Pico Bonito has become an icon for the city of La Ceiba. Its majestic, triangular shaped peak, towering high over the Nombre de Dios Mountain Range, with an altitude of 2435 meters above sea level, can be clearly seen from the islands of Utila and Roatan on a clear day.
Pico Bonito National Park Geography
The geography of the Pico Bonito National Park provides for several unique habitats since it starts on the narrow coastal plains of the Caribbean shores of Honduras, which are only a few feet above sea level, and reaches a maximum altitude of 2435 meters above sea level within a short distance, only to drop back into the low lying Aguan Valley on the backside of the mountain range. This abrupt change in altitude creates a rapid transition from the low lying tropical rain forest to the high elevation cloud forest, and on to a very dry forest on the backside of the park.
All in all, Pico Bonito National Park has a total of 1.073 square kilometres, making it the second largest of the National Parks in Honduras. Geographically, Pico Bonito is located in the Nombre de Dios Mountain Range, and is limited on the north by the pineapple plantations that belong to the Standard Fruit Company (Dole), as well as several different cattle farms on the coastal plains of the Department of Atlantida. On the west, Pico Bonito National Park has its boundaries with the Rio Santiago river, which is in the municipality of San Francisco, Atlantida; to the east, the limit to the park is the Cangrejal River, which is in the municipality of La Ceiba; and on the south side, the limits are the Aguan Valley in the municipality of Olanchito, in the department of Yoro. The area in the best state of conservation is that facing the Caribbean coast, mostly because of the steep, almost impenetrable slopes that are covered with a thick tropical rain forest, and protected physically by the private property of the Standard Fruit Company and other smaller landowners.
Tourism Options within Pico Bonito National Park
The park hosts three different regions designated for tourism activities: Rio Zacate, in which The Lodge at Pico Bonito is located; the area around the community of Las Camelias; and the area adjoining the Cangrejal River. Of these three regions, only two have some infrastructure for tourists, the Zacate River and the Cangrejal River. Entrance fees to Pico Bonito National Park are $7.00 US per person for adults, and $4.00 US per person for children. Honduran citizens receive a substantial discount.
The Rio Zacate area has two distinct offerings for public use; the privately owned area surrounding The Lodge at Pico Bonito, and the Rio Zacate Waterfall.
The Lodge at Pico Bonito
By far the most developed is that within the grounds of The Lodge at Pico Bonito. This area is privately owned, and basically for the use of the lodge guests. The entrance is clearly marked within the town of El Pino, located at approximately kilometer 175 of the San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba highway. This area is the most effectively protected area of the entire Pico Bonito National Park, because the hotel has security guards that enforce the law, and do not allow hunting within their property. The result is incredible, as a variety of animals, including mammals, can be seen from their private trails. The grounds of The Lodge at Pico Bonito also has three lookout towers that allow one to climb up to the level of the forest canopy and get a bird’s eye view of the park, including many birds that live high in the tree tops. Although the trails are private and for the use of the guests, you can book a tour at The Lodge at Pico Bonito that includes lunch at their Itzamna Restaurant with a guided tour of the trails. They do not take tours on a walk-in basis, so reservations MUST be made in advance to ensure they can accommodate you. For reservations call (504) 2440-0389 and 2440-0388, or book through their web site (www.picobonito.com). The cost of a tour is approximately $32 US per person, with transportation to The Lodge not included.
In the past, the Association of Environment for the Rehabilitation of Wild Birds (AMARAS – Asociación del Medio Ambiente para la Rehabilitación de Aves Silvestres), used to operate a center in the vicinity of the community of El Pino. It was an interesting spot to visit, as the center was created with the intention of rehabilitating animals; principally birds, that had been confiscated from illegal traders. (Many of the exotic tropical birds of Honduras, including the scarlet macaw and green buffon Macaw, as well as many parrots, are considered endangered species, and it is illegal to capture them). Unfortunately, the site eventually ran out of funding, and was shut down. If you are interested in bird rehabilitation programs, I fully recommend visiting Macaw Mountain Bird Park in Copan Ruinas, (www.macawmountain.com). They have a wealth of knowledge and currently are working on a project aimed at repopulating the Copan Valley with the macaws; this will for sure add to the magic of Copan!
Rio Zacate Waterfall
If you are looking for a less expensive and more adventuresome option, you can use the Rio Zacate entrance, which is located a couple of kilometres past the community of El Pino, on the road toward Tela and San Pedro Sula. The entrance is not clearly marked, so you should look out for the Rio Zacate sign on the small bridge on the main road. Take the second dirt road to the left immediately after the bridge, and follow the road for about one and a half kilometres (one mile). At the end of the road you will find a small trail that follows the crystal clear waters of the Zacate River. The trail offers a steep climb in the first part of the route, but eventually flattens out, and you will arrive at a lovely waterfall hidden in the jungle that has become a landmark of Pico Bonito National Park.
Make sure you bring water with you, as there is no place along the trail where you will be able to purchase anything. On holidays it is common to find large groups of people enjoying the lower pools of the river at the foot of the trail, so if you prefer a bit of privacy, avoid holidays, as well as weekends, as you might be disappointed to find you are not alone in this little piece of paradise.
Last, but not least, the Cangrejal River area has a set of trails that take you up to the El Bejuco Waterfall in Pico Bonito National Park. Access to the trail is via a spectacular 400 foot long hanging bridge, just like you would see in an Indiana Jones movie (only much more secure). The Cangrejal River visitor center and hanging bridge are located on the La Ceiba to Yaruca dirt road, approximately at km. 8.5, and is clearly marked on the side of the road. In any case, it is just between Jungle River Lodge and La Villa de Soledad (www.lavilladesoledad.com), two of the options for sleeping in this area of the park.
Also along the Cangrejal River area of Pico Bonito National Park, approximately around Km 12 of the same road, you will come up to the village of Las Mangas. Here, a local NGO, Guaruma, offers guided tours on a very soft trail that they have built. Access is also along a hanging bridge over a small creek, and provides an insight to life in the jungle.
If you are up to it, the young guides can take you as far up as the village of La Muralla, a small community accessible only by a hiking trail that is within the Pico Bonito National Park buffer zone. People here have their small plantations of corn and beans, their own chickens and are pretty close to being self sufficient as far as food is concerned. For more information on Guaruma, visit www.guaruma.org.
Bird watching in Pico Bonito National Park is superb! Robert Gallardo, an ex Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras has become one of the leading bird watching experts in Honduras, and has put together a great web site with information of the many different birds he has personally spotted in Honduras. For complete information about the birds of Honduras, visit www.birdsofhonduras.com. For those interested in a more scientific analysis of Honduras birds, Honduras.com has made available a dissertation on canopy birds in Pico Bonito National Park. This is the most intensive study ever on birds of the rain forest canopy. It is written by David L. Anderson and Luciano N. Naka and presented through the Department of Biological Sciences and the Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, and is located at honduras.com/honduras-birds.html.
Pico Bonito National Park is under a co management agreement with a local NGO: FUPNAPIB (Fundacion Parque Nacional Pico Bonito). Their offices are located on the main La Ceiba to Tela highway, almost across the street from the detour leading to the CURLA public university campus. Telephone 2442-3044. Please note that they do not have English speaking personnel, and they are not accustomed to interacting with tourists.
Pico Bonito National Park Entrance Fee
Entrance fees to Pico Bonito National Park are $7.00 US per person for adults, and $4.00 US per person for children. Honduran citizens receive a substantial discount.
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.
Learn more about Honduras National Parks