Pech indigenous people occupied much of the north coast before – and well after – the arrival of Spanish explorers. The first non-Indians to settle in present-day La Ceiba arrived in 1810 and were not Spanish, but Garífunas from Trujillo. They were followed by waves of immigrants from Olancho, who were fleeing the violence that broke out there in 1828 and lasted a half-century. The Spanish finally showed up in 1846, followed by French settlers in 1857. The city – officially chartered in 1872 – was long known as La Ceiba for a large ceiba tree that stood near the coast, used as a mooring and a community gathering place. (The tree was cut down in 1917 to make room for a new customs house.) Cuban and Arab wayfarers also settled here before the end of the century.
La Ceiba’s modern history began in 1899, with the arrival of the Vacarro brothers, who founded a banana exporting business that would become the Standard Fruit Company, today known as the Dole Food Company. La Ceiba was its longtime headquarters, and much of the city’s early infrastructure, including the port, railroad tracks, electrical system, hospitals, parks, housing and the first bank, was built by Standard to support its massive operations. Today, Dole Fruit Company, and its main competitor, the United Fruit Company, now Chiquita – continues to provide thousands of jobs for area residents, even while many of its corporate and labor practices are denounced by labor unions and environmental organizations.