Travelling long term, we need to take a break from the classic backpacking sometimes and stay somewhere for a little while longer. If only to get some words on the paper. We hadn’t had such a break since we became carpenters in Finca Ixobel in Poptún. When I read about Lago de Yojoa – a tranquil lake which not only has lots of nature on its shore, but also a craft brewery – I was instantly convinced I had found the perfect spot for exactly that.
Life, however, is more than writing (and drinking beer), so we still made a couple of side trips. Here’s our list of things to do around Lago de Yojoa.
Kayak and watch birds on Lago de Yojoa
Lago de Yojoa is the biggest lake in Honduras and lends itself well to kayaking.
While Lago Atitlán in Guatemala is gorgeous – a cobalt-coloured lake squeezed between picture-perfect volcanoes – it attracts lots of annoying, abject backpackers. Think about the self-proclaimed Buddhists who think that they’ll surely reach Nirvana if only they show off their interpretation of the downward dog or the five-pointed star. Not to mention hordes of Israelis.
You won’t find the same crowds in Lago de Yojoa. When you push your kayak onto the river and peddle towards the lake, you’re likely to see no other humans, besides the local fishermen. The shores are underdeveloped and surrounded by mountains rising from the dense jungle. This lack of human activity makes Lake Yojoa an excellent spot for birdwatching. The last count in this area resulted in 485 bird species spotted, roughly half of the total of Honduras.
We peddled along the shores and saw countless white herons, in various sizes, resting on the floating vegetation. Hawks circled above our heads. Or were they eagles? My knowledge of birds is appalling, so correct me if I’m wrong. We tried to approach the birds, by silently manoeuvring our kayak into their direction. The hawks usually flew away first. The white herons stayed longer and only stretched their wings when the danger became imminent.
The best moment came when we approached a small blue heron that had hidden in the thicket. Even though he had his eyes on us all the time, he remained rigid and allowed an extensive photoshoot, even when our kayak practically skimmed his hiding spot. Only when a hunter on the mainland fired a shot did the little blue heron startle and fly off. A magical moment.
But even if you’re not a fan of our feathered friends, renting a kayak at Lago de Yojoa is still very much worth it. If only to eat oranges in the shade of the foliage or jump into the water for a refreshing swim.
Pro-tip for budget-conscious backpackers
While D&D Brewery rents out kayaks, you can get them for half the price at one of a slew of renting spots by the river. You’ll be spoiled for choice. “That’s typically Honduran”, said Robert, an Australian expat (see 5.), “There’s probably enough work for one rental, but then all of a sudden there are ten. You’ll see the phenomenon everywhere in this country. Beside the main road, there is not just one lady selling bananas, but ten. On the shores of Lake Yojoa, there is a whole series of fish restaurants, all with the same menu. When you drive past, you will see one table occupied in all of them. But don’t try anything different in Honduras, something that stands out, or you’ll be bankrupt in no time.”
Honduras is one heck of a diverse country. You can find dramatic mountains, colourful colonial cities, breezy Caribbean seaside town with wooden houses, wetlands, lakes, seemingly endless banana plantations, cloud forests and the second biggest jungle in the Americas. This country is not only home to Mestizos, but also houses Lenca in the mountains, Garifunas by the seaside and Miskito and Pech in the vast Mosquitia.
Despite that diversity, there are two things you’ll find everywhere in Honduras:
1/ a soundtrack of eardrum-terrorising bachata, reggaeton and ranchera.
2/ delicious baleadas.
Needless to say which one of those I enjoyed more. Baleadas are flour tortillas filled with refried beans, powder-like cheese, hot sauce and pickled red onions. We got our fix of baleadas in numerous places in Los Naranjos, the village where we stayed for six nights. For example Comedor Francisca, the snack shack next to the football field that also served yummy Honduran breakfast, or the nameless comedor in front of Hotel Elias. Spread your money.
Drink craft beer
Admittedly, I had high hopes for D&D Brewery. Throughout the whole of Central America, I had been drinking lagers that would make tap water feel embarrassed about the association. I was convinced that even a mediocre beer would make my taste buds party like there’s no tomorrow.
Alas, D&D Brewery’s beers weren’t that great. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t down them with reluctance, especially not the Peña Blanca Pale Ale. But still: when every guide book tells you that you can expect ambrosia, it’s hard to content yourself with just a decent beer. And that’s my main gripe with D&D Brewery and its American owner — every Lonely Planet licks his ass so much that it becomes suspicious.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t go to D&D Brewery. It has rooms for every budget, located in a patch of lush jungle. I mean, how often can you sleep in a brewery? We stayed for a couple of nights in a simple private room, and it was pleasant. We didn’t like that the waiters constantly pushed us to order more food or drinks when all we wanted was to write for a couple of hours. After all, we had paid already for the room. But that’s probably just us, being writers.
Lago de Yojoa is situated in Central Honduras, on the road between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, this country’s two biggest cities, and thus attracts middle-class locals in the weekends. D&D provides a great opportunity to socialise around the campfire. Just don’t expect too much from the beers. Or go to Cadejo in San Salvador or Sol de Copán in Copán, two breweries that make less fuss but better beer.
Stay in a cabin between the fruit trees
We were still pining for a mini writing retreat, so we were happy when we found a small cabin on Airbnb. We immediately rented it for a couple of days. The cabin stood on a large piece of land away from the street and was surrounded by fruit trees – rambutans, cocoa, oranges, bananas and so on. When we were hungry, we didn’t necessarily have to run to the shops in the village, just shaking a tree sufficed.
In the morning, we ate our breakfast on the threshold of our hut and we could see how a bird was busy opening a rambutan. He used his mouth as an axe and kept busy at it until he had what he wanted – the white flesh. It was a beautiful scene to behold and we felt lucky that we could take the time for it. O, the little joys.
Go for a hike on Santa Barbara and spot a quetzal (or not)
We had still not seen a quetzal. After the failed attempt in Guatemala, I was even more motivated to find this feathered hide-and-seek expert. Now we would take a birdwatching guide and multiply our chances! Lonely Planet talked of “one of the best spots in Central America to spot a quetzal”. According to the website of Montaña de Vida, the organisation with which we set off on our quest, we had “a successful sighting rate of well over 90%”. In an email exchange, coordinator Robert Lambeck wrote that “our bird guide – Pablo – has reported quetzals a couple of days ago, so he has an idea of where they are feeding at the moment.”
Do you already feel the dramatic build-up? Do you sense where this is going?
A pick-up took us to the mountain village of San Luis Planes, on the slopes of Santa Barbara. A cute old lady prepared us a tipico in a comedor which looked more like her living room. It was the only comedor in the village, so it didn’t even need a sign. Everyone knows where it is. The other clientèle consisted of local workers or farmers, I suspect. One of which looked like the spitting image of the Belgian football player Maxime Lestienne, including chavvy earring, tattoos and the gold teeth that are so popular in this part of the world.
Santa Barbara is the second-highest mountain in Honduras and the highest limestone mountain in all of Central America. The villages on its slopes are a bit of a backwater even within Honduras. Guide Pablo told us that he used to be a hunter in this area until someone asked him to be a guide instead. He knows the mountain like the back of his hand, recognises the fauna and the flora and can undoubtedly find his way blindfolded. Unfortunately, that did not guarantee us a quetzal. Nature is fickle.
The low clouds – it’s a cloud forest for a reason – made it harder to see anything. A few times, Pablo thought he heard an emerald toucanet, a fluffy toucan, but unfortunately, we did not see it. We did spot a couple of collared trogons, cousins of the quetzal. Despite the apparent lack of quetzals, it was pleasant to once again walk through a cloud forest. Thanks to Pablo, we saw things that we would not have noticed otherwise. And entering a cloud forest is quite an experience anyway, that forest with its crazy shapes, mushrooms, mosses and plants that you won’t find anywhere else.
Robert Lambeck and his team are doing a great job in pushing ethical tourism in an area that doesn’t see many tourists. This creates employment for disadvantaged communities and protects the vulnerable ecosystem. We recommend visiting this project and going on a hike with them. You might even get to see a quetzal!
These villages are fairly remote. Usually, we’d try to get as close as possible by bus, but public transportation is scarce on these mountain roads. We opted for a pick-up and paid 1390 lempira (+taxes) for the whole package. This included pick-up, guide, two meals and a project contribution for two people.
We had already booked a couple of days in the cabin described above. If not, we’d probably have tried out the accommodation that Montaña de Vida offers – cabins with hot showers and a campfire for L500/night, or a tent with bedding and a campfire for L200/night. This option allows you to take the chicken bus and thus avoid the expensive pick-up (L600). The bus goes once a day from Peña Blanca (10 am) and returns from the village at 6 am.
For more information, check the website of Montaña de Vida or get in touch with Robert.
Soak up the atmosphere in Los Naranjos
There might not be any landmarks or typical tourist attractions in Los Naranjos, it presents the perfect opportunity to soak up some Honduran small-town vibes. Most of the action happens around the football field. You might be lucky and stumble upon an open-air second-hand clothes market. Or you can buy some fruits from the seller across the pitch. She’ll cut up your pineapple free of charge. If your attempts at birdwatching have been futile so far, check out the green parrot in the little village shop across Ivo’s Café.
Pro-tip for budget-conscious backpackers
Do your laundry next to Ivo’s Café. It’s multiple times cheaper than the laundry service at D&D Brewery.
ONWARDS FROM LAGO DE YOJOA
-Take the bus from Peña Blanca to La Guama, and change to a bus to La Esperanza. You’re ready to start exploring the Lenca Trail and the wonderful mountains in southwestern Honduras.
-Via San Pedro and La Ceiba, you can easily reach Utila, a paradise island on the Caribbean coast.
-Copán Ruinas was one of our favourite cities in the Central American region.