If you're the type of cruise passenger who is looking for that elusive Caribbean-before-tourists-arrive type of vibe, someone who wants to go beyond the beach to discover history, culture and a bit of adventure, then Banana Coast is the port stop for you.
The privately-owned tender port, on the north coast of Honduras, lies on what's known as the Banana Coast (hence the name), and opened in October 2014. It was built to relieve some of the pressure on the nearby island of Roatan, whose two ports -- Mahogany Bay and Coxen Hole -- are served by Carnival and Royal Caribbean, respectively.
The port lies at the base of the town of Trujillo, which sits above a crescent-shaped, picture-perfect bay that's two miles long and backed by the breathtakingly beautiful Cordillera de Dios mountain range.
Trujillo has a long and dramatic history, having been subject to various pirate raids over the centuries and an attempted coup in 1860 by notorious U.S. adventurer and would-be enslaver of Central America, William Walker.
It was here that Columbus first made landfall in the Americas in 1502 (there is a spot to mark it); his deputy Juan de Medina founded the town 23 years later, and you can pick up T-shirts which says "Trujillo -- Established 1525." It also marks the gateway to the Camino Real, the Spanish-built road which runs through the heart of Central America, and from which the Conquistadores plundered its wealth.
Trujillo was frequently abandoned due to the ever-present threat of European pirate attacks, but became a more permanent settlement in the late 18th century, largely due to the arrival of several hundred Garifuna people from Roatan. They still make up the majority of the population.
The town itself is compact, and will not take you long to walk around. It's split into two parts: The restaurant strip extends from the port entrance to below the fort, while the main town itself is centered on the very pretty square, Plaza de Espana, home to all the main sights including Fortaleza Santa Barbara.
Trujillo's future depends largely on its first cruise season. If it is a success and more ships choose to call here, then there are firm plans to build a dock (ships currently tender in). The small runway will also be extended to allow for travel deeper into the interior.
But at present, the Banana Coast is still a wonderfully sleepy place, a real glimpse into Honduras' fascinating past.
You'll be tendered into the brand-new port of Banana Coast, just to the west of the Trujillo town center.
Banana Coast is a privately-owned cruise port, similar to many others in the region. There are several bars and cafes, including the popular Bahia Bar, right by the tender stop. The port itself has numerous craft stalls, a liquor and duty-free shop and a small Mayan museum; it also has free Wi-Fi. It's located directly on the beach so you could just hang around here if you wanted to, but you'd miss the very pretty town of Trujillo.
At this stage, Trujillo is so new to tourism that you won't find the hassle you get at many established Caribbean cruise destinations. It's so small that you'd be hard pressed to get lost, and the vibe here is genuinely friendly and welcoming.
But as you would in any unfamiliar place, keep all unnecessary valuables onboard in your cabin's safe. You'll also notice a lot of heavily armed guards, especially at banks, the port and at gas stations.
On Foot: A road runs from the port entrance along the beachfront to the town center; it's about a five-minute hike from where you're docked.
Renting a Car: There are no rental car offices in Trujillo.
By Taxi: If you choose to take a cab, there is a lineup just outside the entrance to the port. Make sure you agree the fare beforehand; it should be no more than $1 (approximately 20 Lempiras) into town.
The official currency is the Lempira, named for a martyr who fought the Spanish. U.S. dollars are widely accepted, however, as are credit cards and traveler's checks. In the main square Plaza de España, Banco Atlantida (open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to noon) provides cash advances on credit cards and has two 24-hour ATMs. For the most up-to-date conversion rates, check out www.xe.com.
Spanish is the official language of Honduras. In this sleepy town, not many people speak more than very basic English.
Editor's Note: Addresses in Trujillo do not exist the way we know them. So if you're looking for somewhere, the address you might be given is "below the fort" or "on the beach" or "beside the monument," rather than a street number.
Local specialties in this part of the world are largely what you might expect from any Central American country: chicken, rice and refried beans, or variations on the same. Grilled meats in the form of pinchos (kebabs) are popular, and being on the coast expect lots of fish a la plancha (grilled). For a quick snack, try a baleada from a street vendor; it's basically flatbread with a filling of your choice, and will set you back approximately $1.
Casual, In-Town Joint: Arguably boasting the best views in town, Casa Vino Tinto, just below the statue of Columbus in Parque Central, looks out across the whole of Bahia de Trujillo. It offers delicious local snacks, drinks and great music, as well as free Wi-Fi. (Open daily except Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.).
Casual Beach Joint: Bamboo, a hip beach bar and grill set in a traditional palm structure directly below the Fort, is probably your best bet for a light lunch and a casual vibe. They also offer free Wi-Fi.
Upmarket Lunching: It's hard to choose between the beachfront restaurants, but El Delfin, directly below the port, has the best reputation. It offers freshly caught local seafood and shellfish, served either indoor on the shaded second floor or right on the beach. Try too, Bahia Azul (open Mon-Sun from 9 a.m. to late) and Playa Dorada (open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.). All are very reasonably priced (mains average around $10) and offer free Wi-Fi.
Locally made handicrafts are everywhere, both in the port itself and in the town; the prices are much the same. On cruise-ship arrival days, the main square in town is turned into an open-air market. You'll find everything from handcrafted boats to Mayan stone carvings, wooden bowls and shawls, all at reasonable prices. You can also pick up excellent Honduran coffee for as little as $5 per bag.
Honduras doesn't have a wine growing culture, but it does produce a non-alcoholic "wine" known as "Magustin," which is fermented from various different local fruits. For something harder, try the great local beer, Salva Vida.