Honduras gives Costa Rica run for upscale ecotourism money

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Most travelers looking for combination eco-resort and beach vacation in Central America automatically look to Costa Rica.

But with a little more work on the planning end, travelers might find a cheaper (or at least comparable) and more authentic adventure in neighboring Honduras.

Indeed, officials in this country just south of Belize brag that their country has everything Costa Rica does, with better beaches.

That's not quite true. Yes, the white, sugar-sand beaches are without question better. But what Honduras doesn't have yet are very many branded hotels. That's part of what makes the country that much more attractive to adventure-seekers.

"People are looking for places that nobody knows about," said Flavia Cueva, who operates Hacienda San Lucas, a 100-year-old family mountain retreat converted into an eight-room eco-lodge in 2000.

"It's a place to lie back and time stops," she said of her resort, which will have two new suites completed by the end of May.

Time does indeed stop at her lodge, which overlooks the town of Copan and its nearby Mayan ruins. The lodge is rustic, but on an upscale level. The rooms are simple and lack electricity, except for one solar-powered light in the bathroom. When night falls, the staff light candles all around the room. There is no air conditioning, but there are big, screened windows that take advantage of the cool, evening mountain breezes.

And Cueva has earned a reputation for serving one of the finest meals around.

Although the lodge is a good 30-minute drive from town, she gets a number of visitors each night for her authentic Honduran cooking, which is served by candlelight.

For travelers interested in a rain forest experience, Honduras also boasts the luxury Pico Bonito eco-lodge, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World located at the edge of the country's largest national park.

The park boasts waterfalls, more than 400 species of birds and a variety of jungle hiking trails. Just a short flight away is the island of Roatan, long known to divers and backpackers but fast becoming a destination with a mix of higher-end options.

One of those is Infinity Bay, a new condo-hotel that offers large, modern rooms with huge kitchens and balconies. Coming soon to the island: a Nikki Beach resort.

Honduras is a two-hour flight from Houston, Miami and Atlanta. Continental, American and Delta all offer service, but fares are higher than those to Costa Rica.

Accommodations, however, are generally cheaper, and everyday meals and other items are still quite affordable, even on Roatan, a popular cruise ship stop.

Visit www.letsgohonduras.com.

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