Today we were getting picked up by a local tour company – Garifuna Tours, who we had met yesterday while trying to find the hotel. We were really looking forward to having a chilled out day and putting the emphasis on someone else to organise everything and ensure it all worked out on time. Travelling can get tiring and so we decided rather than trying to organise visiting 2 national parks ourselves, we would take a tour and enjoy a well-earned rest day! So we made our way down for another traditional Honduran breakfast (yum) with some gorgeous sea views.
Our transport arrived a bit early and so we downed our fantastic coffees (not sure how I am going to cope going back to the green tea life) and headed down to the truck. One of the great things about the tour company is that is prides itself on personal service and so we didn’t have to drive round and pick lots of people up, instead we drove straight to the boat dock to meet our guide – Mark. He introduced himself and let us all introduce ourselves too. There were a family of Italians on our tour and a local father and daughter as well as ourselves for the day. We made our way out from the river into the sea, after the men did a bit of boat pushing and then sat back and relaxed on the one hour boat trip to Punta Sal National Park.
As we neared the island it looked so serene and beautiful. Really a tiny piece of paradise. But the best part? No other people in sight. I felt so lucky to be there at that moment. Our first activity was a short hike through the jungle to a gorgeous look-out point. I say hike in the loosest of terms, after the volcanoes of Nicaragua it was more of a gentle stroll. Mark explained a bit about the history of the park as we arrived on shore. The name of the National Park was changed to Jeanette Kawas National Park in honour of the lady who campaigned to keep the national park intact and prevented big resorts from pitching up and ruining the ecosystem. She was murdered in 1995 but thankfully her memory has lived on and the park is still preserved by the government today. The walk probably took about 30 minutes in total. When we started out I was questioning my choice to hike through a jungle in flip-flops but I didn’t have any problems apart from being attacked by a colony of ants, but I did stand right in the middle of their congregation by accident so I suppose I kind of deserved that! Mark was fantastic and stopped every few minutes to point out tree species, lizards, insects and of course the howler monkeys! We walked through the jungle to a small look out point back to the ocean and then up a slight incline and back down again before the boat picked us up from another beautiful beach!
We then took the boat out to some huge rocks just offshore which are home to colonies of birds including some huge pelicans and the very cool frigate birds. The males have a bright red neck which they can puff up in order to attract mates. It was great to get so close to the birds and right as we were leaving Mark made a noise which meant almost all of them took to the sky at once which was quite a sight to behold! We headed back towards the land and enroute stopped next to this beautiful natural gap in the rock. Mark explained there was a legend surrounding the tunnel and that it was called the tunnel of love as if anyone swam through it, legend told it that they would find the love of their lives and be married soon after. Carolyn and I could not throw away this golden opportunity and therefore jumped off the boat with a few of the others and made for the tunnel. It was pretty narrow and quite shallow in parts. You could see the sun shining from the other side the whole time and it was nice for a few of us to have attempted the challenge as a group. At the other side, feeling accomplished the boat picked us back up and transported us to a paradise beach.
We snorkelled, swam, slept in hammocks and ate the best fresh fish lunch right there on the beach. It was a wonderful few hours and great to be able to stop and really appreciate the beauty all around us. After a few hours of downtime we got back on the boat and headed back to shore. The people we met were lovely and the tour was fantastic. However, after we got back to the hotel we had a short one hour interval to rest before our next tour guide, Ricardo, arrived to take us to Punta Izopo National Park. When I was initially researching the tours I could not beside between Punta Sal and Punta Izopo. I asked Garifuna tours for their opinion and the fantastic staff suggested we do both. We only had a day in Tela and so they arranged for us to do an evening kayak tour through Punta Izopo where we would have the chance to spot crocodiles in the mangrove forests!
So after Ricardo picked us up he drove us towards the park stopping at the local Garifuna village where there was a football game happening and explaining about the different programs being run to improve life here. It was so interesting to learn more about the local people and what life is like in the more rural areas outside of the big cities. We then drive on, at one point driving over a beach (legitimate road) before arriving at a small hut next to the rivers of the park. Carolyn and I shared a kayak, and Ricardo had one before we set out over the vast river area. Soon enough we were turning off up one of the narrow mangrove rivers trying hard not to hit any branches, insects or crocodiles! Carolyn was a fantastic navigator, I was in charge of pictures. It was really different to the kayaking we had done in Granada as the mangroves were so narrow and all within a metre of you so you felt so much closer to nature. There was also the great thrill of knowing a crocodile was right next to you and we heard and saw crocodile splashes and water bubbles on a number of occasions.
One of the greatest things about it was how silent it was. There was no boat traffic here or other people and so all you could hear was the sound of nature as it settled down for the night and the therapeutic soft paddle sounds. It was like travelling through complete bliss especially for me who didn’t do so much paddling being in the front. Ricardo was great pointing out lots of bird species and telling us tales such as why the catfish contest was cancelled. The contest was undertaken every year and young men would catch the fish by putting their hand inside its mouth and then opening the hand up. However, one unsuspecting contestant did this and unfortunately lost his hand as it wasn’t a catfish but in fact a crocodile’s mouth that he put his fist in. As a result the contest was cancelled to prevent any other people losing limbs.
The kayaking tour was a night one and so as the sun started to set Ricardo and I got our torches out to guide the way and search for crocodiles. The added a huge level of excitement to the tour as when it became pitch dark you really felt completely isolated within the mangroves. Obviously Ricardo was leading us through and we felt completely safe the whole time but it was very exciting that at any point you had the chance of seeing some glowing eyes staring back at you through the darkness. After a good few hours out on the river we headed back to the boathouse with the light of the moon shining down on us and guiding our way. My one big tip if you do end up doing this tour would be to ensure you are covered from head to toe in mosquito repellent and cover up as much as possible. Thankfully the guides at Garifuna had told us this and so we came prepared but even after putting repellent on every inch of skin, having repellent bands on our arms and legs and wearing full length trousers we still got bitten! Way less than we would have done without it though so make sure you have your repellent handy.
After a brilliant day with Garifuna Tours Ricardo asked if we would like to stop for dinner at a local restaurant that served traditional Garifuna dishes. As lovers of local food we thought this sounded fantastic and so ended up at this little seaside beach restaurant with our feet in the sand sipping rum and coke watching the stars. We decided to try the garlic conch as this is something we had seen on menus throughout our travels and had yet had the opportunity to try it. It tasted quite like squid and was completely delicious with the coconut rice and beans that you find on the Caribbean coast. A tasty meal to top off our fantastic day.