Hot and sprawling, PUERTO BARRIOS is a pretty forlorn place, its wide, poorly lit streets badly potholed. Barrios' once fine legacy of old wooden Caribbean-style buildings is disappearing fast, only to be replaced by faceless concrete hotels and stores and an excess of hard-drinking bars. The only reason most travellers come here is to get somewhere else: to Lívingston or Belize by boat or south to Honduras via Corinto.
The town was founded in the 1880s by President Rufino Barrios, but its port soon fell into the hands of the United Fruit Company, who used their control of the railways to ensure that the bulk of trade passed this way. Puerto Barrios was Guatemala's main port for most of the twentieth century, and although the fruit company was exempt from almost all tax, the users of its port were obliged to pay heavy duties. In the 1930s it cost as much to ship coffee to New Orleans from Brazil as it did from Guatemala. In the late years of the last century a decline set in, however, as exporters used modern docks elsewhere.