The Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is located just outside of La Ceiba. It is within the municipalities of El Porvenir, San Francisco, La Masica and Esparta. In the area, you will find lagoons, canals, rivers, mangrove forests and some large expanses of tropical rain forest. About 100 years ago, a thriving fruit farm run by the Vacaro Brothers Railroad Company produced bananas and coconuts. Thus the area has lots of history, and you can still see some buildings that have the typical “Banana Era Architecture” within the communities. This is certainly one of the National Parks in Honduras you must visit!
In the 1980s, the area, which is known as Cuero y Salado because of the two main rivers that flow into the network of lagoons and estuaries, the Cuero and the Salado rivers, was returned to the state of Honduras. This was after the 100 year lease on the property had expired. The Honduran State decided to create a wildlife refuge here to protect the environment where the endangered Caribbean Manatee still lives. Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is actually one of the older protected areas within Honduras. It has been co managed since then by the Fundacion Cuero y Salado, also known FUCSA. They have worked hard not only at preserving the refuge, but also develop tourism to the area.
The entrance to the area is located at the community of La Union, in the municipality of El Porvenir, and here you take a short train ride in an old banana train on the very same tracks that the Vacaro Brothers Company used as transportation into their plantations.
The 30 minute train ride will take you through cattle farm lands and a coconut plantation en route to your final destination: the community of Salado Barra, where the fruit company had its operations prior to closing the farm. There is a complete visitor’s center, where you will register, pay your entrance fee and arrange for your tour. The visitor’s center also has good clean toilets and general information regarding the refuge. The train is a funky old banana train. It is open on the sides, but has a roof to protect you from the sun. Take note that it does not protect in case of is rain, bringing a windbreaker will help you stay dry!
The rail tracks are the old narrow gauge tracks. Don’t expect a fast train, you could easily run beside it if you are in good shape! Because of the train being the primary access to the refuge, it is wise to coordinate the entrance time into the wildlife refuge. Normally the first train departs at 7:00 am. This is without doubt the best time to start your tour. You get there early before it is to hot, and therefore have a better chance to see the diverse wildlife that is native to the refuge. From La Ceiba, you can hire a tour operator to take you to Cuero y Salado.
Check with your hotel’s front desk about options to get to La Union in time for the first train. If you are staying at La Villa de Soledad, John will be happy to arrange getting you to La Union in time to catch the train and arrange for the tour guides to be waiting for you at Salado Barra. The last trip out of the refuge departs at 3:30, although you can arrange for a special departure as late as 4:30 pm.
There are several different tour options. The most complete of which is a boat ride in the canals to see the mangroves and the wildlife that lives within them. This is the habitat for white tail deer, howler and white face monkeys. There is a huge variety of birds and of course the Caribbean Manatee. Personally, I prefer taking the canoe trip! It allows me to sneak into the mangrove canals and get close ups of the monkeys, birds and alligators. When you are really lucky, may see a manatee, the crown jewel at the Cuero y Salado Wildlife refuge.
There are a couple of different comedores, basic community owned eateries. There you can get a bite from the locals. Options usually include fried fish and plantains, maybe some “pan de coco” or coconut bread. Here you can enjoy a good meal, and see how the local community lives and eats. An alternative is to get a box lunch from your hotel to take with you.
The Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge can be one of the highlights to your trip to La Ceiba and surroundings if you have an interest in nature and wildlife. It combines nature with some interesting history of the region and an opportunity to enjoy some community based tourism. Come and discover this unique spot in mainland Honduras! Nigel Marven, the British adventurer that stars in Animal Planet programs was recently in Cuero y Salado. He found it to be one of the highlights of his trip to Honduras!