The Affordable Caribbean
Total Relaxation For Under $15 a Day in the Bay Islands of Honduras
If you have dreamed of a Caribbean getaway that includes palm huts, friendly local people, sea breezes, and fresh fish, but no electricity, Internet, or even running water, Chachaguate is calling.
You have probably seen the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras in your guidebooks. Of these, Utila is the most accessible to those on a budget, and probably the best bet for those looking for snorkeling or diving.
But if you want tranquility, you will need a slightly more detailed map. Between the north Honduran coastal cities of La Ceiba and Trujillo, and half the distance out to the tourism center of Roatan Island, lie the Cayos Cochinos. Most of the keys are owned by expatriate Americans or wealthy Hondurans, but on the 1-acre Lower Monitor Key is the Garifuna fishing village of Chachaguate, a collection of about 20 huts interspersed among coconut palms. The two tiny stilt huts extending out over the shore on the south end? Those are the outhouses.
Once you reach the island you got no worries; the devilry is in finding a boat to get you there. There are three options. From La Ceiba, you can check with Garifuna Tours (www.garifunatours.com), which can take you as part of its Cayos day trip for $44. It offers other local packages as well and it is a good bet for general information.
Or, catch a bus (40 cents) or taxi to the nearby Garifuna village of Sambo Creek. From there, a tour and snorkeling boat departs the beach on many mornings at 8:30 a.m. and can drop you at Chachaguate for an extra fee. Try to find Oscar in the village or Alex hanging out on the beach, or just look for a collection of the most seaworthy boats.
Perhaps your best option is to take the bus from La Ceiba to the Garifuna village of Nueva Armenia (a few buses run daily, $2.50) and check in with English-speaking Raul Perez at the Hotel Sebastian (the only marked hotel in the village). He can arrange a boatman to take you out, and he can accommodate you in his nice hotel ($14-$25). Raul also leads walking, biking, and canoe tours of the lagoons, coast, and woods around the village, or 3-day adventure tours.
It is best to call in advance to Raul or his wife Mirian. If you want to call direct from the United States, dial 011-504-408-1095. You can also dial 945-5492 or 920-7425, but if you can’t speak Spanish it might be a bit difficult. In any case, if you need it, Raul can organize it. (If you are in a group, you may want to stop in at the highway town of Jutiapa and get some fresh vegetables. Raul can organize a big jug of purified water to take along as well.)
The fastest boats from Nueva Armenia take about 30 minutes to Chachaguate, but the drivers will charge $100 to $160. If you arrive with a group and are ready to go, this might work out. Alternatively, seek out or ask Raul about Malaca, an old-time boatman who will charge you $25 to chug out in his old wooden boat (1 hour). He will also arrange with his wife Betty to put you up on Chachaguate in your own palm hut and prepare your meals; she lives there full time, while he splits time between the island and mainland. In these days of wireless communication, you can reach either of them directly (Spanish only) at 916-7673 (Betty) or 356-3621 (Malaca). The boat leaves at about 7 a.m., but you need to arrange the departure the day before. Snorkeling off the key is okay but not great; you could probably arrange with Malaca to take you to a better spot. The island stay, including meals, the hut, and soft drinks, will cost under $15 daily. You should bring your own drinking water, batteries, candles, sunscreen, and maybe something of interest for the local kids. The relaxation: priceless.