One of the best known National Parks in Honduras is Cuero y Salado. This month, I took a trip to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge with some guests. The Refuge is about 30 km. West of La Ceiba, following the CA13 highway in direction of San Pedro Sula. Cuero y Salado is a marine estuary, formed by the Cuero and Salado Rivers. Cuero y Salado is not only a wildlife refuge; it was also the first site of operations of Standard Fruit Company on mainland Honduras.
A Train Ride to Remember into Cuero y Salado
Because of this, you can still see some signs of the presence of what later became the giant Dole in Honduras. For starters, you have the old railroad track. This is one of the few still functioning train tracks in Honduras. A funky, rickety passenger car serves as the only official access to enter the park. This narrow gauge track that will take you on a unique 35 minute ride. You will pass through cattle farms into the heart of the reserve. Although the train has a roof on it, it is completely open on the sides. It is a good idea to bring a poncho just in case you get caught by a squall!
The trip takes you through a couple of small communities. You will see people boarding or disembarking from the train. Remember, this is their only way of transportation. The departing point is the town of La Union, where you will pay for your train ticket. Currently, the fee is Lps. 125, roughly 6 USA dollars. It is best if you pay in Lempiras, as they do not like to take US dollars. If they do accept them, they will give you an unfavorable exchange rate. Your destination is the community of Salado Barra.
This is where the park office is. Here you will need to pay your entrance fee of $10 USA dollars per person. The train tracks end right next to the Salado River, close to where it flows into the Caribbean. This is only the first part of a trip to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge. A short 8 minute walk will take you to the beach. There is also a dock in front of the park building. This is where you can arrange for a tour. There are several options, and the most popular is to board a small motor boat to tour the estuary and canals.
Your Tour Options For a Trip to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
Some of the boats have a canopy over them, but most do not. Because of this, a hat is always a good idea! Your skin will appreciate you applying some sun block before the tour. This is a slow moving tour. The guides are well trained to spot a diversity of fauna in the refuge. The most iconic species in the refuge is the Antillean Manatee. The species thrives in Cuero y Salado, yet it is hard to see one. We entered the refuge on the first train, which departs from La Union at 7:00 am prompt.
Wildlife At the Cuero y Salado Refuge
I have been in the refuge many a time, and never saw a manatee. But all that changed a week ago yesterday, when I say my first manatee in the wild! It was brief sighting, but a sighting it was.
We also had the opportunity to see a troop of howler monkeys that were taking a nap on the top of the mangrove forest. The troop included a baby that has hanging on to mom dearly, as well as a younger one that was moving along on his own. They crossed over the canal we were in by jumping from the treetops on one bank to those on the other. It was quite a show they put on for us. In addition, we saw many different species of birds. Last but not least, the crocodiles and alligators where out in full splendor that day. This was a trip to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge that was a complete success.
If you have time and prefer to do some paddling on your own, the park has some nice canoes. These are perfect for a couple of persons each. Paddling in a canoe will limit the distance you can travel. But the experience will be much more authentic. As you paddle through the estuaries and canals you can sneak up on the wildlife. Keep in mind that you are always required to have a guide with you in the park, which is a good idea anyway. So if you decide for a canoe, you will appreciate having a guide to show you the spots where you can spot more wildlife.
Yes You Can Spend the Night in Cuero y Salado!
If you are serious about seeing some wildlife during a trip to Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge, consider staying at the basic dorm facilities. They can accommodate up to 20 persons in five different rooms. If you prefer a private room, you can arrange for it by paying a bit extra. For up to date information on prices and reservations, check with FUCSA (Fundacion Cuero y Salado). You can contact them via the FUCSA facebook page. If you do overnight, you will should go to the beach at night and get a bonfire going. There is usually lots of driftwood on the beach that you can use for this purpose.
Several different community members that can provide food for you in the refuge. Make sure that you bring small bills, as it is difficult to get change for a 500 lempira bill. The same applies to USA dollars. The phone and internet connections within the refuge are sketchy. Do not expect to pay with a credit card for services within the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge.
Fundacion Cuero y Salado Can Help You Arrange a Trip to Cuero y Salado Wildife Refuge
If you are in La Ceiba, you can visit their offices located at Edificio Daytona. This is two blocks east of the Rinconcito Costeno restaurant on Avenida 14 de Julio.
The foundation is currently updating an old four bedroom house that is in the Refuge. The wooden structure was part of the Standard Fruit Company old facilities within the area. It will provide for comfortable conditions to spend the night and make the best of early morning bird watching. Take note that the best time to sight a manatee is during dawn or dusk. Spending a night in the refuge will enhance your chances to see a manatee!