Although Honduras does not evoke the same glazed over, dreamy, wistful, “in-love” look that Guatemala garners from us, this is an isolated wee spot there that does. It’s a bit of a haul to get to and takes some dedication. There’s not much else to do in the immediate area but the effort is rewarded with a natural, almost ethereal sauna and a river that runs hot and cold.
For those who would like to explore the area more, about 25km away there is the town of Pito Solo situated on the Southern end of Lago de Yojoa, the lake being an established birder’s paradise. Within this general vicinity there is also Pulhapanzak Falls, north of the lake and Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meámbar to the east of the lake. For a point of reference the lake is about 10 miles (16km) long. If you venture further afield there is the stunningly beautiful and isolated Ruta Lenca, along with Parque Nacional Montaña de Celaque, home to Honduras’ highest peak – El Cerro de las Minas. As for us, we just wanted to get back to Aguas Termales de Azacualpa.
We had managed to squish this in as a side trip on one of our annually allotted “flat-out 9 day, let’s cram everything in” holidays in 2011. It deserved a second visit, when we were not under such a time crunch. As you set out on your adventure to get here be sure to stress Aguas Termales de Azacualpa, to the bus driver as there is also a Valle de Azacualpa and the 2 are nowhere near each other. So, from where we were staying in Gracias we got a bus to Santa Rosa and from there another bus to Ceibita, from La Ceibita we got an ordinario to Santa Barbara and finally another bus from here to San Pedro Zacapa.
We stayed in the only hotel in San Pedro Zacapa, it has no name! Actually it helps if you have “connections”, i.e. one of the local kids to guide you to it. This is a very small town, don’t expect much, even trying to find a comedor open may be a challenge. Our hotel “Doña” Doris cooked us dinner and we sat in her kitchen eating, whilst chatting/hand signing with 3 or 4 generations of her family. When we arrived in the town we were greeted by an American Peace Corps volunteer, who was so surprised to see other gringos, his stunned words were to the effect “How did you get here”?
The village of Aguas Termales de Azacualpa is about 5 or 6 miles from San Pedro Zacapa. Needless to say bus service between the two is a tad spotty, but the walk is beautiful through undulating countryside along a dirt road. The entry fee to the therapeutic waters was around 13L (0.50¢). There are remnants of cabins on the property which have seen better days and it’s probably been many days since they’ve actually seen any inhabitants in human form. Beer can be purchased from the proprietor, just keep your empties real close by, to avoid any “confusion” later.
Hotter Than Hades
Firstly; Bring flip-flops/some kind of footwear for wearing in water, as parts of the ground are scalding. The billowing, steaming, triumphal arch which serves as the entry to the river beyond is absolutely amazing. This natural stone arch is the result of millions of years of erosion and doubles as a natural sauna, under it’s low hanging span.
Beyond the sauna the river Jaitique awaits. We crossed the river and carefully chose a spot where continuously interchangeable hot and cold water swirled around us. All around us were bubbling, hissing vents with steam shooting out, there was even a steaming vent that whistled like a kettle! We strongly recommend some kind of footwear just in case the soles of your feet come in contact with a spot that may not be visibly boiling but will certainly leave you with more than a memory of this fascinating, natural wonder.
Honduras, with the exception of the Bay Islands and Copán Ruinas, is pretty much not on many tourist’s radar. Therefore somewhere like this is all the more secluded and off the beaten path. We were the only ones there when we visited. As fish nibble on your toes, and you are encircled by alternating rushes of hot and cold water, you look at the beautiful scenery around you and can’t believe this is all yours for the now.
Returnables & the Return Trip
Back to those empty beer bottles we warned you to keep close by. This only applies if you have purchased beer on the site. We knew we had to return the empties upon leaving. We had set down 2 empties by a rock, which the operator took. As we handed in the other 2 bottles on our way out, he began feigning all knowledge of gathering the bottles by the rock. This attempted ruse to stall us, was not going to work on us. All the while he is also warning us there is no more public transport to Zacapa, whilst peppering his sage words with much use of “peligroso” (dangerous). We did not take his bait by gullibly paying the inflated rate he was offering us for private transport back to Zacapa. Off we marched into the encroaching darkness, with the thoughts of there might be a bus.
As it turns out, there was no bus. We were amazed at how our eyes adjusted to the darkness and how we could see the road, using the edges as a guideline. The whole walk back we had the company of fireflies whose little bodies punctuated the darkness with pretty specks of light, providing the perfect ending to a long day.