Leaving Guatemala City, the main highway descends through a dry and distinctly inhospitable landscape with cacti spiking the barren hillsides. The first place of any note is the Río Hondo junction where the road divides: one arm heads south to the Oriente and town of Esquipulas, while the main branch continues on to the coast.

On down the valley the landscape starts to undergo a radical transformation; the flood plain opens out and there’s a profusion of tropical growth. It was this supremely rich flood plain that was chosen by both the Maya and the United Fruit Company, to the great benefit of both.