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La Mosquitia is the largest tract of virgin tropical rainforest in Central America and the Northern Hemisphere; it's nothing less than a mini-Amazon. While it covers the entire northeastern part of the country, the region is only sparsely populated with villages of indigenous groups like the Pech, Tawahka, Garífuna, and Miskitos, as well as an increasing number of mainland mestizos. The region has five distinct natural zones: the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, the Tawahka Anthropological Reserve, the Patuca National Park, the Laguna de Caratasca Wildlife Refuge, and the Rus Rus Biological Reserve. Many of the zones are practically untouched and packed with rare wildlife of every imaginable sort. Yet there is not a luxury eco-lodge in sight. Apart from a few ingenious tour companies, the region is almost unexplored and just waiting for a tourist boom. If you are looking for an adventure or a place well off the beaten path, you've got it.

This region was inhabited as far back as 1000 B.C. by Chibcha-speaking Indians who migrated here from South America, which over time, split up into separate indigenous groups, such as the Pech and Tawahka. Christopher Columbus, the first European to visit, stopped briefly on his fourth voyage in 1502. Spanish missionaries were the first to explore the region, though it took them nearly a century of rebellion from the tribes to establish any sort of permanent settlement. (It didn't help that pirates frequently raided Spanish ships laden with riches from South America, which deterred further settlements.) Government control over the region has been loose, at best; it wasn't until the 1950s that any sort of formal governance began to take shape here, but at times, lawlessness still reigns supreme, as the region is too big and sparse to properly control.

While the tourist infrastructure is slowly improving in La Mosquitia, it is still relatively small and, in many cases, practically nonexistent. Phones are rare, which makes hotel reservations almost impossible, though there is always a room somewhere, even if it means a hammock in a family's hut. Transportation between each village, while the distances are relatively short, can take a day of waiting until a boat or plane fills up. Not all is bad, though; most of the towns are within the confines of the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve or a short distance from it, so tours -- either set up in advance with La Ruta Moskitia (www.larutamoskitia.com) or arranging a less formal one in the spur of the moment -- are quite easy. Most visitors, unless on a multiday tour, will base themselves in Las Marías, Raista/Belén, or Brus Laguna, and take day tours from there.

Apart from Puerto Lempira, which is on the far corner of La Mosquitia and reached by plane, all towns are within a 30-minute to 6-hour boat ride from one another. When entering the region by land, nearly all visitors make the trip from west to east, so the villages are listed as such.

Small Bills -- With not a bank between Trujillo and Puerto Lempira, it is best to bring all the lempira you will need -- and then some -- into La Mosquitia with you. Get rid of your big bills and come with as many small ones as you can. It will save you considerable trouble.