Honduras has over 100 protected areas and National Parks. In total the area covered by these is the equivalent to half of the territory of Costa Rica! This means of course that it is almost impossible to visit all the national parks and protected areas in Honduras. The truth is that many of them are far off and quite inaccessible. How should you go about planning your trip to visit protected areas and national parks in the country? Which are those must visit national parks in Honduras? Which are the best Honduras Nature Lodges and how can you find them?
National Parks in Atlantida
It all depends on what your interests are and how long you plan to stay in Honduras during your visit. Probably, you would be best off if you decide upon visiting Atlantida. This department that is in the Caribbean coast of Honduras, which boasts a total of 8 protected areas within a relatively small territory. Of these 8, 7 are easily accessible and only one, the Texiguat Wildlife Refuge is more difficult to get access to.
With this in mind, you should definitely plan on visiting the Lancetilla Botanical Garden just outside of Tela, Atlantida. This botanical garden is the result of an experimental plantation funded by the Tela Railroad Company. (Part of the Chiquita Banana Brand). The Garden offers an interesting insight into the origins of what became the first Banana Republic in the World. It has a magnificent collection of exotic fruit trees. Birdwatching is fantastic in the botanical garden. The garden is considered the second largest tropical botanical garden in the world!
Also, while in the vicinity of Tela, you should plan on visiting the Jeannette Kawas National Park. (Also known as Punta Sal National Park). It offers a combination of sea lagoons, tropical white sand beaches, mangroves and rain forest. This park includes a narrow, but rugged peninsula that forms the Bay of Tela on the western end. Great snorkeling, lovely white sand beaches, a picturesque Garifuna Village with a glitzy name, Miami. It also has some nice coves as part of the geography of this park. You can visit this park as a full day tour from Tela, San Pedro Sula or La Ceiba .
If you plan a visit, I recommend Garifuna Tours as the most reliable tour operator in the Bay of Tela area. (www.garifunatours.com). A short trail crosses the peninsula and leads you to Puerto Caribe, a small, beautiful, but very hidden cove. En route, your chances of seeing, or at least hearing howler monkeys are outstanding! Keep in mind that because access to Jeannette Kawas National Park is only by sea, the tours depart early in the morning and usually returns around 3 pm, because the surf conditions at sea deteriorate rapidly after that time.
The other National Park near Tela is Punta Izopo National Park. This park is actually the small peninsula on the eastern end of the Bay of Tela, and is quite a bit smaller that Punta Sal. Although the park also has some beaches, the main attraction in this park is a small lagoon with mangrove canals, here you can navigate through the canals and see alligators, howler and white face monkeys as well as a large variety of marine birds. The best option to get to know this park is to purchase a tour with Garifuna Tours, they have some comfortable sit on top kayaks that allow you to paddle into the mangrove canals and sneak up on the wildlife. Nearby is the Garifuna Village of Truinfo de la Cruz, where you can get a bite for lunch.
On the other end of Atlantida is the City of La Ceiba. Here a few kilometers before the city, you will find the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge. This is one of the first protected areas in Honduras, and was once part of the Standard Fruit Railroad Company. The site is rich with the last century’s history, when Honduras became the number one exporter of bananas in the World, under the leadership of the Standard Fruit Company of Honduras. Access to the site is via the old narrow gauge railroad tracks used by the fruit company to move its workers and produce. Cuero y Salado is an area formed by the Cuero and Salado Rivers, thus its name.
These rivers create a complex set of estuaries that are interconnected by canals through mangrove forests. It is home to the Caribbean Manatee, an endangered species that is native to Central American marine estuaries. It is also home to many troops of howler and white face monkeys, as well as to hundreds of birds, some that are permanent residents of the refuge and others that are migratory. A tour on a canoe through the Cuero y Salado wildlife refuge offers a unique experience with nature that you will cherish for years!
Next on the list is one of the most known national parks in Honduras: Pico Bonito National Park. Pico Bonito is a true icon for La Ceiba and the department of Atlantida. The park gets its name from the towering peak, which reaches to 2584 meters above sea level and that can be seen from miles away. On a clear day, it is easily visible from such afar places like Utila and Roatan! Pico Bonito is probably the most bio-diverse national park in Central America! The lower section of the park, facing north is home to an extremely thick tropical rain forest, the higher elevations have a tropical cloud forest vegetation and the south side of the park offers a unique very dry tropical forest.
The easiest access to Pico Bonito National Park is via de Cangrejal River Valley. In my view, because of its beauty and easy access, Pico Bonito has to be in your must visit National Parks in Honduras list. There is a network of trails in the park, as well as a variety of different lodges that offer the opportunity of spending the night in the jungle in complete comfort! The Cangrejal River Valley is in my opinion one of the crown jewels of Honduras, and you should certainly consider this area in your visit to the National Parks in Honduras! This river actually acts as a natural boundary between Pico Bonito National Park and Nombre de Dios National Park.
Nombre de Dios National Park actually offers the most diverse accommodations in a national park in Honduras. There are over 10 lodges and inns in the Cangrejal River Valley that face Pico
Bonito National Park but are actually in the Nombre de Dios National Park! For complete information on the different lodging options in the Cangrejal River Valley, visit www.cangrejalriver.com. Nombre de Dios National Park actually includes the Garifuna communities of Corozal and Sambo Creek. It also has a couple of unique spots in addition to the Cangrejal River Valley. Check out the magnificent hot springs in the middle of the jungle! They have a look out towards the turquoise blue Caribbean and the Hog Cays. You can also visit the Cacao Lagoon. This is a small mangrove lagoon that is home to several troops of howler and white faced monkeys.
Last, but not least on the list of National Parks in Atlantida is the Hog Cays, locally known as Cayos Cochinos. Although they are not really part of the territory of Atlantida, these small islands that form a lovely archipelago of 13 small cays and two small islands is most easily reached from Sambo Creek. The area has a National Marine Monument status, and is protected by law. There is a small population of about 500 persons living in the islands. You can visit them on a day trip or plan on spending a night here. There are a couple of options of where to spend the night. For more complete information on your options, http://www.larecoturh.org/reservaciones-turisticas/?lang=en. There is no doubt that Cayos Cochinos has to be in your must visit national parks in Honduras list!
National Parks in Western Honduras
Besides Atlantida as a first choice for National Parks in Honduras, there are a few other parks that are easily accessible and have decent infrastructure. In Western Honduras Celaque National Park, is just outside the charming colonial city of Gracias. It is definitely one of the must visit national parks in Honduras. Celaque offers the opportunity to enjoy a cloud forest as well as the pleasant colonial city of Gracias. There are many small rural communities around this old city, one of the oldest in Central America.
San Pedro Sula National Parks
If you are going to spend some time around San Pedro Sula, then you should visit Parque Nacional Azul Meambar. Some people refer to the park as PANACAM for a shorter version of the name. This park is located on the northeastern side of Lake Yojoa, about 80 kilometers from San Pedro Sula. You can either plan on doing a full day tour or spending the night either at Panacam Lodge or at one of the hotels around the lake. If you choose the latter, I suggest either Honduyate Marina or the D&D Brewery and Lodge, located on the opposite side of the lake.
Tegucigalpa National Parks
Last, but not least on our must visit national parks in Honduras list is La Tigra National Park. La Tigra is just outside of Tegucigalpa. La Tigra towers over the capital city and provides much of the water that the city consumes. It also offers the possibility of learning a bit of history of Honduras and Tegucigalpa! The park has two entrances, one via the community of El Hatillo, which has become one of the high end residencial areas in the capital city. The other via San Juancito, an old mining town, located past the touristy Valle de Angeles. Both towns are popular with locals on the weekends.
Believe it or not, the first soft drink bottling plant in Central America was established in San Juancito! You can also see the old San Juancito hydroelectric power plant. This is the oldest in Central America and is no longer in operation. This site was very important because the Old Rosario Mining Company. They used to produce an important amount of silver. Today you can still see some of the abandoned buildings in the mountain. These were where the executives of the mining company lived and had their facilities.