Morning was spectacular at Villa Helens hotel in Sambo Creek. I slept like a baby after my visit to the jungle hot springs yesterday. Since I am within the Nombre de Dios National Park, I decided that I should take advantage and visit the Cacao Lagoon. This body of water is a Jewel in Nombre de Dios National Park. It is within the environs of the Municipality of Jutiapa, in Atlantida. Visiting it is very easy if you have your vehicle. If you do not, you can always hire the services of one of the local tour operators. I was feeling adventuresome, so I decided on taking the chicken bus!
Getting to the Cacao Lagoon
I did the short hike from the hotel to the CA13 highway. There I boarded the next bus to Jutiapa. But you can take any bus that goes to Sonaguera, Saba, Olanchito, Tocoa or Trujillo. Make sure that you let the driver know you will get off at the detour to the “Aldea El Cacao” or Cacao Village. It is quite close to the Siloe Facility, which is on the mountain side of the highway. There is a small sign next to the road. I got off there and found a “tuk tuk” or mototaxi as they are locally known. He charged me 30 lempiras to take me the full distance to the lagoon. The access road is in good shape, and any vehicle can make it there.
The Cacao Village is within two kilometers of the CA13 highway. If you are driving, getting there is very easy, just keep going straight! After the village, we continued ahead and the road started to become narrower. Eventually I saw a couple of small signs that read “La Laguna”, which indicated we were on the right track! A green building on the left side of the road looked abandoned. Apparently, this used to be the visitor’s center for the Lagoon but is now closed. The end of the road is quite close from here. We got to a point where there appeared to be a small dock where the road ends.
I got off my transportation and was met by Javier, a local guide who is usually here during the weekdays. You can find him at telephone 504 3209 6950. Other local guides who are usually here are Rafael Benitez and Edy Manzanares.
Javier is a friendly mate who does not speak English. I must say that while I was chatting with Javier, I was also being eaten alive by the mosquitoes! Fortunately, I had some bug repellent in my backpack and I hurriedly applied a generous amount of it on my body. Do not forget to bring bug repellent! According to Javier, in the past, the community was dedicated to Cacao harvesting. This is evident because as you arrive to the area you can see many cacao plantations. Today, these seem as they are being replaced with African palm plantations. After paying my entrance fee we went towards what I thought was a dock. As it turns out, it is a trail over the water!
A Jewel in Nombre de Dios National Park
This was a unique experience. Walking on this trail that winds through a mangrove forest! The huge root mangrove systems are quite a welcome to a mysterious looking swamp. Thank God this walkway is here. There is no way you could persuade me to wade into the swamp to get to the lagoon! The 100-lempira fee is well worth it! The trail leads to two big docks right on the water. Here you board the boat for your tour of the lagoon. The local community has several different boats, which include a “Pipante” or dugout canoe with a capacity for several persons. You can choose between a boat with a small outboard motor or a smaller one with oars and paddles.
Of course, I preferred the idea of paddling. It is easier to maneuver in the canals and sneak up on the local fauna. I was fortunate to see several troops of howler monkeys. From high up in the tree canopy they would holler and try to intimidate us. If you prefer the idea of paddling your own sea kayak through the mangrove canals, then you should contact one of two tour operators: Omega Tours and La Moskitia EcoAventuras. They both offer tours that include your very own sea kayak, and of course, all the necessary equipment, such as paddles and life vests. This is very much recommended if you like to paddle!
If you are part of a large group, make sure you negotiate the rate. Usually, they charge you $25 US per person for the boat tour. The experience of paddling through narrow mangrove canals is truly exceptional. The Cacao Lagoon is a jewel in Nombre de Dios National Park! At the far end of the lagoon is sand bar that separates it from the ocean. Of course, I had to paddle out the sand bar and see the ocean. Not only is at a nice beach, you also have a great view of the Cayos Cochinos from here.
It seems unbelievable that within a few short days in Atlantida I have been able to hike in the forest, visit a Caribbean paradise in Cayos Cochinos and gone white water rafting. I had even visited a two different Garifuna Villages, Corozal and Sambo Creek. There is something for every interest in Atlantida. Certainly, a very diverse destination that offers many great experiences that will make you cherish your visit!