Lencas The largest indigenous group in Honduras is the Lenca’s people. They live in the Western and Southern Highlands around Celaque, stretching east through La Esperanza (and including the departments of Intibucá, Lempira, and La Paz). Contrary to popular belief, the Lencas are not members of the ancient, more well-known Mayans.
A small village that is easily accessed is La Campa, with a merely population of 500, and which is the home to the Lencas. To get there, you can take a bus from Gracias, about 12 miles. Do make sure you buy some rough earthenware pottery that the area is well known for. At the women's cooperative shop, there is for a good selection of Lencan’s pottery at decent prices.
Leonel makes unimaginably small clay figurines with precise detail that are meticulously painted. His mother, Doña Desideria, makes a variety of pottery. Anyone can point out their home in Barrio San Matias in La Campa.
Lencas attend the Sunday traditional market (probably the most interesting one in Honduras) in Belen Gualcho on Sunday mornings. It is about 3 hours bus ride from Santa Rosa de Copan. It is easiest to arrive on Saturday, staying at the Hotel Belen. You can try the Hospedaje de Doña Carolina, if Belen is full.
The Lenca’s language is all but dead. Much of the Lenca culture has been lost since the 1930's. Lenca men are expected to join in communal efforts; tending the Lenca forests, clearing the underbrush to reduce forest fires, assisting widows with farming, etc.
The Lencas have a special dance called the guancasco. La Campa's Guancasco draws over 290,000 weekly. The Guancasco is the meeting of two villages for the purpose of celebrating peace between them on the occasion of the patron Saint's fair.
When you go to Lenca villages, you should definitely visit the churches which have saints with handmade clothes that people give to the saints to thank them for some prayer answered during the year. Another popular place to go is Ojojona south of Tegucigalpa which also has a large Guancasco.
Garifuna communities are the easiest traditional communities to visit. Most tourists to Honduras will no dough be passing near some Garifuna community. The most accessible Garifuna villages to visit are in:
• Trujillo (Trujillo, Santa Fe, San Antonio, Guadalupe) and
• The Tela área (San Juan, Tournabe, Triunfo de la Cruz, Miami, La Ensenada)
• Bataya (in The Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve área)
• The La Ceiba area (Corrozal and Sambo Creek)
In Garifuna villages, you can see traditional architecture, such as houses of wild cane or palm leaves. You can find traditional foods like machuca—mashed green plantains with coconut milk soup and fried fish, and many kinds of traditional bread, cassava bread, buns, banana bread, pumpkin bread, etc.
Frequently there are traditional ceremonies going on. [Don’t go in unless invited.] You can hear traditional musical instruments. Some CD players sell traditional and modern Garifuna music, especially punta. Garifuna ceremonies are not related to voodoo. The Garifunas dance for their ancestors.
Garifuna women wear both modern clothes and traditional Garifuna clothes which include headscarves and brightly colored dresses. Garifuna villages are on beautiful beaches and the canoes of the fishermen rest on the beach.
In active fishing communities, like Limon and Sambo Creek, nets dry on the beach. There are only a few craftsmen left these days. Sometimes, you can see men making drums or weaving nets as they catch the breeze.
Trujillo Garifunas live right in the town. Just walk towards the beach and turn left into Barrio Cristales. There are two little Garifuna hotels in Cristales Cocopando (very noisy) and Hospedaje Lilian which is one of quietest and safest hotels in Trujillo.
Trujillo has a Garifuna craft store called GariArte. (Sorry, no dolls here.) The Trujillo museum inside the fort and the private museum 15 minutes from town have exhibitions of Garifuna crafts. The Garifunas in Trujillo have organized and been trained to give tours and to show their dances. People are very open about talking about their culture.
People who visit Trujillo often take day trips to other Garifuna communities like Santa Fe or Guadalupe. Buses leave three times a day. Guadalupe has a little hotel. The restaurant Caballeros is famous in Santa Fe, run by a former cruise ship chef. People go there, place their order, swim and walk around for an hour or two, and come back and eat.
Tela It is possible to meet Garifunas without leaving the city. Try the “El Aura” gallery across the street from Hotel Telamar. This is the gallery of Garifuna artist Cruz Bermudez. Also behind Hotel Tela, is the office of Enlace de Muejeres Negras which is the Garifuna organization spearheading the fight against AIDS in the Garifuna communities which is a huge problem. HIV infection rates could be as high as 30%.
In Tela go to the market and take 1 of the buses to Triumfo de la Cruz (east) or to San Juan/Tournabe Once there in San Juan, make sure to visit the home/gallery of Garifuna painter Herman Alvarez get off at the Pescadores restaurant and his house is the next one on the beach. It is possible to go to and from here by taxi. There are some hotels in San Juan and Triumfo.
The Garifunas live around protected areas (parks) Triumfo are in Punta Izopo National Park and San Juan, Torunabe and Miami are in the Jeannette Kawas (Punta Sal) National Park. Garifuna Tours in spite of its name is not Garifuna owned, and does primarily nature tourism, instead of visiting the Garifunas.
To see the typical village of Miami you can take Garifuna tours, or arrange a tour with people with boats along the dock. This area is about to redeveloped from Garifuna beach and crop land to 5 star hotels, so come see it now.
The Garifuna around Tela has many land problems related to tourism that has resulted in the death of several. Ask to speak to the Presidente Del Patronato (citizens’ committee) to find out what is happening.
La Ceiba In La Ceiba, you can buy Garifuna dolls at Souvenirs El Buen Amigo (there are two stores by this name, only one has them) and at Rainforest souvenirs. There are several Garifuna organizations in La Ceiba such as ODECO, OFRANEH, and Casa Gari. In the Zona Viva, Aurelio Martinez and his band often play live punta music at night for dancing, for example at Africa Dance.
To get to the Garifuna villages, take the Sambo Creek/Corozal bus or take any bus towards Tocoa, Colon and get off at Sambo or Corozal and walk towards the beach. There is a local hotel in Sambo Creek and restaurants in both communities, although it is easy to return to Ceiba for the night.
I love the beach scene here, which is open sea, instead on the bay as in Trujillo or Tela. There is a strong breeze and you see the Garifuna fishermen race in with their sails to the wind right up to the foot of the Sambo Creek restaurant.