Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge


Cuero y Salado Train

Boarding the old “banana train” for the short trip to Cuero y Salado

Cuero y Salado is an iconic figure for tourism in La Ceiba. It is one of the oldest protected areas in the country (declared a protected area in 1986) and one of the first co management agreements signed by the ICF with a local NGO: Fundacion Cuero y Salado – Fucsa ( Cuero y Salado is located about 33 km. east of the City of La Ceiba, and is geographically limited on the east by the Zacate River and to the west by the San Juan River. To the North it borders with the Caribbean Sea. The area is part of an old Standard Fruit Company coconut plantation and there are actually several small communities that live within the protected area.

Its biggest claim to fame is the fact that it is home to the Caribbean Manatee, an endangered species that lives within the network of creeks, lagoons and coast line. There are a total of 15 rivers and watersheds that feed into the network of lagoons and canals, providing a myriad of waterways all of them heavily forested with mangroves and tropical jungle vegetation providing an ideal habitat not only for the manatee, but also for alligators, howler and white faced monkeys, and a large variety of birds, both migratory and stationary species. A total of 200 bird species have been identified within the wildlife refuge, making it a very high biodiversity in its relatively small 13,255 hectares. On land, large mammals that make Cuero y Salado their home include Jaguars and white tail deer.

Community of Boca Cerrada in Cuero y Salado

Typical huts at the community of Boca Cerrada in Cuero y Salado

The Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is easily accessible to tourists, and actually offers a unique experience to visitors. Access is via the community of La Union. To get there, take the highway from La Ceiba to Tela. At approximately km 167 you will come to a junction on the road, just before a large bridge over the Perla River. Take a right here and follow the road into town as far as the first set of railroad tracks that cross the road. This is the where you must park your car and buy a ticket for a unique train trip into the refuge. (If you are coming from Tela, the detour will be to your left just after the Perla River bridge).

If you do not have a vehicle and do not want to hire the services of a tour operator, you can take the bus from La Ceiba to La Union. This leaves from the San Jose Station and will take you directly to La Union, where you can catch the train. Officially the train operates on a schedule, but it is not really very reliable. The first trip train departs at 7:00 a.m. and the second at 8:00 a.m., these are the only “for sure” departures. The last return trip out of Cuero y Salado departs at 4:30 p.m. For up to date information and reservations, call Carlos Martinez at (504) 9904-4610 or visit the web site a local community based organization that serves as a liaison between small business entrepreneurs in rural areas and tourists.

Boarding a boat to tour Cuero y Salado by water.

Boarding a boat to tour Cuero y Salado by water.

Tours within Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge are basically done by boat, and there are several aquatic trails which you can visit, usually in a motorboat. If you have the time, I suggest trying to get out to the Thompson Lagoon area, which is actually quite remote, in the western end of the refuge, it will take a good one and half hours to get there, however there are several mangrove canals in the area that are heavily forested and offer a perfect habitat for howler and white faced monkeys. Crocodiles and alligators are also quite abundant in the area. This is also the area where your chances of seeing a manatee are higher, however remember that these aquatic mammals tend to feed at dawn and dusk and it is difficult to be there at those times because of the train schedule in and out of the refuge.

If you are interested in hiring the services of a tour operator, I recommend that you contact Reservaciones Turisticas La Ceiba E-mail:, other options are La Moskitia Ecoaventuras, (, and Tourist Options (

For more information regarding FUCSA, you can visit their offices located in the City of La Ceiba, on 11th street, between Avenida La Republica and Avenida San Isidro, almost across the street from the Lovable building. They are located on the second floor of the only two story building in the block.

Visitor's Center at Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge

The Visitor’s Center at Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge


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February 04, 2014 by John Dupuis All rights reserved

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