Banana Coast (Trujillo) Cruise Port

Port of Banana Coast (Trujillo): An Overview

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.

Hanging Around

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.

Don't Miss

Parque Central: You'll find most of Trujillo's main sites here, including the Fortaleza, the Cathedral and some Caribbean-style wooden houses with balconies which house the small Oficina de Turismo (open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and an Arts & Crafts Center (open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.), where you can pick up local handicrafts. This is also where the open-air market is held on cruise ship arrival days.

Fortaleza Santa Barbara: The spot where William Walker was shot by firing squad may not be particularly big or in great condition (it's mainly in ruins now), but it overlooks the whole of the bay. Stand here long enough and you can imagine how it must have been to first spot the sails of a pirate ship on the horizon. There are 15 cannons pointing out to sea, and a small museum. (Open daily from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; expect an admission fee).

Cementerio Viejo: A few blocks up from the main square is the town cemetery. Overgrown and with crumbling gravestones, it's a peaceful shaded spot away from the crowds. William Walker is buried here, in a prime spot just up on the left from the entrance.

Snorkeling: There is a sandbank just off the beach where hundreds of starfish gather; no one is quite sure why, but it could be because the currents bring nutrients. You can take the official excursion which includes a guide and snorkeling gear, or make your own way -- it's quite a sight!

Horseback riding: Banana Coast Tours offer horseback riding for all levels of experience, combined with a tour in the Campo del Mar Nature Reserve. You start by following your guide on a slow trot from the stables at nearby Campamento along a stretch of beach towards Campo del Mar. Once there, you do a trolley tour before returning to the stables for a drink and a swim.

Getting Around

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.

Beaches

Trujillo is not yet geared up to provide many of the activities associated with established Caribbean ports, but if you walk beyond the restaurant strip towards the west of town you will find a couple of resorts.

Best Beach for an Active Day: Head to Banana Beach Resort west along from the restaurant strip where you can get a day pass, play beach volleyball and use one of its three pools.

Best Beach for Families: The first resort you get to beyond the strip, Tranquility Bay, is a gorgeous eco-lodge run by a Canadian couple. The resort offers paddle boards and kayaks along with windsurfing, snorkeling, banana-boat rides and fishing.

Best Secluded Beach: The further west you head from town, the more secluded it becomes. Beaches do not have individual names; it is just one long stretch. Note, however, that crime is an ever-present threat in Honduras, and although at time of writing this area is regarded as safe, this may well change as the town gets more used to mass tourism.

Lunching

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.

Where You're Docked

You'll be tendered into the brand-new port of Banana Coast, just to the west of the Trujillo town center.

Watch Out For

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.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

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.

Language

Spanish is the official language of Honduras. In this sleepy town, not many people speak more than very basic English.

Best Souvenir

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.

Best Cocktail

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.

For More Information

On the Web: Honduras Tourism Institute

Cruise Critic Message Boards: Banana Coast (Trujillo)

Independent Traveler.com: Caribbean Travel Guide

--By Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor

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