Everywhere you look in the North Coast region of Honduras, the tourism infrastructure is thriving and playing off the region's healthy cultural and environmental diversity. Garífuna villages and mestizo cities live alongside a growing number of North American retiree communities, and ecotourism is on the verge of a major eruption -- swanky new jungle lodges and yoga centers are being erected on former chocolate plantations, and hiking trails are carving their way through national parks like Pico Bonito.

Zip-line tours are now as common as pan de coco, kayaking and canoe tours can be had in every mangrove-forested lagoon, and serious birders are descending upon the region like migrating herons. Up and down the coast, major beach projects are being talked about, and some are already in the works; the most significant, at Los Micos Lagoon, could possibly turn Tela Bay into the next Cancun.

Though it seems like the North Coast is finally getting its moment in the spotlight, this part of the country is steeped in history. Spanish explorers and conquistadors first entered the country here, and colonial-era forts still guard the coast from would-be pirate attacks. The Garífuna, an ethnic group descended from Carib Indians and West African slaves, arrived along this coast at the end of the 18th century. And the remaining presence of the businesses Dole and Chiquita means that lingering remnants of Honduras's role as a banana republic are still woven into the social fabric of this region, even with tourism now evolving into the primary economic force.