By Jon Kohl
Reprinted by Permission from Transitions Abroad Magazine
Since the devastation of Hurricane Mitch, Honduras has been redeveloping its infrastructure. The storm dealt a big blow to export crops such as bananas and coffee. As a result, the government declared tourism and maquilas (American clothing factories located in developing countries to take advantage of low labor costs) to be the principal sources of foreign currency while other industries recover.
Touring Honduras On Your Own With Local Guides
While few tourists visit Honduras, that is changing. By using local tour operators and guides working in grassroots community eco-tourism you can directly contribute to the conservation effort and the rebuilding of the country, and get a first hand look at how the military has gone from defending Honduras’ political borders to protecting its parks.
Local conservation groups hope soon to offer region wide tours, but for now they can help you organize your own. Starting in Tela, about an hour from the San Pedro Sula airport, you can take a boat tour to Jeannette Kawas National Park. While there, you’ll want to stop off at a Garifuna community. The Garifuna originated from a slave ship that capsized about 200 years ago. The slaves swam ashore on St. Vincent Island and mixed with Arawak Indians. Their descendents live along the coast from Belize to Nicaragua. If you go, you should hook up with Garifuna Tours, one of the best nature tour operators in the country. Ask for Alessandro D’Agostino, the owner.
While in Tela don’t miss the Lancetilla Botanical Garden, one of the best gardens in Latin America. Look for Yadira Murillo, who can guide you through the gardens.
You can take a comfortable bus ride east to La Ceiba, the third largest city in Honduras. Catch the bus on the highway, not at the Tela bus station. Any cab driver will know where to drop you off. As you drive along the highway through pineapple and citrus fields, Pico Bonito National Park, the largest national park in the country, towers over your right shoulder. Ask for German, a former park guard who is the only person to have hiked to the peak of Pico Bonito four times.
To your left along the coast, the rivers of Pico Bonito drain into the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, a mangrove forest with interconnecting channels and a population of manatees. Arnoldo is the guide to find to see the mangroves and waterborne communities surrounding it.
If you continue east along the highway in a bus or rented car, you will reach Trujillo, one of the deepest undeveloped ports in the world. There is also a national park, a wildlife refuge, an old Spanish fort, and the grave of William Walker, an American soldier of fortune who tried to conquer Central America. Sammy is an excellent bilingual guide.
Other local guides and grassroots tour operators can be found around Honduras. No matter which guide accompanies you, be sure to ask about the problems their organization faces–problems such as illegal timbering, the capture of parrots for the pet trade, and the draining of wetlands to plant African palms. In addition to fighting for the protected areas, these guides promote the development of eco-tourism and offer interpretive programs to foreigners.
FUCSA, the NGO that manages Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
Bay Island Conservation Association
They can recommend tour operators and dive shops.
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