Mountains to the left of me. Mountains to the right. Here I am… on the glorious Cangrejal River! Embraced by the lush jungle rainforest between Pico Bonito and Nombre de Dios National Parks, the Cangrejal River rushes in gracious fury. Starting at 250 meters above sea level, the fresh spring waters roll 30 km down over magnificent boulders bigger than houses. Clear blue waters surrounded by multi-colored stone, below every shade of green. The tallest “beautiful peak” soars 2,485 meters high, heckled by an absorbent amount of birds. It didn’t take much to sell me on a trip up to the area commonly referred to simply as ‘Pico Bonito‘, I was just left wondering what it was going to take to get there ? And really, what the heck am I going to do!?
Honduras is quickly accessible from the US or the Caribbean by plane. Once in La Ceiba, you’re pretty much there; Far from the distant memories of traffic jams on long weekends, I can appreciate a retreat that is only a short 10 km drive from city center to paradise or 20 minutes from the airport. Peering out the window I watch as the view is drastically altered from business and retail, to residential, to heavenly forest landscapes. I’m being transported to another world, by truck (although, you may choose to arrange your own vehicle, taxi or coordinate a ride with your hosts). It’s serenity now! Practically on demand. A meandering country road steadily brings me closer to tranquility and adventure.
High in the Nombres de Dios mountain range, a once remote and near inaccessible region; adventurers and hectic-life-escapees have built a quiet corner of refuge and rejuvenation along the La Ceiba to Yaruca road. What do you feel like, Rafting? Kayaking? Hiking? Horseback Riding? Birding? Hot Springs? Waterfalls? Canopy zip-line tour? Death-defying suspension bridge walk into nature trails? Or just some good old fashioned boulder jumping into whirlpools!? — there’s a lot of fun to be had. And if all of that sounds like way too much action for a relaxing rainforest get-away, then stop to smell the tropical flowers and have a swing in a shaded hammock by the pool and just wait for the Keel-billed Toucans to fly by.
That is, if you pick a place with a pool. One complaint I’ve heard from travelers to this region; they felt a bit trapped. In that they thought they had to eat every meal at their chosen hotel / retreat. Compelled to only be involved with what that camp provided. Having now gone myself, I can firmly say this is not the case! There are multiple choices of places to stay; each establishment is looked after personally by the owners. No matter which place you choose, take the time to visit the neighbors a quick walk up (or down) the road, take in a new view, go for a swim elsewhere, and try a new kitchen while you’re at it!
Luxury overlooking the river, Villas Pico Bonito: Eco-friendly accommodations for one, or a group, offer all the comforts of home. Hand-built above the river bed, fully insulated western-standard villas come equipped with everything needed for a relaxing stay in the mountains, including binoculars for birding. Modern earth-tone furnishings compliment the wooded surroundings in varying sized Spanish villas, completed with decorative wood carvings made locally. A range of shaded lumber collected from the property, has been put to use for flooring and walls, creating warm inviting comfort focused spaces. Two spectacular dining / bar areas overlook a picturesque infinity pool that hangs above the river with a view of El Bejuco waterfall in the distance. The daily sunrise and sunset becomes an event, the light never shining the same way twice (ideal for photography enthusiasts). Meticulously planned out fairy-tale walk ways lead from villa to villa; weaving their way through colorful floral gardens, over spring streams flowing along the hills, funneled by landscaped rock. It’s a magical oasis of beauty and leisure, with import beers! Offering direct access to explore the river rocks or a quick walk up the road to get involved in any of the local activities. Combination Jungle/Ocean packages available on their website: www.villaspicobonito.com
Richard (a former US native) and his team will make you feel so at home, you may never want to leave! I look at this place, and I think wedding parties! It’s just that picture perfect. Not staying here ? Enjoy the view from the infinity pool or upper-deck bar over lunch (local and American cuisine) and you’ll end up staying for a stunning sunset cocktail.
Rainforest-Cozy, La Villa de la Soledad B&B: In the design of old colonial Spanish hacienda buildings, with private and communal patios and wrap around porches. Nuzzled in tropical gardens on a bluff between national parks; this B&B is run to the highest of standards. Built by owner John and his wonderful family, with all of mother nature’s creatures in mind. John is heavily involved in Honduran environmental projects. President of the Guaruma, a non profit school manned by volunteers from around the world dedicated to protecting and educating the residents of this wonderful water shed that is the Cangrejal River, including proper environmental practices. It’s a solid place for an adventure base camp, or laid back retreat. The kitchen offers much more than just breakfast, all meals including fresh fruit or veg. Pricing is based on seasonal demand (best deals in off season), and reflects occupancy, singles to groups. Transfers from town are available, do coordinate in advance (my own advice, for politeness sake). Facilities also include a small library and of course wifi through out. http://www.lavilladesoledad.com
Clean living adventure at Omega Tours Eco-Retreat: Finely crafted cabins for cross breezes on hot days, and listening to the rain on the roof from a hammock on others: I call this “glamping” (glamour meets camping) at it’s finest! The Omega tours comfort camp was built by the original rafters in the region, Udo and his wife Sylvia, after traveling all of Central America in search of the best rafting around. They are true experts in their field, inspired by nature and responsible living. Exquisite rustic furnishings for the grounds are custom made on location in the large woodwork shop, beside the equally large raft warehouse. Meal ideas originate from the surrounding gardens, served in an open air restaurant / lounge / bar, by the pool. An ode to crafstmanship, Udo even has his own insignia: his initials “UW” (Udo Whittman) look
more like waves when carved into wood, and can be found throughout, including the gift shop. Stones are used in many fascinating ways, including to create an outdoor waterfall shower. If there’s a rustle in the bushes, don’t fear! It may just be the birds or one of the horses enjoying a stroll on his afternoon off. This is the epi-center for all activities oriented in Pico Bonito, including daily yoga from a spacious hillside platform, canopied by trees. This place doesn’t have a view of the river, but it’s a quick walk away. Not staying here? A full morning of rafting includes a “spaghetti lunch”. It’s much more than just spaghetti, all for only $50usd (+ grat). Check out their Facebook page for daily fun pics.
Get into the action, Jungle River Lodge: Budget friendly, dorm beds start at $12 a night, privates also available. Free or $12 off accommodations with daily tour of choice. Pick up available twice daily from La Ceiba, with tour booking. Good for single travelers or groups. Located directly on the river, neighbor to Villas Pico Bonito. This travel stop boasts an exciting viewing deck from the restaurant/ bar. It’s an excellent vantage point to watch the thrilling end moments of the river rafting expeditions over a local fish meal or burger. Rooms are basic, clean, functional. Drinks are stiff ($2 mixed, $1 beer + grats), but not the hosts! Travelers from all walks can enjoy uplifting bar conversation after a day of exploring the rapids and jungles.
Not one – but 4 completely different places, one solid experience. All within walking distance of each other, these four predominantly hand-made retreats share the same wild passion for nature, but that’s about it! There’s a few other hotel retreats throughout the region if these don’t suit your tastes. Whatever place you choose to stay, this is the kind of trip that you can enjoy for a weekend a month, or a lifetime.
“Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains!” – Jeffrey Rasley