Off the Trail
For some people, the idea of getting to a cloud forest in Honduras simply by hiking up a well-marked trail is altogether too easy. Never fear — there are more adventurous routes to the peak. Before venturing off into the woods, however, beware: The terrain on Celaque is extremely rugged, confusing, and often blanketed with fog. Even locals who live within the boundaries of the park have been known to get lost. In 1996, one El Cedro resident wandered around the plateau for three days, hungry and half-frozen, before he eventually struck the Gracias Trail and was helped out by a passing group of foreign hikers.
Apart from the well-marked trail up the Gracias side (which locals call el sendero gringo, the gringo trail), the most common route begins in Belén Gualcho, reached via bus or truck from Santa Rosa de Copán. From Belén Gualcho, it’s a several-hour hike up to the lovely village of Chimis Montaña, set on a hilltop at about 2,000 meters on the west side of the plateau. From Chimis, it would take another 2–4 hours to hike up to the Celaque plateau. There, if your guide knows what he’s doing, you will meet up with the Gracias Trail near the peak.
Juan Alberto Martínez and José Alonso de Diós both guide visitors for US$10–15 a day (guiding services only — you provide their food and drink). Both can sometimes be found in Belén, but more often, at their homes in El Paraíso, an aldea about a 20-minute walk from Belén. You could also hike up to the fairly well-beaten path from Belén to Chimis on your own and find a guide there willing to take you up to the Gracias Trail.
Another option is to go by road from Gracias to San Manuel Colohete, and from there, hike up 5–6 hours to the village of El Cedro, where Julian Vázquez is one local who definitely knows the route to El Castillo, as Cerro de las Minas is known. From El Cedro, it’s a brutal 3–4-hour hike (at Julian’s pace) straight up through thick forest to the Gracias Trail, which you reach shortly before the final ascent to the peak.
A third fairly well-established back route up Celaque starts in El Naranjo, an aldea about a 30-minute walk from San Manuel Colohete up the mountain. Guides Hilario Mateo and Fucio Martínez will happily take hikers up to the top of Celaque and down the far side to Gracias, or via El Cedro to Belén Gualcho, for US$10–15 a day (again plus food and drink). You might be able to find lodging in El Naranjo by asking around, or spend the night in San Manuel.
If you take a trip across the mountain, also expect to cover transportation costs for the guide back to his home. Guides tend to be more expensive from the Gracias side, where they are more accustomed to dealing with tourists. To find a guide on the Gracias side, contact Marco Aurelio Rodríguez (tel. 504/656-0627 or 504/9870-8821, guiamarcolencas [at] yahoo [dot] com).
The villages around Celaque are desperately poor, so any small gifts of food, pens, flashlights, or other useful items (please, not candy!) are greatly appreciated. Although visitors are rare on this side of the mountain, locals are friendly and hospitable.
© Chris Humphrey and Amy E. Robertson from Moon Honduras, 5th Edition