Located in Western Honduras, Celaque National Park boasts the highest elevation in Honduras, at 2,849 meters above sea level (9,350 feet above sea level). The park is within the boundaries of the departments of Lempira, Copan and Ocotepeque, and can be visited from various points, however the easiest, most convenient access is from the lovely colonial city of Gracias, capital of the department of Lempira.
Celaque, a word from the Lenca dialect, which literally means box of water, is a proper name for this mountain. Also known as Cerro de las Minas, it provides water to all of the communities that are around the national park, including the cities of Gracias, Erandique, San Juan, San Manuel Colohete and La Campa in Lempira, Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque, Corquin, Cucuyagua and San Pedro de Copan in Copan, among many others.
The mighty Ulua River has its headwaters in Celaque National Park, and the biggest and most important river in El Salvador, the Lempa River, also has its headwaters within the park. Celaque National Park is co managed by an association of municipalities called Mapance ProCelaque. In total, there are 11 municipalities that co participate in the management of this park, with the concept of protecting their watersheds as the main unifying factor.
From Gracias, there is a dirt road that leads towards the mountain, up to the community of Villaverde. The route follows a nice creek that actually provides water to the city of Gracias. In total, the distance between Gracias and the Visitors Center is 9 km (just under 6 miles). En route you will pass through several different Honduran coffee fincas (farms), so if you happen to be there between the months of November to February, you might be able to see some of the coffee picking process under way! Villaverde is located at around 1,200 meters above sea level (3,940 feet); it is about a 20 minute hike up to the visitor’s center. You can actually hike up from Gracias if you are up to it; however, I recommend you save your energy and hire a truck to take you up.
Consider visiting Frony at the Guancascos Hotel and restaurant in Gracias, (www.guancaascos.com). Frony has a lot of information on the park, and actually owns a small cabin that she rents within the village of Villaverde. This is an ideal spot to spend the night and then start your hike up the mountain early the next day. She can arrange for a transfer from town up to Villaverde.
Hiking in Celaque National Park
If you are planing on only a brief visit to Celaque National Park, it is best to negotiate a car to take you up to the Visitor’s Center, as you will need your energy to do the hiking from here up to the 2,500m level where the cloud forest vegetation actually begins. This means a good 4 to 5 hour hike! A shorter trip into the forest is also worth while, as you have the possibility of seeing many orchids and abundant bird life. Another interesting site to visit is the organic coffee farm, located ½ hour hike up into the park. This is also a fantastic site to enjoy the colorful tropical birds that inhabit the park. There are also several knowledgeable and very responsible guides that can lead you into the mountain for several days of hiking and camping in the park. Of particular beauty are the hikes from Villa Verde to Santa Teresa, Santa Teresa to Belen Gualcho and Villa Verde up to the cloud forest. These hikes will take between 2 and 4 days.
For more information, contact the hotel and restaurant Guancascos, located at the foot of the small hill where the fort is located. Plan on being at the center by 7:00 a.m. at the latest to have a better chance of seeing the wildlife. There is a good chance to see the elusive quetzal. I have personally seen several at Celaque National Park!
There is an entrance fee of $3.00 US per person, plus another $3.00 US per night for those spending the night at the Visitors Center (again, these prices are subject to change). All prices are per person.
There are three different areas with facilities for campers on the park: the first is at the Visitor’s Center, a basic cabin with bunk beds, which also has running water for showers and toilets; the second area is a campground located at about 2,000 m altitude and is called Campamento Don Tomas. This is a good three and a half hours hike from the Visitor’s Center. The last spot is a good 1 ½ hour hike above Don Tomas and is called El Naranjo. The last two spots only have water and latrines. You will need to bring your own tent here!
Most visitors do not actually hike to the top of the mountain in Celaque National Park, but rather enjoy the trails that lead out of the Visitors Center and make the visit a day tour. Trails lead to a nice waterfall and will get you into the area where the pine forest transitions into a broad leaf forest that is typical of a tropical cloud forest.