On the Trail
From the visitors center it is possible to hike several shorter trails; even a 45-minute walk brings you across creeks and through the forest. A map of the trails from the Hotel Guancascos is not necessary for the main trails, but it’s sometimes nice to have along. Otherwise ask the park caretaker for indications.
The trail up Celaque follows the Río Arcágual upstream from the visitors center for a short while, ascends a steep hillside, then parallels the mountain. It continues upward at a less steep grade to Campamento Don Tomás at 2,050 meters, about a three-hour walk from the visitors center, where you’ll find a tin shack with three rudimentary bunks inside and an outhouse. It’s pretty grim accommodations, best avoided if possible. The shack is sometimes locked, so check with the guard at the visitors center beforehand. You might prefer to pitch a tent rather than use the cabin, though it can be a relief to have a roof overhead if it’s raining.
Beyond the first camp, the trail heads straight up a steep hillside. This is the hardest stretch of trail, and climbing it often entails clinging to roots and tree trunks to pull yourself up the invariably muddy path. Descending this stretch of trail is particularly treacherous. After 2–3 hours of difficult hiking, the trail reaches Campamento Naranjo, nothing more than a couple of flat tent sites and a fire pit on the plateau’s edge, at 2,560 meters. As you wipe the sweat and mud off your face as you climb, take a look around at the plants and trees. By the time the trail reaches the plateau, you will have entered the cloud forest.
From Campamento Naranjo, it’s another two hours or so to the peak, but it goes up and down over gentle hills instead of straight up. Keep a close eye out for the plastic tags tied to tree branches—the lack of undergrowth in the tall, spacious forest makes it easy to lose track of the trail. The final ascent to the top of Cerro de las Minas (2,849 meters) is a half hour of fairly steep uphill climbing, but go slow and listen for the quetzals and trogons that live there. The peak is marked by a wooden cross, and if the clouds haven’t moved in, you’ll have superb views over the valleys to the east. From the visitors center to the peak is six kilometers and about 1,500 meters in elevation gain.
You could, theoretically, hike all the way from the visitors center to the peak and back in a day, but it would be a tough day and would leave no time for enjoying the cloud forest. A better plan for a short trip is to spend the night in a tent either at Campamento Don Tomás or higher up at Campamento Naranjo. On your way down be sure to leave the high plateau not long after midday to ensure that you get back to the visitors center before dark, and hopefully catch a ride into Gracias. If you leave the trail in the high part of the cloud forest, take good care to keep your bearings, as it’s very easy to get lost.
Shortly after leaving the visitors center on the way to Campamento Don Tomás, you will see a trail branching off to the left, leading to Cerro El Gallo (2,383 meters), a slightly lower peak. The view from the ridge ranges from incredible to very weird and misty to no view at all, depending on the clouds. After climbing the peak, the trail arrives back down at the main trail just above Campamento Don Tomás. The loop via El Gallo and Don Tomás makes a great, but long, day hike through three different habitats, with occasional clearings from which to admire the view and wildlife. From the visitors center the round-trip takes 6–8 hours.
It’s often cold and always wet, so come prepared with proper clothing, including stiff boots, a waterproof jacket, and a warm change of clothes kept in a plastic bag. Both campsites are next to running water. Many visitors drink the water untreated, as there is no human habitation above, but it’s better to treat the water first.
The trail map from the Hotel Guancascos is much more useful than the topographical map, which does not show the trails. A map is not really necessary if you’re just planning to hike up the main trails, but it does give an idea of the lay of the land and is not bad to have just in case. The topographical maps covering the entire park are Gracias 2459 I, La Campa 2459 II, San Marcos de Ocotepeque 2459 III, and Corquín 2459 IV. Some camping gear is available for rent at Restaurante Guancascos.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition