The department of Atlantida is located on the Caribbean Coast of Honduras, and is without any doubt the richest department in the country as far as nature tourism is considered. Atlantida not only has four national parks, one botanical garden, and two wildlife refuges and is the gateway to a national marine monument site; it also boasts some of the best beaches in Honduras and has a strong presence of the ethnic Garifuna, whose culture has been declared a World Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO. So as you can imagine, Atlantida offers a myriad of options for the traveler, regardless of whether you are looking for nature, beaches, culture or night life! Although a difficult task, I have tried to put a list together with the top five tourist sites in Atlantida. Please keep in mind that Honduras, and Atlantida, are relatively unknown travel destinations, and that when I say the top five tourist sites in Atlantada are x, y, and z, it does not mean they are overrun by tourists, quite the opposite! Now is the time to visit and discover Atlantida, before the World does and it becomes a more popular and expensive destination. Here is my selection for you to enjoy!

Looking up to the top of El Bejuco Waterfall at the Cangrejal River Valley

Number 1.- The Cangrejal River Valley, located just a few miles out of La Ceiba is also on our Top five in Honduras selection: (http://www.lavilladesoledad.com/blog/2014/08/06/top-five-places-honduras/ ). Its proximity to the Bay Islands of Honduras, and the fact that most travelers headed for the islands must pass through this city makes it a must to visit and discover. Unfortunately, most travelers completely miss out on this fantastic micro destination that offers magnificent white water rafting, outstanding hiking in the tropical rain forests of Pico Bonito and Nombre de Dios National Parks, unique eco lodge accommodations with a lot of personality and the perfect combination of adventure and relax for your vacations. The Cangrejal River has huge, house size boulders that create magnificent small drops and rapids, with perfect tranquil natural swimming holes between them, which will invite you to jump in and refresh yourself in the pleasant, temperate waters of the Cangrejal. Travelers are surprised at the temperature of the water in the river, since they are used to ice cold water flowing down the mountains back home. Best of all is the fact that you are only a 30 minute drive from La Ceiba in an extremely scenic all weather dirt road. The Cangrejal River Valley is without doubt our number one selection of the top five tourist sites in Atlantida!

Garifuna drummers at Lancetilla Botanical Gardens in Tela

Number two: Lancetilla Botanical Garden. Located just outside of Tela, the Lancetilla Botanical Garden was established almost 100 years ago by the Tela Railroad Company, today part of the United Fruit Company, as an experimental station to find proper crops from around the World to plant in Honduras. Many Asian exotic fruits where imported and planted here to test their resilience and adaptability to the climate in Northern Honduras. With the passing of time, Lancetilla became the second largest tropical botanical garden in the World, and today offers a unique combination of exotic tropical fruits and plants as well as some important history regarding the days when Honduras was the original Banana Republic. Because of the abundant flora in the gardens, there are hundreds of different species of birds that have made of the area their home. It is without doubt a birdwatchers paradise. In addition, it is a great spot to buy plants, both native and exotic, as they have a magnificent plant nursery. The United Fruit Company, (Chiquita Banana) is in the process of investing money in the gardens that are now being managed by the municipality of Tela. Lancetilla is a perfect day tour from both Tela and La Ceiba, as well as from San Pedro Sula.

Aerial view of Cayos Cochinos

Number 3: Cayos Cochinos Marine Monument / Sambo Creek Hot Springs. Cayos Cochinos are the most pristine Caribbean Islands and Cays in the Western Caribbean. Cayos Cochinos are a short 14 kilometers from the coast, and with daily boats departing from Sambo Creek, it is really easy to visit this lovely tropical setting, which will accurately resemble the image of beach paradise for even the most demanding tourist! White sand beaches, turquoise clear waters, exhuberant vegetation and even a unique, very picturesque Garifuna village at Chachahuate Cay. Cayos Cochinos can be visited on a day trip or you can also plan on spending one or more nights there. The Turtle Bay Eco Resort Resort (www.turtlebayecoresort.com) offers upper end accommodations plus diving in what is probably the best preserved coral reefs on the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef system. Additionally, there are some nice community owned and managed cabins at the small Garifuna community of East End. Cabanas Laru Beya offer clean, comfortable accommodations at very reasonable prices (www.recoturh.com) . If you are willing to rough it out, you can stay at Chachahuate, the Garifuna community on the Cay with the same name, however keep in mind that there is no electricity and running water available in the community…  Cayos Cochinos deserves to be number three in the top five tourist sites in Atlantida. Back in the mainland, at the Garifuna community of Sambo Creek, the hot springs located just out of town, within Nombre de Dios National Park offer a unique opportunity to relax your body after a day hiking or snorkeling at the beach in Cayos Cochinos.  The hot springs  sprout from a steamy, boiling water hole within the dense tropical rain forest, and mixes naturally with a cold water spring tumbling down the mountains. The result is a set of lovely natural water pools with hot water in the middle of the jungle, where you can choose the pool with the most comfortable temperature to yourself. To add excitement, there is a superb 16 cable zipline canopy tour on the premises that you can do while those less adventuresome wait for you at the hot springs. (www.facebook.com/pages/Sambo-Creek-Canopy-Tours-and-Spa/370059736352675)

Beach at Punta Sal National Park

Number 4: Punta Sal National Park. Also known as Parque Nacional Jeannette Kawas, this park offers a diversity of habitats, including the Los Micos Lagoon, a nice stretch of beach between the lagoon and the Caribbean Sea, a rugged peninsula that has the nicest white sand beaches in mainland Central America and an expanse of tropical rain forest. Most visited is the peninsula and a small, truly romantic cove known as Puerto Caribe, where tour guides will tell you tales about the days when the pirates would hide in this tiny cove after having attacked a Spanish galleon loaded with goods. There is a nice trail that will help you walk across the peninsula, from the Bay of Tela to this lovely cove. En route, a close encounter with howler monkeys is most common and brings excitement to this tour. Your best option to visit this park is with one of the tour operators in Tela. I wholeheartedly recommend Garifuna Tours as the most reliable and professional. (www.garifunatours.com)

The Mangrove Canals at Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, La Ceiba

Number 5. Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, located just about 30 Km West of La Ceiba and 70 Km East of Tela is the last of our top five tourist sites in Atlantida. The main access to the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is via the old Banana Train that departs from the community of La Union. The train ride is about thirty minutes long, and will bring you through an agricultural area shared by cattle and coconut tree farms, to the community of Salado Barra, where you will find the visitor center for the wildlife refuge. Once in the refuge, access is complicated due to the variety of mangrove canals, rivers and estuaries that criss cross the area, so the easiest way to get around is by boat. You can either hire a motor boat with a guide to take you around or rent a canoe to paddle on your own with a guide, to sneak up to the different mangrove canals and see howler and white face monkeys, as well as alligators and a whole lot of birds. The area is a paradise for birdwatchers. The refuge was created to protect the endangered Caribbean Manatee, which has become the icon of the reserve.

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