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Trip Report Brief trip report: Northern Honduras (Pico Bonito)

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Last week we had a very lovely 5-night mini-vacation in Honduras. We spent all five nights at the Lodge at Pico Bonito, a fantastic place adjacent to Pico Bonito National Park. Overall, the natural beauty and lodging quality were both as good as anywhere we've been our entire lives. So was the birding, even though we were there during the slow season for birds.


We used reward miles to get our tickets to San Pedro Sula via Miami on American Airlines. Going out wasn't a problen, but on the way back home AA's luggage handling for arriving international flights and transfers to domestic flights was abysmal and one of our bags was lost. We've seen fights between troops of monkeys that were more organized. If flying direct on TACA/Avianca is an option, do that.

The Lodge charges to pick people up at San Pedro Sula's airport, while offering free pick up at La Ceiba. Unfortunately, getting a flight into La Ceiba is not easy, with the choices being booking an additional flight on a domestic carrier or making two more connections on your existing flight (San Pedro Sula to Tegucigalpa to La Ceiba).

Anyhow, the drive gave us a decent look at the northwestern coastal area of Honduras. For all the reports of violence, the only thing remarkable was how unremarkable everything seemed. Lots of African Palm plantations, some corn and sugar cane etc. We never went anywhere near San Pedro Sula the city, which was just fine by us for obvious reasons.


We went on three birding hikes (two on the lodge grounds and one at the Rio Santiago Nature Resort about 45 minutes away). The guides kept on apologizing for how 'slow' the birding was, since August is the 'low' season. This made me wonder just how crazy good the birding is in high season (November through March) because we saw a lot of birds, including our two big targets--the Lovely Cotinga and the Keel-Billed Motmot as well as another priority, the Rufous-Tailed Jacamar. The birding here was every bit as good as anywhere we've been in Central America, including Selva Verde and Bosque del Rio Tigre in Costa Rica. Had we been here in high season, almost certainly we'd be declaring it the best birding location we've ever seen (apparently in February you can photograph Lovely Cotingas from your breakfast table). If you like hummingbirds, the Rio Santiago tour is a must--just crazy numbers of them on the lodge grounds.

We also did a tour of the Cuero y Salado wildlife reserve--again, low season so while we did see a good number of birds as well as monkeys and two crocodiles, it wasn't as good as during high season apparently. But, the setting is magnificent, and there's the experience of taking the little train to get to the reserve (no roads go there).

We did one night walk, and saw a few cool insects, the red-eyed tree frog as well as an oppossum and a Mexican hairy porcupine. Other than that, though, there wasn't as much mammal life as we thought we'd see. We didn't see any monkeys aside from Cuero y Salado, and only agouti during the day at the lodge. Not even coatis.

We did a couple of hikes on the lodge's gorgeous grounds and hiking trails--we hiked to Mermaid Falls and Las Pilas swimming hole. Bring your water sandals and swimsuits to either--the water is incredibly inviting.

We did lunch one day at the Garifuna 'village' after a bird hike. To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. The 'village' is basically a small scale slum that's located on the beach. Great food, and lovely setting on the beach itself, but it was somewhat grim (unpaved streets, no plumbing to speak of), more of a socioeconomic insight than a cultural one gained.

The Lodge:

This is one of the best places we've ever stayed, maybe the best. Certainly on par with other places we've been like Lamanai Outpost Lodge in Belize and Bosque del Cabo in Costa Rica. The cabins are set in the rainforest, surrounded by trees so that all you see out your windows is green--leaves, vines, epiphytes. In the early morning we could hear the spooky sounds of the great potoo. Our cabin had a lovely four poster bed, plenty of storage, and a seating area. It also had air conditioning, but we didn't use it as the ceiling fans were enough, and who wants to listen to an air conditioner while seeking relaxation in the rainforest?

The food and service at the restaurant were excellent. Just to give you an idea of the level of service and attention to detail. Before our 6:00 AM birding hike, they set out fruit plates and rolls for us, and provided coffee. Along with the coffee, they served heated milk so that it wouldn't cool off the coffee. This at 5:45 am in the morning, when were were the only people going on the hike. The dinner menu is somewhat more oriented towards foodies, so if one wants more basic food, you can order off the lunch menu, or make a special request, which they will happily accomodate.

Visually, the lodge's main grounds have the mountains of the national park as their visual focal point. While eating or relaxing at the pool, you could see the clouds rolling over the lush, green mountains at various times.

Weather: the seasonal weather patterns seem disjointed from the rest of central America. May through September is the dry season, with the wet season being most pronounced in October but continuing through March/April (in most of Central America, the wet/dry seasons are flipeed around). (if I had to guess, I would think it's because it's a Northern coast at the base of mountains, whereas most of Central America has East and West coasts until you get to Panama). However, the peak wildlife/bird sighting happens during the same time as the rest of central America--November through April. You just have to deal with a bunch of rain to see it.

Even though this was the 'dry' season it was still really wet. I would say this was the most humid place we've ever been--the temperatures were always manageable due to the somewhat higher elevation, but it rained every day and was humid when it wasn't raining. It wasn't unpleasant, and makes everything there incredibly green and lush (also moreso than anywhere we've been).

Odds and ends: Honduras offers a slightly different feel than other places we've been in Central America. We never felt unsafe, but the Honduran military was omnipresent. There really isn't a civilian law enforcement presence that we saw. Instead it's the military. To prevent iguana poaching in national parks, there aren't game wardens, there are guys in fatigues carrying M-16s. My wife was severely unnerved when two walked back with us from a hike--they were looking after us for our safety I can only presume, and appeared to be regulars at the Lodge, knowing the Lodge's maintenance workers. Didn't bother me at all, but I can see how it bothered my wife. There are elections coming up there--there were ads everywhere outside the lodge--and we can only hope that the military won't be getting involved like it did a few years ago.

At some point, we'll probably come back to this area of Honduras for 2-3 nights in February and spend the rest of our time in the Copan area. It's a lovely area, with incredible natural beauty--Pico Bonito park is probably the most beautiful area we've seen, and the Lodge itself is as good as any hotel/resort we've stayed anywhere.

I'll be posting some pictures online later on, and will provide a link when I've done so.

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