Lake Yojoa & Peña Blanca; small town life around Honduras’ largest lake
We thought Lake Yojoa (Lago de Yojoa), the largest lake in Honduras – which is very close to Pulhapanzak Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Honduras – was going to be more of a tourist attraction than it is. It’s still pretty rare for foreigners to spend time on the Honduras mainland due to safety fears and a lack of international marketing, so for now it remains mostly just a weekend retreat for Honduran city-dwellers. We were surprised to see the curiosity with which locals young and old looked at us as a result; we never felt unwelcome, but we could tell that they hadn’t seen that many foreigners in their town before – in the same way that schoolgirls laughed at our foreignness in Guadalupe, Colombia. Our experience is that this jovial curiosity disappears once the tourist footfall starts to make the town tired, bored and even resentful of extranjeros.
Peña Blanca is a small town just a couple of kilometres from Lake Yojoa. It’s bustling, it’s dusty and it’s a little taste into real Honduran life. Tuktuks whizz past stacked up fruit stalls as the smell of meaty street grills fills the air. Local men pace around town in cowboy hats. The town isn’t wealthy, but it doesn’t feel absolutely stricken by poverty, either. This is raw small town Honduran life, and yet here and there, you’ll find a sprinkling of beautifully designed cafés of the ilk that you’d expect to find around Shoreditch, London. More on this later!
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Where to stay around Lake Yojoa
There are several small towns around Lake Yojoa in which you can stay. The main town is Peña Blanca, which is about 2km from the lakeside. In Peña Blanca, we stayed at Hostal del Lago, which is on the edge of town but along a main road that is served by several bus routes, making it very accessible. The accommodation is very basic (cold showers!!), but the man running it is lovely, and spent about an hour telling us where to go in Honduras, how to get there and advice for staying safe. When we visited the Pulhapanzak Waterfall, he happened to be driving back along the road as we waited for the bus back, so pulled over and rearranged his car to fit us and our 2 new friends in.
The reason we chose to stay in Peña Blanca wasn’t because we’d heard it was a particularly nice place, but because we were worried about the hassle of getting to the better looking accommodation that on the map seemed as though they were deep in the forest, unconnected by roads. In reality, just because there’s no road or even town on the map, in the Lake Yojoa area it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Even some main roads aren’t marked. Though Peña Blanca was excellent to immerse ourselves, had plenty of shops and restaurants and was very easily connected by public transport to all other areas around Lake Yojoa, if we stayed in the area again we might instead decide to rest our heads at the more peaceful Los Naranjos.
This is home to a smattering of dirt track blocks with colourful houses against a beautiful mountain backdrop. It’s a lot closer than Peña Blanca to Lake Yojoa, and although short on dining or groceries options there’s enough to get by. The top accommodation around Lake Yojoa is here, called Hospedaje en el Lago for some little cabins out in nature.
Things to do around Lake Yojoa
Kayak on Lago de Yojoa
In several spots are Lake Yojoa, namely along the river in the town of Los Naranjos, you’ll find whole rows of kayak shops. Kayaks cost 100 lempiras per person for as long you want, giving you total freedom to explore the natural beauty as you please. Note that this is the price if you go directly to the kayak shops in Los Naranjos; hostels will charge you more or put a time limit on it.
You can also chill in the small but lovely gardens that most of kayak shops offer – they’re usually great viewpoints over the riverbank. Try and plan this for a sunny day, and drink lots of water! We recommend taking a dry bag so you can take a camera for pictures from the lake, and a Chilly’s bottle to keep your water cold for 24 hours.
Take a hike
Being so surrounded by nature, there are plenty of hikes to be done in the Lago de Yojoa area. Though there are many hikes you can take around the lake yourself, it’s best to book guides through your hostel to hike further afield. Options to consider are hiking to the caves and waterfalls of the 5-hour Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meambar loop, or to the top of Montaña de Santa Bárbara, the second highest mountain in Honduras after Cerro Las Minas in the Lempira region (certain level of fitness required!).
Pick up a trail in Los Naranjos Eco-Park
We’re going to start this by setting expectations. This is not, as it was sold to us, an incredible place to get views of the lake, however, it is a pleasant place to walk around. We were told we could walk to the edge of the lake through this Eco-Archaeological Park, which is just left of the Hao King Chinese restaurant in Los Naranjos town. Locals directed us to take a left turn after 100m or so, when we spotted the suspension bridge just off the main road. From there, we followed the cobbled path for half an hour through the jungle to what we hoped would take us all the way to the water’s edge.
However, the path ended in a broken bridge, and the undergrowth around it meant we couldn’t explore much further. We did get a tiny glimpse of the lake by peering downriver, but it wasn’t exactly spectacular. To be fair, perhaps it would have been more fruitful on a clearer day, or if our expectations had been lowered to that of a jungle trail rather than a lakeside viewpoint. The park does actually contain some ruins, but if you’ve recently been to somewhere like Tikal or Chichén Itzá you might not find yourself too in awe 😉 We heard afterwards that you’re supposed to pay 150 lempiras to enter the Los Naranjos Eco Park, but no one was there to charge us.
Go in-depth in the Taulabé Caves
Las Cuevas de Taulabé are a network of caves 20km from Lake Yojoa, 12km of which have so far been discovered but with yet no end. Expect to see some crazy stalactite and stalagmite rock formations as you get deeper and deeper. You can hire guides to enter and lead you through these caves for 150 lempiras. You can actually do the first part on your own without a guide for 80 lempiras (make sure you’re well equipped with a light, and safety gear), but since you’re there you may as well go the whole hog!
Soak up the Pulhapanzak Waterfall
The largest in Honduras, Pulhapanzak Waterfall is a really impressive cascada near the teeny town of San Buenaventura. The force of the 43m falls means you can feel the mist from about 30m away. General entry is 80 lempiras per person, and the park is open to the public from 7am to 6pm. There is a viewing path near the entrance to the park, but you can also climb the many steps down (right of the Pulha sign) to get a lower viewpoint of Pulhapanzak Waterfall next to the weir. This does take a moderate amount of energy, and the mud can be very slippery on a rainy day.
Feeling more adventurous? You can do zip lining all around Pulhapanzak Waterfall for 550 lempiras, and also a 330 lempira caving tour which takes you behind the waterfall itself. This one isn’t for the faint hearted since you’ll feel the power of the water on your head as you walk through! The park also offers river tubing for 550 lempiras each. For any if these activities around Pulhapanzak Waterfall, you’ll want to take some dry clothes for after, and again, a dry bag would protect your valuables. They say the cascada’s park can get busy with locals on the weekends, but on a very drizzly Sunday afternoon there were only a couple of other groups of people there with us.
– How to get to Pulhapanzak waterfall
To get to Pulhapanzak Waterfall by public transport starting from Peña Blanca, (if you’re staying in Los Naranjos, a tuktuk to Peña Blanca should cost 10 lempiras per seat, but expect strangers to jump in colectivo-style), wait opposite Frank’s Coffee on the main road. Buses will shout where they’re going to you as they arrive, so hop on the one heading to San Pedro Sula. They run every 20 minutes or so and cost 20 lempiras. Tell the driver’s assistant you’re going to Pulhapanzak Waterfall (Cataratas de Pulhapanzak) and they’ll tell you where to get off to walk. The walk takes an easy 15 minutes through teensy local towns up in the mountains. Alternatively, you could ask the bus to drop you off nearer the centre of San Buenaventura, from where you can get a moto (motorbike taxi) to Pulhapanzak Waterfall for another 20 lempiras. To return, just head back to the main road to flag down a bus.
Relax with a Honduran craft beer
For a very untraditional Lake Yojoa experience, but a good one nonetheless, check out D&D Brewery of an evening. Vibes are normally pretty chilled, and although it’s a busy place there are lots of different seating areas, including some Pinterest-ready chairs around a campfire. The craft beers cost 65 lempiras for 12oz, but be warned that is also an additional 18% tax which the menu doesn’t mention. Cheeky! It was one of the first gringo-targeted accommodation options ever set up on the lake, so it’s somewhat legendary amongst the traveller population in Honduras. Some might even say it put Lake Yojoa on the map for international tourists.
Stroll around the Finca el Paraíso Coffee Plantation
This is a finca-turned-ecopark that is a lovely place for a 1 or 2 hour stroll around nature, and to see how coffee plantations are set up in Honduras. There are also some springs on-site. Entry costs 50 lempiras.
Harvest knowledge with a coffee tour
If you’re really interested in seeing where your coffee comes from, you can take one of D&D Brewery’s all-day tours of a coffee plantation in Santa Barbara Mountain. It’s $49 USD, which seems a little steep to us, so since we’d already experienced several coffee tours before at the far more reasonably-priced fincas in Colombia’s coffee region, we gave it a miss.
Where to eat in Peña Blanca
Being an avid fan of both Chinese food and awkward signs, Andy of course made sure we tried out the Fu King Chinese restaurant next to the bridge in Peña Blanca. The half portion of rice for 120 lempiras was tasty AND huge, feeding both of us for lunch and dinner.
Cafe La Roca is a decent place to eat in the daytime and earlier on in the evening (it shuts at 7:30pm), offering baleanas (a Honduran version of a gringa, with lots of mayo), sandwiches and more.
But there’s one very strong leader in this race. In the evenings, just next to La Roca Cafeteria, a group of ladies sets up their street stall to serve delicious baleanas, chicken stew, tacos and more. You can then sit and eat at the communal table, where the locals will no doubt take a great interest in you and be very excited if you strike up a good conversation. At the very least, if someone is eating drop them a quick ‘buen provecho’, the Spanish equivalent of bon apetit.
Best cafés in Peña Blanca
Surprisingly, Peña Blanca is home to some pretty upmarket-looking cafés. While loved by locals as a great place to pass the time, they sure are out of place within the town! Our favourite was Coffee Barista, which is about 100m down the road towards Los Naranjos. The ladies running it are lovely, and the attention to detail on the decor is second to none. Slightly closer to town, on the same road, you’ll come across El Dorao, which has majorly swanky London vibes, with its exposed hanging light bulbs and warm wood interior. We were kind of baffled when we saw these cafés amongst the makeshift fruit stalls & street meat grills. It’s nice to know the coffee is all locally sourced, though!
When is the best time to visit Lake Yojoa?
Really, you just need to avoid rainy season. Since Lake Yojoa is at a relatively high altitude (700m), rainy season can see the whole area shrouded in low clouds. It’s pretty beautiful, but long bouts of rain every couple of hours makes it difficult to explore, and the general sogginess gets uncomfortable after a while. Rainy season at Lake Yojoa runs from May to October, with the rainiest month being September (24 days of rain). On the plus side, having so much rainfall would make the Pulhapanzak Waterfall much more powerful!
In addition to this, if you like your peace, avoid weekends at Lake Yojoa as Hondurans like to visit from the city in family groups.
Safety at Lake Yojoa
Honduras has a reeeeally bad (and let’s face it, quite well deserved) reputation for safety, with huge gang issues and lots of murders in the big cities. However, fear not while you’re here, Lake Yojoa is reportedly one of the safest places in Honduras. Locals will find you curious at first, but there’s little need to feel uneasy if they stare. Our hostel owner told us to stay out of unlit streets of Peña Blanca at night, but otherwise we shouldn’t have any safety worries.
How to get to Lake Yojoa
We arrived in Lake Yojoa on the same day that we left Placencia to go from Belize to Honduras by boat. The most major towns in terms of bus connections around Lake Yojoa are La Guama and Peña Blanca. Buses have a frequency of leaving every 20-30 mins San Pedro Sula to Peña Blanca until the early evening (45 lempiras for a chicken bus, though coach seats bought online can cost up to $50!!). Likewise, buses leave every 20-30 minutes from Tegucigalpa to La Guama (100 lempiras).To return, there is one direct bus a day to Tegucigalpa, which passes through Peña Blanca between 6am and 6:15. Otherwise you can go back via La Guama throughout the day.
If coming from elsewhere in the country such as La Ceiba, you may have to change buses in the nearest of these cities. There are buses to and from La Guama and Peña Blanca from opposite Cafetería La Roca, again every 20-30 minutes, costing 20 lempiras.
The internet does not provide much information on the available buses from major cities to or from Lake Yojoa. When coming from San Pedro Sula, we’d looked on online bus timetables which told us the last bus was at 5pm, when in fact the terminal had a wide array of different companies offering frequent buses to serve this route after this time. You just have to approach the desks and ask!
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