How many of us say we want to travel the world, yet find ourselves visiting the same familiar places over and over? They’re comfortable, we know them, people speak our language and we’re aware of where all the shopping is.
Well, I was about to be guilty of falling into the same trap when I prepared to book my second trip to Clearwater, Florida in as many months. I liked that Opal Sands hotel. I knew Tampa had some great malls. I would rent a car, we would go to that restaurant with the crab legs …
Thankfully, before I executed the plan, my wanderlust heart kicked in. There were destinations so close by that I had not yet visited – what the heck was I thinking? That was how I ended up booking a weekend at The Lodge at Pico Bonito in Honduras.
Who would I take with me on such an excursion that promised a full spa, great food and some nature walks? Why, my best friend and partner in crime, Lynne Firth, of course.
Day one – flying out
The vacation package through the lodge – in conjunction with Cayman Airways – included two round-trip economy tickets. As an upgrade to business class one way was only $50, we treated ourselves to wider seats and the comfort of the Sir Turtle Lounge.
The flight to La Ceiba is just over an hour, and as we flew over Honduras, preparing to land, I marveled at the lush green scenery below, including hills and mountains. It was all completely unlike Cayman.
The first indication we weren’t in Kansas anymore was when we went through the doors to immigration. There was a man there directing people, but in a foreign language. I started reaching through the cobwebs of my brain to find the dusty shelf marked “High School Spanish.” He seemed to be directing us to the far right line which was straight, as opposed to the entrance of a serpentine line with a number of lanes. I gesticulated at him. “HERE??” I mouthed, immediately realizing afterwards that slowly and silently mouthing an English word probably wasn’t going to help us.
He appeared to nod. Okay, we were sticking with the straight line, even though we didn’t know what the difference was.
It was only when we looked behind us that we clued in this was probably dedicated to pensioners, parents with small children and the disabled. I looked incredibly youthful, naturally, so I hoped Lynne’s hair that she’d insisted on letting go gray would see us through. No one moved us from our location, but you quickly gathered that you had to be a bit proactive here and push forward or others would trample you like a herd of buffalo.
Once we’d been seen by the agent and placed fingers and thumbs on the panel to be scanned, we went to pick up our luggage. Note for all of you: You know those luggage tags that you usually completely forget about? You need them here. They will ask to see them. Then your bags go through an X-Ray machine and finally, you can leave.
It was actually a fairly speedy process, and before we knew it, we were hitting fresh air where we saw a man with our names on a sign. We had arrived!
The drive to The Lodge at Pico Bonito is quite a quick one – about 20 mins – and just like when you arrive anywhere new, we were fascinated by the sights and sounds of La Ceiba.
The comfortable, air-conditioned transport pulled up to the front of the resort and as we walked up the steps, we spied Carlos Matute with a tray of complimentary welcome cocktails. This was what I was talkin’ about!
We were checked in, and then the front desk agent took us on a tour of the property while some unlucky soul was left to take our bags to our cabin. We stopped by the restaurant, the spa, the swimming pool, and then were finally taken to our own private oasis in the rainforest.
Each “room” is a cabin – a beautiful, dark wood refuge complete with front patio sporting a hammock, either a king-sized or double beds setup, and a private bathroom with rain shower head. They all have air-conditioning, or you can open the windows and turn on the powerful ceiling fans.
Our bags were already there, which was pretty impressive, as our cabin was a bit of a distance from the lobby via loose pebble paths. We put our clothes away and decided to immediately head out to explore our surroundings.
We hadn’t walked 10 feet before we saw a mother agouti and a baby scampering across the grass. Amazing, and not a Wal-Mart in sight!
We had already done our research and knew that the spa was open late. The flight had arrived at around 12:30 p.m. so we still had loads of time and were wasting none of it. We immediately booked a massage and facial – each. The prices are incredibly reasonable at this spa; we were going to make a weekend of it.
I went back to the cabin for a nap (adore vacations) and then we donned our complimentary robes and slippers to go to the spa.
You would love this place – stone huts with thatch roofs, thickly cushioned wooden loungers by pool, and massages, facials, mani-pedis, Vichy shower … was this Honduras or Heaven?
The ladies at the spa were welcoming and charming. Zayda Martinez checked us in and invited us to go and prepare for our treatments. There was a ladies’ changing room in another hut, complete with showers, lockers and anything else one might need.
How were the treatments? Wonderful. They use a lot of natural ingredients in their facials and the massages involved being rubbed all over with some sort of round thing covered in essential oils. To really add to the atmosphere, it began to rain outside. The sound of those drops hitting the huge leaves of the plants outside the open windows was nature’s answer to those machines we all buy at Sharper Image.
By the time our sessions were over, I felt like a new person. What should we do next? How about a lobster dinner in the restaurant accompanied by two Blue Morpho drinks? They were certainly blue, and what a neat name. It was only on our third day at the lodge that we found out what they were all about.
The dinner was delicious and the servers were lots of fun. I know it seems I must only possess a thesaurus of superlatives, but really, this had been a fabulous first day.
We headed back to the cabin, read books for a while and happily drifted off with the rainstorm outside lulling us to sleep.
Day two – exploration
We both awoke refreshed … me later than Lynne. She is a breakfast person and I am a sleeper, so off she went to the restaurant to investigate what was on offer while I snored in my bed.
Not only was the full eggs, bacon and sausage fry-up available; it was matched with local fresh fruit such as (one of my favorites) rambutan – the Caribbean’s answer to lychee. I am not a coffee drinker but Lynne raved about it. We were later to find out that Honduras has its own coffee so when we left two days later, we bought some bags to take home.
Although I had not been up for the initial breakfast, I finally got myself to the restaurant to have something to eat. I needed my strength, as we were going to go on a hike! Two people who don’t even go walking on the flats of Grand Cayman were going to head into the forest where there were inclines (gasp!) and unknown wildlife.
We gathered everything we were going to need for the excursion. Packing as though we were taking a trek through the Amazon for two weeks, we finally set out with our raincoats, Deep Woods Off, bottles of water, snacks, sunglasses and the kitchen sink.
The trails around the property are very well marked and the front desk will happily give you a map or you can book a tour guide. There is a short route and a long route. Being rank amateur athletes, we decided on the shorter trail and to go it alone.
We made our way to the back of the property and saw where the trail began. We were doing this!
Referencing the map every two feet like that person who keeps opening the refrigerator door expecting to find something different, we tried to figure out where we were. Turns out you have to walk a bit of a distance to actually get somewhere; we were therefore delighted to come across an observation tower as marked. Ordinarily, I may not have climbed up such a structure, but we were on an adventure here! Three flights of stairs later, I vowed to return to the gym in earnest once this vacation was over. That being said, the view beyond was worth the burning in my unused muscles. We looked out over greenery, hills and valleys that stretched for miles. We sat for a while, partly to drink it in and partly to catch our respective breaths; it was then time to carry on.
Although we were making our way to Mermaid Falls, we kept stopping along the way. The trail took us through trees, past large ponds, and up the kind of stone steps you’d expect to find in an Indiana Jones film. They were all fascinating sights to people unfamiliar with this kind of landscape. We must have spent at least 20 minutes following a long line of ants that seemed to go on forever. Every time we thought we’d lost them, we’d find them again a bit further on.
In fact, we were so wrapped up with it all that we completely lost track of time. We’d planned to make our way to the falls, soak in the beauty and get back to the resort in time for our second day of treatments. We weren’t going to make it unless we turned back then and there. Ah well, we had seen so much already – it really had been worth the trek – and now we had the spa to look forward to. It never got old.
We both had massages again – you can never have too many – and Lynne opted to also have a mani-pedi. Lying out on the comfortable loungers in that evening air – it was so peaceful and wonderful.
Time for dinner again and we were both famished. Seems that walking half a trail can really build up one’s appetite! Once again, the food was terrific and there was lots of it. Despite feeling like I was starving when I first sat down, I was having difficulty saving room for dessert at the end … but of course, I managed.
This time when we returned to the cabin, I turned on the porch ceiling fan and light and got into the hammock for a bit of a swing before turning in for the night. This was the life.
Day 3 – Butterfly Farm and Serpentarium
We had heard that there was a farm of butterflies and a room of snakes on the property, so of course, we had to investigate. Even though the butterfly farm is open in the day, you need a guide for the serpentarium for obvious reasons. We were happy to book a guide, as this time he would keep us moving instead of us dithering each time at the sight of something new. Elmer Escoto was the lucky lad assigned to the task.
The walk to both enclosures was relatively short, but it was a fascinating journey as we passed trees with yellow pods hanging on them everywhere. Turned out these were cocoa trees. Elmer happily plucked one, opened it up and let us taste the flesh. It was sweet and completely unlike anything we were expecting. Where was the chocolate? Turns out that you don’t just peel the skin off and find a Cadbury bar inside. Who knew?
Butterflies in the wild seemed to lead us to the farm, and as Elmer opened the door, we were surrounded by winged creatures of all sizes and colors.
Remember the Blue Morpho drink I mentioned earlier? Apparently it is actually the name of a stunning butterfly found in Honduras. We saw two of them that day, their unmistakably deep blue wings carrying them high above our heads.
Next was the serpentarium, which particularly interested me. There were long ones, short ones, thick ones and thin ones. Even when the glass tanks looked completely empty, they weren’t; their residents were just hiding out somewhere. One particular snake was not at all keen to see us, striking toward the glass in our direction with ferocious speed. It was really something to see up close.
Elmer’s tour was informative and entertaining. I left knowing a lot more about snakes and subsequently decided to not get into the venom-collecting business.
We got back to our cabin with just enough time to get ready for – can you guess? Spa treatments, of course! This time we took a little detour to the yoga deck. I could only imagine that this place would make the perfect retreat for yoga fans. Talk about getting away from it all.
Two massages later, we went to dinner and both ordered Blue Morphos. Bartender Mario Velasquez already had them waiting; he knew our poison by now.
We could hear another couple chatting to a staff member about the journey they had taken to get to the resort. They had flown down from Canada; we suddenly felt very lucky to have such a vacation spot so near to our island home.
Day 4 – heading home
We were sad to be leaving, but very grateful for the Cayman Airways schedule that had us flying out at the civilized time of 2 p.m. Nothing worse than when you end a trip with a 5 a.m. alarm call. Before we left, we stopped by the gift shop and bought some souvenirs, including local pottery, local cocoa powder, and a few bags of that coffee Lynne loved.
We waved “goodbye” to Angie Erazo at the front desk and stepped into our air-conditioned transport, ready to head to the airport.
Again, we treated ourselves to seat upgrades, and after going through immigration, made our way to the departure lounge. It wasn’t long before we were called to our flight and before we knew it, we were wheels-down in Cayman. Had it been real or just a dream?
New Year’s resolution suggestion: Book a package at The Lodge at Pico Bonito. It’s the cure for all that ails you.