Our helmsman, Carlos, turned off the rumbling engine of the skiff, and we gently rocked atop the murky water in a secluded corner of the Cuero y Salado nature reserve on the north coast of Honduras. It was eerily quiet, unlike the sun-soaked wetlands we had been touring before finding this dark nook. Out there, chirping cicadas, barking howler monkeys and exotic species of twittering birds vied to be heard. But as we sat and sat, quietly waiting for creatures to emerge, the tension built. "This is the part of the trip," said the man next to me, "when the crocodile jumps out at us."
No such luck, but we did spot elusive white-faced monkeys, paddle around tangled mangrove trees and wake up a family of bats. Just another eye-opening day, typical of a stay at the Lodge at Pico Bonito. The eco-lodge does not boast of pink sand, bikini-clad cocktail waitresses or a five-star spa. It's for the off-the-beaten-path traveler who wants luxurious accommodations by night and exhausting jaunts in wild, pristine nature by day. Forget air-conditioning, TV and Internet hookups--even use of the telephone is discouraged. But what you get in exchange is impressive: gourmet meals, a veranda with a hammock and a view of the mountains, a dazzling butterfly farm and natural swimming holes with waterfalls. --Andrea Woo