Ten years ago, the only tattoos in Honduras belonged to gang members. These days, you’re more
likely to see them on expats who work in the country’s burgeoning adventure travel industry. One of
them is Myles Bean, a rafting guide living in La Ceiba who has the words “I’m Alive” and “Me Too” on top of his feet. Of the country’s past gang issues, he says: “I don’t know what it used to be like, but everyone in this country is so friendly and welcoming.” Indeed, Honduras has successfully curtailed gang activity and is now enticing tourists with rainforests and beaches similar to those of its southern neighbor Costa Rica. But while many Costa Rican hotels are large complexes overrun with litter-dropping, margarita-swilling Americans, Honduras has small, luxury eco-resorts like Pico Bonito Lodge.
Situated 30 minutes from La Ceiba’s Golosón International Airport, on the edge of Pico Bonito National Park, the resort has managed to preserve its natural setting. The main lodge and restaurant have floors made from trees that fell during 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, and there’s a butterfly farm, serpentarium, and garden where local schoolchildren— and guests—learn about environmental protection. But all the eco-mindedness doesn’t get in the way of a good time. You can hike directly from a private cabana ($195 a night and up) into the surrounding rainforest, swim beneath secluded waterfalls, or relax by the pool as you sip local Salva Vida beers and listen to some of the more than 400 native birds. If that’s not enticing enough, the staff is more than happy to set up day trips to discover the rest of the country’s north coast.
One of the best trips visits Cayos Cochinos, a protected marine reserve dotted with small islands. The tour makes stops at a marine research center, several snorkeling hot spots, and the tiny island of Chachauate. There, on a sandy island smaller than a football field, more than 100 Garifuna—descendants of indigenous Caribs and escaped African slaves—live without electricity or running water. Hang with them for a few hours and get a delicious lunch of fried fish and rice and beans soaked in coconut milk.
For a different kind of water adventure, head south of La Ceiba for some of the country’s best white-water rafting on the Rio Cangrejal. Book a rafting trip with Omega Tours, and you’ll get a river safety lesson, a half day navigating the rapids (Class II–IV, depending on when you go), some cliff-jumping, a hot lunch, and a night’s stay in the Omega Tour lodge—all for $45. That’s right: Not only is Honduras less crowded than Costa Rica, it’s a lot cheaper too.