One of the most biologically diverse natural reserves in Honduras, the 782 square kilometers of protected territory around Punta Sal include humid tropical forest, mangrove swamp, coastal lagoons, rivers and canals, rocky and sandy coastline, coral reef, and ocean. Almost 500 types of plants have been identified within the park, as well as 232 animal species, including endangered marine turtles, manatees, jaguars, ocelots (tigrillos), caymans, white-faced and howler monkeys, wild pigs, pelicans, and toucans.
Most tours arrive by boat at the base of the point on the east side, offering visitors a chance to enjoy the beautiful Playa Cocolito beach before taking a half-hour hike over a low part of the point to the Playa Puerto Escondido, a beach-lined cove on the far side. This steep trail is a good opportunity to see the park’s abundant and colorful birds and, if you’re lucky, troops of howler or white-faced monkeys.
A second trail diverges to the north before reaching the far side of the point, leading to another small bay on the west side of the point, Playa Puerto Caribe. At certain times of year the trails can be impassable due to absolute clouds of mosquitoes.
Apart from the rugged and beautiful 176-meter-high Punta Sal, most of the reserve’s territory is flat, encompassing the Los Micos, Diamante, Río Tinto, and Tisnachí lagoons; the Martínez and Chambers canals; and the Río Ulúa. The Río Chamelecón forms the western boundary of the park. Traveling up these waterways by boat provides opportunities for viewing wildlife—have binoculars and mosquito repellent at the ready.
No facilities are available in the park apart from two small champas at Playa Cocolito, which sell meals of fried fish to tour groups (about US$6, not included with your tour). Camping on the beach is allowed and would be a superb way to spend a few days; come prepared with food, fresh water, and a tent or hammock. A park ranger maintains a small cabin at Playa Cocolito, where most tour boats stop. Although tour operators like to tout the great snorkeling, there’s little in the way of interesting reef, and visibility is limited in the choppy water. Better to just enjoy the wonderful swimming and sunbathing.
The easiest way to visit Punta Sal is via boat tour with Garífuna Tours or Honduras Caribbean Tours in Tela. Their essentially identical day trips cost US$29 and US$34 per person respectively, leaving almost every day, weather permitting. A second option, better for those who want to set their own schedule and go by themselves or in a small group, is to set up a freelance tour, looking for a boat and negotiating a price either in Tela (best place is the outlet of the Río Tela to the sea) or in Tornabé. The really industrious can take the daily truck out past Tornabé to Miami and either hire a boat there or walk along the beach for a few hot hours.
An entrance fee of US$3 is collected by a park vigilante (some tours include this in the price), and the money goes to help the activities of Prolansate, a nongovernmental environmental organization working at Punta Sal. The Prolansate office (tel. 504/448-2042, www.prolansate-ecoturismo.com), which has more information on the park, is in Tela opposite Telamar.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition