“It’s never too late in life to have a genuine adventure.”
We booked our flights from Guatemala City to Roatan, Honduras, through a company called Air Viva. So you can imagine our shock when, upon our arrival at the Guat City Airport, there was no check-in desk or departing flights for Air Viva. After a minor panic attack we asked an airport employee for assistance, whom of course did not speak a lick of English. Our fate was left in the hands of a kind bilingual airport goer who heard the miscommunications and offered to translate. We were then directed to an affiliate airline of Air Viva, and checked into our flight, much to our relief. Typically at this point we would head straight to security check and immigration, and spend any remaining time browsing duty free and waiting, at our gate to board the flight. However this particular morning, at 6:00am, our tastebuds veered us off-course and, after checking in and dropping off our bags, we indulged in a leisurely McDonalds breakfast. Upon wiping the last of the hash brown grease from our fingertips, we arrived at security and immigration to a mob of over 300+ travellers going through the motions, with only 20 minutes to spare before our flight was to begin boarding. The one time we got too comfortable and we were in jeopardy of missing our flight. We both agreed that an airport worker was bound to help us, by taking us to the front of the line if they realized our predicament; we had never been in the scenario before but seen many other travellers aided by airport employees for this same reason. However, after asking three different people for help, and receiving nothing in return but a shrug of their shoulders, we decided we had to abandon our Canadian values and start cutting the queue. We finally reached the front of the line just as our flight began boarding and as soon as our passports were stamped we ran as fast as we could to our gate, arriving out of breath, but just in time. Some days are slow and others are so eventful, before the sun has even risen, but it’s that unpredictability that we live for.
The two biggest tourists hubs of the tropical island of Roatan are West End and West Bay. Although both are equally beautiful they attract two very different types of travellers. West Bay has a long stretch of sandy beach lined with expensive resorts and restaurants that double their prices when cruise ships are there for the day. West End, where we stayed, has a much smaller beach but is overrun with scuba divers, which was more than fine by us. We stayed at Hotel Chillies in the Mango House, where we had a small studio apartment. After checking in we strolled the West End strip, picked up some groceries and landed at The Sundowner for the afternoon; the most popular beach bar on West End, packed day and night with travellers, tourists, expats and locals.
The following day we went for our first dive as certified scuba divers. After some Tripadvisor research we decided to dive with Native Sons, who just happened to be the dive shop affiliated with our hotel. We were impressed and made to feel very comfortable, as new divers, from our first encounter with the staff at Native Sons. Safety and security are definitely a priority for them, and we always felt well looked after and welcomed by both the instructors and dive masters. Diving was a daily occurrence for us in Roatan, and although we saw bigger fish in Belize, the coral and aquatic plant life in Honduras was absolutely breathtaking. We challenged ourselves to new depths and swam through narrow canyons which really tested our buoyancy control. With so many dive sites so close to the island, we went to a different spot every day and were on the boat for no more than 15 minutes, a welcomed change from the minimum 30 minute boat rides to dive sites in Belize. Perhaps the best part about diving in a new place is doing it with new people, of whom we met many, and learning new techniques from those much more experienced than us. For the first time we truly felt immersed in the divers community and we were so proud to be apart of it.
Besides diving, we spent the rest of our time in Roatan, beaching, eating and drinking. One afternoon, when no cruise ships were scheduled to be on island and we knew it would be quieter, we took a water taxi from West End to West Bay where we people watched on the beach and cooled off in the Caribbean Sea. It was a great spot, but we were much happier to be staying in West End, where there is a much more authentic island vibe, like at restaurants such as Creole’s Rotisserie Chicken, a delicious local favourite. All the food in West End was great, but our favourite spot, where we ended up dining twice, was The Landing Restaurant at The Beach House Hotel. With a second story balcony overlooking the ocean, it is the perfect place from which to watch the sunset, cocktail in hand. Our favourite menu item is the brie, apricot and caramelized onion crostini, which we have vowed to try to recreate at home. Although we absolutely loved our five days in Roatan and the Caribbean influence of the island we were looking forward to spending some time on the mainland, in hopes to learn more about Honduran culture.
We took the Galaxy Wave ferry from Roatan to La Ceiba, where a hotel shuttle was waiting to take us to Omega Eco Jungle Lodge. Upon arriving at the German-owned lodge we were told the creek side cabin we booked was unavailable for our first night stay but they had a nicer room ready for us and we would switch to the cabin the following day. The room was gorgeous and the lodge was very unique, with a freshwater pool fed by river water and an extensive menu with various delicious options. However the downfall of Omega was the service. The owners, who we met on our second day there, were kind and welcoming, but their staff were inattentive and unknowledgeable. However we did not let his aspect sour our experience in the Honduran jungle.
After receiving some devastating news from home, we used our first full day in the jungle to reflect and relax. Omega is located inside Pico Bonito National Park and we took advantage of the hiking trails right on the grounds of the lodge. After a short 30 minute hike in the sweltering jungle heat we enjoyed a much needed cool down in the pool, followed by an afternoon of napping and reading on lounge chairs and hammocks.
The following day we hired local guides to take us through Pico Bonito on horseback. We enjoyed a leisurely four hour ride, passing small villages along the way where the children shouted the names of our horses, Nugget and Philippe. Our guides explained that they live locally and many of the children look forward to seeing the horses pass by daily. We stopped midday beside a river for a swim and to enjoyed a packed lunch of sandwiches, pineapple, plantain chips and banana bread. The serene day was perhaps the most authentic Honduras four hours we had in the country and a better alternative for us at the time, compared to the ever popular white water rafting in this area of Central America. We were not in the mood of hooting and hollering and we were okay with sitting that one out.
It’s safe to say we greatly enjoyed our time in Honduras, however when leaving the country, we couldn’t help but notice that we, shamefully, really did not know very much about its history or culture. The first reason for this is because we spent the majority of our time there on the island of Roatan, which we absolutely loved, but it’s overrun with tourists and travellers and every “local” we had an encounter with was an expat from Canada, the US or Europe. The second reason for our lack of knowledge about Honduras is because, up until recently, the mainland of the country had very bad crime rates and not much appeal, which has resulted in very minimal tourist industry. Therefore remote interior locations of the country are often unsafe and difficult to access. We do think the country has a lot to offer tourists and travellers, but they have a long way to come. There is a fine line between developing a country to a point where it is accessible for travellers, while staying true to its own values and preserving its natural wonders. We hope Honduras can accomplish this feat so that we can visit there again one day to explore more of the Central American country.
Note: Underwater photos courtesy of Jimmy Lockard