La Ruta Tropical

Honduras

    Photo: PhotoDisc

Honduras's natural beauty—the magnificent temperate rainforests of La Mosquitia, cool pine forests blanketing the center of the country, and dense patches of cloud forest crowning its highest peaks—has been difficult to get to until recently. Over the past two years, the government has opened up the country's more remote regions to visitors, offering new access to virgin jungle and mountain forest, along with expert local guide services.

La Mosquitia
Tucked away in the northeast corner of Honduras and crossing over into Nicaragua, La Mosquitia is one of the wildest and least-explored areas in the hemisphere—a huge swath of jungle, swamp, grass savannah, and mountains populated mainly by Miskito, Garifuna, Pech, and Tawahka Indians.
Last spring, residents of Las Marías, a Pech and Miskito village on the Río Plátano, began organizing a rotation of forest and river guides to help independent travelers visit the Río PlátanoBiosphere Reserve, an 800,000-hectare section of virgin jungle in the heart of La Mosquitia that stretches from the Olancho Mountains all the way to the Caribbean coast. To get to Las Marías, hop a short flight ($60 round-trip on Isleña or Rollins Airlines) from the coastal city of Palacios at the western edge of La Mosquitia near the RŒo Pl¤tano. In Palacios, speak to Don Felix Mármol at the Isleña office; he can help you find a boat to take you across a lagoon and upriver to Las Marías(five to eight hours round trip; $90-$120, depending on your negotiating skills).

In Las Marías—a large group of thatched huts cut out of the jungle on the edge of the river—look for Martín Herrera, who can show you where to find food, a bed, and guides. Two recommended trips are a three- to four-day hike up Pico Dama, the 2,755-foot mountain looming over the jungle south of Las Marías, with fantastic views in all directions (guides, $6 per day); or a one- to two-day canoe ride upriver to the petroglyphs at Wal'pulban'sirpi and Wal'pulban'tara, and into the jungle beyond ($25 per day for two).

Another way to explore the region is an epic two-week journey from Dulce Nombre de Culmí in the Olancho Mountains in north-central Honduras, and down the Río Plátano by a combination of rafting and hiking with Mosquitia wildman Jorge Zalavery. You'll see monkeys, tapirs, birds of all colors, and, if you're lucky, one of the many jungle cats of the region—and then raft the white-water stretches of the river cutting through the jungle.

After leaving the last settlement in Olancho, the only signs of humanity before reaching Las Marías are several mysterious pre-Columbian ruins, thought to be of Mayan origin. The two-week trip costs $1,116 per person for groups of four to six; contact La Moskitia EcoAventuras, 21-040444; fax 21-0408.

Montañas de Celaque
Honduras is home to some of the best-preserved cloud forests in the Americas, and none is more impressive than the Montañas de Celaque in far-western Honduras, the highest mountain range in the country. A huge stretch of primary cloud forest remains intact on the top of Celaque, with tall, thick trees covered with moss, vines, and bromeliads forming the forest canopy, quetzals and other rare birds flitting among the branches, and jaguar, ocelots, and deer roaming below.

Just last year, the Honduran Forestry Service finished marking a five-mile trail into the forest from the colonial town of Gracias, making Celaque easily accessible to hikers. Go to the Gracias forestry office to get a topo map of the trails and campsites, then walk or drive the five and a half miles to the visitors' center at the base of the mountain (beds available; $2 park entry fee; rides from Gracias for $4 per person can be arranged at Restaurante Guancasco on the town square). From the visitors' center it's six to eight hours of steep and slippery hiking to the top of Cerro de las Minas, the highest point in the country at 9,345 feet. Round trip could be done in two days, but it's better to spend a couple of nights at one of the two campsites on the mountain. After returning to Gracias and soaking your stiff bones in the local hot spring, you can spend a couple of days touring the nearby colonial mountain villages of La Campa, San Manuel Colohuete, and Belón Gualcho.

Lenca Land Trails, a tour operator in Santa Rosa de Cop¤n, offers excellent five-day hiking tours from Bel‹n Gualcho across the entire Celaque range, coming out again at Gracias (about $200, everything included; contact Max Elvir at the Hotel Elvir in Santa Rosa de Cop¤n; 62-0103 or 62-0805). It rains frequently in this area, so be sure to bring along some rain gear.

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