Puerto Barrios

The friendly but down-at-the-heels port city of Puerto Barrios preserves the atmosphere of an old banana town. Its wide streets, mostly detached buildings—many are old stilt houses built in the traditional Caribbean style—and heavy tropical air give it a small-town feel, belying its population of 40,000. Nearby Santo Tomás de Castilla has now replaced it as the country's largest port, but the city still serves as the region's administrative, economic, and transportation center.

"Barrios," as everyone calls it, was once a thriving port for the United Fruit Company, thanks to the formerly operating railroad that connected it with Guatemala City. The commercial boom, however, has long since subsided; its port still functions, but most operations have been transferred to Santo Tomás. Officially, there's little to keep you here—the thriving market, while interesting, is geared to the workaday needs of the populace rather than any must-have souvenirs—but because transportation schedules don't always mesh well in this region, you may find yourself here for a night. With a couple of nice, but not-too-flashy resorts nearby, staying here is not a hardship.

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