Las Marias

The short distance from Las Marías to the coast is deceiving. It's a long haul—nearly 40 km (25 mi) as the river fish swims—to the village, the deepest in the reserve, but the reward is worth the day of travel. Around 100 Miskito and Pech families have carved their homes into this endless expanse of rain forest found 10 km (6 miles) up the Río Plátano. Churches from five denominations, a 24-hour health clinic, and a visitors' center mingle with simple wood-plank homes spread around town. Women carry baskets of jewelry, pouches, and embroideries woven from naturally dyed bark fiber, while children play a muddy game of fútbol near the river's edge. With the help of international nonprofit groups, more than 150 community members have been trained to lead hikes and outings with travelers. The sacaguía, or head guide, is elected every six months to help arrange trips and coordinate the guides, and he'll usually greet visitors upon arrival to get everything squared off right away. The town itself is extremely placid (read: nothing to do but lie in a hammock), but most visitors use Las Marías as a starting point for rigorous hiking explorations and less intense excursions like wildlife-watching boat trips.

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