West of the former headquarters, you will find a whole neighborhood which once housed the US employees of United Fruit. The complex looks somewhat like a Southern military base.
Part of the neighborhood has been turned into an upscale resort, the Villas Telamar. This is where the beach looks cleanest and safest.
The building is used today as a community center of sorts, but it is deserted. I was fortunate that, when I arrived, the building was illuminated with cheap strings of lights for the parade, making it all the more charged with vibes. One inebriated man was whiling the hours away inside but didn't mind my snooping about.
All the office fittings have been removed, but you can still sense that the building was an important business center.
The Garifuna are an ethnic group of mixed ancestry who live on the Caribbean coast from Belize to Nicaragua. They descend from Caribbean people, and from African slaves, the latter possibly shipwrecked.
The Garifuna villages have acquired, of late, a reputation as places to chill out. If that is your plan, be aware that accommodations are extremely basic. I was happy to walk under the broiling sun from one end of Triunfo de la Cruz to the other (quite a hike), but I may have felt marooned if I had spent the night.
All Garifuna Tours include a lunch in one of the Garifuna villages which are close to the natural reserves (the lunch is not included in the price, however).
Your guide will stop at the restaurant before the nature activities, so that you can order your lunch in advance.
I enjoyed watching the ladies cook my fish, just caught, on an open flame.
Following the lunch, visitors have plenty of time to explore the village, or to swim in the ocean. Your guide will be happy to discuss all aspects of coastal life, even some controversial ones such as possible tourism over-development.
Tela is surrounded by three renowned natural reserves: Punta Sal, Jardín Botánico Lancetilla, and Punta Izopo. I chose to go to Punta Izopo because I'm crazy about the mangrove environment. There is something about braided roots and branches, murky waters and animal noises which enchants me.
I booked the excursion with Garifuna Tours (see General Tips). We spent two and a half hours in the kayaks. It was wonderful, pure "Creature of the Black Lagoon." We saw many birds, frogs, alligators just under the surface, and sweet little bats asleep on tree trunks.
Tela is bisected by a small river with attractive banks and pleasant views. Uncharacteristically, there are no streets along the river: you enjoy the views by walking up to dead ends.
Two bridges cross the river, the old and the new bridge. The whole town can be walked throughout in one day.
Almost facing the former headquarters of the Tela Railroad Company, you will find the dilapidated stump of what was once the all-important Tela pier. This is where bananas were unloaded from railroad cars and loaded unto waiting ships.
The book which I recommend on my intro page describes in detail the logistical challenge of the whole operation. The cost of getting bananas to US markets cheaply a few days after they were harvested included political unrest for a whole region, large scale human rights violations, and ecological devastation.
Today, the Tela pier is a fine fishing spot for a family outing - although it is treacherous in places. What's left is about one third of the original, the rest having been destroyed by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 which left 20% of the population of Honduras homeless.
To tell the truth, I visited Tela in order to see for myself an ugly hulk of a building. It fulfilled all my expectations, and I spent much time lurking around and in it, taking pictures, and impregnating myself with history.
From 1912 to 1976, Tela was a huge banana dispatching center. Interestingly, the banana company was thought of as a railroad first and foremost. The Tela Railroad Company was the Honduras arm of the United Fruit Company, an empire-scaled company which rebranded itself as Chiquita Banana in the fifties.
Chiquita is still present in Honduras, but in a much shrunken state following fruit disease and Hurricane Mitch. And it is not present in Tela.
Although Tela claims to belong to the Caribbean, to my great relief it was rather a muddy, gloomy and atmospheric place. My eye was drawn to the heavy gray waves, and to a rusty cargo ship - instead of tanned and shapely bodies under a blue sky.
The ship was at anchor exactly where the Tela pier once projected out to.
As soon as I arrived, I noticed that the town was in a mood of feverish expectation - in spite of the pouring rain. A parade started, which lasted for hours. It must have been an important event, because I saw it again, carried live on TV, when I returned to the hotel.
In the 18th century, the British brought some African slaves from the island of St. Vincent to the Bay Islands, close to the mainland of Honduras. From Isla de Roatán these black people quickly made it to the mainland and as free people they started to build a large community there. Throughout the years, these African-rooted people spread out over the coastline; from Belize in the north until Nicaragua in the south. The centre of these "Garifuna" people remained the mainland closest to their roots: the area around Tela.
In everything you can still clearly see the roots of these people. Of course their looks are still African, but also their language has strong West-African roots, the way they build their houses, the way they cook their food, the way they dress, and also their "no-hurry" mentality.
Around Tela there are several small Garifuna-villages that you can visit. I took the bus to the closest village from Tela: La Ensenada. This village is only 3 kilometres to the east from Tela. And as soon as you enter the village, you forget you are in America: this feels like Africa! The houses look just like Africa, the people, the streets: everything is exactly like you see it in West-Africa. Although there are no main attractions here, it is fascinating to see that these people hold on to their roots and keep their African lifestyle, even though their are so far away from "home".
In La Ensenada there are several seafood restaurants where you can get a nice traditional meal or a refreshing drink. And there is a nice beach from where you have a good view over Punta Izopo and Tela.
The Gulf of Tela is shaped by two peninsulas. When you stand on the beach in Tela, you'll see a peninsula of Punta de Izopo at your righthandside. At the left you'll see Punta Sal. This long peninsula is a National Marine Park with a very diverse nature in it. Punta Sal has mangrove forests, swamps, coral reefs and tropical forests, and a large laguna: the Laguna de la Micos, all in an area of several square kilometres.
Garifuna Tours, a company that you can find at only 20 metres west of the Parque Central, arranges daily tours to the National Park. In the morning you will be picked up by a boat that takes you to the end of the peninsula. This is where you will spend the rest of your day.
In the beginning you have the chance to make a walk through the jungle of Punta Sal. During the 30 to 40 minutes of the walk you'll see the beautiful nature all around you, and you have a good chance of seeing some monkeys up in the trees. But: there is one enormous disadvantage of this walk: the mosquitos. Never in my life I have seen this much of mosquitos and this size! Enormous insects cover your whole body in no-time and pretty much spoils the walk. Think twice before you enter the jungle here: it is really bad!
After the junglewalk you can spend the rest of the day on the beach. You'll get a nice Garifuna-meal for lunch, you have the chance to do some suntanning and to do some snorkling. And at the end of the afternoon you get back into the boat to go back to the mainland.
This trip is a nice one to do, but I must say that the 30 dollars you have to pay for it, are pretty much for what you get for it. Since the nature is almost impossibleto enjoy because of the insects, you pay the money mainly for an expensive day on the beach.
For many of the tourists that visit Tela, the beaches are the most important reason. Long sandy beaches can be found everywhere in the Gulf of Tela; a long white stripe at the sides of the Caribbean Sea.
In the old part of Tela (Tela Viejo) you can already visit the beach, at a few metres from a lot of cheap guesthouses. But, this part of the beach is not the best part. The beach here is not taken care of, and so it is poluted, dead leafs of the palmtrees are all over and there are no facilities at all here.
The newer part of the town, at the other side of the bridge is Tela Nuevo. Here you will find the best beaches of the town. The Resort Telamar takes care of the biggest part of the beach here, and has a nice restaurant where you can can something to drink and eat during a day on the beach. The beach is open for the public, and it are not only tourists you'll see here.
A lot of Garifuna-people hang out on the beach here to sell their coconut-bread and to make braids in the hair of the tourists.
You can go here and hike through the jungle, it was really nice, but HOT! I learned a lot of things, like bananas grow on the side of the road here and parrots live up in these extremely tall trees in tear drop nests. I have never seen a tree this tall, i would say it was about 100 ft! More probably, and these parrots were living there. The connection of the nest to the tree didn't seem so strong. I guess since i don't fly i am more worry about the security of the connection of the nest to the tree!
While you walk through this park you will see a cool bamboo forest, which was unexpected by me. And tell me why the insects seem to be 10x the size in central america. There is a little building that has information about the wild life and dead bugs in cases that are exsisting in the forest. There is one small bathroom, use it only for emergencies! Trust me, i saw the biggest spider of my life in there! I think i even saw it lick its lips when it saw me!
This bridge crosses the Tela River to connect Tela Vieja and Tela Nueva . The new bridge runs from the old Barrio el Centro to the newer "Bulevard", a beautiful, wide, palm tree lined street.