With a name like the Hog Cays, you might not feel attracted to visit. But believe me, Cayos Cochinos is a true Caribbean Paradise! The Hog Cays are a small archipelago at the southern end of the Mesoamerican Reef. This reef system is the second longest barrier reef in the planet, but it is also the most biodiverse! Some of the best-preserved coral reefs on Earth are to be found right here! This archipelago consists of 2 small islands and 13 tiny cays, some of which are inhabited. This is a pristine Caribbean Paradise that you will love!
The Cayos Cochinos Marine National Monument
As a matter of fact, Cayos Cochinos is part of the National Park System in Honduras under the category of Natural Marine Monument. The administration and care of the area has been granted to Fundacion Cayos Cochinos, a non-governmental, nonprofit organization. Most of the area is dedicated not only to conservation, but also to scientific research. Their headquarters are in La Ceiba, but they have extensive facilities within Cayos Cochinos. When the facilities are not in use for scientific research, you can rent the cabins as a room and stay overnight. They also have a restaurant up on a hill affording a magnificent view of the Cays and the North Coast of Honduras
In addition to the facilities on Cochino Chico, there are also a few other alternatives to spend the night in the Cays. Most are on Cochino Grande, the largest of the two small islands. There are also options available in some of the private cays.
The Hog Cays are not politically part of the department of Atlantida. Rather, they belong to the Bay Islands of Honduras. Yet, the easiest way to get to them if via the Garifuna Village of Sambo Creek, which is quite close to the archipelago. Although the closest point in the mainland to the Cayos Cochinos is the Garifuna Village at Nueva Armenia, Sambo Creek is much easier to get to, and is therefore the preferred departure point for the tours to Cayos Cochinos.
There are several tour operators that offer tours to this small archipelago. As a matter of fact, many fishermen are now offering tours in the personal boats. Take into consideration that not all offer life vests, nor do they do proper maintenance on their boats. I have selected Tourist Options because their boats have a canopy to protect me from the sun, as well as an extra marine engine in each boat. This means that if the engine fails, we will not be adrift in the ocean! They are also a registered tour operator with the Honduran Institute of Tourism.
Let the Adventure Begin!
Departure time is early in the morning. This is because the sea is usually calm, and we will get to the Hog Cays faster with a smoother ride. Tourist Options is picking me up at my hotel for the short 25 minute drive from La Ceiba to Sambo Creek. Our route takes us past Corozal, a Garifuna Village that is a popular weekend destination for the folks in La Ceiba. From Sambo Creek, Cayos Cochinos are clearly visible. The Tourist Options facility is basic, but offers safe parking, clean toilets and even a place to leave the belongings that you don´t want to take on the tour. You can also rinse off with fresh water upon your return to Sambo Creek.
We met our tour guides and they gave us our life vests as well as snorkel equipment, which is included in the tour. The boats are relatively small but have two outboard marine engines. The canopy to protect clients from the sun is a welcome site. I did notice that there is a difference in price for Hondurans and foreigners. It turns out that the Fundacion Cayos Cochinos, who manage the park, offers a discount to Hondurans. We departed from Sambo Creek at 8 am sharp. There were 12 of us on board, and the boat has a capacity for 20 persons, so we were quite comfortable.
Allow me to give you tip. You are more likely to get wet if you sit in the aft part of the boat. The closer you are to the bow, your chance to staying dry increases. However, the closer you are to the bow the bumpier the ride will be. Benches are hard, and your back will take a beating. Personally, I rather risk getting wet that feeling sore after the trip, so I sat as far back as possible. Also, keep in mind that the canopy will only protect you partially. Make sure you apply some sun block before you depart, or you will end up with a sun burnt arm and shoulder. It took us 45 minutes to get to the cays, and our first stop was at Cochino Menor.
A True Caribbean Paradise Awaits us at Cayos Cochinos!
Upon arrival at this Caribbean paradise we got off the boat at the main dock and walked over to a lovely white sand beach. After registering at the park entrance, we were invited to a presentation about the park and the visitation rules. We had a short time to take pictures, and then got back into our boat and headed out to a reef where we were to snorkel. Wow, the reefs here are spectacular. Hard to believe that they are part of the great Meso-American Reef that starts off the northern coast of Yucatan in Mexico and ends here. The state of conservation of the reefs was very good.
As always, there are persons on the tour that cannot swim. So, they were not keen to the idea of snorkeling. The guides, however, had other ideas, and they coaxed them into the water and helped them snorkel for the first time in their lives! They were flabbergasted! As for myself, I put on my mask and flippers and jumped in the water. The reef was colorful and there were many different fishes swimming within it. I am no specialist in fishes, but I do now that I saw many starfish, as well as a stingray and even a sea turtle! The snorkeling itself made the tour worthwhile.
I was enthralled with the reef and never felt the sun, but when I got back into the boat, I could feel that I had a serious sunburn on the back of my legs. I neglected to apply sunscreen there, but then again, I never apply it there. Take note and avoid the pain and apply sun block on the back of your legs before snorkeling! After this activity, we were off the Cochino Grande to hike a trail in search of the famed pink boa. This is an endemic snake that lives in the Cayos Cochinos archipelago. I found it was not pink, but barely pinkish. In any case, we found several specimens, and some of the tourists interacted with them. Personally, I am not into snakes, so I passed on the opportunity of doing so.
The Garifuna Village at Chachahuate Cay
After these activities, I was hungry. Fortunately, our next stop was the picturesque Garifuna community at Chachahuate Cay. This must be one of the most photogenic spots in Central America and the Caribbean! All the homes are made of thatched roof and wood. I imagine that all Garifuna communities must have looked like this 100 years ago. The small cay is home to about 500 Garifunas who share this small white sand island. There, a group of Garifuna women were waiting for us to offer food.
Menu options include fried fish, shrimp, conch and for those that are not into seafood, chicken. Food is not included in the tour, so you must pay for your meal. Please note that they do not accept credit cards here, so make sure you bring enough cash so that you do not go hungry! Fish and seafood are all very fresh and the food is tasty. I did notice that there was no power on the island, and there is no running water, so I felt a bit worried about the food I had just enjoyed. Thankfully, I did not get sick.
Back to Sambo Creek
After lunch I took advantage to stroll around this community. People are very friendly, and the beach is spectacular. My only complaint is that several kids kept trying to sell me their locally made handicrafts. I was very happy and did not want to leave, but our guides said it was time to go. They always depart between 1 and 2 pm. This is because the surf gets rougher as the day goes on, and navigating a rough sea is not safe or comfortable.
I really wanted to stay and explore more of this Caribbean Paradise. I made a few questions to the locals about the options to spend the night in Cayos Cochinos. Most of them are on Cochino Grande, but there are also a few options in the small cays that are privately owned. I will have to come back and plan on spending a couple of nights in the Hog Cays. As a matter of fact, it is already in my bucket list! As we arrived back to Sambo Creek I was found the backdrop of Nombre de Dios Mountains spectacular.
Just to the east of town I could see there were a couple of hotels right on the beach. I could see a plume of steam coming out of the mountains and after asking found that there are some hot springs in the area. I do believe I need to check them out!