The geography of the north coast of Honduras is dominated by an abrupt, massive, and extremely lush mountain chain that stretches incredibly upward, as if trying to reach the sky, from sea level to over 8,000 feet of altitude in less that 20 km from the Caribbean coast of Honduras!
There is no other area on the Central or North American Atlantic coast line where you will find such an impressive mountain range so close to the coast. Dominating these magnificent mountains is a huge, triangular shaped peak appropriately called Pico Bonito.
The mountain range, known as the Nombre de Dios Mountains, has retained its natural lush tropical look and vegetation thanks to the fact that it is so steep that it is nearly inaccessible.
The first expedition to climb to the summit of Pico Bonito took place in the 1950`s when a group of local Ceibeños decided to conquer the peak. On that occasion, it took them 10 days to climb to the summit and return! Although there is now a route that is pretty much established, it still takes a full 5 days to make it to the top and back, and that is, of course, if you are truly fit; otherwise, it will take even longer. The expedition takes three days to ascend, and two to descend, and those who have done it, say it is useless to take tents to overnight, as you will not find a large enough flat area to pitch your tent on! The solution is a hammock, and of course, you want to tie yourself to it to ensure you do not fall and roll down the steep slopes!!! There is at least one tour operator in La Ceiba who has provided the guide service for the trek; for more information, you can contact La Moskitia Ecoaventuras.
Pico Bonito Becomes a National Park
In 1987, the government of Honduras issued a decree that created several National Parks, protecting the cloud forests and their biodiversity, as well as their strategic value as producers of water. Thus Pico Bonito National Park came to life. Roughly, the Park has its western most limit with the Rio Santiaguito, its eastern most boundery is marked by the Cangrejal River, the northern limit are the farmlands, many of them owned and cultivated by the Standard Fruit Company, a subsidiary of Dole, and its southern limit is on the mountains of the Aguan River Valley. The Park is one of the largest National Parks in Honduras, with a total land area of 1,073 square kilometers.
According to decree 87-87, which created the park, the nucleus area of the park is all of the land above 1,800 meters above sea level, with the rest being part of the buffer area. Although there have been several attempts to expand the nucleus area, there has not yet been any decree issued by congress that makes any changes to the original decree. The Park is co-managed between a local NGO known as FUPNAPIB which stands for Pico Bonito National Park Foundation (its initials in Spanish), together with the Honduran National Park administration, which is part of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Honduras.
Pico Bonito National Park Areas
The park has three distinct areas that are highlighted for tourism; these are the Rio Zacate area, in the vicinity of the Lodge at Pico Bonito, the area near the community of Las Camelias, and finally, and probably the most important, the Cangrejal River area. There are trails that have been designed for tourist visitation in the first and last of these areas.
Pico Bonito is probably the most biodiverse area in Central America. The combination of tropical rain forest in the lower parts of the park, tropical cloud forest in the higher elevations, and tropical dry forests on the backside of the mountains provides three very different habitats. Scientists are still investing and making an inventory of the different flora and fauna that thrives in the park, and many endemic species have been discovered. The most publicized of all is the Honduran Emerald Hummingbird, a truly unique bird that lives only in the south side of the park where the tropical dry forest provides perfect habitat for this small little bird.
Pico Bonito Trails
For someone wishing to get up and close with the park, there are several options, but probably the best, most complete natural experience will be had at the Lodge at Pico Bonito. They not only have a set of private trails within the park, they also have a group of bilingual naturalist tour guides that are very familiar with the tropical jungle around the hotel and will help you find the birds, snakes, lizards or whatever else you are looking for.
Pico Bonito Trails at the Cangrejal River
To walk through the Pico Bonito National Park along the Cangrejal River, you can hire a tour guide at Guaruma, one of the NGO`s that operate in the area. They have a nice trail into the forest that will prove to be interesting, and provide an insight to the tropical rain forest. Some of the guides have had some birdwatching experience and are about 85% bilingual.