An adventure trip from Honduras through El Salvador to Nicaragua, three countries in Central America with a biodiversity that includes 7% of all living creatures on Earth. Snorkelling and diving at the Caribbean Sea Barrier Reef, rafting on Rio Cangrejal in Honduras. Volcano boarding in Nicaragua and surfing in the Pacific Ocean. For centuries Central America was involved in civil wars, but peace is back and a wealth of natural beauty and culture awaits to be discovered.
Photography & text: Frits Meyst
A light breeze brings refreshment at the end of the Caribbean afternoon. As I slowly swing in my hammock, a couple of Garifuna boys run with their homemade coconut boats along the crystal clear waters of the beach. A pelican inspects the reef and I’m still taking a sip of my now warm life saving ‘Salva Vida’ beer. After a long flight we have arrived this morning in the village of East End on Cayo Mayor in the Cayos Cochinos Archipelago, on the coast of Honduras. Our goal? Absolute calm and to be far away from the inhabited world before we start a two-week trip through Central America. Well… Mission Accomplished! After a wild boat trip, we were dropped by the snorkeling tour team at the beach of this 10-house fishing village.
Francisco Velazquez is the principal of the simple local school, runs the info center for the nature reserve and has a small homestay on the island. As it happens, he is the only one who understands a little English. He seats us in the school benches and we get a short lesson about the Garifuna who live mainly on this small archipelago. “In 1500, the Spaniards took slaves from Africa to work in their colonies in what is now Suriname and Venezuela. Two ships full of escaped slave members were shipwrecked on an island. They were taken in by the local Carib population, and thus began the “Black Carib”, now known as the Garifuna. By the 17th century, they were again threatened by European settlers and the Black Carib vehemently resisted the new rulers. Eventually, they were taken from their islands and again captured by the Spaniards for whom they produced food on Honduras’s mainland, where they later worked on banana plantations. Today, the Garifuna live a simple existence of fishing and we are now also trying to generate some income from tourism.”
We share the island with three Swiss people and together we hike through the forest in search of the Pink Boa, a constrictor snake that calls this archipelago home, and of course the Ctenosaura Melanosterna, an iguana that is only found here. Both are easy to find in the forest behind the village. Snorkelling above the coral, I see why the Garifuna have become fishermen. On the coral reefs surrounding the island, hundreds of fish live in all colours of the spectrum. A turtle swims lazily around the coral to dart away quickly when I come too close. Honduras is fantastic if you stay close to nature.
My American friends declared me mad. “Honduras is dangerous”, they told me in response to the one-sided media reporting about gangsters and gang wars in Central America. Initially I was a bit nervous but I can now say that I believe if you are careful how and where you travel, these countries can also be safe.
One of those safe places is the Rio Cangrejal, a wild-flowing river at La Ceiba with sparkling white water that leads through the wooded mountains to the sea. Here we find Villa de Soledad, a B&B run by John and Soledad Dupuis. John is also the representative of the local tourist office and a walking encyclopedia about Honduras. On our way to Cueros y Salados reserve, sitting in an old narrow-gauge railway, he tells us all about the politics in Honduras. “Did you know Honduras was the original Banana republic?” I look at him. I’ve heard the term often when it comes to obscure tropical countries. “This railway line was once used for the transport of bananas by the Standard Fruit Company, nowadays better known as ‘Dole’. It was one of the many ‘Fruit Companies’ in Honduras. They built roads and railways and ports in exchange for land. In 1911, the Cuyamel Fruit Company provided weapons for a coup against the Honduran government. The president was dropped and the company took charge. In 1954, the CIA entered the politics to support the United Fruit Company’s position and since then the name Banana Republic has been synonymous with a country where foreign companies call the shots”. The train rattles over the bent rails. We pass workers’ houses, schoolchildren and cattle, before ending at the nature reserve Cueros y Salados for a canoe trip through the unique ecosystem of the mangrove forests.
The area around La Ceiba is full of natural beauty and is a paradise for the active traveler. In addition to the impressive wetlands, the hinterland consists of dense jungle where the jaguar is still king. There are hot springs and tours through the tree tops, but the most spectacular is the Rio Cangrejal. Whoever goes rafting here is guaranteed a good dose of adrenaline in the cooling white water. With the adrenaline still in our blood we change the white water for ancient Mayan life.
Copan is the most beautiful town of Honduras, with its picturesque pebbled streets and Spanish colonial architecture, it feels like a kind of mini Antigua, but then with a huge Mayan excavation next door. The 2000 year old ruined temples and other buildings are only partly exposed in the jungle. The largest part of the city is still overgrown and has yet to be excavated. Whatever is visible is already the most impressive Mayan excavation inHonduras. Combine this with an overnight in a Spanish colonial boutique hotel and some lounging in the bars and restaurants near the Parque Central and you have a great ending to an impressive country. Next stop El Salvador.