La Ceiba is the largest city in Atlantida and is also the capital of the department. Among its many assets as a tourist destination are La Ceiba’s National Parks. La Ceiba has four protected areas in or around its municipal limits. Without doubt, the most famous of La Ceiba’s National Parks is Pico Bonito National Park. This is the largest park in the department and is an icon for this coastal city. However, the Cayos Cochinos Marine Monument follows it closely in fame, and probably receives more visitors than the other 3 national parks in La Ceiba together! The other two areas are the Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge and Nombre de Dios National Park.
All four of La Ceiba’s National Parks can be easily visited, and as a matter of fact, you can spend the night in all of them! Following is a list of each one of them, with information as to how to visit them and where to stay overnight. I hope you find it useful in planning to your visit to any one of them!
Pico Bonito National Park
Pico Bonito is the second largest national park in Honduras. Only Patuca National Park in Olancho is larger. Then of course, you have the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve that is much larger but is actually a different category of protected area. Pico Bonito National Park dominates over La Ceiba and can be seen from just about any place in the city. It is probably the most biodiverse park in Central America. This is mostly due to the rugged mountainous geography of the park. The north side of the park faces the Caribbean and features a tropical rainforest, which transitions into a tropical cloud forest as the elevation increases. The southside of the park, which faces the Aguan Valley, is much drier. As a matter of fact, there are cactus in this area, and the vegetation turns into a very dry tropical forest!
There are three official entry points into Pico Bonito National Park. Perhaps the most visited one is the Cangrejal River area, which is the eastern boundary of the park. A second access point is through the pineapple plantations. This is where you hike the Zacate River Trail. However, please take note that you cannot just drive through these plantations! This is the same general area where the Lodge at Pico Bonito is to be found. Although the area around Las Camelias, near the Perla River is officially a designated public use area, there is no infrastructure to speak of here. However, next to the Santiago River, you will find the Rio Santiago Lodge, which has its own set of trails.
Many hotels market themselves as hotels within Pico Bonito National Park. The reality is that there are only three hotels within the park itself. The largest by far is the Lodge at Pico Bonito. This famous hotel offers several trails, birding towers and even a butterfly house and serpentarium. Although there was a rumor that it was closing its doors, it never did, so you can plan on visiting it and have a full Pico Bonito experience. Access to the lodge is via the CA13 highway between La Ceiba and Tela. The detour is clearly market as you drive through the community of El Pino. A short 4 km drive on a dirt road towards the mountains will get you there. The detour is at approximately at km, 175 of the CA13 highway.
A second option is the nearby Corinto Pearl Resort, which is adjacent to the Lodge at Pico Bonito. This hotel offers nice villas in a natural environment with a pool and a full-service restaurant. The third hotel within Pico Bonito National Park is the Rio Santiago Lodge. Few people know if this hotel, as it has specialized in birding groups. Many birding guides believe that this is the best spot in Pico Bonito for birding. Getting to Rio Santiago Lodge is easy. Take the dirt road that is on the east side of the Rio Santiago bridge on CA13. This road will lead you towards the mountains. The detour is between the communities of La Masica and Santa Ana. The lodge is small but has several rooms, a pool and offers several trails.
It is true that some of the Pico Bonito trails are on the Cangrejal River. However, all the hotels in the Cangrejal River area are in Nombre de Dios National Park. This means that you can stay in the Cangrejal River hotels and visit the El Mapache and La Roca trails in Pico Bonito, but you will not actually be spending the night in this park.
Nombre de Dios National Park
This is the youngest member of La Ceiba’s National Parks. It offers the largest number of hotels and trails in the area! This is because of the 10 hotels in the Cangrejal River Valley. In addition, you will find La Relumbrosa and El Olvido trails into this park. Many of the hotels in the Cangrejal River Valley have their own trails into Nombre de Dios National Park. This is the case with Omega Tours Jungle Lodge, Hotel Rio Rafting and La Villa de Soledad. It is interesting to note that if you are staying in the Nombre de Dios National Park hotels in the Cangrejal River Valley, you will also be able to hike in trails into Pico Bonito National Park. The most accessible trails in the area are El Mapache, La Roca and Guaruma Trails. Nombre de Dios National Park is an extension of Pico Bonito National Park.
Nombre de Dios National Park extends east of the Cangrejal River. As such, you will also find trails in the vicinity of Sambo Creek. The most outstanding trails there are within the Sambo Creek Canopy Tour and Jungle Hot Springs facilities. These trails are not only well marked, they also have some interesting attractions. For example, the spring where the bubbling thermal water sprouts and the lookout point from high in the mountains that offers a view of the Caribbean. Not only can you see the Cayos Cochinos in the horizon, on a clear day you can see as far as the Bay Islands of Roatan and Utila! Another interesting trail in Nombre de Dios National Park can be found at the Cacao Lagoon. An elevated dock like trail will lead you through the mangrove forest towards the lagoon itself.
There are many different lodging options within Nombre de Dios National Park. You can choose between jungle eco lodges within the Cangrejal River Valley or the beach front hotels in Sambo Creek, Granadita or Roma! On the beach you will find the Palma Real Resort. However, La Delphina Resort in Granadita and Villa Helens are both great beachfront options.
The Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge
Cuero y Salado Wildlife Refuge is one of the first protected areas in Honduras. It is within the municipalities of El Porvenir, San Francisco and La Masica, which are west of La Ceiba. This area is a combination of lagoons, estuaries and wetlands and boasts come nice beaches. Access to the refuge is via a unique, funky railroad that departs from La Union to Salado Barra. The icon for Cuero y Salado is an Antillean manatee. This is a shy and docile marine mammal that is an endangered species because of loss of habitat. It is not easy to see this animal, mostly because its feeding habits to not coincide with the regular visiting hours at the refuge.
A good way to improve your chances of seeing a manatee is by spending the night at the wildlife refuge. There is only one place where you can do this. FUCSA, the foundation that manages the area has a lodge with dorm type rooms. It has a total capacity for 21 persons in different rooms with bunkbeds. Bathrooms are available outside the dorms. You can book a night here through FUCSA. If you do stay here, you will be in the heart of the community of Salado Barra. Here you will be able find basic food cooked by local families. Usually, you will be offered fresh fish. If you do decide to spend the night here, make sure you arrange for a dawn boat tour to spot the manatee!
The Cayos Cochinos Marine Monument
This area is really part of the Bay Islands; however, it is much easier to get to from La Ceiba, and we therefore consider it as one of La Ceiba’s National Parks. Most tours to Cayos Cochinos depart from the Garifuna community at Sambo Creek. However, there are also tours departing from the main dock at La Ceiba, as well as from the Garifuna communities at Corozal and Nueva Armenia. A tour to Cayos Cochinos has become one of the must do experiences when visiting La Ceiba.
Because of local climate, tours depart early in the morning and return by 3 in the afternoon at the latest. This is because surf gets rougher as the day progresses, and you do not want to be out in the open Caribbean Sea in rough surf. There are several options to spend the night within Cayos Cochinos. However, keep in mind that you will need to arrange for your trip back to the mainland in advance. Following are some of the options for overnighting in Cayos Cochinos. The most reputable tour operator to Cayos Cochinos is Tourist Options, who is also a recipient of the Atlantida Calidad Turistica badge.
You can live a Garifuna culture experience by staying at Chachahuate Cay. There are a couple of cabins available for rent. Do take into consideration that the conditions are extremely basic. There is no running water and the bathrooms are basic latrines. A better alternative that still allows you to interact with the local Garifuna people is to spend the night at East End in the larger island. They have some nice community owned cabins that while basic, are much more hygienic and comfortable. You can book a night at Cabañas Laru Beya through Reservaciones La Ceiba. Daryl´s Place is a private property on one of the smaller cays that offers several different lodging options. You can book them via Airbnb. This will allow you the experience of spending the night in a small white sand cay surrounded by turquoise waters. You will be rather isolated, so be prepared for a “Robinson Crusoe” experience!
There are two different options that are more formal. The oldest running property is the Eagle Ray Dive Resort. This hotel has been around for a long time but has changed management over the years and therefore has also changed names. They are a full service PADI dive resort and offer comfortable rooms with hot water and a restaurant with ice cold beer. They are on the larger island and you can hike around the island, in addition to snorkel and dive activities on premises. The second alternative is on the smaller island. The Fundacion Cayos Cochinos, who administers Cayos Cochinos, has some rooms that are primarily used for scientists. Whenever they are not in use, they are rented out to tourists. They are pleasant and comfortable, and best of all, affordable. Furthermore, by staying in them, you are cooperating for the upkeep of this area.
I hope this information about La Ceiba’s National Parks is useful and helps you decide which is the best place for you to spend the night while visiting. Make sure you contact the NGO´s that manage the parks or the local tour operators to page the proper arrangements. We have included links to all!