Some 190km east along the coast from San Pedro Sula, steamy LA CEIBA, the lively capital of the department of Atlántida, is the gateway to the Bay Islands. Although the town is completely bereft of architectural interest and its sandy beaches are strewn with rubbish, it does enjoy a remarkable setting at the steep slopes of the Cordillera Nombre de Dios. La Ceiba is home to a cosmopolitan mix of inhabitants, including a large Garífuna community, and really comes into its own at night, with visitors and locals gathering to take part in the city’s vibrant dance scene.
Ceiba, as it’s generally known, owes its existence to the banana industry: the Vaccaro Brothers (later Standard Fruit and now Dole) first laid plantations in the area in 1899 and set up their company headquarters in town in 1905. Although fruit is no longer shipped out through La Ceiba, the plantations are still important to the local economy, with crops of pineapple and African palm now as significant as bananas.
Most things of interest to visitors lie within a relatively small area of the city, around the shady and pleasant Parque Central, with its busts of Honduran historical heroes. The unremarkable whitewashed and powder-blue cathedral sits on the Parque’s southeast corner. Running north from the Parque almost to the seafront, Avenida San Isidro, together with Avenida Atlántida and Avenida 14 de Julio, frame the main commercial district, with shops, banks, a couple of supermarkets and the main municipal market. Stroll a block west of the Parque and you’ll find the Oficinas del Ferrocarril Nacional, which is planted with tropical vegetation and dotted with museum-piece train carriages, many dating from the days of the peak of the banana trade.
All the beaches within the city limits are too polluted and dirty, even for the most desperate. It’s better to head east to the much cleaner beaches a few kilometres out of town. Calle 1, at the northern end of town near the seafront, extends east from the old dock and over the river estuary into Barrio La Isla, a quieter residential district, mainly home to Garífuna.