry terminal. Their company (tel. 504/2442-1020, www.cotagohl.com) can also be used for service by the hour, and trips to places such as Copán Ruinas and Trujillo, or as far as Guatemala and Nicaragua. If you’re light on luggage, you can also walk out of the airport to the highway and pay much less—offer US$1 per person. A taxi from downtown should cost US$3.25 and arrive one hour before flight departure. There is a storefront selling potato chips, sodas, and sandwiches (US$4-4.75), as well as the usual Espresso Americano. If you’re especially hungry, walk out of the terminal and cross the parking lot (but remaining well within the airport grounds) to a little yellow building that has a buffet and an á la carte menu. There is a BAC Bamer bank (open 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Mon.-Sat.), Banco LaFise, and three ATMs. Thrifty Car Rental (tel. 504/2442-1532) has a counter in the airport. Domestic flights are subject to a US$2 departure tax, payable after check-in, at the Banco LaFise (where you can also change dollars and lempiras).
Note: Because of its limited facilities, the La Ceiba airport cannot handle poor weather conditions and shuts down frequently during heavy rains and poor visibility. If you are traveling to or from the Bay Islands or the Mosquitia in bad weather, don’t be surprised to get stuck for a couple of days.
Low-cost carrier Easy Sky (tel. 504/2445-0537) has caused a revolution in flights between La Ceiba and Roatan (US$29.50 each way), making them nearly as cheap as the ferry, and you arrive in fifteen minutes.
Taca Regional (formerly Isleña, tel. 504/2458-0222, www.tacaregional.com) has offices in the Mega Plaza Mall (tel. 504/2441-3190, 8 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.) and at the airport (tel. 504/2442-1967). Taca Regional flies two to three times daily to Roatan, and three times per week nonstop to Tegucigalpa. Connecting service to San Pedro Sula is available.
The Sosa office is downtown on the parque (tel. 504/2443-2519, www.aerolineasosa.com, 7 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 7 A.M.-noon Sat.), and there’s another at the airport (tel. 504/2442-1512). Sosa flies to Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, and all three of the Bay Islands every day, with multiple flights per day to Tegus (US$88), San Pedro (US$73), and Roatan (US$55, but often on special for even less), except there are no Guanaja flights on Sunday. To the Mosquitia, Sosa flies to Brus Laguna (US$113 one-way) on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and to Puerto Lempira once daily Monday-Saturday.
The relatively new airline Lahnsa (tel. 504/2442-1283, www.lahnsa.com) has twice-daily service to Guanaja and San Pedro Sula, and flies between La Ceiba and Roatan three times a day. Charter service is also available to Tegucigalpa and Puerto Lempira.
Also servicing the Mosquitia, Aerocaribe (tel. 504/2442-1085 or 504/2442-2569) has flights to Ahuas (US$130), Belén (US$114), Brus Laguna (US$120), Palacios (US$114), Puerto Lempira (US$130), and Wampusirpi (US$145). (These prices are one-way; there is a small discount for round-trip flights.) Don’t look for a counter—it’s a tiny office wedged between the counters and the entrance to the waiting area—if a flight is taking off soon, you’ll easily spot the line of folks with boxes of goods to take back home to the Mosquitia. Aerocaribe’s main office is on Avenida San Isidro between 13 and 14 Calle.
Cayman Airways (tel. 504/2442-1075) has Friday and Monday flights between La Ceiba and Grand Cayman Island, perfect for that long weekend getaway (around US$250 round-trip).
Rollins Air (tel. 504/2440-2696 or 504/9746-4916, www.rollinsair.com) has a desk at the airport, offering charter flights around Honduras and Central America. They have plans in the works for “One Region Air Tours”—sightseeing of the Bay Islands, the ruins at Copán, and the parks and rivers of the mainland—as well as air/land packages.
Central Bus Terminal
The central bus terminal on Boulevard 15 de Septiembre is west of downtown, just across the railroad tracks. Taxis to or from the terminal cost US$1; taxis to the airport charge US$5.25. Basic meals and snacks can be bought at stands and eateries at the terminal. There is a public bathroom (US$0.15), an Internet café, several places from which to place inexpensive international and domestic calls, and a couple of banks and pharmacies. Money can be changed and Western Union transfers retrieved at Banco Ficensa (8 A.M.-3:30 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.), or at Banco de Occidente.
Note: Schedules and prices are subject to frequent change, so be sure to double-check the information provided here upon arrival.
To San Pedro Sula: Catisa Tupsa (tel. 504/2441-2539) has hourly buses 6 A.M.-2:15 P.M., with a final bus at 3:30 P.M. (US$5.25). Diana Express (tel. 504/2441-0069) has departures 8:30 A.M., 9:30 A.M., 1:30 P.M., 3:30 P.M., and 4:30 P.M. (US$5.25). The ride is roughly 3.5 hours. Mirna, Cotraipbal, and Rey Express also service this route.
Tegucigalpa: Direct buses take seven hours with stops in Tela (75 minutes, US$3.30) and El Progreso (2.5 hours, US$5.40); there are five departures daily from La Ceiba (3 A.M., 7:30 A.M., 9:15 A.M., 12:30 P.M., and 4 P.M.) with Kamaldy (tel. 504/2441-2028). Cristina (tel. 504/2441-6741 or 504/2441-6380, www.transportescristina.com) has buses departing from Tegucigalpa starting at 5:45 A.M., with the last at 3:30 P.M. From La Ceiba, buses depart at 3:30 A.M., 6:15 A.M., 7:30 A.M., 9:30 A.M., 12:30 P.M., and 4 P.M. Both lines charge US$12.50. A new option is with the “luxury” busline San Miguel Plus (tel. 504/2441-2247), with comfortable air-conditioned buses doing the Ceiba-Tela-Tegus run. Between Tegus and either La Ceiba or Tela, the fare is US$18.50 for the standard seat and US$26 for the luxury one. Departures from Tegucigalpa are at 5:30 A.M., noon, and 4 P.M. from the Centro Comercial Carrion in Colonia Las Torres.
To Tela: Local buses take two hours and depart from La Ceiba every hour between 4:30 A.M. and 6 P.M. (US$2.25). Catisa Tupsa (tel. 504/2441-2539) has hourly buses 6 A.M.-2:15 P.M., and a last bus at 3:30 P.M. for US$4.20; the ride to Tela takes 90 minutes. Departures with Diana Express (tel. 504/2441-0069) are the same as the buses headed to San Pedro Sula, and cost US$4.20. Departures with Cristina (tel. 504/2441-6741) are the same as those heading to Tegucigalpa. Buses depart from Tela (tel. 504/2448-1300) starting at 4:45 A.M., with the last at 5:45 P.M. If you want to go “luxury” with San Miguel Plus (tel. 504/2448-2482), buses depart Tela at roughly 10:30 A.M., 4:30 P.M., and 7:30 P.M. (the exact time depends on how much traffic there has been between Tegucigalpa and Tela), and the fare is US$8 standard and US$10.50 luxury. Local buses take much longer, but charge only US$2.35.
To Trujillo: Local buses take 4.5 hours, and there are eight buses between 4 A.M. and 4 P.M. (US$6.40). Direct buses with Cotraipbal depart 9 A.M.-7 P.M. on the hour (US$8.70).
To Tocoa: Many local buses depart daily between 4:30 A.M. and 5:15 P.M. for the three-hour trip (US$3.70).
To Nuevo Armenia and Jutiapa: Twice-daily buses take 90 minutes, departing at irregular hours (US$1.50).
To Corozal and Sambo Creek: Buses depart from La Ceiba every half hour between 6:15 A.M. and 6:10 P.M.; departing from Sambo Creek (and then passing by Corozal), the first bus is at 5 A.M. and the last at 4:30 P.M. (US$0.65 to Corozal, US$0.75 to Sambo Creek). To get to these villages, you can also hop on any westbound bus to Tocoa, Trujillo, Jutiapa, or Olanchito, get off at the highway turnoff, and walk the short distance into town.
To La Unión (for Cuero y Salado): Several buses depart daily with the last at 5 P.M. (US$0.90).
To El Porvenir: Several buses depart daily with the last at 5 P.M. (US$0.75).
To Yaruca and Urraco (for the Río Cangrejal): Departures from La Ceiba are at 9:30 A.M., 11 A.M., 12:30 P.M., 2 P.M., and 4 P.M. (US$1.80 to Yaruca, 2.5 hours; US$2.40 to Urraco, 3 hours). Return buses depart from Urraco at 5 A.M., 6 A.M., 7 A.M., 8 A.M., and noon. On Sunday there are only three buses. It’s possible to take a taxi out to the Urraco turnoff, just across the Río Cangrejal bridge, and wait for a bus or jalón (ride) there, instead of at the bus terminal.
To Santa Ana: Buses depart every two hours between 6 A.M. and 3 P.M., and the one-hour ride costs US$0.85. To get to La Ceiba from Santa Ana, flag down any eastbound local bus passing on the highway.
Hedman Alas (tel. 504/2441-5348, www.hedmanalas.com), with its terminal next to the supermarket on the highway exit toward Trujillo, has the most comfortable (and priciest) buses, departing at 5:15 A.M., 10 A.M., 2:20 P.M., and 6:50 P.M. To San Pedro Sula, “Ejecutivo” service is US$17, “Plus” is US$25. The first three buses continue on to Tegucigalpa, US$28 for “Ejecutivo,” US$37 for “Plus” service. From San Pedro Sula, connections can be made directly onward to Copán (US$35), Guatemala City (US$55), and Antigua, Guatemala (US$61).
Cotuc (tel. 504/2444-2181) has a small ticket office in Barrio Buenos Aires on the La Ceiba-Tela road, where semi-direct buses to and from Trujillo (US$4.75, 3.5 hours, 9 A.M.-7 P.M. on the hour) and San Pedro Sula (US$4.25, three hours, last passing at 5 P.M.) stop frequently throughout the day.
Viana (tel. 504/2441-2330, www.vianatransportes.com) offers direct service between La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula, departing at 6:30 A.M., 10:30 A.M., and 3 P.M. from La Ceiba, returning at 10:30 A.M., 1:45 P.M., and 5:30 P.M. (US$14, or US$25 for executive class). There is also a 12:30 P.M. bus every day but Sunday. The 6:30 A.M., 10:30 A.M., and 3 P.M. buses continue on to Tegucigalpa, and on Friday and Sunday there is also a direct bus departing La Ceiba at 2 P.M., arriving in six hours to Tegus. Return buses depart at 6:30 A.M., 9:30 A.M., and 1 P.M. Regular service is US$29 for Ceiba-Tegucigalpa, while executive is US$50 (and the direct bus is cheaper than the regular bus that stops in San Pedro). The ticket office and bus departure point are at the Esso gas station a few blocks west of the main bus terminal.
Taxis within this area should only cost US$1-1.30 per person (jumping to US$2.60 after 9 P.M.), but expect drivers to stop and pick up other passengers. Taxis to the airport from here typically charge US$2.50-3.50 for one person, or US$1 per person for a group of four; taxis to the ferry dock cost a little more.
The 101-kilometer, two-lane highway west to Tela is in fairly decent condition and takes a bit more than an hour to drive if there isn’t traffic, up to two hours if there is. East of La Ceiba, the highway continues along the coastal plain to Jutiapa, where it cuts through a low point in the Cordillera Nombre de Dios into the Valle del Aguán at Savá, 80 kilometers from La Ceiba, and continues on to Trujillo, another 86 kilometers. The entire stretch is generally well maintained, although that can change quickly during a bad rainy season.
Agencies include Thrifty Rent a Car (tel. 504/2442-1532) at the airport; Avis (tel. 504/2441-2802, www.avis.com.hn), with an office downtown and an office along the highway to Tela; and Econo Rent-a-Car (tel. 504/2442-8686 in town, or 504/2442-1688 at the airport, www.econorentacarhn.com). Hotels like La Quinta and Gran París can usually help with car rentals as well. Most charge around US$50 a day for the least expensive vehicle, with insurance and unlimited mileage.
The municipal dock, called Cabotaje, is east of the Río Cangrejal, reached by a road turning off the Trujillo highway two kilometers past the Río Cangrejal bridge on the road toward Sambo Creek, on the left side. The side road is three kilometers out to the dock, making it too far to walk, so it’s best to take a taxi from town (US$3).
Note: The schedules listed are all for times of high traffic. When demand is low, trips are sometimes cut back, so it’s always a good idea to call ahead and check.
The MV Galaxy Wave (tel. 504/2445-1795, www.safewaymaritime.com) departs Cabotaje to Roatan (US$26 regular, US$32 first-class, 90 minutes) daily: It leaves Roatan for La Ceiba at 7 A.M., returns from La Ceiba to Roatan at 9:30 A.M., makes another trip from Roatan to La Ceiba at 2 P.M., and comes back from La Ceiba to Roatan at 4:30 P.M. The large ferry has comfortable indoor seating with videos playing during the ride, as well as plenty of room to stand on deck. In rough weather, the ferry may be cancelled—call to check.
The Utila Princess II (tel. 504/2425-3390) travels between Cabotaje and Utila (US$25, one hour) daily on the following schedule: Utila to La Ceiba at 6:20 A.M.; La Ceiba to Utila at 9:30 A.M.; Utila to La Ceiba at 2 P.M.; and La Ceiba to Utila at 4 P.M. This is a much smaller ferry, resulting in a rougher ride, but nothing unbearable (trust me, I get seasick easily). Note: There are often extra trips during Semana Santa, except on Good Friday, when the ferry doesn’t run at all.
Competition has entered the ferry market on Utila, with the Utila Island Express (tel. 504/9962-0787), which runs the same service for US$21, in a somewhat smaller boat. Departures from Utila are at 6:10 A.M. and 1 P.M., while departures from La Ceiba are at 10 A.M. and 3 P.M. On Utila, the boat departs from the dock behind Bush’s Supermarket.
Although the two ferry docks are just steps apart, they each have their own taxis. Those at Utila Princess charge US$2.60 to town and US$8-10.50 to the airport, while the taxis at the Galaxy Wave charge US$10.50 to town and even more to the airport.
Lagoon Marina (tel. 504/2440-0614, cell 504/9895-3411, www.lagoonmarinalaceiba.com), just behind Cabotaje, has long been the best-equipped marina in Honduras, with dockage for US$19-58 per day, depending on the size of the boat and the number of days docked.
A bus to the Cabotaje can be caught on Avenida República, half a block from the central park, but it can take an hour to reach the dock, while a taxi gets there in 15 minutes. If you have your own wheels, there is a secure parking lot at the Cabotaje for US$6 per day.
SOUTH AND WEST OF LA CEIBA
Forming part of the eastern boundary of Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, the Río Cangrejal tumbles off the flanks of the jungle-covered mountains through a narrow, boulder-strewn valley before reaching the Caribbean at La Ceiba. Anyone spending a couple of days in La Ceiba should be sure to visit the middle or upper reaches of the river, at least on a day trip, to enjoy the spectacular scenery, take a dip in one of the innumerable swimming holes, or raft some of the finest white-water in Central America.
A very well-maintained dirt road winds upstream along the Río Cangrejal, turning off the La Ceiba-Trujillo highway just past the Saopin bridge outside of La Ceiba. The road follows the Valle de Cangrejal through the villages of Las Mangas, Yaruca, and Toncontín, ending in Urraco.
Not long after the turnoff, on the right-hand side is the Pico Bonito National Park visitors center (7 A.M.-4 P.M. daily, US$7), where visitors can enter to follow one of two fairly moderate and well-marked trails three kilometers to El Bejuco waterfall. The river was once crossed exclusively by a basket and pulley system, but a hanging bridge has been added, and the spectacular crossing can be made either way. If you’re not going to hike, but just want to cross the bridge, take some photos, and wander around for a few minutes, it’s US$1. Camping overnight is possible for US$5.25, and tents can be rented at the visitors center for an additional charge. Although the park officially opens at 7 A.M., the staff arrives by 6 A.M. and is happy to let in birders and other early risers.
Thirteen kilometers from the Saopin bridge on the road along the Río Cangrejal is the community of El Naranjo, an interesting stop for its handicraft shop Artesanías Saravia and its 90-minute community tour, which includes a visit to the school church, orchid farm, an agriculture farm, the handicraft workshop, and a final stop at a swimming hole of the Río Cangrejal, where guests are treated to seasonal fruit. The tour is just US$8 for 1-4 people, or US$16 for a group of 5 or larger. Other guided walks are available as well—see www.guaruma.org and click on “What We Do,” then “Services” for information about three trails, bike rentals, and cabins organized by a local youth group called Guaruma (tel. 504/2427-6782, firstname.lastname@example.org). The Guaruma Trail is an excellent introduction to Pico Bonito, and the US$2.50-5.25 per person fee (depending on the size of the group) for guiding is a great way to support the organization’s efforts to involve local youth in ecotourism and environmental protection. Unfortunately, the guides are mostly Spanish-speaking; if Guaruma can’t find an English-speaking guide for you, the trail is easy enough to follow on your own, just try to get pointed in the right direction from the Guaruma office at kilometer 12 along the road (and perhaps consider making a small donation to their office, as they provide maintenance to the trail, and no visitors fee to the Pico Bonito park is charged from their trails).
Las Mangas, just below where the road crosses a bridge, is a particularly lovely spot to admire the emerald-green mountainsides and go for a swim.
Beyond Las Mangas, the road follows the river valley upstream on the western bank to the aldea (village) of El Pital. Upstream from here, the river passes through a tight gorge, which the road bypasses by crossing over a low ridge, coming down the far side to meet the river again at the village of Río Viejo.
At Río Viejo, three smaller rivers join to form the Río Cangrejal: the Río Viejo, the Río Blanco, and the Río Yaruca. The main road continues up to Yaruca and then to the village of Toncontín. There is plenty of hiking, and horseback riding can be arranged.
The road continues on to Urraco, from where a deteriorated road leads down to Olanchito in the Río Aguán valley, making for great mountain biking. The bike trip from La Ceiba can easily be accomplished in one day, and convincing a bus driver in Olanchito to put your wheels on a La Ceiba-bound bus is not that difficult.
Usually five buses daily make the bouncy and uncomfortable 3-hour run between La Ceiba and Urraco (US$2.40). It is also easy to catch the bus at the Saopin bridge, right where the dirt road up to Urraco begins. Be sure to check when the last bus leaves Urraco back for La Ceiba, as car traffic is scarce in the afternoon. By private car, the road is generally well maintained as far as Río Viejo, beyond which four-wheel-drive and high-clearance vehicles are recommended. A taxi to Urraco might charge around US$16.
RAFTING THE CANGREJAL
For rafters and kayakers, the Río Cangrejal is one of the premier destinations in Central America. Depending on the water level, the four distinct sections of the river boast dozens of different rapids, ranging from Class II to Class V, offering stretches exciting enough for river-running enthusiasts of any skill level. Total novices can take a several-hour trip, in which they will be shown the very basics of boating skills and sent down an appropriate stretch of the river with a group of trained guides. More experienced rafters and kayakers can tackle the more daunting rapids. Although it’s not common, rafters and kayakers have been injured and even killed on the Cangrejal, so don’t take river trips lightly.
Most rafters will go down the lower section of the river, also known as the “commercial” section. Although fairly safe all in all, this section has a couple of long rapids, Class III-IV depending on the water, more than sufficient to get your adrenaline flowing. Above the lower stretch is the middle, starting at the bridge at Las Mangas. This is considered the most complex stretch of the river, littered with boulders of all sizes, a veritable labyrinth of drop-offs, chutes, and all manner of problems. One particular drop-off is not overly difficult, but on the far side is an underwater hazard known as El Submarino, which can suck an unsuspecting boater under. Most boaters wisely portage around El Submarino. Although it is possible to raft the middle, usually only kayakers brave this stretch.
The top, between the gorge and El Pital, and the upper, between El Pital and Las Mangas, both have several Class III-V rapids, plenty of boulders and drop-offs, and stretches shooting through bare rock riverbed. Like the middle, these stretches are more frequented by kayaks than rafts, although Omega Tours regularly rafts the top section. This section is recommended for expert rafters only.
The rapids can be enjoyed year-round but are best run during or just after the fall rains when the river is deep. September-March are considered the best months, with the most water in November and December. That said, tour operators do occasionally cancel their trips during the November rains, because the water gets too high (and therefore dangerous).
With Omega Tours (tel. 504/2440-0334, www.omegatours.info), half-day rafting trips cost US$59 per person, including lunch and a night in their guesthouse (or US$20 off one of their fancier rooms). Omega Tours is the only operator in La Ceiba with internationally licensed rafting guides, some with more than 10 years of experience rafting around the world, and the only one that rafts the upper part of the Río Cangrejal, with its Class V rapids.
La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras (tel. 504/2441-3279 or 504/9929-7532, www.lamoskitia.hn) is run by veteran Honduras explorer Jorge Salaverri. White-water rafting, kayaking through mangroves, and hiking trips cost US$40, and include a night either in their dorm in La Ceiba or their guesthouse at the Río Cangrejal. Horseback riding is available for US$45.
With Garífuna Tours (tel. 504/2440-3252, www.garifunatours.com), rafting trips on the Cangrejal cost US$44 per person.
There are other companies that offer rafting, some of which have worrisome safety records. If the waters are high and Omega and Eco-Aventuras are not running trips because they feel it’s too dangerous, we strongly suggest that you think long and hard before booking with another agency so that you can raft that day. It may be a day to think about visiting the thermal baths, going for a horseback ride, or trying the canopy line instead.
SAFETY IN ADVENTURE TRAVEL
Thousands of travelers a year participate in adventure activities in Honduras, the vast majority of them with no greater mishap than perhaps delayed luggage. Safety, however, should never be taken lightly, and would-be adventure travelers would be smart to thoroughly check out any outfitter they are considering, both in advance and once they reach Honduras.
We are distressed to report that since 2007 two rafters have died while on rafting excursions on the Cangrejal. Both of these tragic incidents occurred on days when the Río Cangrejal was especially high from recent rains; the accident of October 2008 was at a section of the river that included Class V rapids, considered suitable only for experienced rafters even under the best of conditions. (For perspective, Class VI rapids are considered unrunnable.) Guide companies such as Omega Tours and La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras have strong records for safety, but again it’s recommended that you research any companies before signing up, and it’s crucial to know your own skill level.
According to the International Scale of River Difficulty, Class V rapids are:
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable eskimo roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.
The website www.americanwhitewater.org has an excellent section on rafting safety, as well as descriptions of the rapid classifications.
Parque Nacional Pico Bonito
Chances are the first thing you noticed when you arrived in La Ceiba, especially if you came in by plane, was that massive emerald-green spike of a mountain looming beyond the airport. This is the 2,435-meter-high Pico Bonito, centerpiece of the national park of the same name. Nearby (within the national park), and slightly higher, is another spike, the Montaña de Corozal, jutting 2,480-meters into the sky. Covering 107,300 hectares in the departments of Atlántida and Yoro, of which 49,000 hectares are a buffer zone, Pico Bonito is the largest protected area in Honduras apart from the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. It is also one of the least explored, a dense, trackless jungle, ranging from humid tropical broadleaf forest in the lower regions to cloud forest on the peaks.
Some 20 river systems pour off the park’s mountains; the rivers display their fullest splendor during the fall-winter rainy season. Because of its rugged, natural isolation, Pico Bonito is a refuge for animal life seen only rarely in other regions of the country. Still, getting in to a place where one might run across a jaguar or ocelot requires some serious effort.
The park can easily be accessed via the Río Zacate, a river pouring off the southern flanks of the mountains to the west of La Ceiba. Here, you can hike to La Ruidosa waterfall, reached by a well-kept trail through lush jungle alive with birds and sometimes monkeys at the edge of the mountains. Continue upstream to explore additional falls and look for more wildlife. To get to the Río Zacate, take a bus or drive on the highway toward Tela; the entrance is about 25 kilometers west of La Ceiba. Look for a dirt road turnoff in the middle of a pineapple plantation between kilometer markers 174 and 175 (between the Quebrada Seca and Río Zacate briges), past the highway village of El Pino. Walk straight up the dirt road toward the mountain until it hits a junction with another road, by some power lines. Turn right and continue to the end of the road, where there is a watchman, who should take your US$7 payment and give you a receipt in return. Past the ranch, you’ll come to the river’s edge at a waterfall with a deep pool, good for swimming. Look for a series of stone steps, which lead up the hillside through the jungle to the Ruidosa falls, an impressive sight in the jungle. The walk takes about an hour from the ranch and a little less back down. The trail is generally in good condition but can be muddy. The Pico Bonito foundation in La Ceiba may be able to arrange guides to take you farther into the forest along fainter trails. A better option, though, is to go to the village of El Pino along the La Ceiba-Tela highway and get a guide there (easily reached by frequent local buses from the La Ceiba terminal).
Hikers of all ages enjoy exploring Pico Bonito.
The other easy access to the park is from its opposite side, taking the highway through La Ceiba and turning off just after getting through town and crossing the Saopin bridge. The visitors center is a few minutes up the road, which follows the Río Cangrejal up to many ecolodges, and to a suspension bridge that crosses the Cangrejal to take hikers onto the mountain on a moderately steep hike.
For the adventurer, it would be hard to find more of a challenge in Honduras than a trip to the top of Pico Bonito. It may look like a relatively short jaunt, but in fact it takes a solid 9-10 days of hacking through the jungle while clinging to a steep, muddy hillside, hoping there are no snakes nearby. Jorge Salaverri of La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras (tel. 504/2441-3279 or 504/9929-7532, www.lamoskitia.hn) has climbed the summit and can organize a trip (well in advance) for those who want to try their luck.
Suspension bridges cross the Río Cangrejal into Pico Bonito.
For in-depth information about the park, you can contact Geovany Cruz at the offices of Fundación Parque Nacional Pico Bonito (FUPNAPIB, tel. 504/2442-3551, email@example.com, 8 A.M.-5 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.), located on the outskirts of town in Colonia Palmira.
The tourist committee at El Pino has fallen apart, but you might be able to find someone able to guide you into the Parque Nacional Pico Bonito near Río Zacate to see La Ruidosa waterfall, the forest, and, if you’re lucky, howler monkeys. Ask in town for Efrain Cuellar, or ask at Vivero Natural View along the highway, opposite Ferretería Águila.
By the Vivero is Natural View Ecotourism Park (tel. 504/2431-3147, US$16 s/d), a budget hotel within walking distance of Pico Bonito park, about 10 kilometers from La Ceiba going toward Tela along the highway. Catch any Tela-bound bus and get off at El Pino. The rustic adobe and thatch-roof cabins are clean and cool, with two double beds and cable TV, but cold-water showers only. The grounds, dotted with fruit trees and flowering plants, feature a two-story champa-style restaurant, a covered hammock area, a soccer field, and a slightly oldish pool. Staff can organize tours into Pico Bonito and the Cuero y Salado refuge with English-speaking guides.
In the town of El Pino is Posada El Buen Pastor, a clean, quiet two-story house with four rooms on the top floor. There’s a large common area that looks out over the highway and into El Pino. All rooms have private baths with hot water, and breakfast is included in the room price. Rooms are around US$21 and can accommodate up to three people. Owner Doña Vita lives on the first floor. El Buen Pastor is on the main highway at the entrance to El Pino’s public school; look for the large, two-story yellow house with a small sign.
Rapiditos (minibuses) travel from El Pino to La Ceiba from 5:30 A.M. until around 8 P.M. (always double-check for the latest schedule). Minibuses return from La Ceiba to El Pino from 6 A.M. until 11 P.M. Regular buses depart from La Ceiba bus terminal (they park next to the Banco Occidental until 6 P.M., when they start departing from Taquitos Mexicanos Restaurant, Barrio Potreritos (but all buses at least pass by the bus terminal). The bus costs about US$0.50 from the terminal and a couple of lempiras more from the center of town. Buses heading to La Masica, San Francisco, Santa Ana, San Juan Pueblo, Esparta, and even Tela (as long as it’s not a direct bus) will also drop you off at El Pino, and they charge about the same.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado
Formed by the estuaries of the Cuero, Salado, and San Juan Rivers, which flow off the flanks of the Cordillera Nombre de Dios to the south, the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge comprises 13,225 hectares of wetlands and coastline filled with plant and animal life endangered elsewhere in Honduras. Jaguars, howler and white-faced monkeys, manatees (the reserve’s mascot), turtles, crocodiles, caimans, fishing eagles, hawks, and several species of parrots are among the 196 bird and 35 mammal species identified within the reserve’s boundaries.
The swampy, mangrove-covered wetlands perform several important ecological functions. The dense walls of mangrove roots in the water act as a nursery for marine animals, such as shrimp and several fish species, who make their way out to the open ocean after they’ve had a chance to grow. The vegetation serves as a way station for many migratory birds and as a buffer zone protecting the surrounding area during ocean storms and floods coming down from the mountains.
Much of the north coast was formerly covered with similar wetlands, but most have since been converted to pasture or plantations—a process all too evident as Cuero y Salado is surrounded by encroaching cattle-grazing land. An estimated 40 percent of the reserve’s wetlands have been drained since 1987, when the land was donated by Standard Fruit to become a reserve. Recent efforts to transition cattle-ranchers into the forestry industry (primarily planting palm and mahogany) seem to be working. However, chemicals leaking in from nearby pineapple and African palm plantations also threaten the wetlands.
By far the best way to appreciate Cuero y Salado is on a guided boat tour of the reserve, either with another tour or by just showing up at the visitors center, although finding a boat can be difficult at times, so calling ahead is worthwhile. The trips, taking about two hours, tour through different waterways, with frequent stops to listen and watch for monkeys, birds, crocodiles, and other wetland denizens. Early-morning tours are the best for wildlife-watching. The guides are people from the community who have received training and are very knowledgeable about the ecosystems and wildlife in the area. They can usually help visitors get a good look at a troop of howler monkeys or some of the more colorful bird species in the reserve. Don’t count on seeing one of the reserve’s famed manatees—not only are they shy, they tend to hang out at the far side of the reserve. Be sure to bring some repellent or wear long sleeves—the mosquitoes aren’t too bad on the beach or at the encampment but can be fierce in the swamp. There is a wide-open, deserted stretch of Caribbean beach that can be reached by foot from the visitors center (although it’s a longish walk), perfect for a cooling-off swim after your boat tour.
The waterways of Cuero y Salado are visited by motorized lancha or by canoe.
For tourists, the interior section of the reserve is accessible by boat only, but don’t be surprised to see a couple of locals standing on the shore farther in the swamps, fishing for their dinner. They know all the paths to get into the reserve and don’t mind getting munched by mosquitoes to catch a free meal for their families.
The park is open 6 A.M.-6 P.M. daily. A US$10 (US$5 for students with credential) entrance fee is charged above the price of the boat ride. Visitors who are not with a group can then choose between a canoe (for one or two passengers, US$6, plus US$10.50 for a guide) or a larger boat (which can accommodate up to eight passengers) with a guide (US$17 for 1-2 passengers, US$8 each additional passenger, and another US$8 for the guide). Canoeing is ideal, as it’s easier to spot animals when you don’t have a buzzing motor to scare them off, and hiring a guide is money well spent, as their eyes are trained to spot every sloth, crocodile, and howler monkey hiding in the foliage. To reserve your boat, call the offices of the Fundación Cuero y Salado (tel. 504/2443-0329) in La Ceiba.
Since the early morning and late afternoon are the best times for wildlife-viewing, some visitors may wish to spend the night. The reserve has a rustic five-bedroom cabin; beds are US$8 per person, although the cabin was being remodeled at the time of writing—contact the Fundación to check on availability. Otherwise, visitors can pitch their own tent for US$4, or rent a tent and sleeping bags from the visitors center for a few more bucks. Locals will cook up a meal for unprepared visitors, but it’s best to come with food. The beach is a great spot for a bonfire cookout (but bring mosquito repellent). Accommodations may be simple, but those who have stayed the night rave about the wildlife out for spotting in the early morning.
Cuero y Salado is 33 kilometers east of La Ceiba. To get there, take a bus or car from La Ceiba past the airport on the road to Tela, and turn right into pineapple fields shortly after crossing the Río Bonito bridge. This road continues to the village of La Unión, but get off where the railroad tracks cross the road. From here, the Ferrocarril Nacional runs a small railcar for US$10 for a solo ride round-trip, or US$5 per person with two or more passengers. There are seven departures a day, at 7 A.M., 8:10 A.M., 9:20 A.M., 10:30 A.M., 11:40 A.M., 12:50 P.M., and 2 P.M. The train returns to La Unión immediately after arriving in the park, with the last return at 2:30 P.M. Prices for returning the following day are 50 percent more. An armed military guide now rides the rail along with guests, due to a holdup (where tourists had their cameras stolen) in 2010. For those saving their pennies, it’s a hot two-hour walk along the rails to reach the visitors center. Buses from La Ceiba to La Unión leave from the main terminal every hour between 6:30 A.M. and 6 P.M. When returning, keep in mind that the last bus bound for La Ceiba passes at 4 P.M.
It’s recommended that independent visitors make reservations with Fundación Cuero y Salado (FUCSA, tel. 504/2443-0329) in La Ceiba for boat tours, as groups often visit the reserve. Staff can also put you in touch with the ferrocarril to reserve your train ride. You can also stop in to the Unidad Turística Municipal on 8 Calle half a block from La Ceiba’s central square for more information.
ALONG THE RÍO CANGREJAL
Located just off the Río Cangrejal is the Omega Jungle Lodge (tel. 504/2440-0334, www.omegatours.info), a relaxed lodge run by a German rafting outfit. Accommodations include a recently upgraded guesthouse, with shared bathroom and communal lounge (US$20 pp), one simple but attractive cabin (sans bathroom) built over a gurgling creek (also US$20 pp, can sleep up to three), and a couple of two-story luxury cabins that can sleep up to five, with high-end amenities and decor (US$116 d, US$20 each additional person). All guests are welcome to use the beautiful outdoor shower in a stone cabana, whose water runs warm by the end of a sunny day. A very good option for a low-priced day of rafting is their one-day package for US$59, including a room in the guesthouse or creek cabin (or US$20 pp off a night in the luxury cabins), lunch, and a day of rafting. Omega offers a wide variety of day trips and longer expeditions, including white-water swimming, jungle hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking, a jungle survival course, and multiday trips near La Ceiba and in the Mosquitia, and is one of the most reputable tour companies in the region. The grounds are lovely, with a small pool, three easy trails, and a thatch-roof restaurant serving tasty international cuisine. There are several vegetarian options and creative dishes such as German sausage and coconut shrimp, all generously portioned (US$5-11.50), as well as some cheaper snacks. Omega is highly eco-conscious, with an earth-friendly septic system, among other features. Laundry service is also available. The lodge is roughly 10 kilometers up the well-maintained dirt road from the highway, and offers a shuttle service from La Ceiba, the ferry dock, and the airport (US$15, US$18, and US$25, respectively; price is per car, up to four passengers).
At the same turnoff is Casa Cangrejal (tel. 504/408-2760, www.casacangrejal.com, US$87 s, US$104 d), a spectacular four-room bed-and-breakfast, built out of stone along a mountain brook (and overlooking a natural swimming pool). Beautifully designed by owner Karen Treherne, the stone home is warmed by the woven tapestries on the walls and luxury linens on the beds. There is a large shared patio with a bar, pool table, lounge furniture, and a grill, where barbecues are occasionally prepared for guests. Amenities include wireless Internet and a small fitness room. There’s no air-conditioning, but rooms stay cool thanks to the foot-thick stone, and each has a fan as well. A cute one-bedroom apartment has been added, less elegant than the rooms on the main property, but still attractively decorated. The apartment is a five-minute walk from the B&B and rents for US$116 per night. Transport can be arranged from either La Ceiba or San Pedro Sula. There are two dogs and two cats on the property, children are not welcome, and credit cards are not accepted.
Just 150 meters after the entrance to Pico Bonito National Park, you’ll find La Villa de Soledad (tel. 504/9967-4548, www.lavilladesoledad.com), a new B&B by longtime Honduras resident (and Honduras tourism and travel expert) John Dupuis and his Honduran wife, Soledad Aguirre. As the editor of a national travel publication, John is a wealth of information on the country, while Soledad is an excellent cook. Single rooms range from US$65-100 depending on the season, and doubles are US$75-110, including breakfast, each with two double beds and a ceiling fan, as well as access to an outdoor porch or terrace. The rooms are tastefully decorated with terra-cotta floors and wood furnishings.
one of the cabins at Cabañas del Bosque, a community-run ecolodge along the Río Cangrejal
The hilltop Cabañas del Bosque (in Las Mangas, tel. 504/2406-5782, www.cangrejal.com, US$18.50 s/d) offers simple wood cabins (each with two rooms) with private bathrooms, fans, and wide porches with breathtaking views of the mountains and jungle (cold water only). Another building, just below the cabins on the hillside, holds a small lounge area and restaurant, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner (US$3.50-4.50); a few handicrafts are sold here too. They are happy to serve nonguests, but call first, so that they can be sure to have supplies on hand. This community-run project is tied in with Guaruma (tel. 504/2427-6782, www.guaruma.org), a nonprofit youth organization dedicated to creating environmental awareness that can provide visitors with knowledgeable guides to the area. It’s best to book a guide in advance through the office in La Ceiba, especially if you need an English-speaker, but it’s also possible to pop into the youth center (usually staffed) to find a guide. Internet is available in the center for US$0.25 for 15 minutes. The group has trails up and down the Río Cangrejal, some longer and more demanding, all quite off the beaten path.
Nearby is El Encanto de Doña Lidia (tel. 504/2440-1308, 9518-4188, firstname.lastname@example.org, US$63 s/d), offering five much pricier cabins with hot water and air-conditioning. The cabins aren’t bad, just rather overpriced—the best is the cabin with green interior walls and two double beds. The hotel is right along the river and has a restaurant, an acceptably clean pool, and kayaks available for rent (US$5.25 for a single-person kayak, US$10.50 for a double). These two hotels are located at kilometer 12 on the Ceiba-Yaruca road.
Inexpensive accommodations can also be had at the Jungle Lodge, operated by La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras (504/2441-3279, www.lamoskitia.hn, US$8 pp), a guesthouse tucked into the forest right along the Río Cangrejal, just opposite the entrance to Omega Lodge. Rooms are free with any tour. Just don’t confuse this with Jungle River Lodge, a bit down the road, which has buggy rooms and a less-than-stellar reputation for rafting safety.
A unique option is the Casa Verde (www.wendygreenyoga.com), along the Río Cangrejal, in a lush setting opposite a slender 75-meter waterfall. Owner Wendy Green prepares organic raw food meals and leads daily yoga classes. With no more than five guests at a time, attention is highly personalized, with profound rejuvenation as the goal (um, you’re supposed to turn off your cell phone). Guests stay either in the riverside guest room in the main house or in an attractive cabin, both with tasteful, modern decor. Weekly rates are US$1,125 per person and include all meals, hiking, and yoga.
Just half a mile from the eastern entrance to the Parque Nacional Pico Bonito is Villas Pico Bonito (tel. 504/2449-0045, U.S. tel. 214/204-2188, www.villaspicobonito.com, US$75-220), a collection of cabins and champas set along the river. While the villas are a bit hodgepodge in their decor and layout, each has a kitchen and, more important, a waterfall and jungle view. The service can be spotty at times, but the setting is one of the best along the river, and a restaurant and an infinity swimming pool are on-site. They have discounts of up to 50 percent off during the low season.
What is perhaps the priciest accommodation on mainland Honduras, Las Cascadas Lodge (tel. 504/9456-0263, U.S. tel. 352/385-7555, www.lascascadaslodge.com) has come back to life after a couple of years closure. The property remains the same—impeccable and upscale, lush and romantic. There are three cabins on the property, each with a private porch, air-conditioning, and all the little luxury touches that one would expect at these prices—because luxury doesn’t come cheap (US$191 pp). A big plus is that a lot is included in the price: all meals, nonalcoholic drinks, the entrance fee to the Parque Nacional Pico Bonito, a visit to a local women’s cooperative, transfers to and from La Ceiba. The friendly manager, Ryan, is happy to arrange any other activities that might interest you, or just leave you alone if you prefer to wander the hotel grounds, hike in their hills, or dip in the swimming holes. Children are welcome only if there are no other guests.
WESTERN SIDE OF PARQUE NACIONAL PICO BONITO
While there are more lodges on the eastern flank of Parque Nacional Pico Bonito (along the Río Cangrejal), the western side has access to equally stunning hiking and is well-located for rafting on the Río Zacate.
One of the finest hotels in Honduras, Lodge at Pico Bonito (tel. 504/2440-0388, U.S. tel. 888/428-0221, www.picobonito.com) provides a taste of what tourist development can look like if done really well. Nestled up against the emerald-green flanks of the Pico Bonito range are 22 wood-and-stone cabins, each with louvered wooden windows and an overhead fan, some with air-conditioning. Six rooms are in individual cabins (“superior plus” cabins with a/c, US$415 s/d, US$335 low season), and the others are in eight two-room cabins (with fan US$307 s/d, US$238 low season, US$58 more with a/c). A 10 percent gratuity charge is added to all rooms, children age 11 and under stay free, and airport transfers and breakfasts are included with each room. The location is really superlative—hundreds of species of birds as well as occasional troops of monkeys and other animals frequently venture down from Pico Bonito to sample the fruit trees around the lodge, making it a fine location for wildlife-watching. Nearby and reached by trail is the Río Coloradito, a steep, narrow river pouring down a narrow, jungle-clad gorge, with an excellent swimming hole. Just below the lodge is a butterfly farm and serpent vivarium, and a free tour is also included with a stay. The management has recently changed, hopefully eliminating some related service issues. The restaurant porch is a perfect place for lunch, as you can bird-watch as you eat; the dining room is paneled with Honduran pine and is a lovely place for dinner. If you tire of hotel dining after a couple of days, they are happy to arrange transportation and dinner in the city of La Ceiba. The lodge is reached from the Ceiba-Tela highway, turning off south at the village of El Pino, eight kilometers west of the airport.
Finca El Eden (tel. 504/3345-2833, email@example.com) is a great budget accommodation run by a German, Berti Harlos, offering backpackers a chance to enjoy the Pico Bonito jungle for not much money. Berti operates a 150-acre ranch—with some 40-odd kinds of exotic fruit trees—just off the La Ceiba-Tela highway, 32 kilometers from La Ceiba and just before the village of Santa Ana. The main building houses a full-service restaurant downstairs, Edelweiss (US$3-10 per plate, 6 A.M.-10 P.M. daily, later on weekends), while upstairs is an open-air champa with floor space for mattresses and mosquito nets (US$5 pp, including purified water). Berti serves the only German beer available in the region, for US$1.50, and fresh juices from the fruit of his own trees. Berti has also built a small cabin on a nearby hilltop, called Mayabell, which also costs US$5 a night to sleep in, plus US$15 if you want to ride horseback to and from (in that case, a guide will lead you there, otherwise you just get a map to Mayabell). Berti will happily help arrange a variety of other horseback or hiking tours for groups, such as a trip to Cuero y Salado. All the direct buses between La Ceiba and San Pedro, except Hedman Alas, will pick up and drop off travelers at Berti’s front door, or you can catch a Santa Ana bus at La Ceiba’s main terminal. From La Ceiba to Santa Ana is US$0.85. The hotel is located between kilometers 158 and 159.
EAST OF LA CEIBA
Playa de Perú
About the best decent beach near La Ceiba, Playa de Perú is reached by a 1.5-kilometer dirt road turning off the Tocoa highway between kilometer markers 205 and 206, about eight kilometers east of the Río Cangrejal bridge. There’s nothing on the beach apart from a few champas built by fishermen and a couple of apparently abandoned restaurants. The beach itself is windswept and unkempt, and usually deserted on weekdays. To get there by public transport, catch a bus headed for Sambo Creek, Tocoa, or Olanchito, get off at the turn (you’ll see a small blue sign on the highway with a palm tree, just after the police station Satuyé), and walk down to the beach.
Not one of the more attractive Garífuna settlements on the Honduran coast, Corozal is an unremarkable fishing village on the beach about 20 kilometers east of La Ceiba. In town are a couple of basic comedores, as well as the waterfront Ocean View hotel and restaurant (tel. 504/2429-1130, www.oceanviewhn.com, restaurant 11 A.M.-11 P.M. daily). The hotel is in an attractive two-story wooden building facing the beach, with four simple but spacious apartments, each with a living/dining area, two cute bedrooms (one with a double bed, the other with two twins), TV, and hot water. The bottom two have fans and rent for US$65 for two people, while the top two apartments have air-conditioning and rent for US$70 for two. The owners can arrange trips to Cayos Cochinos. The adjacent restaurant is in a large open-air champa, featuring ceviches, conch, and shrimp, as well as land-based meals of pork and beef (US$5-10) and a list of specialty cocktails. Nearby is Playa de Zambrano, a decent though unspectacular stretch of beach.
A few hundred meters uphill from the highway, near kilometer marker 209 and marked by a sign before arriving at Corozal from La Ceiba, is Los Chorros, another local swimming hole on a small river gushing off the tropical hillside, with many pools, boulders, and falls.
It’s possible to reach Corozal by colectivo, at the taxi hub in Barrio Potreritos in La Ceiba, on 6 Calle between 4 and 5 Avenidas, behind Hondutel. Taxis leave every half hour.
Thatch champas provide shelter from the sun at Playa de Perú.
A few kilometers east of Corozal, and more appealing, is Sambo Creek, another Garífuna village at the mouth of a small river. Two good seafood restaurants, often filled with Ceibeños out for a meal, are La Champa Kabasa, right at the entrance to town, with an excellent, hearty seafood soup, and Sambo Creek Restaurant, just to the east on the beach.
There is a hostel in the heart of Sambo Creek right along the beach, affiliated with the tour agency Tourist Options, called Centro Turístico Sambo Creek (tel. 504/9587-0874, www.touristoptionshonduras.com). Rooms are on the dreary side, but at US$9 per person it’s the cheapest place in the area to catch a few winks, and they can organize activities such as snorkel tours to the Cayos Cochinos and Garífuna dance performances. Some rooms have a private bath, others share. There is a restaurant/bar on-site, operating Friday and Saturday only.
Just east of the main entrance to Sambo Creek on the Tocoa highway is another dirt road leading toward the water, with signs for Villa Helen’s and the Diving Pelican, small hotels on a quiet, clean, and safe stretch of beach. Villa Helen’s (tel. 504/2408-1137, www.villahelens.com, US$38 s, US$43 d, US$53 king bed) has eight spacious rooms in a small house close to the tawny beach, all immaculately clean with tile floors, air-conditioning, hot water, and small refrigerators, as well as six small cabin/apartments with efficiency kitchens around a grassy parking area on the other side of the road (cabins run US$48-90 and sleep 2-8). There is a small swimming pool; day use is US$1.50. Helen’s has a good, albeit slow restaurant (burgers US$3, fish dishes US$6) on a relaxed open-air terrace. No credit cards are accepted.
The Diving Pelican Inn (tel. 504/3369-2208, U.S. tel. 512/221-2053, www.divingpelicaninn.com, US$60 s/d) has a more intimate feel with just three rooms, two on the beachside property and a third in a tiny apartment just across the road (weekly and monthly rates available). New owners Jay and Michelle have installed a swimming pool and are as happy as ever to arrange trips to the Cayos Cochinos and river rafting, as well as transportation to the airport, bus, or ferry. Breakfast (US$6) is made to order and can be enjoyed in their beachfront bar. There is wireless Internet and TVs (no cable, but an extensive selection of hundreds of DVDs you can borrow). There are special rates available for American military serving in Honduras.
THE CARIBBEAN ODYSSEY OF THE GARÍFUNA
The Garífuna, who populate the Caribbean coast from Belize to Nicaragua, are the product of a unique ethnic and historical odyssey. Most of the Garífuna’s 50-odd villages are in Honduras, where they first arrived in Central America in 1797. With their own language, customs, dances, and music, the Garífuna have maintained a distinctive lifestyle in the midst of the Honduran north coast society.
For the first two centuries following Columbus, the Caribbean island of San Vicente, in the Lesser Antilles, was left to a group known as the Black Caribs, who originated from the coast of South America. During this time, the island became something of a refuge for black slaves, who were either shipwrecked in the area or escaped from plantations on nearby islands.
Details on early encounters between the slaves and the Black Caribs are nonexistent, but it must have been a fascinating experience—two completely different cultures, one from Africa and the other from the rainforests of South America, meeting by chance on an island in the middle of the Caribbean. They mixed their blood and their cultures, borrowing from each to develop a new language and new customs, which became known as Garífuna. One such example is the yancunu, a Garífuna New Year’s dance; it’s very similar to dances of rainforest Indians in South America, while the music is clearly of West African origin.
Throughout the 1700s, France and England battled for possession of San Vicente, which was formally ceded to the English in 1783. Tensions between the new settlers and the Garífuna broke out into open war in 1795. The Garífuna gained a reputation for uncommon ferocity and bravery during the two-year war. They were led by Chief Chatoyer, or Satuyé, who remains a legendary figure among modern Garífuna. The British finally overcame Garífuna resistance by bringing in massive numbers of troops from Jamaica.
Having taken full measure of the Garífuna after years of battle, the British elected to deport the whole troublesome lot to Roatan, and on March 3, 1797, some 3,000 Garífuna were loaded onto a convoy of 10 boats. The fleet departed San Vicente, stopping briefly in Jamaica before landing near Port Royal, Roatan, on April 12. A small group crossed to the north side of the island and started the village of Punta Gorda, the oldest continually inhabited Garífuna town. Most of the Garífuna apparently did not like the looks of Roatan, and moved on to the mainland to Trujillo. Over the next century, groups of Garífuna made their way up and down the Honduran coast, building villages as far north as Belize and as far east and south as the Nicaraguan Mosquito Coast. The Garífuna carved a niche for themselves on the north coast as boatmen, loggers, and superb soldiers. They fought fiercely, defending coastal towns from pirates and in the wars of independence.
Although they gave up soldiering long ago, the Garífuna have firmly established themselves as an integral part of the Honduran Caribbean coast. In keeping with their history, the Garífuna are known for their constant travel—with fishing fleets, as staff on cruise ships, and visiting Garífuna communities in New York and Los Angeles. In spite of the constant movement, the Garífuna have retained a strong sense of ethnic identity.
dancers from the National Garífuna Folkloric Ballet
Just a bit farther along on the same road is Paradise Found (tel. 504/9552-3238, www.paradisefoundlaceiba.com, US$59 s/d), a moderately priced B&B with friendly owners and good food. Rooms aren’t fancy, but comfortable enough, and there is a restaurant and bar under a two-story champa with a thatch roof and ocean view. Owner Dante is a passionate cook, and it’s worth coming here for a meal in their champa on stilts (dinner served 5-10 P.M., lunch by reservation) and to hang out on the beach even if you can’t stay the night. The menu is short, including a burger for US$8 and pasta for US$9.50, but there are frequent specials (around US$12.50, and should be snapped up, especially the ribs or the brick-oven pizza). Portions are generous.
All three hotels, on a fine stretch of beach, make great places to have a relaxed few days near La Ceiba. To get there, either catch a Jutiapa or Tocoa local bus and get off at the turn, or take a US$12 private taxi from La Ceiba (a bit more at night). It’s possible to reach Sambo Creek by colectivo, at the taxi hub in Barrio Potreritos in La Ceiba, on 6 Calle between 4 and 5 Avenidas, behind Hondutel. Taxis leave every half hour.
Day trips to the Cayos Cochinos can be arranged through boatmen in Sambo Creek, either by asking around in town the day before if you already have a group or, if not, by checking in at the hotels listed here to see if they have any groups going. One boatman based out of Sambo Creek who runs tours to Cayos Cochinos is Omar Acosta (tel. 504/2408-1666 or 504/3383-8031, US$140 up to 4 pax, US$35 each additional person). His tours depart Sambo Creek at 8 A.M., visit two or three sites for snorkeling, Cayo Menor and its research center, the pink boa constrictors, and Chachahuate for lunch (price of lunch not included).
Those interested in diving can contact Pirate Islands Divers (tel. 504/3328-0009, www.pirateislandsdivers.com), based at the Paradise Found Hotel in Sambo Creek, offering dive trips, snorkel trips, and dive courses in the Cayos Cochinos. At US$321 for either Open Water or Advanced Open Water, including accommodations and meals, it is one of the best-value dive centers in the Bay Islands. One-day Discovery Scuba courses are US$65, while snorkeling trips to the Cayos with lunch included are US$46. A two-day, one-night dive trip to the Cayos with four dives, meals, and accommodations is US$210 per person. Tony, the shop owner, is a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, which in short means he’s really, really experienced (dive master internships are available), and although his shop is new, he previously managed a dive shop in Utila, so he has lots of local experience as well. Accommodations are either in the village on the island of Chachahuate, or on the private cay next door (Chachahuate II).
Just off the highway near Sambo Creek is the Sambo Creek Canopy Tour (tel. 504/3355-5481, 7 A.M.-6 P.M. daily, US$45). Prices include a 40-minute horseback ride to the zipline site and a stop in nearby hot springs. They also offer just the hot springs and horseback riding for US$25 per person, which may be something to consider, as the canopy platforms haven’t always been sturdy in the past. It is also possible to visit the hot springs at Glenda’s (tel. 504/3349-1075), although they aren’t quite as hot there.
Four kilometers past Sambo Creek toward Jutiapa, 22 kilometers from La Ceiba, is an upscale beachfront hotel complex, Palma Real Beach Resort (tel. 504/2429-0501, U.S. tel. 888/790-5264, www.grupopalmareal.com). The large complex of pastel-colored buildings right on a fine beach houses 161 well-equipped rooms, each with a balcony or terrace. Facilities include two swimming pools, tennis and basketball courts, kayak rental, a restaurant and snack bar, a bar, a disco, and a theater. Popular with wealthy Hondurans and Salvadorans, as well as tour groups from Canada, the hotel offers package deals with food and drink included for US$97-118 for one person and US$132-160 for two, with rooms that can sleep up to six, and discounts for children. Payment is required in full upon reservation, and cancellations have heavy penalties (and are simply not possible within 10 days of arrival date). Prices are higher during Semana Santa and over the year-end holidays.
Near the entrance to Palma Real is Water Jungle (9 A.M.-5 P.M. Fri.-Sun.), Honduras’s largest water park, with a wave pool and pool games for small children, as well as huge water slides. It is closed during the rainy season.
Also nearby is the new waterfront restaurant Le Bistro du Capitaine (tel. 504/2408-5091, www.lebistroducapitaine.com, 11 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), owned by a pair of French-Canadians. In addition to the usual seafood soup and garlic shrimp, there are plenty of dishes with a European twist, such as beouf bourguignon and Swiss chicken breast (US$6-12 most mains). There is a large swimming pool that guests can dip in, as well as two guest rooms.
Approximately 24 kilometers east from La Ceiba is the small, oceanside Cacao Lagoon. Mangroves surround the water and provide shelter to tropical birds and howler and white-faced monkeys. The lagoon is named for the nearby tropical cacao plants, once used as money in pre-Columbian times, now used in the manufacturing of chocolate, of course. The neighboring village makes a living from its cacao and sugarcane plantations, and is interesting in and of itself. A tour is the easiest way to see the lagoon (Moskitia Eco-Aventuras, Omega Tours, Tourist Options, and Garífuna Tours all run tours), but those who can arrange their own transportation to the town can likely also negotiate a boat tour with a local guide, on a dugout canoe. From the beach, it’s possible to see the Cayos Cochinos, just 15 kilometers out to sea.
Jutiapa, Nuevo Armenia, and Farther East
Just before the highway turns inland through the hills toward Savá and the Valle del Aguán, 33 kilometers from La Ceiba, is the small town of Jutiapa, where a dirt road turns off 10 kilometers down to Nuevo Armenia at the sea’s edge. From here, you can arrange a trip on a motorized lancha out to the nearby Cayos Cochinos. Prices continue to go up but should be somewhere around US$185 for a boat, depending on negotiating ability but regardless of the number of people going. A lancha takes about an hour to reach the cays, while a tuktuk or cayuco (smaller, slower boats) take about 90 minutes, but cost around US$80 for three people, US$100 for four. The cheapest ride out is with Javier Arzú in Nueva Armenia, who goes back and forth daily, charging US$16 per person each direction. Whichever way you would like to travel, Chichi Arzú (tel. 504/9937-1702, surely some relation to Javier, but we’re not sure what exactly) can make the arrangements for you. If you don’t catch her by phone, you can also stop by Hotel Chichi in Nueva Armenia and ask for her. A room in the basic Hotel Chichi is US$8 and has two beds. Chichi’s brother, Rene Arzú (tel. 504/9937-1674) is another person in Nuevo Armenia who can help arrange a private boat trip.
East along the coast beyond Jutiapa are the Garífuna villages of Balfate, Río Esteban, and Río Coco, all connected by a rough dirt road.
Honduras tourism officials, eyeing the wealthy beach resorts in Mexico with envy, tirelessly promote Tela Bay as Honduras’s Cancún-to-be. Certainly all the elements appear to be in place: mile upon mile of beaches, sleepy Garífuna villages, and three nearby natural reserves—Punta Sal, Lancetilla, and Punta Izopo—chock-full of exotic plants and wild animals. For the time being, however, the town remains a sleepy beachfront backwater. Long-talked-about development just west of Tela near the Laguna de Los Micos may change all that, but it remains to be seen.
Reactions to present-day undeveloped Tela vary wildly. Some visitors are charmed by the town’s relaxed vibe, while others take offense at the stray dogs and bit of trash on the main city beach and hastily pack their bags. There’s no doubt the downtown beach area is not pristine, but it would be a shame to let this put travelers off from the many attractions around the bay.
Originally, Tela (pop. 45,500) was built as a United Fruit Company town in the early years of the 20th century, but the banana business is now less important to the local economy since the Tela Railroad Company—United’s Honduras division, also called Chiquita—moved its headquarters to La Lima, near San Pedro Sula, in 1965. Currently, the town earns most of its money from African palm plantations, cattle-ranching, and tourism.
While safety has improved over the years in Tela, it’s always smart to take care after dark, and either stick to the main streets while walking or catch a cab. The tourist police can be contacted by calling tel. 504/2448-0150 or 504/2448-0253, or by asking at your hotel (many businesses in town chipped in to help pay their salaries).
The Tela Chamber of Commerce has its own website in English for tourists: www.telahonduras.com.
A couple of kilometers off the El Progreso-La Ceiba highway, downtown Tela is a compact area bounded by the ocean, the Río Tela, and the railroad tracks. The square is two blocks from the beach. The Río Tela divides the main downtown area from “New Tela,” a residential area built by the Tela Railroad Company for its U.S. officials. Apart from a couple of bars and restaurants, the reason to go to New Tela is to enjoy the beaches in front of Villas Telamar.
Tela’s main attractions are in the beautiful natural areas and villages nearby. That said, visitors can easily spend a day keeping themselves entertained around town.
The main town beach in front of the discos and restaurants does not lend itself to peaceful sunbathing—it’s not particularly clean, and leaving your possessions while taking a dip is an invitation to theft. A better spot is the beach in front of Villas Telamar (in New Tela, west of the river and the municipal dock), which is clean, constantly patrolled by the resort’s guards, and open to anyone. To get beach chairs and a canopy for shade, pay for them at the wooden restaurant on the beach run by Telamar, then take your receipt to the guy below with the chairs, but get there early as they can run out of chairs. To reach the beach without walking through Telamar, go to the western corner of the block and turn right, toward the beach—there is beach access at the end of the block.
The beaches in town are quiet in the early morning.
East and west of town, isolated beaches are lovely but should not be visited alone—ask at your hotel about safety before heading off on your own.
A couple of doors off the town square, Garífuna Tours (tel. 504/2448-2904, www.garifunatours.com) offers popular day trips to Punta Sal for US$34 per person, including a bilingual guide and boat transport, plus an extra US$3 for the park entrance fee. Sign up the day before the trip, and be prepared to get wet while riding in the boat, although the boats do have a screen for shade. Tours to Laguna de los Micos and the Lancetilla botanical gardens (US$49) and kayak trips to Punta Izopo with a stop at the village of Triunfo de la Cruz for a meal (US$27) are also available. The latest addition to the tour list is a night crocodile watch (3:30-9 P.M., US$39). The company also has an office in La Ceiba (tel. 504/2440-3252), with river-rafting and trips to Pico Bonito, Cayos Cochinos, and Cuero y Salado reserve, and they offer one- and two-day trips to Copán from Tela as well. The “eco-pass,” covering visits to Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, and Cayos Cochinos, as well as a T-shirt, for US$99, is a good deal.
It must be noted that while some readers have reported good trips with this tour company, others have said that it fell short of their expectations. (For example, will there be a Garífuna dance presentation at Miami, or will you simply have free time for walking around, and so a tour guide is irrelevant? Readers have reported both.)
Newer to the scene is Eco di Mare (tel. 504/2439-0110 or 504/9932-3552, www.ecodimaretours.com, 8 A.M.-6 P.M. daily), run by the same Italian expat that owns Mamma Mia Café. Their trips are a few dollars less than the same trips by Garifuna Tours (Punta Sal US$29, Punta Izopo US$27), and they offer significant discounts for kids. They can arrange troll fishing (US$265), banana boat rides (US$5 pp), and parasailing (US$60) as well.
ENTERTAINMENT AND EVENTS
Once known as a party town, Tela is now a quieter place, with a couple of places to stop for a drink along the beach, and two discos in town.
Two blocks from the beach, near the Río Tela, Iguana’s (8 P.M.-3 A.M. Thurs.-Sun.) is a disco with a big-screen TV for sports events, charging around US$3 cover, depending on the night. Arrecife’s on the promenade always has people relaxing with a beer. On the east side of town, close to the beach, is another disco—take a cab rather than walk down the dark streets to get there and back.
SPORTS AND RECREATION
Although the Bay Islands are better known for their diving, it’s also possible to dive in the Tela Bay area, at Capiro Reef, and as the only dive shop in town, Tela Dive Center (tel. 504/2448-1782, www.teladivecenter.com) is the one to take you there. Lack of competition and difficult access to the reef means higher prices too, with two dives for US$95, equipment not included, and the PADI Open Water course for US$400 (about US$100 more than on Utila or Roatan). Visibility is also not great at Capiro Reef, so the dives can only be done during the dry season, but there is an upside: According to Tela Dive Center, Capiro Reef is one of the healthiest reef systems in Mesoamerica, with 69 percent reef coverage per square meter.
Bazar y Suvenir Jameth (9 Calle between 3 and 4 Av.) has some decent cigars and leather items.
Where did all the cheap hotels in Tela go? We are sad to report that we have heard stories of theft and horrible service in some, seen cockroaches (and more horrible service) in others…leaving us only with:
Mango Hotel (tel. 504/2448-0338, www.mangocafe.net, US$18 s, US$21 d with fan, a couple of bucks more with a/c), a backpacker hangout on the second floor of a building a block from the park, run by the folks at Garífuna Tours. The rooms are decent but not spotless, and amenities include bike rentals (US$5 per day) and a Spanish school.
If Mango is full, you can consider the very drab Brisas del Mar (7 Av. NE at 10 Calle, US$13 s, US$18.50 d), which is clean enough, and hey, a little bit closer to the beach to boot.
One of the best values in town is Anexo César Mariscos (9 Calle and 1 Av., tel. 504/2448-0303, www.hotelcesarmariscos.com, US$39 s, US$63 d), an offshoot of the beachfront Hotel César Mariscos. Tasteful rooms have walls of plaster and exposed brick, attractive furnishings, tile floors, ceiling fans, stylish artwork, and some king beds for a couple of bucks more. The hotel has wireless Internet, private parking, and a clean if smallish swimming pool. For those who don’t mind the four-block walk to the beach, this is a good value. There are two apartments with kitchens available as well, US$74 for the one-bedroom that can sleep three, and US$140 for the two-bedroom that can sleep five.
Another good value is Hotel Marsol (tel. 504/2448-1782, www.hotelmarsoltela.com, US$30.50 s, US$40-61 d). White and modern, the simple rooms have air-conditioning and wireless Internet, and there is a computer for guest use in the common area. “Apartments,” which are really large rooms with a kitchen, are also available for rent, US$84-98—overpriced for what they are, but good if you want to save on food by cooking. Marsol is also home to the Tela Dive Center.
For self-contained apartments, try Ejecutivos (tel. 504/2448-1076, www.ejecutivosah.com, US$44), which features spacious studio-style apartments (that is, no separation between the living and sleeping areas) with fully equipped kitchens, air-conditioning, and TVs on the first and second floors of a gleaming white building four blocks from the beach; on the third floor are somewhat smaller rooms equipped with air-conditioning, TVs, and hot water, but no kitchens, for US$38.
Ocean’s Eleven (tel. 504/2448-2209, www.hoteloceanseleventela.com, US$25.50 s/d) isn’t anything special at all, but it’s located on a fairly quiet street, and the bathrooms are acceptably clean. Rooms are bare bones, but do have air-conditioning, cable TV, and an electroducha to warm up the water. The black iron gate blocking the door is rather off-putting, but you can be sure that no unwanted visitors will be getting into the hotel.
Clearly the realization of a personal vision of paradise is Hotel Maya Vista (tel. 504/2448-1497, www.mayavista.com, US$47 s, US$52-70 d), a multitiered coral structure perched high on a hill just east of the bus station, offering breathtaking views across the bay. Built by French-Canadian owner Pierre Couture, the hotel has a range of rooms, including singles, doubles, triples, a suite, and an apartment (the latter has two bedrooms, three beds, and goes for US$99 per night). The five rooms are stylishly decorated and feature French doors, terra-cotta floors, and plenty of windows; all have balconies overlooking the sea, and several of the walls and ceilings have been painted by local artists. Pierre and his wife are wonderful hosts, and the hotel restaurant serves excellent food 7 A.M.-9 P.M. daily, later if the hotel is full. Meal packages are available. Be sure to make reservations, as they are frequently booked up.
Another creatively designed place to stay is Hotel Gran Central (tel. 504/2448-1099, www.hotelgrancentral.com, US$50 s/d,), in a two-story house near the old railway station, thoroughly renovated and remodeled by the French owners. The spacious rooms are tastefully decorated, with palm trees painted in warm hues on the walls, and all have air-conditioning and TVs. Guests also have use of Internet (which is good, because there isn’t any wireless Internet). There is a larger suite with a kitchen available as well. Luc and Véronique, the gracious French owners, serve breakfast (not included) in the downstairs café, where there is also a small bar, and will arrange excursions for guests to Lancetilla, Miami, Los Micos, Pulhanpanzak Falls, and hiking.
Anonymously modern from the outside, but with nice, if slightly impersonal rooms, is Hotel Colonial Bugambilia (8 Av. between 8 and 9 Calle, tel. 504/2448-3222, US$50-63 s, US$63-74 d, including breakfast). Headboards, nightstands, and chairs are hand-carved wood, and there is a restaurant (8 A.M.-5 P.M. daily). The location is on a noisy street a couple of blocks from the central park, not ideal for solo female travelers. Those seeking peace and quiet can request one of the much quieter inner rooms.
Hotel Bella Vista (tel. 504/2448-0639, US$31.50 s, US$53-63 d), a block south of Hotel Sherwood (both have the same owner), is nothing fancy, and overpriced given that the bathrooms are cold water only, but the rooms have air-conditioning and are well maintained, and it’s only a block from the beach.
Be forewarned that there is a cacophony of birds chattering in the beach palm trees at sunrise and sunset, which can make for an early start to the day if you’re a light sleeper.
A handful of hotels dot the beach promenade. One favorite is Hotel César Mariscos (tel. 504/2448-2083, www.hotelcesarmariscos.com, US$76 s, US$79 d), right on the beach above the excellent seafood restaurant of the same name. It has 19 attractive tile-floored rooms featuring cable TV and air-conditioning (in most), and many with balconies and ocean views (for the same price). The hotel has a small infinity-edge pool and Jacuzzi on the second floor, and bikes and kayaks are available for rent. Guests can be picked up directly from the San Pedro Sula airport for US$60 per person.
Next door is the pricier but somewhat depressing Hotel Sherwood (tel. 504/2448-1064, www.hotelsherwood.com, US$58 s, US$79 d, including breakfast), with wood-trimmed rooms; “executive rooms” have private, ocean-facing balconies. The hotel is not as sunny or lively as its neighbor, but is still a decent option. The pool is clean, there is a restaurant and free Internet for guests, and there are low-season discounts.
A second branch of the Colonial, Hotel Colonial Playa (tel. 504/2448-2292, US$47-53 s, US$66-79 d) has opened right on the beachfront. There are just six rooms, each with a balcony, flat-screen TV, and nice linens. Room 3 and the suite (US$79) have sea views from the balcony. The rooms are decent, but you’re paying for proximity to the beach.
A sort of tropical suburb, certainly unlike any other resort on the Honduran coast, Hotel y Villas Telamar (tel. 504/2448-2196, www.hoteltelamar.com) was built by the Tela Railroad Company in the 1920s to house its U.S. executives. The freestanding wooden houses, each with hardwood floors, wicker and mahogany furniture, a fully equipped kitchen, and perfectly maintained lawn, are located in a well-patrolled complex along a beautiful beach just west of the Río Tela. Maintenance of the villas can vary widely, but the rooms in the hotel section are consistently nice. Facilities include two pools, four restaurants, a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a children’s playground, banquet and conference center, horseback riding, boating, and fishing. Double rooms (which can sleep up to four) are available for US$140-185, while villas go for US$312-893 a night, the largest of which have four bedrooms and can sleep up to nine. Day visitors are welcome, provided they have a meal at one of the restaurants.
On the western side of Telamar and a block away from the beach is sunny Hotel Playa Bonita (tel. 504/2448-3450, US$58 s, US$68 d, breakfast included), a good choice for the price-conscious. The building and rooms are not the most inspired, but there is a small swimming pool, and the location—a very short walk from the decent swimming beach—is excellent.
A few kilometers outside of Tela is the beautiful La Ensenada Beach Resort (tel. 504/2448-0605, www.laensenadaresort.com), with standard hotel rooms, king-bed suites, and two-bedroom villas for US$110-250 per person per night for all-inclusive accommodation. If you tire of the sea, there are two swimming pools on-site.
Snacks, Breakfasts, and Light Meals
Pastelería Valeria is the perfect place to snack on a sweet piece of bread or cake, if you don’t mind drinking coffee from a Nestlé espresso machine with it.
Opposite Garífuna Tours next to the park, Tuty’s (tel. 504/2448-0013, 7 A.M.-6 P.M. daily) serves decent licuados and juices, as well as an assortment of pastries, flan, breakfasts such as pancakes (US$2), and rotisserie chicken (US$2). Be prepared to wait; service can be slow. Another good place for a licuado is Super Jugos, where you can go for straight juice, or toss milk, oatmeal, cornflakes, or bran into the mix to make it a complete meal (US$1.30-2.15).
After a morning on the beach, the swimming pool at Hotel Telamar beckons.
Near the bridge between Tela and Nueva Tela, Auto Pollos al Carbon serves up standard rotisserie chicken.
At the southeast corner of the park, Espresso Americano has cappuccinos, granitas, and a small assortment of cookies and other pastries.
Honduran and Seafood
With its spectacular view, twinkling white lights, and wafting scent of garlic, the breezy patio restaurant of the Hotel Maya Vista (tel. 504/2448-1497, 7 A.M.-9 P.M. daily) is perfect for a sunset cocktail or a romantic evening out, with seafood dishes (the lobster is superb) as well as some pasta, prepared with homemade sauces, for US$8-13 per entrée. The hill climb up is steep, but a taxi is just US$0.75-1 from the beach.
Luces del Norte (tel. 504/2448-1044, 7 A.M.-9 P.M. daily, closing earlier if it’s quiet) on 11 Calle, one block north of the park, is renowned for its soups (US$5-15), particularly its sopa marinera (seafood soup). Service can be painfully slow, which is a significant drawback given how hot it can get inside, but it’s worth the wait for the flavorful curried conch soup, lobster, grilled snapper, and very good breakfasts (US$2-6), including hard-to-find items like omelets and French toast. Pasta, chicken, and beef dishes are available as well.
Also serving good conch and shrimp, as well as great flauta-style tacos, is César Mariscos (tel. 504/2448-2083, 7 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), with open-air seating facing the beach and more tables along the boardwalk. Entrées, including many seafood dishes and salads are US$10-13, although the tacos and a sprinkling of other dishes are cheaper (around US$5).
The Restaurante Bahía Azul (tel. 504/2448-2381, 7 A.M.-11 P.M. daily), on 11 Calle just past the bridge, is surprisingly nice inside, with polished wood tables and cloth napkins. Seafood is the specialty, with shrimp and snooker (robalo) dishes going for around US$10 each.
Bella Italia (tel. 504/2448-1055, 4 P.M. onwards Mon.-Thurs., noon onward Fri. and Sat.) is a solid, Italian-owned pizzeria right on the town boardwalk, with individual pizzas for around US$5. Large pizzas are US$10-13, and they have huge, feed-the-crowd pizzas available for US$20-40. Italian-style empanadas, called panzerotti, are US$3.50-4.50, pasta dishes are US$5.25-7, and penny-pinchers can order US$0.80 piadine, or flatbreads with a few different toppings.
Giving Bella Italia a run for its money is Mamma Mia (8 A.M.-2 P.M. and 4 -9 P.M. Mon.-Sat.), also owned by an Italian expat. Pizzas are about the same price as Bella Italia, pastas a dollar or two cheaper, and there is also fried chicken, plato típico, and breakfast items (US$3.50-5) on the menu. There is also an Internet café on-site, and the tour agency next door, Eco di Mare, is by the same owner.
The Chinese owners at La Muralla China (tel. 504/448-2934) on 11 Calle between 2 and 3 Avenidas serve up popular Chinese standards for around US$8.
Despensa Familiar (7 A.M.-7 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 7 A.M.-6 P.M. Sun.), on the square, has an array of groceries.
INFORMATION AND SERVICES
There is a tourist office (8 A.M.-4:30 P.M. Mon.-Fri.) located on 9 Calle near the corner with 7 Avenida, useful for maps and current bus schedules. They will also help you book a hotel if needed.
Prolansate (tel. 504/2448-2042, www.prolansate.org, 8 A.M.-noon and 1:30-5:30 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.), 1.5 blocks south of the City-Tupsa bus terminal, is a local environmental organization that helps manage nearby natural protected areas—a mission that does not always endear its staff to ranchers, developers, and land-hungry campesinos. The staff is happy to help visitors learn more about Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, or Lancetilla, and can provide practical details to visit the reserves.
BAC Bamer, HSBC, and Banco Atlántida (each with an ATM, although Banco Atlántida’s is Visa only) change travelers checks and cash Monday-Friday and Saturday mornings.
Hondutel (7 A.M.-9 P.M. daily) and Honducor (8 A.M.-4 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 8 A.M.-noon Sat.) are on the same block, two blocks southwest of the square. Internet telephone calls can be made cheaper elsewhere.
The restaurant Mamma Mia is also home to an Internet café, charging US$0.50 for 30 minutes, US$1 per hour for Internet. International calls can also be made here, and unlike the restaurant, the Internet café does not close for two hours in the afternoon.
Hotel Mango runs a Spanish school (tel. 504/2448-0338, www.mangocafe.net), which is really a network of private tutors, charging US$114 per week for 20 hours in the mornings for beginners (US$149 per week for advanced students). Classes can be combined with a six-night stay at the Hotel Mango for an additional US$74 (US$99 for a room with TV and a/c).
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Diana Express (www.transportedianaexpress.jimdo.com) serves Tela, La Ceiba, and San Pedro Sula (US$4.50 between Tela and either city) with hourly departures 7:30 A.M.-5:30 P.M. from both Ceiba and San Pedro. The ride to La Ceiba is about 2-2.5 hours, and to San Pedro Sula it’s about 1.5 hours. Diana’s terminal in Tela is along the highway. Next to Diana Express is Transportes Cristina (tel. 504/2448-1300, www.transportescristina.com), which services Tela, La Ceiba, and Tegucigalpa with nine buses daily.
Mirna (tel. 504/2448-2335) also runs buses between Tela and San Pedro Sula, US$4.50, while the new high-end bus company, San Miguel Plus (tel. 504/2448-2482) charges more, but has the most comfortable and punctual buses in all of Honduras.
The same cannot be said for Tela Express unfortunately, as we were warned that despite what might be claimed, their buses do not travel on a fixed schedule.
If you’re tighter on money than on time, the cheapest way to travel is by local bus (US$1.60 to El Progreso, US$1.85 to La Ceiba). Local buses to La Ceiba leave every 25 minutes from the main bus terminal four blocks east of the park, at the corner of 9 Calle and 10 Avenida (4:10 A.M. until 6 P.M. daily), and take 2-2.5 hours (with many stops).
If you have a few more bucks to spare, one of the fastest and most comfortable ways to get to or from San Pedro Sula or La Ceiba is with a shuttle from Garífuna Tours. A shuttle to the airport at San Pedro Sula, or to either the ferry dock or the city center of La Ceiba is US$79. You can hire a shuttle bus to take you all the way to Copán Ruinas for US$149.
Taxis going anywhere around town, including to New Tela or out to the highway, have a fixed rate: US$0.80 per person during the day and US$1 per person at night.
The town and nearby attractions are compact enough to explore by bicycle, which can be rented at Hotel Mango or César Mariscos (US$10 per day, César Mariscos also rents for half a day for US$5).
The 68-kilometer, two-lane road to El Progreso through African palm and banana plantations is in good shape, and the additional 28 kilometers to San Pedro Sula is a smooth four-lane highway. The road from El Progreso to Tegucigalpa includes a minor detour to avoid a washed-out bridge at the town of Santa Rita, but it’s all well signed. To get to Tela from Tegus, look for the highway sign for Santa Rita—that’s the turnoff that will take you to El Progreso (and then onward to Tela). To the east of Tela, the 101-kilometer, two-lane road to La Ceiba is also well maintained.
WEST OF TELA
Heading west from Telamar, the paved road eventually gives way to dirt, and after a few bumpy kilometers reaches the Garífuna village of San Juan. The restaurant El Pescador is a good place to stop for lunch and hang out on the beach for a while.
One kilometer before reaching San Juan is the spectacular 14-bedroom private home rental El Cocal (tel. 504/2545-2660, U.S. tel. 561/212-6924, www.elcocalhouse.com), a wooden beach mansion built along the sea, complete with kayaks and a tennis court. The base rate is US$360 per night for six bedrooms (come with friends!), with a minimum three-night stay.
Seven kilometers west of Tela via a rough dirt road is Tornabé (from its original name, “Turn Bay”), the largest Garífuna village on the north coast. Lined along a dirt road parallel to the beach, it’s a quiet place to relax and let the sun and waves lull you into a trance. The beach here is relatively clean. Accommodations and food are limited, so don’t come looking for luxury. Local fishermen will take visitors out to Punta Sal for a negotiable fee, either dropping them off for the day or acting as guides. Trips into Laguna de los Micos can also be arranged.
The best place to stay in town is Hotel Media Luna (tel. 504/3398-7895, US$26 s/d). Rooms have small porches and steps leading right down onto the beach, two beds, and air-conditioning. There are small eateries, and women who sell food out of their houses, just ask around. Fill up on pan de coco (coconut bread), as the women here make the best on the coast.
Buses between Tornabé and Tela (US$0.50) depart several times a day, the last in either direction at around 5 P.M. Buses leave Tela from near the market. Two roads reach the village, the shortest via San Juan near the beach, but this is frequently impassable during the rains, as the lagoon opens an outlet to the sea. Another all-weather road departs the Tela-San Pedro Sula highway from the police post 3 kilometers past Lancetilla Garden. Follow this paved road 5.5 kilometers to a dirt road on the right side leading to Tornabé in 1.5 kilometers. Taxis are also cheap—a driver may charge you US$3 if you are going alone, or US$5 for a carload (up to four passengers).
Note: It’s not recommended to walk on the beach outside of Tornabé toward either Tela or Miami, as muggings have been reported. Stick to the beach near town and you’ll be just fine.
Past Tornabé (if you’ve come from the main road and not via San Juan and its bumpy road) is Honduras Shores Plantation (tel. 504/2439-0159, www.hondshores.com), a private resort development along the beach with great cabins, condos, and villas available for rent. The cabins are one- and two-bedroom (US$99 or US$226, respectively, with significant discounts usually available on stays of two or three nights), with a fully equipped kitchen and living room. They are also unfortunately at the far end of the development, a good 10-minute walk to the beach, but there is a swimming pool right next to the cabins, and access to Los Micos lagoon, with kayaks available. The condos are a little more impersonal, but nicely decorated, and have three bedrooms (US$278, again with discounts on multiple-night stays). There are also five three- and four-bedroom privately owned properties that the hotel rents out for their owners, perfect for large groups. The resort has tight 24-hour security, so call before showing up.
Across the road and along the beach is the Tela Beach Club, part of the same resort, with a restaurant, a large pool, and a fantastic beach with palms trees swaying in the breeze. Day use of the property is welcome, although if you come on a weekday in the low season, you may be the only one around. A taxi from Tela should be around US$3.
The idyllic thatch-hut village of Miami rests on a narrow sand spit, backed by Laguna de los Micos and fronted by the Caribbean. Not many Garífuna are actually living here anymore, but it’s still an interesting place to check out, and you should be able to find someone willing to cook you a meal.
Motorized and paddle canoes can be rented to explore the lagoon. More territory can be covered with the motor, but it scares wildlife away. Locals say camping on the inland side of the lagoon is possible, which would be excellent for early-morning bird-watching.
Small boats are also available to take visitors to Punta Sal. For the budget camper, the absolute cheapest way to get out to Punta Sal from Tela is to get to Miami by bus and truck, then walk eight kilometers on the beach out to the point.
Prolansate (tel. 504/2448-2042, www.prolansate.org) has helped fund a small visitors center in Miami, in a cabin right at the entrance to town, with displays, maps, and photos of Punta Sal and Laguna de los Micos. The staff person is a good source of information about the village or for arranging visits around the lagoon. The center is usually open daily. Because Miami is part of the national park, visitors are charged US$3 (for foreigners) to enter the village.
Trucks leave Tornabé heading west to Miami a couple of times a day (none on Sunday) at irregular hours, but usually early in the morning, charging US$0.75 for the half-hour drive (expect a tight fit, as they pack ’em in). It’s possible to walk the road in a couple of hours, but bring a hat and plenty of water, as there’s not much shade on the way. Don’t try driving this road unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle—there’s lots of soft sand.
After many years of wrangling over land and debate over environmental impact, Los Micos Beach and Golf Resort (www.losmicosresort.com) finally came out the winner, and is scheduled to open as this book goes to press. Plans include a five-star hotel with private villas, a kids club, teen club, restaurants, spa, and gym. There will, of course, also be a golf course, the first in Honduras to be designed by golfer Gary Player.
Laguna de los Micos
A mico is a white-faced monkey, and they are easily spotted in the trees around this lagoon, as well as 250 species of birds. Garífuna Tours runs laid-back day trips to the lagoon that focus on bird-watching for US$34 per person (not including lunch), and nature enthusiasts can keep their eyes peeled for kingfishers and spotted-breasted orioles, among others, as well as the white-faced monkeys and several species of butterflies. It’s just as easy to visit the lagoon independently by asking at the restaurant in Miami to arrange a boat tour.
Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas (Punta Sal)
One of the most biologically diverse natural reserves in Honduras, the 782 square kilometers of protected territory around Punta Sal include humid tropical forest, mangrove swamp, coastal lagoons, rivers and canals, rocky and sandy coastline, coral reef, and ocean. Almost 500 types of plants have been identified within the park, as well as 232 animal species, including endangered marine turtles, manatees, jaguars, ocelots (tigrillos), caymans, white-faced and howler monkeys, wild pigs, pelicans, and toucans.
Most tours arrive by boat at the base of the point on the east side, offering visitors a chance to enjoy the beautiful Playa Cocolito beach before taking a half-hour hike over a low part of the point to the Playa Puerto Escondido, a beach-lined cove on the far side. This steep trail is a good opportunity to see the park’s abundant and colorful birds and, if you’re lucky, troops of howler or white-faced monkeys. A second trail diverges to the north before reaching the far side of the point, leading to another small bay on the west side of the point, Playa Puerto Caribe. At certain times of year, the trails can be impassable due to absolute clouds of mosquitoes.
Apart from the rugged and beautiful 176-meter-high Punta Sal, most of the reserve’s territory is flat, encompassing the Los Micos, Diamante, Río Tinto, and Tisnachí lagoons; the Martínez and Chambers canals; and the Río Ulúa. The Río Chamelecón forms the western boundary of the park. Traveling up these waterways by boat provides opportunities for viewing wildlife—have binoculars and mosquito repellent at the ready.
No facilities are available in the park apart from two small champas at Playa Cocolito, which sell meals of fried fish to tour groups (about US$7, not included with your tour). Camping on the beach is allowed and would be a superb way to spend a few days; come prepared with food, fresh water, and a tent or hammock. A park ranger maintains a small cabin at Playa Cocolito, where most tour boats stop. Although tour operators like to tout the great snorkeling, there’s little in the way of interesting reef, and visibility is limited in the choppy water. Better to just enjoy the wonderful swimming and sunbathing.
The easiest way to visit Punta Sal is via boat tour with Eco di Mare or Garífuna Tours in Tela. Their essentially identical day trips cost US$29 and US$34 per person, respectively, leaving almost every day, weather permitting. A second option, better for those who want to set their own schedule and go by themselves or in a small group, is to set up a freelance tour, looking for a boat and negotiating a price either in Tela (best place is the outlet of the Río Tela to the sea) or in Tornabé. The really industrious can take the daily truck out past Tornabé to Miami and either hire a boat there or walk along the beach for a few hot hours.
An entrance fee of US$3 is collected by a park vigilante (some tours include this in the price), and the money goes to help the activities of Prolansate, a nongovernmental environmental organization working at Punta Sal. The Prolansate office (tel. 504/2448-2042, www.prolansate.org), is located near the center of Tela, 1.5 blocks south from the City-Tupsa bus terminal.
EAST AND SOUTH OF TELA
Just east of Tela is the Garífuna village of La Ensenada (not to be confused with the resort of the same name), a tiny beachfront town wildly popular on the weekend with locals for a day on the beach. Excellent (albeit pricey, US$16) seafood soup can be had at the ramshackle restaurants hanging out over the water—we liked Comedor Martha. Champas with picnic tables line the waterfront and are available for rent, and boatmen ply the beach, putting together short water tours. While foreigners might attract a few looks, people are friendly, and the town is a great place to get off the well-trodden tourist path. There are a couple of small hotels with basic rooms (with a/c usually available for an extra charge) for those who want to hang out for a while. If you want something to remember La Ensenada by, ask around for Marcelo “Calín” Torres (tel. 504/9886-3824), a Garífuna artisan who makes jewelry from coconut shells. Near La Ensenada is the site of Cristóbal de Olid’s first landing on Honduras, marking the beginning of Spanish colonization.
With golden beaches and howler monkeys, Punta Sal makes for a great day trip from Tela.
Triunfo de la Cruz
Another Garífuna town similar to Tornabé, Triunfo is eight kilometers east of Tela. Triunfo was originally established as a settlement by the Spanish explorer Cristóbal de Olid, but the colonists soon moved elsewhere, and the area was not permanently occupied until the Garífuna moved there from Trujillo in the early 1800s.
The beach in town, though lined by fishing boats and not kept conspicuously clean, is a quiet place to sunbathe and swim in the warm waters. Locals are not bothered by visitors, and though they may not seem very friendly at first, neither do they hassle the few backpackers who come in search of a little peace and sun.
If you are interested in seeing a group of local dancers perform a traditional dugu dance, it can easily be arranged by asking around. The townsfolk often hold dances in different houses for their own purposes, and a polite visitor might be allowed to watch, if he or she asks nicely. Triunfo’s annual festival is held on May 3, the Day of the Cross. It’s also possible to arrange trips out to Punta Izopo in motorized canoe, usually around US$40 per boatload (up to 10 people) for a day trip.
JEANETTE KAWAS AND THE STRUGGLE FOR PUNTA SAL
Jeanette Kawas fought for the preservation of the tropical forests of Punta Sal.
The national park at Punta Sal is named for Jeanette Kawas, former president of Prolansate, an environmental organization dedicated to protecting Punta Sal, Punta Izopo, Lancetilla, and Texiguat. In Honduras, as Kawas discovered, defending the environment is more than signing petitions and sending out leaflets like in the United States or Western Europe. It’s a matter of life and death.
Several different groups and individuals—Honduran Colonel Mario “El Tigre” Amaya and an African palm cooperative run by the National Campesino Union, among others—have claimed ownership of Punta Sal land. But Kawas forcefully advocated the creation of a national park at Punta Sal. Although the effort was ultimately successful—national park status was granted in November 1994—she paid the price for her activism. Kawas was gunned down in April 1995, and her murder remains unsolved.
The environmental battles around Punta Sal continue, with the ongoing disputes over the planned development at Los Micos. Private investors backed by the Honduran government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) have slowly moved ahead with a huge tourist development between Tornabé and Miami, on the strip of land between the Caribbean and the Laguna de los Micos.
With two large hotels, an 18-hole golf course, and private villas, the resort will completely change the sleepy character of the coastline between Tela and Punta Sal, and will certainly have a major impact on the delicate wetland ecosystem of the lagoon and adjacent Punta Sal.
Garífuna leaders opposed the project, saying it did not respect their community land rights, and they have been threatened and harassed as a result. One Garífuna leader in San Juan had his house burned down in late 2005 for his activism against the project. In 2008, another Garífuna man from San Juan was abducted, beaten, and threatened with death by up to 10 men, just hours after publicly accusing representatives of a local real estate company of pressuring Garífuna people to sell their land.
Concerns of overdevelopment and respect for community land rights have apparently taken a back seat to the desire to boost tourism and bring in more jobs and income to the bay, not to mention a few (well-connected) people making a killing on real-estate deals. Construction has begun, and the five-star hotel is scheduled to open in December 2012. Hopefully the builders will have found a way to put in the resort without destroying the communities and delicate ecosystem around Los Micos…but we’re not holding our breath.
Locals crowd the beaches of La Ensenada on the weekends.
The best place to stay in town, although overpriced for the services provided, is Caribbean Coral Inn (tel. 504/9994-9806, www.caribbeancoralinns.com, US$51 s, US$61.50 d, including breakfast), with five small but comfortable cabins, each with fan and hot water. The cabins can sleep up to four, and children up to 12 stay at no charge. The hotel, run by a non-Garífuna family, is on the beach, two blocks from the main road into town. They run a decent restaurant (reservations only) and will pick you up from your hotel in Tela upon request if you would like to spend the day on the beach (US$35, transportation and meal included).
A couple of blocks away is Cabañas Colón (tel. 504/9989-5622, US$16-26), a cluster of small cabins right on the beach. Some are concrete and others bamboo, two have air-conditioning, one has hot water, several have TVs, and most have hammocks.
Rice and Beans (tel. 504/3265-4614, 9 A.M. until late, daily, US$5.25-10.50), 1.5 blocks from the cemetery, serves up Garífuna specialties such as machuca (mashed plantain, usually served with coconut fish soup), hearty seafood soups, and succulent fried snapper. Chicken, pork chops, and typical breakfasts are available as well. The best time to come here is on the weekend, when Mito brings in drummers and dancers to perform traditional Garífuna music. As a professional musician and dancer himself (Mito often plays and dances with Honduras’s iconic musician, Guillermo Anderson), you can be sure the weekend performances will be worth seeing.
sunset at Triunfo de la Cruz
If you’d like to get your own tambor (drum) to take home, track down Mario Centeno (tel. 504/9770-6784), an artisan who makes drums of all sizes, as well as other carved wood products. For jewelry and ornaments of coconut shell, wood, and cow horn, ask around for Zenayda Solís (tel. 504/9491-4523).
Several buses run to and from Tela daily (US$0.50), usually every hour or so. The buses leave Tela from near the market, the last returning to Tela in midafternoon. A taxi to Triunfo costs about US$5 for a carload (up to four passengers) or US$3 if you are solo. Sometimes one that has just dropped off passengers in Triunfo will offer a ride back to Tela for US$0.50. The two-kilometer dirt road to Triunfo leaves the Tela-La Ceiba road roughly five kilometers from the Tela turnoff.
Jardín Botánico Lancetilla
A small miracle of botanical science and one of the finest bird-watching sites in Central America, Lancetilla was first set up in 1925 by plant biologist William Popenoe of the United Fruit Company, who is also responsible for starting the Escuela de Sciencias Agrícolas in the Valle de Zamorano, near Tegucigalpa. Initially Lancetilla was designed as a research station for testing different varieties of bananas, but Popenoe’s endless inquisitiveness soon led to experiments with fruits and plants from all over the world. One of Honduras’s most profitable agricultural products, the African palm, Elaeis guineensis, was first introduced by Popenoe in Lancetilla, and he did further work with coffee, cinchona (the source of quinine, for years the only treatment for malaria), cacao, rubber, mango, and a myriad of other plants.
Although Popenoe left Lancetilla in 1941 to go to Zamorano, United Fruit continued the work he began until 1974, when Lancetilla was turned over to the Honduran government. The garden has since become part of the Escuela de Sciencias Forestales and is still a fully functioning research station.
Garífuna eateries serve up seafood soup, conch, and shrimp.
Lancetilla boasts one of the most preeminent collections of fruit trees, flowering trees, hardwoods, palm trees, bamboo, and other assorted medicinal and poisonous plants in Latin America. Named after the indigenous lancetilla palm, Astrocaryum standleyanum, the garden contains 764 varieties of plants in 636 species, 392 genera, and 105 families on a mere 78 hectares in the William Popenoe Arboretum, and another 60 species of fruit and hardwood trees in the experimental research station.
Attracted by this profusion of fruits and plants, all manner of tropical birds throng the trees of Lancetilla, making it a premier bird-watching destination. Honduran birding expert Mark Bonta reports that more than 300 species can be spotted at Lancetilla. First-time tropical birders will be delighted by close views of toucans, trogons, motmots, tanagers, orioles, and parrots. More seasoned birders should investigate the brush and rainforest understory and canopy to find the great antshrike, cinnamon becard, rufous piha, lovely cotinga, keel-billed motmot, purple-crowned fairy, tawny-throated leaftosser, and many others.
The Lancetilla Biological Reserve, in the surrounding hillsides, contains both primary and secondary tropical humid and subtropical humid forest. At least one trail crosses the range of hills to the far side—ask the staff for directions.
Many plants are labeled to help identification. Labels are color-coded as follows: Green indicates hardwood; red indicates fruit; yellow indicates ornamental; and most important, black indicates poisonous. Feel free to sample fallen fruit, but be sure not to try anything from a black-labeled tree! Keep an eye out for the mangosteen trees, Garcinia mangostana, a Malaysian native considered by some connoisseurs to produce the finest fruit on the planet. Guided tours are also available for US$5.25 per group, and are a great way to spot trees like the mangosteen and quinine, learn interesting factoids about the plants, and get to try lots of tropical fruits.
Just under two kilometers from the visitors center, past groves of palms and bamboo, are two swimming holes along the Río Lancetilla. Though unspectacular, they’re a good way to cool off after a hot walk.
Lancetilla sells tickets (US$6) 7 A.M.-4 P.M. daily, but visitors can stay until 5 P.M. You can arrange guides (US$5.25) and purchase maps of the arboretum for a self-guided tour of one of the trails at the large, wooden visitors center a couple of kilometers from the park entrance. Mosquitoes are often fierce in the arboretum, so come prepared. There are cabins (three twin beds, US$20) and guest rooms (two twin beds, US$13 s, US$15 d) on-site, ideal for those interested in early-morning bird-watching, although they are sometimes full with the many research and student groups who visit the gardens. Check with the visitors center (tel. 504/2448-1740, www.jblancetilla.org) to make reservations.
Buses to Lancetilla (all the way in to the visitors center) leave from Tela at 6 Avenida and 11 Calle. The highway turnoff to Lancetilla is just south of the power station outside of Tela, five kilometers from town (look for several stands selling lychee fruit near the entrance). You could take an El Progreso bus, get off at the junction, and walk the 45 minutes into the gardens, or take a taxi from town for US$4. Another option is to rent a bike at Garífuna Tours or Hotel Mango, and pedal out at your own pace. The entrance fee is collected at a caseta (toll building) at the highway junction.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Punta Izopo
Visible around the bay to the east of Triunfo is Punta Izopo, Tela Bay’s second-largest protected area, covering 112 square kilometers, of which about half is a buffer zone and half is a supposedly untouchable nuclear zone. This refuge is much less frequently visited than Punta Sal but has similar ecosystems and wildlife; the swamps and waterways stretching into the jungle south of the point are superb for watching birds and animals.
Inside the reserve’s boundaries are the small Río Plátano (not to be confused with the river of same name in the Mosquitia) and Río Hicaque, and the larger Río Lean on the point’s eastern side, as well as kilometers of swamps, lagoons, and estuaries. Several small settlements are also located inside the boundaries of the reserve, including Hicaque, Las Palmas, Coloradito, and the intimidatingly named Salsipuedes (“get out if you can”).
The easiest access to Punta Izopo is by kayak with Eco di Mare or Garífuna Tours in Tela, both charging US$27 per person for a day trip. Trips normally start by driving in on a dirt road east from Triunfo to the Río Plátano, where you put the boats in. Conversely, it’s possible to find boats in Triunfo to take up to 10 people on day trips for US$30. A low-budget option is to hunt around Triunfo for a local willing to rent you a dory (US$7 a day would be a reasonable amount for a two-person wooden boat with oars), and then paddle out to the point with a companion. Don’t try it alone, as it’s a lot of work to fight the waves. Once at the point, you can hang out on the beach or walk around the point (beware the hordes of sand flies), or cross the low sandbar into the Río Plátano or Hicaque and paddle up the waterways.
Bear in mind that a visit to Punta Izopo is best made approaching by land, as trees and debris can block access to the river mouths that lead into the park from the ocean.
Puerto Cortés and Omoa
Situated on a deep natural harbor on the northwest corner of Honduras, only 60 kilometers from the industrial capital of San Pedro Sula, Puerto Cortés is perfectly located to serve as a transfer point for much of the country’s trade. It handles the largest amount of boat traffic—though Puerto Castilla near Trujillo moves more total tonnage—and is considered to have one of the best port facilities in Central America. Since a duty-free zone was created in the port area in 1976, a sizable assembly industry has developed, mostly of clothing exported to the United States. The occasional international cruise ship docks at Puerto Cortés for a day stop from time to time, while their tourist clients spend the day visiting the fort and beaches of Omoa, the handicraft market and museum in San Pedro Sula, or the ruins at Copán. City officials have made much talk of cleaning up the docks and downtown area for the cruise ship tourists, but nothing much has happened in that regard. Several hotels just outside of town on the road to Omoa on Playa Cienaguita keep their strip of golden sand fairly clean and inviting, perfect for a day out or an overnighter.
The thriving economy supports a population of 76,000.
The Spanish first settled west of present-day Puerto Cortés early in the colonial era, recognizing the value of the fine natural harbor. The first settlement was named Puerto Caballos (Port of Horses), after conquistador Gil González Dávila was caught in a fierce storm nearby in 1524 and was forced to throw several horses overboard.
Puerto Caballos was repeatedly struck by epidemics and marauding pirates, and by the turn of the 17th century the Spanish relocated to the better-protected harbor of Omoa, to the west. Modern Puerto Cortés was established in 1869 on the other side of the bay from the old colonial port, at the terminus of a new railway line connecting San Pedro Sula to the coast.
In the late 19th century, Puerto Cortés was a favorite destination for all manner of shady characters, swindlers, and soldiers-of-fortune from the United States and Europe. Many were on the run from the law, as Honduras had no extradition treaties until 1912. For a time in the 1890s, the Louisiana Lottery, banned in its home state, found refuge in Puerto Cortés and became one of the largest gambling concerns in the world.
Although Puerto Cortés is a large city, the downtown area is compact and can easily be navigated on foot. For car drivers, the north-south calles are one-way streets, while the east-west avenidas are two-way (except for 1 Avenida, which runs east-west only). While the main roads in Puerto Cortés have been paved, many around town are not, and are best traversed in a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
If you are headed out after dinner, choose your locale carefully, and beware of walking out on 1 Avenida at night, as muggings are common.
The travel writer who once declared Puerto Cortés “the foulest blot on Central America’s coastline” was perhaps overly unkind. The tropical seediness can be somewhat appealing, if one appreciates that sort of thing. But there’s no doubt that the port city itself offers little draw for tourists. Most foreigners are either there to take care of some shipping business or stopping off on the way between Guatemala and Honduras, either by boat or bus.
The parque, punctuated by several towering Caribbean pines and a few other trees and plants, is a shady, tranquil place to sit, but otherwise there’s little to do in town. The bustling dockyards are off-limits without a special pass, though you can check them out from behind a tall fence.
The Playa Municipal, also known as Playa Coca Cola, is the closest beach to town, just over the bridge that leads to the road to Omoa—either a US$2 taxi ride or a long hot walk from downtown. It is not particularly clean, and all valuables should be left at home (a good time to visit is on the weekend, when locals are also out enjoying the beaches). East of downtown (go to the Texaco refinery, take a right, and go to the end of the road) is Playa El Faro (Lighthouse Beach), which is not much better, though it does have a pleasingly windswept feel, and food and accommodation at the Costa Azul hotel.
Playa Cienaguita, west of the municipal beach, is a nicer beach. There are several hotels along this beach. Taxis to Cienaguita from Puerto Cortés cost US$5.25, or take an Omoa bus and hop off at the sign for Hotel Playa (US$0.35). From the turnoff to Hotel Playa, it’s a 10-minute walk up the road to the beach entrance. The hotels and beach at Cienaguita are usually packed on weekends with vacationers from San Pedro Sula, and completely deserted during the week.
ENTERTAINMENT AND EVENTS
At 9 Calle and 4 Avenida, a few blocks east of the parque, is the local soccer stadium, home to Platense, a sometimes competitive first-division team. Tickets are always available for the weekend games, selling for US$4-5. For a game schedule, call the club at 504/2665-6242.
Should you have a desire to consort with the local riffraff, there are plenty of pool halls around town. They offer beers and pool until midnight or later daily.
The city’s annual festival day is August 15.
The best inexpensive rooms in town are at Hotel El Centro (3 Av. between 2 and 3 Calles E, tel. 504/665-1160, US$17 s, US$24 d with fan; US$ 23 s, US$30 d with a/c), with sparkling clean rooms with TVs and private baths.
The only midrange choice right in town is Hotel Spring Palace (tel. 504/2665-1471, US$27 s, US$30.50 d), facing the park, whose tidy rooms have TVs and air-conditioning; a few have balconies that overlook the park.
On Playa Municipal
Villa del Sol (tel. 504/2665-4939, www.villadelsolhn.com, US$73 s/d, including breakfast) is an upscale hotel located on the edge of town at the Playa Municipal. The 17 spacious rooms have two queen beds, a small balcony or patio, checkered tile floors, and tasteful linens in tones of red and gold. The hotel has a swimming pool, laundry service, nice restaurant, and a second-story deck for guests to relax on that looks out to the ocean.
Just down the street is the Hotel Costa Azul County Beach (tel. 504/2665-5215, www.hotelcostazul.net, US$65 s, US$70 d). With 60 rooms it’s a much larger hotel than its neighbor Villa del Sol, and the swimming pool is a bit bigger and nicer, but the rooms, while fully equipped with air-conditioning, a small table, and wireless Internet, are plainer and the hotel older. The hotel has a restaurant, and it is possible to eat poolside.
On Playa Cienaguita
A couple of kilometers outside of town, on the way to Omoa, is the Hotel Playa (tel. 504/9518-0161, www.hotelplayahn.com, from US$45 s, from US$70 d, cabins US$200, including breakfast), with some ordinary rooms in the main building, and other more charming rooms close to the beach, each with a small porch, as well as four upscale cabins, set a few steps farther away from the beach behind the main building. It’s a touch on the pricey side, but service is very good, the beach is kept clean, and a small discount is available for weekday stays. There is a large restaurant area around the pool with gazebos in a setup reminiscent of a Jersey boardwalk, and if you buy food or drinks, you can hang out all day in the gazebos and sand (the breakfast crepes are very tasty). Use of the pool is US$5 per day.
Right next door is Hotel Palmeras Beach (tel. 504/9998-6593, US$32-79 depending on the number of guests, day of week, and season of year), with seven somewhat shabby but decent and spacious rooms, all with TVs and air-conditioning. The facilities include a (rather green) pool, a decrepit children’s play area, and a restaurant. Nonguests are welcome to hang out here and use the swimming pool at no charge in return for consumption of food and drink. The thumping music on weekends competes with the booming music of the next-door restaurant.
Just across the road from Palmeras is Brisas Resort (tel. 504/2665-4164, US$41 s, US$53 d, discounts usually available on weekdays and in low season). The rooms are smallish and plain, but the swimming pool is crystalline, and there are hammocks lining the breezeway, free wireless Internet, and, for those who need to stretch their muscles, a couple of exercise machines. There is also a spacious triple available (US$79) with sink and mini-fridge, and extra-small single rooms (US$31) for those looking to economize costs. While it’s not beachfront, the beach is just a minute’s walk away.
With two good restaurants nearby, a stay in one of the Playa-Palmeras-Brisas trifecta is ideal, but there are also a couple of decent hotels at other spots on the Cienaguita beach. The Casa de Playa (tel. 504/2553-2424, US$70 s, US$82 d) is laid out motel-style, but it’s attractive and right on the beach. All the standard amenities (TV, air-conditioning, wireless Internet, Internet in the lobby) and breakfast are included in the rate, but there’s no swimming pool and it’s rather pricey for what you get. To get to Casa de Playa, just look for the signs along the Puerto Cortés-Omoa highway.
One of the best restaurants in town is La Ola (tel. 504/2665-4939, 7 A.M.-10 P.M. daily) at the hotel Villa del Sol. While casual, La Ola is a bit classier than the typical beach restaurant in Honduras. They stay open later on Thursday and have live music then. Seafood is the specialty here, with fish dishes for US$8.50-11.50, mixed seafood grill for US$14.50, and lobster for just US$13. There are plenty of options for meat-lovers too.
Another good choice is Mr. Baleada’s (2 Av. at 1 Calle), clean and popular with locals, offering baleadas for US$0.60-1.25, as well as a few other items like burgers.
The local favorite seems to be Plata (3 Av. and 2 Calle, 6 A.M.-7 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 6 A.M.-noon Sun.), a very clean buffet restaurant and bakery. A plate at the ample buffet runs about US$4.
San Pedro’s tasty Pastelería Skandia (corner of 2 Av. and 7 Calle, 8:30 A.M.-7:30 P.M. daily) has a branch here, serving up a few pastries and licuados all day long.
Caffeine jolts and refreshing granitas are available at Espresso Americano (2 Av. and 3 Calle, 7 A.M.-7 P.M. daily).
For picnic fixings or other supplies, El Super Barato (corner of 4 Av. and 2 Calle) is a full-service supermarket.
On the Beach
Tasty meals are available at the Hotel Playa, with tables spread across the property, including several under gazebos right on the beach. The breakfast crepes are good (US$3.50); full breakfasts are US$7-11. Sandwiches (US$6) are a less expensive option for lunch or dinner; entrées run US$10-16, and the lobster here is a whopping US$30. But tables are available right on the beach, where you can eat with a champa over your head and the sand under your toes.
INFORMATION AND SERVICES
A moderately helpful website on Puerto Cortés is www.mipuertocortes.com. For dealing with any port business, the Capitanía del Puerto (7 A.M.-4 P.M. daily) is inside the main port on 1 Avenida.
Bahia Travel Service (3 Av. between 2 and 3 Calles, tel. 504/2665-5803 or 504/2665-3064, U.S. tel. 954/323-2460, 8 A.M.-6 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 8 A.M.-noon Sun.) can arrange airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms, and courier service. Bahia has English-speaking staff members. Yax Pac Tours (tel. 504/2658-9082, www.yaxpactours.com), run by Roland Gassmann of the hostel Roli’s Place in Omoa, offers day tours for cruise shippers arriving in Puerto Cortés, as well as customized tours in English, German, or Spanish throughout Honduras and Guatemala.
Banco Atlántida on 2 Avenida near the market exchanges dollars and travelers checks, has an ATM (Visa only), and also offers cash advances on Visa cards. BAC Bamer and HSBC are next to each other on 2 Avenida between 1 and 2 Calles, open Monday-Friday and mornings on Saturday. There is another ATM at HSBC. MoneyGrams can be picked up at Banco Atlántida, and Western Union has an office at Banco Ficensa (2 Av. and 3 Calle E).
Honducor and Hondutel are both on 1 Calle next to the main dock entrance. Express Mail Service is available at the post office.
There are several Internet cafés with fast connections that charge less than US$1 an hour. Cortez Net Cyber Cafe (2 Calle between 2 and 3 Av., tel. 504/2665-4574, 8:30 A.M.-9 P.M. Mon.-Sat.) charges a bit more but provides 10 flat-screen computers in a clean, air-conditioned space. Calls to the United States are just US$0.05 per minute.
In case of emergency, the police can be reached at 504/2665-0133 or 504/2665-0420, or simply by dialing 199. The number for the fire department is 504/2665-0223 or 504/2665-0500 (or just dial 198), and the Red Cross has an ambulance—dial 195. The Hospital y Clínica Medical Center is located at the corner of 6 Calle and 4 Avenida; its number is 504/2665-2001.
If you’re taking the boat between Honduras and Belize, you can take care of immigration right at the ferry dock; Roberto Alvarez of D-Express can walk you through it.
GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Impala (3 Calle between 4 and 5 Av., tel. 504/2665-0606) runs buses every 15 minutes to San Pedro Sula, the first departing at 5:30 A.M., the last at 6 P.M. Two minivans are usually filling up right next to each other; be sure to get the directo, which charges US$2.50 for the hour-long ride (the one that stops takes an extra half hour and is only pennies cheaper). The Impala buses to Puerto Cortés can be caught at San Pedro’s main bus terminal.
Right next to Impala, Citral (tel. 504/2665-0466) and Costeños operate frequent buses to Omoa and to the border town of Corinto, the first departing at 6 A.M. The last bus to the border departs at 4:20 P.M. (US$2.70), while the last bus to Omoa departs at 7:50 P.M. (US$1). To get to Playa Cienaguita, take one of these buses and let the driver know where to drop you (about US$0.35). To get to Puerto Cortés from either Omoa or Cienaguita, go out to the highway and flag down a bus—either a local bus that says Puerto Cortés or one of the buses with the Citral logo, or else you’ll end up headed to San Pedro Sula.
Buses to Bajamar and Travesía depart from 2 Avenida and 5 Calle. Three buses depart each day for the 20-minute, US$0.35 ride to Travesía; the last bus leaves at 4 P.M. Taking a taxi is probably the easier way to get there and back; it should cost around US$6 each way.
The 60-kilometer, four-lane highway between San Pedro Sula and Puerto Cortés is in good condition and takes less than an hour to drive. A toll of US$0.30 is levied leaving San Pedro to Puerto Cortés, but not the other way. The highway on to Omoa and the 51 additional kilometers to the Guatemalan border are also fully paved. On the other hand, the dirt road from Puerto Cortés east to Bajamar and Travesía continues to be in rough shape.
D-Express (tel. 504/2665-0726), run by Roberto Alvarez, runs boats from Puerto Cortés to Big Creek/Mango Creek and Placencia, Belize, departing Mondays at 11 A.M. from the pescadería, or fish market, under the bridge over the mouth of the Laguna Alvarado. D-Express’s office is located at the pescadería as well (8 A.M.-4 P.M. Mon. and Fri., 9 A.M.-4 P.M. Tues., Wed., Thurs., and Sat., and 9 A.M.-5 P.M. Sun.).
Coming from Belize, the boat departs Fridays from the Placencia Shell Dock at 9:30 A.M. and from Big Creek at 11 A.M. The ride costs US$58 per person. Immigration procedures are fairly easy coming and going; there is a detailed explanation of them on the D-Express website, and Roberto is happy to answer any questions travelers might have. The ferry is far cheaper than flying to Belize (which would cost about US$400 or more), and far faster than traveling by land (the boat takes about two hours to reach Belize), making it a great option for those interested in including Belize in their itinerary. If you have a car, it can be left in the lot at the pescadería.
Roberto is planning on adding a Saturday or Sunday run to Belize that would stop at the Cayos Zapatillos, where visitors could stop and dive and snorkel and camp (or stay in a simple room).
Taxis around downtown should cost US$1.50, US$2 out to the dock where boats depart for Belize, or US$5.25 out to Playa Cienaguita. There is a taxi stand in front of the Hotel Formosa and another facing the park, and taxis constantly circulate throughout town. Buses all leave from within a couple of blocks of the shady parque.
For car drivers, the north-south calles are one-way streets, while the east-west avenidas are two-way (except for 1 Avenida, which runs east-west only). While the main roads in Puerto Cortés have been paved, many around town are not, and are best traversed in a vehicle with four-wheel drive.
BAJAMAR AND TRAVESÍA
Bajamar and Travesía are two of a loose string of Garífuna communities spread along the road that follows the coastline east from Puerto Cortés. There are various simple restaurants, pulperías, bars, and shady beaches, not to mention the gregarious Garífuna people going about their business. Travesía and Bajamar are relatively safe and relaxed, especially the farther away from Puerto Cortés you go. Locals support themselves by fishing, selling coco-bread, and, increasingly, with money wired from relatives in the states (mostly in New York City), allowing many male townsfolk to sit back and drink copious quantities of gífiti, a lethal Garífuna concoction of herbs, roots, spices, and aguardiente (the favored Honduran poor-quality booze).
Bajamar is the site of the annual National Garífuna Festival, normally held in late July, which draws Garífuna from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras for a party of dancing and music.
Beyond Bajamar, the road continues, ending five minutes past the village of Brisas de Chamelecón. Curious travelers can continue farther by renting a lancha (US$2 per boat) to carry them across the river’s mouth to La Barra Chamelecón, where they will reportedly find several eateries serving fresh fish and alcohol on the beach.
Throngs of Hondurans hit the water at Omoa on the weekend.
Getting There and Away
Buses to Bajamar leave five times a day from next to the Citul station in Puerto Cortés, 7 A.M.-5:30 P.M. (US$0.40), with the last two buses of the day remaining in Bajamar. By taxi, expect to pay about US$5.25 to Travesía or US$8 to Bajamar, or hire a cab to take you out for a day trip for about US$6 an hour.
The sleepy fishing village of Omoa is built around a small bay 13 kilometers west of Puerto Cortés, where the Sierra de Omoa mountains meet the Caribbean. The town itself was never a major population center, but for strategic purposes the Spanish built the largest colonial-era fort in Central America here. Given the formerly rough road conditions, Omoa was long a popular stop-off point for travelers moving between Guatemala and Honduras—as recently as the mid-1990s, the connection between Corinto and Puerto Barrios in Guatemala was a footpath—but since the road has been paved and the border remains open until 9 P.M. (making it possible to get from Roatan all the way to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, in a single day), Omoa is slipping back into slumber.
Omoa’s houses and shops are scattered along the two-kilometer road between the Puerto Cortés highway and the sea. The main beach, lined with fishing boats and several small restaurants, has lost a lot of sand in the past couple of years, but it’s a relaxing place to have a seafood lunch after admiring the impressively massive fort, located on the main road running between the highway and the beach. About a 45-minute walk south of the highway junction is a small waterfall in the woods—ask someone to point out the trail. A few robberies have been reported on this trail, so ask at your hotel for the latest situation before venturing this way.
Omoa’s fort was built under orders from King Fernando VII of Spain in the 18th century.
Omoa celebrates its annual carnival on May 30 in honor of San Fernando. The town has a website, www.omoa.net, created by Roli of Roli’s Place.
Located on the road into town, the Fortaleza San Fernando de Omoa, or El Castillo, as the locals call it, is open for tours daily (tel. 504/2658-9167, 8 A.M.-4 P.M. Mon.-Fri., 9 A.M.-5 P.M. Sat.-Sun., US$4). Entrance includes a visit to the adjacent Museo de Omoa, which has small but insightful exhibits on the history of the area, an overview of the fort, and displays of antique guns and swords. Guides are available, for US$8 (in Spanish; there is one who also speaks English, and a tour in English costs US$10.50). The small souvenir shop stocks good-quality pottery and jewelry made from coconut shells.
Omoa’s main attraction has long been seaside relaxation. The one problem is that currents have changed (blamed by some on the construction of the huge Gas de Caribe plant at the northern end of the bay), carrying sand away from the town beach, leaving it with a rocky shoreline. But there are still some nice beaches outside of town, and, it should be noted, the hotel Sueños de Mar trucks in their own sand. And speaking of Sueños de Mar, there is some good snorkeling at their end of the bay.
Right at the town pier, Banana boats and covered lanchas offer 5- to 10-minute rides in the bay for US$1.50 per person.
Sports and Recreation
With its sheltered cove, Omoa offers an excellent harbor for boaters. Only during the rare northeast wind are conditions bad. The port captain (tel. 504/2658-9274, radio channels 16 and 28), located on the main road, is open 24 hours a day. There are no fees for boats entering the harbor or for docking.
A relatively new canopy line has opened near Omoa, called Rawacala (tel. 504/2556-5157, closed Mon.). The US$30 experience includes a 400-meter zipline, 70 meters above the river below, travel through the cloud forest, and views of Omoa Bay. They also have a hotel on-site, and there is hiking in the area (come and just hike for US$5).
Travelers with kids shouldn’t miss Parque Acuático San Fernando de Omoa (tel. 504/2658-9072, www.parqueacuaticodeomoa.com, open Wed.-Sun., US$6 adults, US$3 children), a nice waterslide park just east of the entrance to town. Kids and adults alike also may enjoy the small local zoo, Parque Ecológico Infantil San Ignacio (tel. 504/2580-1085). In addition to monkeys and jaguars, there are waterslides and pools, restaurants, and even cabins if you decide to stay the night. The entrance fee varies depending on the day (adults US$3.50 weekdays, US$5 Sun., kids US$1.30 weekdays, US$2 Sun., closed Sat.). Parque San Ignacio is located at kilometer 86 on the highway to Guatemala, at the town of Masca.
If you have a reason to be in Omoa, Roli’s Place (tel./fax 504/2658-9082, www.yaxpactours.com and www.omoa.net/Roli.html) is a five-minute walk from the beach, with a wide variety of well-maintained accommodations. True penny-pinchers can camp or sleep in a hammock for US$3, while backpackers can take a bed in the dorm room for US$5.25. There are several shared toilets and showers, one of which has hot water (although it’s available only during the cold season). Small but tidy private rooms start at US$8 for one person with a shared bath, US$12 with a private bath. The rooms surround a shady yard of mango and coconut trees, with an outdoor communal kitchen and a pila for washing clothes (or pay US$2 to have five pounds washed for you). The dorm patio shelters a large wood table, perfect for writing out postcards while nursing a chilled beer. A second yard is lined by three much nicer private rooms with their own patio and hammocks. These rooms are tastefully decorated and comfortably sized, with decent linens, tiled floors, private bathrooms, and hot water, and are a steal at US$13 d (US$4 more for a/c). Abundant guest services (free drinking water, bikes, kayaks, games, guitars, a wireless Internet point, etc.) complete the scene. Roli’s is on the road toward Omoa center, on your left-hand side, 70 meters before you reach the beach.
A decent beachfront option is Sueños de Mar (tel. 504/2630-5605, www.suenosdemar.com, US$37 standard room, US$42 family room), a small hotel run by a pair of Canadians, Karen and Mark. The five rooms are set around an interior garden and equipped with air-conditioning, hot water, small TVs, and wireless Internet, and the bathrooms are clean. The rooms are on the small side, and maybe the remote control or the shower head won’t work, but you’re planning on spending your day on the beach anyway, aren’t you? Good thing that Sueños de Mar trucks in its own sand, so that they always have plenty, no matter which way the currents may be flowing. Karen runs a restaurant on-site (8 A.M.-4:30 P.M.), serving Canadian and catracho breakfasts (US$4-6) and Mexican and Canadian food the rest of the day (subs, grilled cheese, quesadillas, US$2-7).
At the other end of the town beach is Flamingo’s (tel. 504/2658-9199, www.flamingosomoa.com, US$47 s, US$57 d), right on the water, with attractive wood-paneled rooms with tile floors, nice bathrooms, TVs, and air-conditioning. Prices include a desayuno típico of eggs, beans, and tortillas. Unlike at many beachfront hotels, the prices do not change during peak times such as Semana Santa. There is a comfortable bar, and the most attractive and highly regarded restaurant on the beach, built up on a platform at the water’s edge.
Many of the other rooms in town are either overpriced or rather disappointing—be sure to take a look before putting money down, so you know what you’re getting.
Those looking for luxury will be happy with Omoa Bay condominiums (tel. 504/2553-4358, www.vrbo.com/134328), right on a safe, semiprivate stretch of beach. There are six three-bedroom apartments, fully equipped with quality linens, plasma TVs, wireless Internet, and the like, along with three shared decks and a swimming pool. The views are fabulous. Rates are US$1,100-1,400 per week depending on the season and number of guests, higher during Holy Week and New Year’s.
Food and Drink
For cheap eats, try Comedor Gloria, on the road between the beach and the fort, or Champa de Monchín right on the town pier for baleadas or tacos.
For seafood, and a relatively more upscale setting, try the restaurant at Flamingo’s (tel. 504/2658-9199), built on a terrace overlooking the water, known for good service and high-quality food. Ceviches and fish entrées run US$10-17, while lobster and the mixed seafood grill are around US$25. Taking a step down in both atmosphere and price is next-door neighbor Escapate (7:30 A.M.-9 P.M. daily), with a seafood grill, lobster, and king crab on the menu for US$18.50; shrimp, conch, and fish dishes for US$10.50; and chicken, pork, beef, and plato típico for US$5.25.
A former chef from Flamingo’s has decided to set up his own place, Faro’s (9 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), right at the intersection of the beach road and the town road. The menu is a bit shorter here, but still has huge seafood plates with shrimp, conch, fish fillets, lobster, and king crab, served grilled, fried, or in either a garlic or spicy tomato sauce (around US$21), as well as moderately priced fish dishes, ceviches, and even chicken and fish fingers.
Of the joints, locals recommend Iguana Sport Bar for its good food, generous portions, and cleanliness. Fish dishes are US$8, conch and shrimp US$10, and lobster and king crab US$16, each available in a variety of preparations (grilled, garlic, fried, etc.). Meat entrées are on the menu as well. The smaller prices at Faro’s and Iguana have a trade-off: no water views. But you can still enjoy the sea breeze.
If you decide to try one of the other restaurants or champas crowding the beach area, ask yourself these questions: How loud do I want my music? How bright do I want my lights? How cheap do I want my fish? Then go out and make some comparisons.
Out along the highway is Burger Sabor y Más (7 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), a local favorite for reasonably priced good food. Breakfasts (including omelets) are US$1.50-3, most seafood dishes are US$6-8, and the namesake burgers are US$3.
A good low-key place for a drink on the beach is Henry’s Sunset Restaurant and Bar (http://playapantera.com), two doors from Sueños de Mar on the northern end of the beach. Head there around 5 P.M. to make sure you catch the sunset. If you end up staying for more drinks than you planned and want to stay the night, they have a room for rent as well.
At the highway junction are a few pulperías (minimarts), a burger joint, and, opposite the Copena gas station, a migración office.
Dollars and travelers checks can be exchanged at Roli’s and Flamingo’s, but not at the Banco de Occidente in town. If somehow you need telephone service as opposed to Internet, you can go to the expensive and very slow Hondutel office (tel. 504/2658-9010). The Omoa police can be reached at 504/2658-9156.
FORTALEZA SAN FERNANDO DE OMOA
The Caribbean coast of Honduras was sparsely populated throughout the colonial era, making it an easy target for attacks by pirates, marauding Miskito Indians, and, later, the British Navy. Although pirate assaults began just a couple of decades after the Spanish started to colonize Central America, it was not until the mid-18th century that colonial authorities made serious efforts to combat the marauders and fortify their positions on the coastline.
As early as 1685, the Spanish recognized Omoa as an ideal location for a fort—strategically situated on a deep, protected harbor between English settlements in Belize, the Bay Islands, and the Mosquitia. But distractions elsewhere, a lack of funding, and bureaucratic inertia combined to delay actual construction until 1752, when royal engineer Luis Diez de Navarro arrived with a plan for a massive triangular bastion.
Work on the fort was painstakingly slow. For one thing, there was no adequate stone in the area; it had to be cut and transported from as far as 150 kilometers away. Even more dire was the lack of workers; disease and heat took a brutal toll on the conscripted Indians. Omoa became known as the graveyard of Honduras among the highland Indians, and able-bodied males fled their villages when they heard that colonial officials were coming to look for workers. Eventually, the crown brought in black slaves to finish the fort.
Finally completed in 1773, the fort was an intimidating sight. Two of the three sides were 60 meters long, while the ocean-facing base measured 25 meters. The walls were 6 meters tall and 2 meters thick. The complex overflowed with 150 pieces of artillery and was surrounded by a moat. Despite its daunting appearance, the fort was never particularly successful.
A combined British-Miskito force of almost 1,000 men, led by Commodore John Luttrell, took it in 1779, just six years after construction had been completed. After that inauspicious first defeat, the fort at Omoa fell variously to Spanish royalists, Francisco Morazán’s forces, and, later, Guatemalan soldiers. Apparently easier to get into than out of, the fort was finally converted into a prison by the Honduran government in 1853.
In spite of its dismal record of defense, the fort is visually impressive, squatting ominously in the tropical heat a kilometer or so from the ocean. The Caribbean has receded in the years since its construction, leaving the fort standing amid the fields and swamp between the Puerto Cortés highway and the beach. It is undergoing a significant restoration thanks to a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.
The fort (tel. 504/2658-9167) is open 8 A.M.-4 P.M. Monday-Friday, 9 A.M.-5 P.M. Saturday-Sunday; admission is US$4. Next to the fort is a museum with interesting descriptions (Spanish only) of the history of the colony and the construction of the fort. Guides to the fort are available for US$8 in Spanish, or US$10.50 in English.
Fortaleza San Fernando de Omoa
The hotel Bahía de Omoa offers laundry service to nonguests.
Taximotos tootle around town, charging US$0.50 for the ride between the fort and the beach.
Wireless Internet is available at Sueños de Mar for US$2 per hour (free for guests), as well as at Roli’s Place.
Buses run between Omoa and Puerto Cortés all day long until 8 P.M. (US$0.90). The last bus to the border passes about 4:30 P.M. and costs US$2. Those returning directly to San Pedro Sula from Omoa should ask the driver to stop at the highway junction outside of Puerto Cortés, where the direct San Pedro buses (Impala buslines) stop to fill up with passengers. (There is no direct service from San Pedro to Omoa, but the San Pedro buses and Omoa buses share a terminal in Puerto Cortés, so it’s easy to make the change when headed to Omoa.) Roli of Roli’s Place (tel. 504/2658-9082, www.yaxpactours.com) offers shuttle bus service to La Ceiba, with a minimum of eight people.
Crossing into Guatemala
Formerly a long walk through the jungle, the border crossing to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala is now quick and painless. Just about every bus heading west on the highway from Omoa is going to the border, charging US$2 for the hour-long ride. Take a taximoto from Omoa to the highway and flag down the next bus you see. If you prefer a more comfortable ride, contact Roli at Yax Pac Tours (tel. 504/2658-9082, www.yaxpactours.com) about his shuttle service.
There is no charge to exit Honduras, but there’s a US$3 fee upon entry (or reentry).
Tucked into the Golfo de Amatique are the Cayos Zapotillos, a collection of beautiful patches of sand, palm trees, and reef whose ownership is unclear. The water around the cays is exceptionally clear, and the reef is in good condition and teeming with marine life. The cays—Hunting Cay, Lime Cay, Nicholas Cay, Raggedy Cay, French Cay, and two others—are claimed by Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala. Belize has erected a police station on Hunting Cay, the largest of the islands, so it seems to have taken charge of the situation for the moment. A tourist official is also usually present. All visitors must register at the police station, show a zarpe paper (an international permit for a boat, available at the port captain’s office in Omoa or Puerto Cortés), and pay US$10 for each visitor. Everyone must have a passport.
No facilities exist on the cays, so bring camping gear. Roberto Alvarez of D-Express ferry service to Belize is planning to start running snorkeling and scuba day trips; less expensive trips might also be negotiated with fishermen in Omoa. Keep in mind the zarpe paper costs around US$40, and gas is expensive.
Coralio reclined, in the midday heat, like some vacuous beauty lounging in a guarded harem. The town lay at the sea’s edge on a strip of alluvial coast. It was set like a little pearl in an emerald band. Behind it, and seeming almost to topple, imminent, above it, rose the sea-following range of the Cordilleras. In front the sea was spread, a smiling jailer, but even more incorruptible than the frowning mountains. The waves swished along the smooth beach; the parrots screamed in the orange and ceiba-trees; the palms waved their limber fronds foolishly like an awkward chorus at the prima donna’s cue to enter.
O. Henry, Cabbages and Kings
One of many foreigners who have been waylaid by Trujillo’s lotus-land vibes, American writer O. Henry renamed the town Coralio for his short story, but the description is as good as one could ask for. The country’s oldest settlement, Trujillo feels like a forgotten, sleepy corner of Honduras, where no one is in a hurry to do anything. The very idea of being in a hurry in Trujillo seems preposterous.
Even the local tourist industry has failed to take off, despite the obvious attractions of a broad bay lined by a beach and palm trees, a national park close to town comprising jungle-covered mountains and mangrove lagoons, and several quiet Garífuna villages not far away. It doesn’t help that no airline currently flies to Trujillo (although Sosa and CM will fly in if a group books the entire plane), and the town is three hours by bus from La Ceiba, and twice that from San Pedro Sula.
Despite the difficult access, Trujillo is a favorite stop-off for the overland backpacker-traveler crowd, and popular with anyone looking to get away from it all—those who appreciate the tranquil vibes. It’s an easy place to let a couple of days or weeks slip away, if you can do without luxury.
The capital of the Colón department, Trujillo has about 16,000 residents.
Though Trujillo was officially founded on May 18, 1525, by Juan de Medina, acting under orders from Hernán Cortés, the natural bay had long before drawn other settlers. According to colonial testimony and archaeological evidence, Trujillo Bay had been occupied for many hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived. Trujillo was apparently something of a pre-Columbian crossroads, the site of Pech and Tolupán villages as well as settlements of Mayan and Nahuatl traders from Mexico and Guatemala.
The early Spanish colonists established their new town on the site of an Indian village named Guaimura, amid approximately a dozen other villages totaling several thousand inhabitants. Trujillo was named for the Spanish hometown of Medina’s superior officer, Fernando de las Casas.
In the first years after conquest, Trujillo was the administrative center of the new colony, housing both the governor of Honduras and the only bishopric, established in 1545. But the lure of gold in the mountains soon drew colonists to the interior towns of Gracias a Dios and Comayagua, which by the middle of the century had superseded Trujillo.
Trujillo faded into a backwater colonial port. The constant threat of pirate assault on the poorly guarded harbor was all the more reason for colonists to relocate. French corsairs first attacked in 1558, and others followed repeatedly from their bases on the Bay Islands and in the Mosquitia. Since colonial authorities were unable to mount an effective defense, even the Spanish merchants who depended on the port took to living inland and came to the coast only when the Spanish fleet arrived.
THE FALL OF WILLIAM WALKER
Filibuster William Walker—“the gray-eyed man of destiny,” as he was called in his years of fame—was possessed by a burning desire to govern parts or all of Central America. He offered varied reasons, including a desire to expand slavery and to establish U.S. control over the fractious republics before England did. But the more important driving force behind his actions seems to have been a slightly crazed messianic fervor.
Walker invaded Nicaragua and ruled it 1855-1857. His presence accomplished the heretofore impossible task of unifying El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica in a common goal—namely, getting rid of the hated gringo. After a series of bloody battles, Walker surrendered in Nicaragua on May 1, 1857, and returned to New Orleans. His hero’s welcome there took the sting out of his defeat, and, convinced as ever of his destiny to rule Central America, he soon organized an expedition to conquer Nicaragua once again. It would be his last.
Walker departed New Orleans in June 1860, planning first to take control of the island of Roatan, then join forces with Honduran Liberal Party leader Trinidad Cabañas to overthrow the Honduran government. However, at the time, the British occupied Roatan. They had been about to turn the island over to Honduras, but on hearing of Walker’s plan, they postponed their departure. When Walker arrived off Roatan and saw the Union Jack still flying, he changed plans and decided instead to take Trujillo. Landing on the bay a few kilometers from town at night, Walker and his 200 men marched on the fort at dawn and took it in a 15-minute battle.
Walker quickly hoisted the flag of the Central American Republic over the fort and reassured the townspeople of his good intentions. However, he made the fatal mistake of taking over Trujillo’s customs house—which, unbeknownst to him, was technically managed by the British. This gave British forces in Roatan the pretext they needed to help Honduras attack Walker. The British warship Icarus, commanded by Captain Norvell Salmon, soon appeared in the harbor, and word came of a force of 700 Honduran soldiers just outside of town. Rather than give in to the inevitable, Walker chose to lead his men out of town during the night. They made their way east into the Mosquitia in hopes of joining forces with Cabañas.
Walker eventually stopped to regroup on the banks of the Río Sico, where he and his men came under attack from Honduran soldiers. They fought off the attack for five days, but with many of his “immortal” soldiers dead or wounded, and himself ill with a fever and shot in the cheek, Walker knew he was defeated. When the Icarus appeared near the scene of the battle, Walker surrendered to Salmon, figuring he and his men would at worst return in shame to the United States.
Walker’s men were placed under the protection of the British flag, but Salmon had no sympathy for Walker; he turned him over to the Hondurans in Trujillo. At first Walker protested, but soon he resigned himself to his fate. On September 12, 1860, Walker was led to the outskirts of town—now the site of the town hospital—flanked by two priests and a crowd of heckling Hondurans, clearly relishing the sight of the famed invading gringo’s execution. Walker remained calm, received his last sacraments from the priests, and stood straight in the face of a firing squad.
In 1642, English pirate William Jackson led an assault on Trujillo with 1,500 men, almost entirely destroying the town. While Trujillo residents were still recovering from the blow, the next year Dutchman Jan Van Horn arrived and finished the work entirely. Those who hadn’t been killed gave up the port as a lost cause, and the Spanish deserted Trujillo for almost 150 years, although British traders intermittently used the ruined town as a stop-off point.
In the late 18th century, the Spanish began a major counteroffensive to turn back British settlements along Central America’s Caribbean coast. As part of this effort, Trujillo was reoccupied by a contingent of soldiers in 1780. Although the Spanish colony was on its last legs, the new settlement took hold. It received a boost in 1799, when several hundred Garífuna, deported by the British from the south Caribbean island of San Vicente and unceremoniously dumped on nearby Roatan, built a village just west of Trujillo in what is now Barrio Cristales.
As with the rest of the north coast, Trujillo participated in the banana boom of the early 20th century. Both Standard and United Fruit acquired lands in the area. Standard still controls much land in the nearby Valle del Aguán and ships most of its produce out of nearby Puerto Castilla. Trujillo’s economy relies on the port, the departmental government, and the fledgling tourist industry.
Orientation and Safety
The center of Trujillo is on a rise above the beach and consists of a small square surrounded by government buildings, the church, and a few stores. The town continues several streets back up the hill, where the bulk of hotels and restaurants are located. To the west of downtown is Barrio Cristales, the first Garífuna settlement on mainland Honduras.
Robberies have been reported in the vicinity of Trujillo, but generally the downtown area, the main town beach, and the stretch between the airport beach and Casa Kiwi and beyond are safe. Less safe are the more deserted stretches of beach between Trujillo and Santa Fe, and the beach around the airport at night.
It’s easy to spend a couple of days… or a couple of months…. at Trujillo’s beaches.
For those staying out at the beach hotels, be forewarned that seasonal rains can make getting there—or away—impossible.
First and foremost among Trujillo’s attractions is the beach right below town—a wide, clean swath of sand lined with champa restaurants and lapped by the protected waters of the bay. Swimming and sunbathing here are safe, but don’t tempt fate by leaving possessions lying around unguarded. The bay is not as clear as waters off the Bay Islands, but still it’s warm, fairly clean, and calm. Beware of swimming in front of town, however, during or after rains, as the runoff brings lots of nasty stuff from town into the bay.
The airport beach, east of town in front of the airport and dominated by the aging Christopher Columbus Hotel, is an equally fine spot for relaxing, usually a bit quieter as it’s farther from town. Sand flies are common enough on Trujillo’s beaches, depending on the breeze and season, but not as bad as they are farther out by Puerto Castilla.
East of the airport, beaches continue all the way around the bay to Puerto Castilla. One particularly good place to hang out is the beach by the Casa Kiwi hotel, about seven kilometers from town, easily reached by a Puerto Castilla bus. The entire beach all the way out to Puerto Castilla is generally safe, but if you plan on heading to more isolated areas, it’s best not to go alone, and don’t bring valuables.
Farther afield (heading the opposite direction, toward Santa Fe) are more wide stretches of beach, with the occasional hotel to tempt travelers to stay on for a while. Good snorkeling can be found in this direction, in particular at Cayo Blanco and Banco de Estrellas Marinas (“sea star sandbar”).
For all its storied history, Trujillo retains little in the way of colonial monuments. The most interesting is the Fortaleza de Santa Bárbara (8 A.M.-noon and 1-4 P.M. daily, US$3), which was built piecemeal beginning in 1575. As was the fort at Omoa, Trujillo’s fort was notably unsuccessful, falling continually to attackers over the course of the colonial era. Invaders were repelled with success only after the arrival of the Garífuna in 1799. The Garífuna were superb soldiers who had gained experience from a half century of guerrilla warfare against the British on San Vicente. The last real battle for the fort took place in 1910, when a Honduran general landed here in an unsuccessful attempt to launch a coup. The fort was closed in 1969 when its guard troops were called into action against El Salvador in the “Soccer War.” Shortly thereafter, it was converted into a tourist attraction. Several colonial-era cannons are still set up on the fort’s ramparts. Known locally as El Castillo, it contains three rooms filled with artifacts such as Lenca pottery and stone carvings, cannonballs and pistols from the colonial era, and informative exhibits. If you’re an early riser, it can be possible to visit the fort even before its regular opening at 9 A.M., since the guard-slash-ticket sellers are already on-site.
Although Trujillo was the site of the first cathedral in Honduras, the original church was destroyed long ago. The unexceptional Catedral de San Juan Bautista was built in 1832 and remodeled 1930-1939. A Garífuna mass is held here every other Sunday at 6:30 P.M., complete with traditional singing.
The cementerio viejo (old cemetery), south of downtown, is worth a visit to see the grave of the “gray-eyed man of destiny,” William Walker, whose filibustering days came to a violent end in Trujillo on September 12, 1860. Apart from Walker’s grave, the cemetery (8 A.M.-noon and 1-4 P.M. Tues.-Sun.) also offers an interesting, if decrepit, assortment of grave monuments from across 300 years of Trujillo history. At last check, it was completely overgrown with weeds reaching well above the cemetery’s walls.
Roughly seven kilometers before reaching Trujillo are hot springs, with a US$2.65 entrance fee; massage service is available.
Tourist Options (tel. 504/2440-0265, www.hondurastouristoptions.com), based in La Ceiba, offers tours to Trujillo (half or full day) that can include visits to the Garífuna communities, Puerto Castillo, Guaimoreto Lagoon, and Capiro and Calentura National Park. The basic Trujillo tour is US$45 per person based on a group of four.
ENTERTAINMENT AND EVENTS
Discoteca Truxillo is the main disco in town, with a good mix of music and people. Entrance is typically US$2.50, and Thursday is karaoke night. A good local bar is Henry’s Place, with several pool tables, and Vino Tinto (“red wine”) on the hill just off the parque central is a good place to hang out and nurse a glass of wine; a full menu is available as well. The restaurant/bar at the Casa Kiwi, outside of town on the road to Puerto Castilla (you’ll have to take a taxi at night if you’re not staying there), always has a group of young travelers drinking beers, playing pool, and swapping stories.
Trujillo’s annual patron festival is held on June 24 in honor of San Juan Bautista. The festival lasts an entire month, with each neighborhood hosting a party on a different day. The hotels can get pretty busy, and drunks are plentiful.
In Barrio Cristales, Waniehügu, next to the Hotel Cocopando, sells a variety of Garífuna artesanías. Also near the Hotel Cocopando, Artesma Garífuna (tel. 504/2434-3593, 7 A.M.-10 P.M. daily) is worth seeking out for its drums, carvings, jewelry, paintings, and punta cassettes. Unfortunately, it also stocks a number of shells and starfish pilfered from nearby waters.
Construction of the Santa Bárbara fort, perched at the edge of Trujillo, began in 1575.
The handicraft store Made in Honduras (tel. 504/9839-2768, www.hondurastreasures.com), at the entrance to town, is perhaps our favorite handicraft shop in the country. Initiated by a missionary and run by a community group, the store has an excellent selection of both traditional and creative crafts. All the goodies inside have been handmade by local Hondurans who know a thing or two about style. Treebark tuno pictures have been brought from the Mosquitia, but the rest of the items, such as fabric purses and beaded jewelry, are made by local community members.
With tourism still in first gear, and not much else going on in Trujillo either, good hotel options right in town are limited.
Conveniently located in front of the park, although rather dark, is Hotel Colonial (tel. 504/2434-4011, US$18 s, US$26 d), with air-conditioning and TV-equipped rooms.
The American-owned O’Glynn Hotel (tel. 504/2434-4592, US$20 s, US$26 d), three blocks uphill from the square, rents modern, spacious rooms with air-conditioning, hot water, and cable TV. In the lobby of the hotel is a complete set of framed topographical maps of the region, an interesting collection of pre-Columbian jade figurines, and a copy of the testimony of the founding of Trujillo on May 18, 1525, in the name of Cortés, written by Captain Francisco de las Casas.
Another option in the heart of town is Hotel Plaza Centro (Calle Convetillo, tel. 504/2434-3006, US$13 s, US$18.50 d, US$5.25 more with a/c); ask for a room on the top floor to get a view across town.
For something more upscale, try Villa Vista Dorada (tel. 504/2434-4465, U.S. tel. 404/668-1904, www.vrbo.com/323050), a three-bedroom private home available for rent (US$120 per night for up to four people, three-night minimum, US$20 extra for additional people up to seven). Although it’s far from the beach, the hillside location grants a fantastic view, and the owners have a private strip of beach available for guest use, complete with guardhouse, champa, and shower.
On the Beach
Casa Alemania (tel. 504/2434-4466, US$37 s/d) is a relaxed beachfront hotel, with top-notch German cooking by the owner, Gunther, although former guests recommend being sure to ask the price of the meal before ordering. (Nonguests can come for a meal if they call ahead.) No two rooms on the property are alike, but they are all simple, decent, and spacious, as well as very clean. Rooms have tile floors, TVs, and hot water; most are spacious. There is a small apartment with eight twin beds that rents for US$10 per person. Budget travelers can camp out for US$5, or if you’re really down to your last lempira, borrow a hammock and sleep out for free. (If the hotel isn’t full, you can probably negotiate a cheaper rate for one of the rooms if you don’t feel like camping.) Hearty breakfasts are available for US$4, as is laundry service (same price). Gunther’s Honduran wife is a professional masseuse. The beach in front of the hotel can get pretty crowded on weekends and holidays.
On the far side of the airstrip, at the airport beach is the two-story La Quinta Bay Hotel (tel. 504/2434-4398, US$26 s/d). The well-maintained rooms each have two double beds, air-conditioning, TV, and porch. There isn’t a restaurant on-site, so be prepared to visit either one of the beach eateries or head into town for meals.
Five kilometers past the entrance to Trujillo, down the road toward Puerto Castilla, is Casa Kiwi (tel. 504/9967-2052, www.casakiwi.com), a popular option for backpackers and other low-key travelers, run by a friendly New Zealander with plenty of knowledge about the area. The large house just off the beach has two dorm rooms with beds (US$8 pp) and three private rooms (US$15 s, US$16 d), all simple but clean, with hot water and fans. Unfortunately, linens are getting a bit worn. There are also two rooms with fans and shared bath (US$13-20 depending on the number of guests—up to four). Closer to the beach there are three boxy cabins with vaulted ceilings, air-conditioning, hot water, and private baths (US$36 s, US$41 d). Internet is available to guests. The hotel has a van, and they’re happy to pick up and drop off guests at the bus station (no matter the hour) for a reasonable rate (around US$5, depending on gas prices). They’ll also help travelers get into town, for example, to hit the discos on weekends. Otherwise, to get there, catch a Puerto Castilla-bound bus or, in the evening, a US$10 cab.
Comidas Rápidas El Centro (tel. 504/2434-4567, 7 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), opposite the park, is a buffet restaurant where a heaping plate of fried chicken, plantains, and coleslaw will set you back about US$4. The patio seating faces the town square. Adjoining is Helados Castillo, serving ice cream and pastries, including tasty cinnamon rolls.
Reputed to be the best place for Garífuna cuisine and comida típica is Cafetería Don Bene, in Barrio Cristales. To get there, take the road toward Barrio Cristales (toward Santa Fe), and a right just before the Cristales bridge.
Rogue’s Galería is a laid-back hangout popular on the weekend with travelers and local expats, serving up fried chicken and seafood, and highly recommended tacos and fajitas. The food is great tasting and well priced (US$4-9), and the restaurant keeps the nearby beach clean. Open for lunch and dinner, Rogue’s closes at 9 P.M. daily.
A little farther down the beach, Delfín’s serves up a decent meal, but customers can suffer long waits for their food, and groups rarely get served all at once, but as the food is ready.
The Supermercado Popular (7:30 A.M.-7:30 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 8 A.M.-noon Sun.), on the square, has a large selection of groceries. The public market, a couple of blocks south of the square, does not offer much variety but has a basic selection of staple fruits and vegetables at inexpensive prices.
INFORMATION AND SERVICES
Fundación para la Protección de Capiro, Calentura y Guaimoreto, a.k.a. Fucagua (tel. 504/2434-4294) can provide you with a simple map and descriptive pamphlet of the surrounding natural areas, and may be able to put you in touch with a guide.
There is a tourist information office next to the fort, which opens at 9:30 A.M. Mon.-Sat.
Right on the park, Banco Atlántida has an ATM (sometimes broken or out of cash), and the bank can exchange dollars and travelers checks, as well as receive MoneyGrams. While only Visa works in the ATM, cash advances can be made on MasterCard inside. Western Union wires are received at Banco de Occidente, 1.5 blocks from the park. In general, though, it’s best to take care of money matters before getting to Trujillo; things have a way of happening slowly or not at all here.
Hondutel, a couple of blocks south of the square, is open 7 A.M.-9 P.M. daily. Honducor is right next to Hondutel.
There are several Internet cafés in town, including Cristal Café Net (8 A.M.-10 P.M. daily), where international calls can be made as well.
Those interested in learning Spanish can try out the Escuela de Idiomas Truxillo (tel. 504/2434-4135, www.globalnet.hn/escuela), offering 20 hours of instruction per week for US$150, or private instruction for US$7 an hour. Homestays are possible for just an additional US$70.
Swedish massages are available from Paula De Wassmus at Casa Alemania (tel. 504/2434-4466) for just US$18, as well as acupuncture and reflexology services.
In case of emergency, head to the Hospital Dr. Salvado Paredes (tel. 504/2434-4093), at the entrance to town. For the police, call 504/2434-4038 or 504/2434-4039, or dial 199. For the fire department, call 504/2434-4942.
Migración (tel. 504/2434-4451) is in Barrio Cristales, a 15-minute walk from the park. Visas can only be renewed in Tegucigalpa, but the office can provide the requisite paperwork for anyone arriving by boat from Nicaragua or elsewhere.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
There is no regular air service to and from Trujillo. Sosa and CM airlines, however, will fly charter groups in and out of Trujillo if they book the entire plane (which may require as few as seven in the group).
Cotraipbal (tel. 504/2434-4932) runs eight buses to San Pedro Sula with plenty of stops (US$10, six hours) between 1 A.M. and 12:20 P.M. The buses leave from the terminal a kilometer from the park, adjacent to the Texaco gas station on the highway out of town. Cotuc, with a terminal in Barrio Cristales, has buses departing from Trujillo at 6:45 A.M., 8:10 A.M., 8:45 A.M., 10:20 A.M., 11:20 A.M., and 1:15 P.M., US$4.75 to La Ceiba and US$8.70 to San Pedro Sula. Return buses should follow the same schedule, but best to double-check in San Pedro. Cotuc makes even more stops than Cotraipbal, but their buses pass along the beach road in front of town, meaning you don’t have to take a taxi out to the highway if you can find out when they go. Cotuc buses always stop at the Texaco terminal also. The earliest two buses with Cotraipbal continue on all the way to Tegucigalpa (US$16, 10 hours).
Regular buses to La Ceiba (US$6.40, three hours) leave from the Texaco terminal every 45 minutes between 1 A.M. and 1:45 P.M. (just buy a ticket for La Ceiba on one of the buses to San Pedro Sula), as do buses for Tocoa (US$3, 90 minutes). For either destination, you’ll be taking a bus to San Pedro Sula but getting off early. Cotraipbal also runs buses to La Ceiba for US$4.
Avoid arriving at Trujillo on any of the late-night buses, as not even the taxis are out late at night.
To Limón, take a Tocoa-bound bus to Corocito in the morning and catch one of the frequently passing buses on to Limón from there.
Buses run Monday-Saturday between Trujillo and Puerto Castilla for US$0.75 (7:15 A.M., 9:30 A.M., 11 A.M., 12:15 P.M., 2 P.M., 4 P.M., and 5:45 P.M.), and three run on Sun. (6 A.M., noon, and 4 P.M.), from the Texaco gas station or the old station just downhill from the park.
Buses to Santa Fe, San Antonio, and Guadalupe leave from the old cemetery, from 9:30 A.M. until around 5 P.M. Monday-Saturday. Usually three buses daily run to Santa Fe for US$1. An especial (private) taxi to Santa Fe would cost US$15, while a ride in a colectivo is about US$5. Note that the last bus leaves Santa Fe at 2 P.M.
Rains in late 2008 washed out two bridges on the main road between Tocoa and Trujillo. Since it’s impossible to know when the bridges might be fixed (they hadn’t been as of early 2012), directions for the alternative route, on a well-maintained gravel road, are as follows: Just past Tocoa, take a left at a little sign that indicates “Margen Izquierda,” a right when you get to the T, and a left when you get to the end of the gravel road. Just a few meters onto the paved road, there is a turnoff to the left for Trujillo. The regular route takes about an hour from Tocoa, while the alternative route takes only an extra 30 minutes or so. To return to Tocoa, look for the right-hand turn toward Río Claro just after the gas station about 15 minutes outside of town, and take it. You’ll then need to take a left-hand turn after maybe half an hour to get back to Margen Izquierda, or keep going and exit the back roads through Sonaguera. From Tocoa (or Sonaguera) to La Ceiba, the highway is in quite decent shape and takes two hours to drive.
If you’re driving to Tegucigalpa from Trujillo, the dirt road turning off from Corocito and heading through the mountains of Olancho is much more scenic than the route via La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula, but it’s notorious for highway robbery, even during the day (a bus had been held up just 10 days before our visit to Trujillo).
A much-improved dirt road from Corocito branches off to the east along the coast, with turnoffs to Limón, and continues as far as Iriona and Sangrelaya, at the edge of the Mosquitia. It’s possible to drive as far into the Mosquitia as Belén, if you don’t mind driving along the beach in parts.
Ferry service between Guanaja and Trujillo has been revived (US$42). The Guanaja Express (tel. 504/9697-9892) departs from Guanaja on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9 A.M., and returns the same day at 1 P.M. In Trujillo, it is US$1.50 for the taxi from the ferry dock to the bus stop, and another US$6.30 for the bus to La Ceiba. The ride takes about three hours and can be fairly rough.
Most visitors will find themselves easily able to walk between their hotel and the main beach in town. A taxi anywhere in town costs US$1.
Santa Fe and San Antonio
A large Garífuna town 10 kilometers west of Trujillo, Santa Fe is strung along a sandy road parallel to a fairly cluttered beach. Cleaner patches of sand can be found nearby to the east and west of Santa Fe, where a couple of the region’s best hotels are located.
Twenty minutes from town along the very bumpy dirt road leading west to Santa Fe is Tranquility Bay (tel. 504/9928-2095, www.tranquilitybayhonduras.com, US$80 s/d), in a great setting right on the bay. Five small cabins are lined across a grassy yard that gives way to sand and sea. The pastel cabins are basically large guest rooms, with soft yellow walls and Guatemalan bedspreads. One of the cabins also has a full kitchen (all have mini-fridges and purified water). There are no TVs or air-conditioning, but porch hammocks provide entertainment, and ceiling fans and shuttered windows generate a great breeze. The two champas on the beach shelter stone tables, perfect for a picnic or a beer, or try a wood-fired pizza at the hotel’s restaurant. Rates are negotiable in the low season.
Also near Santa Fe is the full-service Banana Beach Resort (tel. 504/9992-8680, www.bananabeachbums.com), complete with bar and restaurant with an international chef, swimming pools and slides, and even a tennis court. Each two-bedroom cabin has a full kitchen, air-conditioning, wireless Internet, a flat-screen TV, sofa bed, and ceiling fans. One bedroom rents for US$69 per night, both are US$100. Don’t let all the amenities give you the wrong idea; this well-loved hotel still has the relaxed Trujillo vibe and very personal service that the local hotels are known for as well. Visitors rave about its restaurant The Mystic; specialties include jalapeño poppers, fish and chips, lobster tail in garlic sauce, and barbecue ribs, prepared by German Chef Juergen.
El Caballero, known to many locals as Pete’s Place, is worth making a trip to Santa Fe. The one-room restaurant, with the kitchen right next to the five tables, serves up superb conch stew, lobster tail, shrimp in wine sauce, snapper, pork chops, and other dishes daily for lunch or an early dinner (Pete’s closes at 6 P.M.). Meals cost US$4-12, and portions are generous. The amiable owner, Pete, presides over the cooking with an eagle eye and is very knowledgeable about the Trujillo area. Come with time to spare; the food is all cooked fresh to order and arrives very, very slowly—but is definitely worth the wait. The setting is simple, but Pete used to be a chef on a cruise ship, and the meals are high-class.
There is a small patch of reef with decent snorkeling known as Cayo Blanco lying offshore in front of Santa Fe; it can be reached with the help of a local fisherman, around US$35 for the trip.
Beyond Santa Fe, the dirt road continues to the smaller villages of San Antonio and Guadalupe. Rooms can be found in San Antonio by asking around, and there is reportedly a small hotel in Guadalupe.
Thrice-daily buses ply the dirt road between San Antonio, Santa Fe, and Trujillo, leaving at irregular hours. The last bus normally returns to Trujillo around noon. It would also be easy to arrange a boat ride out this way for a nominal fee with the fishermen who pull up daily near the dock in Trujillo.
Parque Nacional Capiro y Calentura
Comprising 4,537 hectares between 667 and 1,235 meters above sea level, Parque Nacional Capiro y Calentura is centered on the two jungle-clad peaks right behind Trujillo. The park has few trails or tourist facilities, as tourism was a secondary reason for establishing the reserve, the primary reason being to protect Trujillo’s water supply. The easiest and most common access is via the dirt road past Villa Brinkley, which winds up the mountain to the radio towers just below the peak of Cerro Calentura. Formerly, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) maintained a radar station here, but now the caretakers of a Hondutel tower and the Catholic radio station antenna are the only occupants. From the radio towers, you can see out over the Valle del Aguán, and a trail goes east a short distance to a lookout point with great views out over the bay and Laguna Guaimoreto. The peak of Cerro Calentura is a bit farther east, but there are essentially no trails. To get out there would require a machete.
The two- to three-hour walk up to the towers from town is best done in the early morning, when it’s cool and the birds are most active. Muggings have been reported on the road, so it might be wise to go in a group. A small wooden cabin at the bottom of the road is where the park vigilante stays—he will collect your US$3.50 entrance fee between 8 A.M. and 4 P.M. daily.
Another popular hike in the park is up the Río Negro, in a valley between Cerro Capiro and Cerro Calentura. The trail follows a water pipe along the river to a dam, above which are two small waterfalls.
Just outside the western edge of the park, a colonial-era stone road cuts over the mountains to the village of Higuerito on the south side of the mountains. The trail begins east of the village of Campamento, on the road to Santa Fe. Somewhere in the sides of the mountains—good luck finding them—are the Cuevas de Cuyamel, which archaeologists say have been used as a ritual site since pre-Columbian times.
Because the trails are not well maintained and the routes steep, a guide is highly recommended for hiking in the park. The Fundación Capiro Calentura Guaimoreto (Fucagua, tel. 504/2434-4294) oversees the park and may be able to help identify an able guide. It is also possible to arrange a tour with Tourist Options (www.hondurastouristoptions.com) if you are a group of three or more.
The largest container port in Honduras in terms of total tonnage transferred (Puerto Cortés handles more ships), Puerto Castilla is 28 kilometers from Trujillo, just inside Punta Caxinas. Most of the freight shipped out of Puerto Castilla is agricultural products and raw materials, much of it produced by Standard Fruit. There is little reason for tourists to visit Puerto Castilla, except perhaps for its fishing, reputed to be excellent. Waters drop straight down to 20 meters, allowing deep-water fish to be caught right off the docks.
Frequent buses run between Trujillo and Puerto Castilla.
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Guaimoreto
The Guaimoreto Wildlife Refuge, covering more than 7,000 hectares, surrounds a broad lagoon formed by the Cabo de Honduras, east of Trujillo. The lagoon, canals, mangrove swamps, and a small island are excellent bird- and monkey-viewing areas. Local fishermen reputedly have organized an ad-hoc organization to take visitors on tours of the lagoon in cayucos (canoes), charging US$20 for up to four people for a three-hour tour, while more formal tours can be arranged through Tourist Options (www.hondurastouristoptions.com).
Another seaside Garífuna settlement, east of Santa Rosa and reached by a 34-kilometer dirt road, Limón is infrequently visited by outsiders and has a very remote, isolated feel, lost between the Mosquitia and the rest of Honduras.
Beyond Limón, the road goes via Plan de Flores and Planes to Punta Piedra, where it hits the beach, and then continues on to Sangrelaya, at the edge of the Mosquitia. From here, usually one truck a day continues on the beach to Batalla, near Palacios, or it is usually possible to get a ride by boat. Five buses a day run between Tocoa and Sangrelaya, the last leaving from Tocoa at 1 P.M. for the five-hour drive. Buses between Tocoa and Limón pass more frequently, the last in the early afternoon. If you’re in Trujillo, get off at Corocito and wait for a Limón bus there.
A hot agricultural town on the south side of the Río Aguán where the La Ceiba highway meets the Olanchito-Tocoa-Trujillo road, Savá is a common transit point for bus travelers. The town holds a couple of nondescript comedores and a gas station. Should you for some odd reason need or want to spend the night in Savá, rooms are available at Hospedaje Carmen, half a block from the main highway junction, among several other hotels. Buses to La Ceiba and Trujillo stop at the Cotraipbal/Cotuc office, half a kilometer from the main junction on the road toward La Ceiba.
On the road to Olanchito, on the west side of the Río Mamé 28 kilometers from Savá, a dirt road turns off south, up toward the mountains. This road leads to La Unión in Olancho—86 kilometers away and the closest town to Parque Nacional La Muralla—and eventually on to Juticalpa and Tegucigalpa. This road has in the past had a rather grim reputation (once described as “El Corridor de la Muerte,” or “The Corridor of Death”) because of repeated holdups, particularly between La Unión and Salamá. The situation has improved considerably in recent years, but it’s always best to stop at the police station and ask about the current status. It is recommended to drive with your windows down, so that any narcos who are keeping an eye on their territory can have a clear view of who is driving—as long as they can see that you’re not part of a rival gang, you should not have any problem. As well, the road can be in very poor condition in the rain. It’s best to at least have high clearance, if not four-wheel drive, to travel this road, even in the dry season.
The second-largest community in the Valle del Aguán after Tocoa, Olanchito sits in the heart of Standard Fruit Company (Dole) lands. The town was founded in the 17th century by migrants from San Jorge de Olancho, a colonial town near Catacamas that was destroyed by a natural disaster. The town church, set on a palm-lined square, holds a small statue of San Jorge, the town’s patron saint. The statue was reputedly carried here from San Jorge de Olancho by the original migrants. The April 23 festival in the saint’s honor is quite a bash, with thousands of people dancing in the streets. Olanchito’s other major festival is the Carnaval de Jamo, a festival dedicated to eating iguana.
Most of the year, though, Olanchito is hot, dusty, and altogether uninteresting to the casual traveler. For anyone curious to see what a classic company town looks like, take a taxi or bus to nearby Coyoles, where practically all the buildings were built and are still owned by Standard Fruit. Coyoles was the setting for the seminal book Prisión Verde (Green Prison), written in 1945 by one of Honduras’s most influential authors of the twentieth century, Ramón Amaya Amador, about life for workers on the banana plantations. Almost all Olanchito residents, apart from a few small-scale ranchers and farmers, derive their income either directly or indirectly from Standard.
Just outside of Coyoles is the largest intact thorn forest in Honduras, a rare dry tropical ecosystem fast disappearing in the country. Several species of rare birds are found here, including an endemic green-backed sparrow, green jays, elegant trogons, and white-lored gnatcatchers. The forest is the only known habitat in Honduras for the white-bellied wren and endemic Honduran emerald. Adventurers can also access the south side of Parque Nacional Pico Bonito from near Olanchito.
If you need a place to stay in Olanchito, the eponymous Hotel Olanchito (US$16.50 s, US$20 d) has simple but comfortable enough rooms with cable TV, hot water, and air-conditioning, as well as a swimming pool.
Although Olanchito is actually in the department of Yoro, the road heading west and connecting it to the city of Yoro and beyond is in poor shape, and swollen rivers can flood the route, cutting it off entirely. Twice-daily buses cross the mountains to Yoro when the road is in good condition, the last at noon (4.5 hours). A bus to La Unión in Olancho, near La Muralla park, departs once a day at 11 A.M., road conditions permitting.
The last bus from Olanchito to La Ceiba leaves at 3 P.M., but it’s sometimes possible to catch a bus to Savá and there change to another bus continuing to La Ceiba or Trujillo.
A bustling agricultural town 29 kilometers east of Savá, Tocoa has nothing whatsoever to attract a tourist, except as the place to catch long, bumpy bus rides into the Mosquitia. Even the downtown square is ugly, although the bizarrely designed church, reportedly the work of a Peace Corps volunteer, is an unusual sight.
Though lacking in tourist attractions, Tocoa is a magnet for land-hungry migrants who use the rapidly growing city as a base to invade the Río Sico and Río Paulaya valleys on the western edge of the Río Plátano rainforest. Many of these homesteaders are moving in on protected land, but little can be done to stop them, even if the government wanted to, which it doesn’t always—it’s easier to sacrifice a remote stretch of jungle than deal with the thorny problem of land redistribution and rural poverty in the rest of the country.
Because of all the agricultural and business activity in Tocoa, several hotels offer rooms, of varying quality. Hotel Victoria (tel. 504/2444-3031, US$18.50 s, US$24 d), near Supermercado Celia, is a good deal with air-conditioning, wireless Internet, TVs, private baths, and parking. Another good option is Hotel Sanabria (tel. 504/2444-3620, US$15 s, US$21 d with fan; US$29.50 s, US$35 d with a/c). The Sanabria has the usual amenities (TVs, hot water, wireless Internet, parking), as well as a restaurant and swimming pool. Two cheap, acceptable places near the market and buses are Hotelito Rosgil and Hotelito Yendy.
Food and Drink
The classiest restaurant in town, such as it is, is La Gran Villa (tel. 504/2444-3943, 8:30 A.M.-9 P.M. Mon.-Sat.), on Boulevard Colón near the park. The restaurant offers shrimp, conch, and steak dishes at US$4-7 per entrée, as well as sandwiches, breakfasts, and a full bar.
Restaurante Aquarium (tel. 504/2444-3689, 7 A.M.-10 P.M. Mon.-Sat., 10 A.M.-9 P.M. Sun.) serves seafood and meat dishes (US$5-8) in an air-conditioned dining room with a full bar. Next to Banco Atlántida on the main street is the ever-popular Cafeteria Damir (tel. 504/2444-3863, 7 A.M.-6 P.M. Mon.-Sat.), with snacks, breakfasts, and inexpensive típico food, like heaping bowls of steaming beef soup.
BAC Bamer, Banco Atlántida, and Bancahorro in the center of town all change dollars and usually travelers checks. There is an ATM at the Banco Atlántida.
Getting There and Away
The two-lane highway between La Ceiba and Tocoa is paved and generally well maintained. There is frequent bus service, with local buses to La Ceiba departing all day long, charging US$3.70 for the three-hour ride.
In the fall of 2008, two bridges on the Tocoa-Trujillo road were washed out—one completely, the other so that it dipped into a deep V across the river (we actually saw a car drive over that bridge, but it didn’t seem like a great idea). There is an alternative route between the two cities—it’s slightly more direct but slower since it’s not paved. It’s graded, but it gets ruts during every rain. Hopefully there will be a commitment to its maintenance, because as of early 2012, there’s still no one doing anything to repair the bridges yet.
To get to Trujillo from Tocoa by car, take a left at the sign for Margen Izquierda shortly outside of town (be alert!). There are a few turns on the road (mainly one to the right when you get to a T), but the best thing to do is follow the other traffic and stop once in a while when you see pedestrians, to check with them that you’re headed the right direction.
Cotuc buses (tel. 504/2444-2181) follow this same alternative route. The Cotraipbal buses (tel. 504/2444-3823) follow the main highway toward Trujillo, miraculously crossing the first bridge and then sending passengers across the second river in boats. Either route costs US$2.60. Cotuc’s terminal is opposite the DIPPSA station on the main highway, while Cotraipbal’s is in the main bus terminal near the market. Cotuc and Cotraipbal also have buses to La Ceiba (US$8.70, 2.5 hours) and San Pedro Sula (US$10, 5.5 hours).
The main bus station is four blocks north of the square, next to the market. The last bus to Trujillo leaves at 6 P.M., and the last bus to La Ceiba leaves at 4 P.M.
Travel from Tocoa to Batalla in the Mosquitia, not far from Palacios, is by paila, or pickup truck (US$31, eight hours). The trucks leave at 9 A.M., to allow travelers to make it all the way from La Ceiba to Batalla in one day if they catch the first bus out of town from La Ceiba in the morning. The pailas depart from near the central market.