At first as we planned our trip through Central America, we spoke about Honduras being only a brief stay before we crossed into Nicaragua. That plan was partly based on rumors that Honduras was extremely dangerous, and partly on the fact that we hadn’t done any research or heard anything about the country that begged for extended travel time.
Well that all changed as our travels brought us further south. From talking to other travelers, we learned more and more about cool places we needed to visit within the country. Then, as with all Central American countries, we learned that the dangers you hear of are either standard horror stories that exist everywhere in the world (even in your cozy hometown USA), or were stories of terror from the past few years when Honduras experienced a heavy spike in gang related violence. Mostly things that are all avoidable by following the same rules for safety as we follow everywhere else. If we let those outdated fears prevent us from exploring a country, we would have never experienced Mexico!
That said, we crossed into Honduras with excitement and confidence, on our way to our first stop in coastal city of Tela!
The North Coast & Bay Islands
The north coast region for Honduras stretches from the Guatemalan border all the way to the Puerto Lempira region that borders Nicaragua. Our plan was to check out a couple coastal cities, and then spend some time enjoying the Bay Islands that sit a couple miles off the coast. Turned out to far exceed any expectations, for the most part…
In all honesty, everything we read about Tela told us to not waste our time stopping through. Its a run down, bustling city on Honduras’ Caribbean coast that had nothing to offer the common traveler other than a couple decent restaurants. For us, it was way more than that. For us, it was the jewel of Wilson’s foul domain.
Now, if you don’t know what I am talking about, I feel sorry for you. Our obsession with Phish has led us to many amazing places, but sometimes, some not so amazing ones. As for Tela Honduras, we can add it to the not so amazing list, up there with Camden New Jersey, and the Curveball festival. Either way, it was our first stop in Honduras, and at least we got this sweet picture…
Our next stop, which wasn’t even planned until the day of, turned out to be much more fruitful. In fact, our time spent in and around Rio Cangrejal is one of my favorite stops on our entire trip thus far.
Using our iOverlander app, we decided to find a good spot to camp near by the port city of La Cieba, where we would eventually be taking a ferry to Utila. In searching, we found this lodge where people raved about their stay, speaking of great hikes and awesome river rafting. So, with no need to be anywhere else, we decided to check out the Jungle River Lodge for a couple days.
The lodge sits directly on the Rio Cangrejal, and at the edge of one of Honduras’ largest national parks, Pico Bonito. Lucky for us, they had a single flat space for a vehicle our size, so we were able to stay in the truck, but enjoy all the facilities the lodge had to offer. The lodge had a great big deck built from salvaged drift wood and tree branches that overlooked the valley below. Down near the river, the lodges property consisted of great big boulders that rose 25 feet or so over the rushing river below. The smooth gigantic rocks all molded together and created two beautiful natural pools filled with crystal clear water, perfect for lounging with a nice cold beer. From the ledge beside the pools, there was a perfect spot for a nice cliff jump down into the brisk flowing water below. It was by far one of the coolest natural features I have ever seen at any sort of accommodation.
Besides the staff, we were the only people there so naturally our first mission was to get ourselves a beer and hop in the pools. As we soaked and took in the surrounding jungle landscape, another group of travelers arrived at lodge. Didn’t take long before they joined in on the pools, and just like that we had a new group of friends for the next few days. This time they were Canadians, a group of four that were on the tail end of a 6-week travel through Central America.
For our first adventure together we decided to hike into the park and make our way to one of the waterfalls. First thing that stood out to me was how undisturbed the trails were compared to many of the other national parks we have hiked in other countries. I guess over the past decade or two, foreign travelers have been few and far between due to the dangers and violence that had existed in Honduras. That being the case, the national parks haven’t seen all that much foot traffic, and as a result are in much better shape than most. We hiked a couple hours into the jungle and finally reach the waterfall which cascaded down a giant cliff, towering over 200 feet over our heads. The space was completely secluded deep in the jungle, no one else around but us, a great welcome to Honduras and its natural wonders.
The next day we arranged a river rafting trip with the guys at the lodge which was amazing. First off, it was dirt cheap, only 25 bucks per person for a 4-hour excursion. To start, we did some canyoning up the river, where we worked our way up stream, swimming through rapids and jumping off cliffs along the way. After that, we hopped in the rafts raged down the Cangrejal, which was in the low season, so rapids were only class 1-3 with a couple spots class 4, but super fun none the less. Lindsey really brought here A-game for her first white water trip as well, best seen here:
We had all intended on a two-day stay, but since we were having so much fun together, we all agreed to hang one more day at the lodge and just soak up all the sun and beer we could in the bad-ass natural pools. As if the day could have been any better, as the sun began to fade, it finally happened! I was looking up into the trees, minding my own business, and out of the depths of the jungle appeared the elusive Keel Billed Toucan, and his mate! Not one, but two of my favorite animals, which whom I had been searching for months throughout Central America, just decided to pop in for an afternoon visit as we were all living it up in those amazing pools in the Honduran Jungle. So fun to watch them hop around the trees and fly across the valley with there big awkward beak leading the way. Follow your nose little buddy! It was a perfect way to close out a fantastic stay at the Jungle River Lodge.
Next up on our Honduran adventure was a journey out to Utila, one of the bay islands on the Caribbean coast. Utila is one of the smaller islands, a neighbor of the more well-known and more touristy Roatan. While there are lots of cool restaurants & bars, along with beautiful Caribbean beaches, the heart of Utila is Scuba diving. It’s known as one of the cheapest places in the world to get scuba certifications, so I decided I would take advantage and get my advanced PADI cert.
One of the best parts about Utila is that the whole island is dive focused, so all the dive shops compete for your business, which ensures a great experience. On top of that, when you book a course, each dive shop is partnered with a hostel where they provide you free accommodations during your program. This also creates comradery between all the travelers completing courses, since you dive together by day and room together by night.
I did my advanced course with Utila Dive Center, whose partner hostel was the Mango Inn, both of which I was extremely happy with. My dive master for the advanced course was great, and all the people at UDC were super friendly and helpful. Mango Inn was a great spot with a nice pool and super cool owner who also ran a small pizza restaurant attached to the place. I would absolutely recommend this combo to anyone who plans a trip to Utila (but only get the pizza on Wednesday, ’cause it half off!).
Originally, we had only planned to be out on the island for 6 days, but we quickly fell in love, and 6 days turned into 11. After I completed my advanced course, I had the itch and wanted more time underwater, in particular, I really wanted to do a wreck penetration dive. Being in the cheapest place in the world, I figured I might as well go for it and signed up for the wreck penetration specialty certification, along with my Nitrox gas specially cert.
Although I had a good experience with UDC, I decided to shop around to see what sort of deals I could find from the other clubs. I ended up going with Utila Water Sports who had the cheapest deal for what I wanted to do and were another one of the top-rated dive shops on the island. To spice up the deal, they offered Lindsey free use of paddle boards and snorkel gear which none of the other spots had, a great selling point. As for accommodations, they had a few rooms of their own that were way nicer than Mango Inn, and even had air-conditioning at night! A huge plus considering it was about 95° out!
Aside from diving, we spent most of our time on the island either beach or bar/restaurant hopping. The island had a couple nice beaches, each accented by beautiful blue Caribbean waters. Our favorite beach was on the point, where they had a nice little bar that introduced me to the Cesar, which if you aren’t familiar with, is just a Bloody Mary but with Clamato. Fantastic. As for bars, there were lots of cool spots for happy hours, mostly build out on docks over the water with a touch of their own character. One of my favorite spots was all the way at the end of the road away from town, Blue Bayou Beach Bar. It was a simple small wood shed opened on each side and surrounded by bar stools situated perfect by a seaside park, a great spot for sunset cocktails.
There was no shortage of restaurants either. As with many of the places we have encountered on this trip, I could go on for hours just on the food, but I will spare you that, and just talk about one more place. Mango Tango. This was one of those places we had to go back to multiple times. The Mango Tango salad, homemade butternut squash ravioli, homemade ice cream (namely the passion fruit), and to wash it all down the best espresso martini you have ever tasted, just to name a few highlights!
The nightlife was usually lively, although it rarely seemed to go late into the night since most everyone had to be up early to go diving. We were lucky enough to be on the island for a rare party at this amazing spot that was more a work of art than it was a bar. It’s called Treetanic, and it’s this crazy unique surrealist playground, where every inch of the place was covered in mosaic art made from random tiles, broken glass, bottle tops, or any colorful small object they could find. I didn’t get any good pictures of the place since it was dark, but check out some images HERE.
The entrance is through the Jade Seahorse, which combines this mosaic garden with a restaurant and hotel (which, btw, makes fantastic homemade ice cream), and are led through a maze of passageways, up and down winding staircases, through a tree house and across wood & rope bridges that take you into curious colorful spaces that lead nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Usually you can just walk through it during the day to check it out, but once or twice a month there are special events and parties thrown, and we were fortunate enough to be there for it. At the time, we hadn’t been partying all that much, so it was a perfect night for us to cut loose and cut loose we did.
After a day of licking our wounds following that bash, we spent our final day on the island checking out the secluded Neptune’s Beach Bar, which didn’t disappoint. After making your way down the dusty road away from town, you hop on a water taxi that takes you around to this hidden gem. A nice bar with delicious fresh seafood, surrounded by beautiful beach and nothing in its view except pristine Caribbean Sea and the jagged mountains of the Honduran mainland in the distance. One of those places that made it that much harder to leave the island.
The Central Highlands
It had been a while since we had enjoyed island life, so it was tough to say goodbye to Utila, but all good things must come to an end, as they say. Next up we set our sights inland and made our way to Lago de Yojoa, a beautiful lake in central Honduras. The drive inland took us five hours or so, making one stop along the way at another beautiful waterfall, just couldn’t resist.
Lago De Yojoa
When we arrived at the lake, options for overnight camping in the truck were limited, but the one spot we did find was the parking lot of this cool small brewery buried in a tiny lakeside village. D & D Brewery had a cool little tasting room where they served up their five signature brews, all of which were actually quite good. Along with that they had a small restaurant and lodge, which was tucked in a private little jungle, creating a super unique atmosphere that really gave the place a special feel.
From there, it was a short walk through the little village to a river that bled out into the massive lake. All along the banks of the river, vendors were set up ready and eager to rent out kayaks to the thin herd of visitors that came through the town. We packed a nice lunch and hopped in double and spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the shores of the lake. We were one of maybe four or five vessels on the entire lake, which was about a third the size of lake Tahoe. A few hours of paddling barely got us out of the cove we started in but having the lake basically to ourselves made us feel pretty special, even if we only explored a fraction of it.
Cerro Azul Meambar National Park
The other major attraction in the region is Cerro Azul Meambar National Park. The park was massive, about twice the size of the lake it towers over. As was with Pico Bonito, the park was one of the most beautiful, unspoiled parks I have come by. Being as large as it was, there were many options for exploring, including a multi-day trek through the wilderness. We decided against the extended trek and chose to find a nice campsite where we would take a couple different, shorter excursions from. The first day we did a 4-hour nature hike in search of exotic birds, monkeys and jungle cats. To Lindsey’s delight, we came up short on the jungle cats, but saw plenty of jungle birds and even some monkeys.
The second day we stuck to the lighter side of things, hiking only a couple hours to some of the nearby waterfalls and jungle swimming holes. On the way the trail also led us to some incredible viewpoints overlooking the lake. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying cold beverages at the lodge, surrounded by a swarm of various hummingbirds enjoying their own afternoon beverages from the feeders dangling from the deck. There must have been twenty of them zipping around, and at least four or five different varieties. My favorite was the big blue one I had never seen before, even got a pretty good action shot:
After a couple chill nights in the wilderness, we were ready to continue south towards the capitol city of Tegucigalpa and some of its surrounding regions. Read about that along with our travels through the western highlands region in part two of our Honduran adventure!