Tela is a delightful town on the northern Caribbean coast of Honduras, one of the country’s most attractive destinations. Tela is an absolute beauty: sweeping beaches along the coast, miles on end of African palm plantations to its west, botanical gardens to its south, and vast stretches of national forest and wildlife reserves to its east. Moreover, the tourist infrastructure in Tela is highly developed, full of first-rate hotels and restaurants. If Tela is not on your Honduran radar, it certainly should be.
Tela is one of the few major towns of Honduras not founded by the Spanish. While the Spanish settled in the nearby village of Triunfo de la Cruz in 1524, Tela itself was not established until the early 20th century by the American company, Tela Railroad Company. Tela Railroad Company, later known as the United Fruit Company, set up their Honduran headquarters in Tela and stayed in the town until 1970 when it moved its base to La Lima. As a result of the United Fruit Company, Tela became an important port during the 20th century. Today, Tela is one of the more modern tourist destinations of Honduras.
Tela is one of the best places to learn more about the Garífuna culture. It is one of the few Central American towns on the Caribbean coast with many Garífuna villas nearby. You can visit Ensenada aldea, the San Juan aldea, the Triunfo de la Cruz, the Tornabé aldea, and the tiny caserio of Miami – all great places to experience Garífuna life and culture. The latter, Miami, is the most traditional of the villages and its people actually still live in thatched huts. In both Triunfo de la Cruz and Tornabé, you’ll also find great beach and waterfront restaurants and eateries.
Of course, in Tela itself, there are museums dedicated to this indigenous group. The Museo Garífuna, for example, near the Rio Tela showcases Garífuna music and their religious customs.
Most of the attractions in Tela are natural. One of the few man-made attractions is the Jardin Botanico Lancetilla, the second largest botanical garden in the world. It was left by the United Fruit Company as a parting gift after the company moved its headquarters in 1970 to La Lima. The garden is home to more than 1,000 varieties of plants, each marked by their name and country of origin. The garden is a habitat for many species of birds as well, including various colorful parrots.
Tela is also surrounded by a few national parks and reserves worth exploring. The Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas (or Parque Nacional Punta Sal) encompasses tropical forests, shady lagoons, coral reefs, and mangrove swamps and plays habitat to many howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, colorful parrots, and vine snakes.
The Los Curumos trail is a great path for hikers, trekkers, and even swimmers, snorkelers, and divers since the path leads to the shores of Puerto Caribe, whose turquoise waters are home to turtles, dolphins, barracudas, nose sharks, and lobsters.
The Punta Sal National Park, which takes its name from the rocky point that juts out into the ocean, is also a great reserve to visit, although it is very difficult to reach and probably requires a guide. There are an abundant variety of wild life and plant species at this park as well as a lagoon and beach area called the Micos Lagoon where more than 350 different bird species dwell.
The Refugio de Vida Silvestre Punta Izopo is another notable wildlife refuge, although it is very difficult to navigate. The refuge is home to howler monkeys, iguanas, crocodiles, toucans, and parrots. The best way to see this refuge is to navigate the mangroves along the Rio Platano by kayak with the assistance of a hired guide.
While there are beach areas in the various parks and reserves, the best touristy beaches in Tela are in the nearby Garífuna villages of San Juan, La Ensenada, Triunfo de la Cruz, Tornabé, Miami, and Río Tinto.