Welcome to the Jungle
A lodge in Honduras opens up the wilds to adventure junkies and bird-watchers
German Martinez gave us a choice. “There are two ways to Unbelievable Falls,” he announced, stepping up to the wide, open-air dining deck of northern Honduras’s Lodge at Pico Bonito. A nature guide with an easy grin, he gave us early birds a studious look. “Easy way, and hard way.”
“Hard way!” I heard behind me. I turned to find Rick Crawley, a rowing coach at British Columbia’s University of Victoria, smiling from a nearby hammock like a 250-pound cherub. Beside him sat his friend Barbara Sawula, with long, muscular runner’s legs. She was smiling, too. I groaned, but Martinez’s eyes twinkled.
“Hard way,” he said, “is good.”
Martinez’s “hard way” ascended a ridge that rose between the Bonito and Coloradito rivers, two streams that drain a quarter-million-acre paradise called Pico Bonito National Park. I was visiting for a week, base-camping at the lodge and exploring one of the least-known wildlife preserves of Central America. For an hour and a half we climbed through trilling birdsong—purple-crowned fairy, slaty-tailed trogon, and barred antshrike. Then we plunged four hundred feet through a tangle of rock and vines. Suddenly we burst into the open, where Unbelievable Falls was a gigantic exclamation point of falling water.
Crawley and I took a quick glance, shimmied out of shoes, and were the first ones in.
In fact, I felt like the first one to witness much of what I saw during my visit to this four-hundred-acre nature lodge built by U.S. and Honduran investors and a former Peace Corps volunteer. Nestled between two rivers that tumble into the sea near the popular diving destination of Roatan, the lodge has evolved into an unofficial visitor center for the difficult-to-access Pico Bonito National Park. The park’s virgin rainforest and cloudforest make up the country’s second largest national park, and one of the best (if least-known) locales to experience serious rainforest wilderness in Central America. In fewer than eight miles, the park erupts from near sea level to jagged peaks higher than the Great Smoky Mountains. More than four hundred of the country’s seven hundred bird species have been spotted in the park, from the tiny and critically endangered Honduran emerald hummingbird—found nowhere else in the world—to the three-foot-long great curassow. And Pico Bonito is just a part of a vast sweep of wild Honduran forest that remains largely unknown to outsiders and locals alike. “There are thousands of square miles of mostly intact forest with macaws and jaguars and harpy eagles and all the iconic animals of the tropics,” says Louisiana State University biologist David Anderson. “People think I’m joking when I say that you can see more wild forest and more wildlife in Honduras than you can just about anywhere in Central America. But it’s true.”
What’s also true is that the Lodge at Pico Bonito offers a lot more than toucans and monkeys. Scattered among rewilding forests, luxurious stone and native pine cabins are decked out with large hammocks and decadent bedding. Lounge chairs, lined up for drop-dead views of the park’s namesake peak, circle a tiled swimming pool. An open-air restaurant dishes up gourmet meals with a local twist—think seared beef medallions coated with cacao and coffee.