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Exploring Honduras

Dangling over a plunging 90 foot waterfall, my life was now in the hands of the young guides who led our small group deep into the jungle of the coastal mountains of Honduras on the Rio Cangrejal. After a crash course, thorough and hands-on, I was expected to rappel backwards, leaning into my harness, steering my descent with a wide stance and footfalls against the slippery rocks. So, double-harnessed and helmeted I locked eyes with the guide who smiled and gave me the thumbs-up.

With my gaze hazy from the spray and splashing water, I listened for his directions, using my right hand to grip the rope just under my seat, releasing it to drop a little farther down the vertical canyon. The crash of the waterfall was deafening, so I just kept moving aggressively until I could jump into the river and scramble onto a sunny rock to do my victory dance which included a wide smile and expletives.

Our “canyoning” continued as we gingerly hiked the banks and swam down the narrow river through the thick brush, climbing moss-covered ledges, jumping into pools, abseiling a few more challenging waterfalls and finally swimming up to the small dock at Las Cascadas Lodge, the eco resort where our adventure had begun three hours earlier.

With non-stop flights servicing the bay island of Roatán and the coastal port city of La Ceiba, Honduras offers an adventure destination beyond the diving that the Caribbean barrier reef waters are known for. The people are warm and welcoming, honoring the growing tourism industry for this Central American country stretching along the Caribbean and Pacific between Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Boutique hotels like the Ibagari Hotel and diving-centric hotels like Barefoot Cay on Roatán are gorgeous and comfortable outposts for exploring local culture, shopping, dining out and adrenaline-packed days. West Bay, Roatan, is a paradisical gem. A walk along West Bay is an experience filled with glistening white sands, children playing along the shoreline, vendors selling handcrafted trinkets, and an assortment of upscale hotels like the nearly complete Grand Roatan Resort, home to Kao Kamasa Spa. Opened last year, Kao Kamasa Spa’s decadent treatments are inspired by the ancient traditions of the Pesh people and offer exquisite spa suites for extended stays. The Pesh are believed to be the original inhabitants of the Bay Islands and still exist in small numbers on the mainland. The spa features an outdoor infinity pool with a see-through floor and outdoor treatment rooms in this unique location atop a raised-bed coral reef overlooking the Caribbean. 

Divers flock to the island to explore the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, stretching nearly 700 miles from the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula down through the Honduran Bay Islands. Among them are Cayos Cochinos, an archipelago of 15 islands, home to  Cayos Cochinos Foundation, supporting conservation initiatives, including sustainable tourism and preservation of biodiversity together with the local Garífuna community. Hosting scientists, volunteers and divers, the Foundation works to welcome visitors with care and warmth, sharing the delicate beauty of the area.

Located on the northeast end of Roatan, the quaint, seaside town of Punta Gorda brims with traditional Garifuna culture. Founded around 1797, Punta Gorda is the oldest permanent settlement on the island. The afro-indigenous Garifuna settled in the area after migrating from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

Strolling the narrow roads, visitors can glimpse aspects of Garifuna culture that haven't changed in centuries. Handcrafted fishing nets line the beaches as well as boats filled with catches that form the basis of Garifuna cuisine. At Yuramei restaurant, the black and gold Garifuna flag stands proudly next to the Honduras and St. Vincent flags near the entrance. The menu serves up beloved dishes like fried snapper and sopa de pescado, a fish soup made with coconut milk, peppers and onions and served with macchuca, a sticky ball of mashed yellow and green plantains used to scoop up the soup. 

On Sundays, Punta Gorda comes alive with a street party that attracts revelers from all over. Musicians play traditional rhythms on drums while dancers whirl and move their hips to the beats. Vendors sell locally-made jewelry, hand-painted art and t-shirts from sidewalk tables and bars supply drinks while the party continues into late in the evening.

Back on the mainland, explore Pico Bonito National Park's 217 square miles, with an altitude of over 8,000 feet in the Cordillera Nombre de Dios mountain range.

Guided hikes, valley tours, fishing, rafting, jungle saunas, zip lines, hot springs, waterfall descents and mud baths are on the menu. Have a blast!

BarefootCay.com

IbagariHotel.com

PicoBonito.com

HondurasWaterfallDescents.com/home

LaVillaDeSoledad.com

GrandRoatanResort.com

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