Parque Nacional Montaña de Celaque
Meaning "box of water" in the Lenca dialect, Celaque is one of the largest tracts of cloud forest remaining in Central America and one of the most unspoiled national parks in the country. Its 11 rivers supply villages as far away as El Salvador with fresh water. Nearly 50 species of mammals, several hundred species of birds, and a few dozen reptiles have been identified in the park. Celaque's pine forests hide rare wildlife, such as resplendent quetzals, ocelots, jaguars, monkeys, and pumas, but consider yourself lucky to catch a glimpse of just one of these, as the dense mist and fog often obscure views.
The only way to see the park is by hiking a pretty steep ascent, and the often wet and muddy trails along the way make it difficult for older travelers and those who aren't physically fit. From the visitor center on the Gracias side, one main trail leading uphill branches off into several other trails. (A few well-marked signs and ribbons mark where the trails break off.) The shortest trail takes about 2 to 3 hours and lets you off at a small outlook where the Santa Lucia waterfall can be seen from afar. A more difficult hike is the 2,383m (7,818-ft.) climb up Cerro El Gallo, which winds for about 3 or 4 hours through spider-monkey stomping grounds before reaching the top. Hardest of all is a hike to the top of Cerro de las Minas, the tallest peak in Honduras at 2,849m (9,347 ft.); it requires at least 2 days.
There are a few small campsites on the El Gallo and Las Minas trails, and you can also bunk at the visitor center for L50.
The park is easily reached by car from Gracias, which is 9km (5 1/2 miles) away, although tours often leave from Santa Rosa and other towns that surround the park. From Gracias, you can also take a moto-taxi for about L100 to the end of the road, which is a 30-minute walk or so to the visitor center.
Guides are not required, but recommended. Walter Murcia, who runs Puma Trail Tours (tel. 504/2656-1113; email@example.com), is the most respected guide in the area. Other guides can be arranged in Gracias at Hotel Guancascos (tel. 504/2656-1219; www.guancascos.com) or through Colosuca-Celaque (tel. 504/2656-0627). It's best to arrange a guide a few days in advance. Expect to pay anywhere between L200 and L400 per day for a guide per group, depending on the quality of the service and training of the guide. Admission to the park is L50 adults.