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Powdery white sand beaches littered with shells. Crystalline blue sea. Verdant landscapes. Walks under the full moon, the warm Caribbean washing across bare feet. The rhythms of punta or reggae of cumbia or salsa pulsating through the night. Of course this is a tropical (near) paradise.

 

Tela is the most accessible of the attractive towns on the north coast of Honduras, and offers easy access to a number of cultural and natural wonders. The most alluring cultural offering is of the Garífuna (“Black Caribs”). The Garífuna are descendents of the local Arawak-Caribe culture and escaped African slaves. Their music, dance and language reflect this eclectic mix. Originally from St. Vincent Island, the British forcibly relocated them to the Bay Islands off the coast of modern-day Honduras in 1797. Later, they migrated to the mainland coast of Central America, and today can be found from Belize to northern Panama. Some of the most traditional (and most fascinating) Garífuna communities are in Honduras.

 

In Tela, the Museo GarĂ­funa offers displays on their history, culture and traditions. The restaurant serves traditional cuisine.

 

To the east of Tela are the Garífuna villages La Ensenada and El Triunfo de la Cruz (the first Spanish settlement in Central America). To the west are Tornabé, San Juan, Río Tinto and Miami. These last two are difficult to get to; Miami is within the Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas. Jeanette Kawas National Park includes Punta Sal whose many coves were once refuges for pirates. The Park consists of two parts. The peninsula, with white sand beaches, coral reef and jungle, is accessible only by sea (one hour by launch). Here dolphins, monkeys and migratory birds may be seen. Laguna de Micos, the other section, is home to over 350 species of birds. Agencies in Tela offer tours to the park.

 

Tela used to be the headquarters for the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita). Its imprint can still be seen on the city. New Tela was the residential area for the executives of the company, complete with private beach, fountains and a swimming pool. Today it is an up-scale hotel. Lancetilla Botanical Gardens was established by United Fruit in 1925. It is the second largest tropical research garden in the world and features not only local and regional species, but also those from Asia and other parts of the world.

 

Sometimes the train still chugs in from near Puerto Cortés and San Pedro Sula. If it is running, it is more direct and quicker than the bus. But no matter how one arrives to Tela, there is good music, incredible beaches, interesting history, fresh seafood, national parks—and a warm Garífuna welcome. This is about as close to a tropical paradise as it gets.



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