Welcome to the Jungle
Serious nature tourists find their way to the lodge for other amenities. Six miles of footpaths, hiking trails, and raised boardwalks tunnel through the property’s tropical gardens. Lodge guests can also wander through a butterfly house where upwards of forty tropical species are raised, a serpentarium with snakes as fearsome as the native fer-de-lance, and a recently completed captive breeding facility for iguana. It all inoculates visitors against boredom.
As do staff guides such as Martinez. The forty-four-year-old former Pico Bonito park ranger is one of a dozen local guides the lodge employs to lead bird walks around the property, day hikes into the national park, even trips to remote rural villages. The lodge pays for English training for its guides and lines up interpretive skills workshops with Peace Corps volunteers. “Once people understand that the park’s trees and wildlife are more valuable if they don’t end up in a bag or the back of a truck, locals begin to see a different version of the future,” explains James Adams, chief naturalist for the Lodge at Pico Bonito. “We see lives completely transformed through a new way of looking at nature.”
Looking at Pico Bonito’s natural wonders certainly transfixed me. I’m just as interested in a good, hard hike to a thundering waterfall as I am in spotting a Montezuma oropendola, and with the help of Martinez and other guides, I ticked off a mind-boggling number of birds while hiking, swimming, wandering the lodge’s exquisite natural gardens, and rock-hopping up and down the riverbanks. There were keel-billed toucans, blue-crowned motmots, and a ferruginous pygmy owl. Antbirds, antshrikes, ant-tanagers, antwrens, antthrushes, and antvireos. Parrots and parakeets. It was like living in a Froot Loops commercial.
And that was all just on the lodge grounds. I made the Lodge at Pico Bonito my hub for a full week, and full it was. One morning I left early and drove to the western border of the park, where the Cangrejal River pours through Class III, IV, and V rapids on a twenty-mile run from Pico Bonito’s cloudforest to the Caribbean Sea. Careening through canyons, I was surrounded by water—water roaring through rapids, falling from the canyon walls in innumerable rivulets, dripping from moss, draped across the mountains themselves in gigantic waterfalls that glistened like tinsel. Outside the small village of Las Mangas, I took a five-hundred-foot ride in a tiny wire basket attached to a cable strung high over the Cangrejal to visit a remote sewing cooperative for local women. And I spent one full day wandering among the street vendors in the nearby town of La Ceiba. Warrens of narrow alleys were filled with bananas, pineapples, the largest avocados I’d ever seen.
I would have experienced none of it if not for the Lodge at Pico Bonito. Its carefully tended relationship to local communities and local people offers connections with the Honduran landscape, and with Hondurans, in ways that transcend the typical tourist experience.
On the hike back to the lodge from Unbelievable Falls, I asked Sawula why she chose Pico Bonito, among all the nature destinations of Central America. “You saw the little shacks driving out here,” she replied, her brows arching over blue eyes. “No electricity. No running water. For me, interacting with locals is as important as the reefs and the rainforest. I’d rather invest in the local community than a cruise line.”
Agreed. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt better about having a blast.