As you probably know, Cuero y Salado is one of the National Parks in La Ceiba. Most people think that Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge limits you to the regular boat tour of the refuge. How wrong the are! There are many different things to do in Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge! Following is a list of the most outstanding things to do in Cuero y Salado:
There is only one way into Cuero y Salado. Via the old railroad track from the town of La Union. This track is 100 plus years old. In the old days, it was used to bring in supplies or take out the produce of the land and transfer to the port in La Ceiba. The only regularly operating train in Honduras still functions here. The trip is a short 17 km ride that brings you through cattle farms towards the old coconut tree plantations to the heart of Cuero y Salado.
Things to do in Cuero y Salado
The end of the tracks is found at the community of Salado Barra. This community is the site of an old banana plantation. Most of the inhabitants are descendants of people that worked with the Standard Fruit Railroad Company several decades ago. You will notice that houses are built on stilts. This is because the land here can be flooded by the rivers during the rainy season. This is typical architecture from the old banana days in Honduras. As a matter of fact, the first banana plantations on mainland Honduras were set right here, in Salado Barra! This is where the original Banana Republic was born!
So, after the ride in the train, you arrive at Salado Barra. This is the beginning of your Cuero y Salado experience. It is here where you can decide which of the different things to do in Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge are your cup of tea! Most people take the regular motorboat tour. This tour takes you through different aquatic trails within mangrove canals. It offers a great opportunity to see marine birds, monkeys and different reptiles, including alligators and crocodiles. Typically, this tour last between 2 and 2 ½ hours.
Most visitors get back to the visitors center and take the train back to La Union. What a way of missing out on many things to do in Cuero y Salado! At the very least, you can take a short easy hike to the beach, which is only one kilometer away. The trail is flat, but there is not much shade en route. Bringing a good hat with you will make the hike much more pleasurable! The beach is an open expanse of undeveloped beach on the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it is usually littered with trash that the sea has deposited there. After a big storm you will find a lot of driftwood. But this is usually removed by local dwellers, who use firewood to cook their meals.
The water is clean and great for swimming, however keep in mind that there are no lifesavers along the beach. If the surf seems too rough, do not go into the sea! Another important tip. Do not stray away from the path. There are ticks in the taller grass. You will never see them, nor will you feel them until you are back in your hotel. I develop a nasty allergy from their bights. Remember, they can also transmit lime decease! If you brought some bug spray with you, tuck your pants into your socks and spray your trousers. If you are wearing shorts, spray your legs.
Spending the Night in Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
Perhaps the best way to experience Cuero y Salado is to spend the night there. There is a basic lodge facility with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. It is fairly clean, and usually empty. Despite this, I recommend making a reservation before you go there. A second alternative is to camp in Cuero y Salado. You will need to bring your own camping gear for this alternative.
To do so, contact FUCSA, the NGO that manages Cuero y Salado. You can send them a message on facebook. You can also call them at 504 2440-0191. If you are in La Ceiba and would like to visit their offices, you can do so at 15th street, Edificio Daytona, Barrio La Merced. This is exactly two blocks east of the main BAC Honduras offices. BAC offers one of the best options for ATM machines in La Ceiba. They are also one block east of Rinconcito Costeño on the corner of 15th Street and Avenida 14 de Julio.
The advantage of spending the night in the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is that you can be out on the water at dawn. I suggest you prearrange access to the canoes that are available at the visitors Center. That way you can explore the canals and might be able to sneak up to a manatee or two as they feed in the early morning! The manatee is the icon of the resort. They live within the rivers and estuaries of Cuero y Salado. They feed on the water weeds you see on the river banks. This animal is very elusive, and your chance of seeing one is increased if you are paddling in a canoe versus traveling in a motor boat.
Another great thing to do if you spend the night in the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Reserve is to go to the beach and light a big bonfire. There is usually lots of dry driftwood on the beach. This is ideal for a bonfire. You can even invite some of the locals to go out to the beach and light the fire with you. Although there is no official restaurant on premises, you can easily arrange for locals to cook some food for you. David, the local park ranger that is at the Visitor´s center can help you arrange for food with his mother. Alternatively, Doña Fatima from the community also offers good food.
Keep in mind that you will need small bills to pay your food. Locals will surely not have change in dollars and will have a difficult time giving you change in that currency. The same goes for 500 lempira bills. Smaller bills are much easier for the locals to deal with!
As you roam through the facilities, you will find an old two story wooden home. This is reminiscent of the local banana era architecture. Locals refer to the building as “La Casona”. This would translate to “The big house”. It was there for the use of the executives of the Standard Fruit Railroad Company to enjoy. There is some discussion regarding the future use of this building. Some favor upgrading it and have it operated as a small hotel. Others favor the idea of a local banana museum. It is easy to imagine the banana company executives enjoying this old home of yesteryear.
Other Areas Worth Visiting in Cuero y Salado
Salado Barra is close is a community that almost on the beach, in the center of the wildlife refuge. There are two other areas that are worth visiting if you have the time to spare. On the western end of the refuge is Thomsons Lagoon. This area is more remote and has spectacular mangrove canals. It is also the best area to spot manatees. There is a community on this end called Boca Cerrada. If you want to feel in a more remote, location, consider visiting the area. You can arrange the boat trip with the staff at the visitors center in Salado Barra.
The East End of the Refuge is limited by the Zacate River. This is the same river that forms the famous Zacate River Waterfall in Pico Bonito National Park. After going underground for several kilometers, the river resurfaces. The last few kilometers along its route towards the Caribbean it offers some unique jungle vegetation. Here you can visit the “Finca El Cayo”. This is a small farm that borders the river and the beach. Reservaciones Turisticas La Ceiba offers tours to this farm. They can even arrange for camping within the premises. These two alternatives, Finca El Cayo and Thompsons Lagoon are rarely visited. You will not be running into any tourists here!
As you can see there are many things to do in Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge. In addition to being a top nature reserve, it has a lot of history. Visit Cuero y Salado. You will have an experience that you will cherish for many years!