Coastal towns like Puerto Cortes, Tela, La Ceiba and Trujillo are quiet memories of the heyday of the banana companies, whose presence and influence are today greatly reduced. In the wetlands near these charming coastal towns you can explore the overgrown canals, blackwater lagoons and secluded tropical beaches of several wetland national parks and wildlife refuges. Tela is also home to the Lancetilla Botanical Gardens, a former United Fruit Company research station which today preserves hundreds of species of exotic and local tropical trees and plants.
Rising abruptly behind La Ceiba, our eco-tourism capital, is the striking profile of Pico Bonito National Park. High rainfall and steep slopes in this rain forest protected area combine to form elegant waterfalls and spectacular scenery, and contribute to the churning currents of the Rio Cangrejal, one of Central America’s most exciting whitewater rivers. Conveniently, La Ceiba is also the gateway to the Bay Islands, and divers can make day trips for rafting the Rio Cangrejal, hiking in the rainforest, or exploring the winding canals of Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge searching for monkeys, alligators, manatees and dozens of water birds.
The ordered layout of the banana towns gives way to relaxed, beachside Garifuna fishing villages strung out along our entire north coast, home to one of the Caribbean’s most interesting cultures. The Garifuna, whose fascinating history leads back to the wreck of a slave ship carrying slaves captured in Africa, conserve a unique language and culture, and maintain exotic chants, music and dances with the energy and rhythm of that distant continent.
The Bay Islands is a collection of three large islands and over 60 islets and keys located some 30 miles off the coast. Utila is the closest to shore, smallest and flattest of the three. It maintains the most authentic Bay Island culture, is one of the best places anywhere to see whale sharks, and it offers some of the most economical dive certification courses on the planet. Roatan is the largest, most developed and most frequented of the Bay Islands. Essentially a long, forested ridge rising from the sea, it retains much of the original forest that the Buccaneers knew when they used the island as a base for raiding Spanish ships. The Bay Islands boast the greatest variety of corals and sponges in the Caribbean, and are known for their excellent shore diving. Healthy reefs bristling with macro life have inspired the slogan, “Go slow, think small”.