Most people imagine white sandy beaches and paradise islands when thinking about Honduras. To be blamed for this incomplete image are the Bay Islands, the country’s most popular tourist spots. Make sure to check out my post about Utila and Roatan to understand why they are so popular. Yet, if you visit the mainland and explore the other side of Honduras, you will find yourself in an equally pretty nature setting with diverse flora and fauna that is marvelous. The Pico Bonito National Park with the Cangrejal River is one of the attractions for outdoor-lovers who visit the city ‘La Ceiba’. Here is why whitewater rafting and a hike to a breathtaking waterfall should be on your bucket list when in Honduras.
A dramatic rainforest scenery appears when you drive up the rugged street that leads you away from La Ceiba. On your right, you overlook the Cangrejal River that divides the two national parks to your left and right: ‘Pico Bonito National Park’ (which translates to “pretty peak”) and ‘Nombre de Dios National Park’, (“the name of God”). The river is broad and offers some challenging rapids, which makes it one of Central America’s best whitewater rafting options and is the reason why some adventurous travelers choose to spend some time in this area.
Consequently, there are a few tour companies that offer outdoor activities and tours that include kayaking, river walking, bird watching and horseback riding, to name a few. We went rafting with the German-owned tour agency ‘Omega‘’ (which was a coincidence and has nothing to do with the fact that I am German!) that took us on an exciting trip down the river…
A day of adventure: Whitewater Rafting on the Cangrejal River
At 8:30 in the morning we met our guides and three other people who went rafting with us; two English guys and a woman from Australia. We received a quick briefing from our guide and tried on our gear: a fancy helmet and life jacket… and off we went. If you have some sort of water shoes, it’s a good time to use them, as you can’t go bare feet or you will lose your grip inside the raft. Runners can get uncomfortably wet and heavy, but the climate is warm enough and you move a lot so you actually don’t need to worry about getting cold on the river.
From the agency, we walked down a short ,muddy pathway to the starting point of our rafting trip. It had rained a lot in the days before, so the river was a bit higher than usual, which also made it slower, and a bit easier for us. Nevertheless, we had some adrenaline pumping through our bodies…it was a lot of fun!
The tour takes about 3 ½ hours and includes stops to gaze at the waterfalls in the distance, to watch exotic birds or to jump off some funky shaped rocks to cool off a bit. Our guide also stopped at one point to show us a native plant called ‘Angel Hair’. He handed over some seeds of the plant and made us rub our hands against each other with a little bit of water in it. The result was a pleasant smell and loads of foam, which is why the locals use it as natural soap.
After more rapids and pleasantly calm sections in between, we arrived wet, exhausted and absolutely pumped at the end of our trip. In total, we paddled about 7 km distance from the starting point to where we were picked up by the company’s funky looking yellow truck. All in all, the tour was well organised, very worthwhile, with two knowledgeable and fun guides who told us a lot about the river and the area. Five stars for Omega!
Hiking the ‘El Mapache’ trail
Another fun activity in the Pico Bonito National Park is to hike up to the impressively high waterfall, ‘El Bejuco Falls’. You can easily spend half a day exploring the park and enjoying the outdoors. The hike takes about 3-4 hours round-trip, depending on your pace, of course. We stopped many times in order to take pictures or marvel at the different species of this rain forest, mainly birds and reptiles.
After you have passed the entrance gate of the visitor center of the Cangrejal River, you have to cross an Indiana Jones-like bridge called ‘Puente Hamaca’ (Hammock Bridge). It is a great way to start the hike and gives you an idea of what you can expect inside the park. Further down the trail, you’ll get to jump over some small rocks and cross the river on fallen tree trunks. It’s not ‘a walk in the park’, but absolutely doable for a normal fit person. Make sure to bring plenty of water, as it is humid and hot in there…welcome to the jungle!
At the entrance to the national park, you will be informed that the length of your hike will determine the price you pay. It is based on an honest report to the park officer, but I suggest to actually go all the way and then also pay the full price of 8 US dollars – because what’s the point of seeing only half of the park and missing the best part of this fun hike!?
Where to stay while exploring Pico Bonito National Park
With so much action and excitement going on during the day, you probably want a nice and relaxing time once you’re at ‘home’. And this is exactly how we felt in our hotel ‘La Villa de la Soledad‘: at home. It is an oasis in the middle of the rainforest with grand walls and spacious outdoor sitting areas which makes it feel palace-like but cozy at the same time. The friendly Mexican-born owner John and his Honduran wife Soledad built the place in order to live there with their family and open a high-class option for tourists in this area.
The bed and breakfast style hotel is only 9 km outside of La Ceiba inside the Pico Bonito National Park. From the hotel, you can actually walk in less than 5 minutes to the entrance of the visitor center to start you hike to the waterfall. From the property, you have amazing views into the rainforest and the Cangrejal River, which you can enjoy from one of John’s and Soledad’s hammocks. The hotel has five rooms that all have a private bathroom, and are decorated with original paintings by Honduran artists. From each room, you can access an outside area of the property, a very tranquil garden space with stunning views.
The room comes with a delicious breakfast of freshly cut fruits, coffee, juice, and eggs with toast, prepared as you wish, and served at whatever time you require it in order get to your daytime activities. ‘La Villa de la Soledad’ is a very comfortable and relaxing option to stay while you explore Pico Bonito National Park. The owners are bilingual and are there to help you if have any questions or need help to organize your local activities. Our stay there made our trip to Pico Bonito National Park a completely amazing experience and gave us the perfect amount of relaxation aside our adventure activities.