Forming part of the eastern boundary of Parque Nacional Pico Bonito , the Río Cangrejal tumbles off the flanks of the jungle-covered mountains through a narrow boulder-strewn valley before reaching the Caribbean at La Ceiba . Anyone spending a couple of days in La Ceiba should be sure to visit the middle or upper reaches of the river, at least on a day trip, to enjoy the spectacular scenery, take a dip in one of the innumerable swimming holes, or raft some of the finest white water in Central America.
A very well-maintained dirt road winds upstream along the Río Cangrejal, turning off the La Ceiba–Trujillo highway just past the Saopin bridge outside of La Ceiba. The road follows the Valle de Cangrejal through the villages of Las Mangas, Yaruca, and Toncontín, ending in Urraco.
Not long after the turnoff, on the right-hand side is the Pico Bonito National Park visitors center (7 a.m.–4 p.m. daily, US$7), where visitors can enter to follow one of two fairly moderate and well-marked trails three kilometers to El Bejuco waterfall. The river was once crossed exclusively by a basket and pulley system, but a hanging bridge has been added, and the spectacular crossing can be made either way.
Camping overnight is possible for US$5.25, and tents can be rented at the visitors center for an additional charge. Although the park officially opens at 7 a.m., the staff arrives by 6 a.m. and is happy to let in birders and other early risers.
Thirteen kilometers from the Saopin bridge on the road along the Río Cangrejal is the community of El Naranjo, an interesting stop for its handicraft shop Artesanías Saravia and its 90-minute community tour, which includes a visit to the school church, orchid farm, an agriculture farm, the handicraft workshop, and a final stop at a swimming hole of the Río Cangrejal, where guests are treated to seasonal fruit. The tour is just US$8 for 1–4 people, or US$16 for a group of five or larger. Other guided walks are available as well—see www.en.picobonito.org  and click on “Communities,” then “El Naranjo” for more information and contact details, or try calling Antonio Hernández (tel. 504/9957-8920) to make arrangements.
Las Mangas, just below where the road crosses a bridge, is a particularly lovely spot to admire the emerald-green mountainsides and go for a swim.
Beyond Las Mangas, the road follows the river valley upstream on the western bank to the aldea (village) of El Pital. Upstream from here, the river passes through a tight gorge, which the road bypasses by crossing over a low ridge, coming down the far side to meet the river again at the village of Río Viejo.
At Río Viejo, three smaller rivers join to form the Río Cangrejal: the Río Viejo, the Río Blanco, and the Río Yaruca. The main road continues up to Yaruca and then to the village of Toncontín, where four cabins are available for rental with Cooperative Reyes y Asociados (www.cangrejal.com ). The cabins are simple and rely on solar electricity. There is plenty of hiking, and horseback riding can be arranged, as well as guide service for the hikes. Toncontín is also home to an orchid farm.
The road continues on to Urraco, from where a deteriorated road leads down to Olanchito  in the Río Aguán valley, making for great mountain biking. The bike trip from La Ceiba  can easily be accomplished in one day, and convincing a bus driver in Olanchito  to put your wheels on a La Ceiba–bound bus is not that difficult.
Usually five buses daily make the bouncy and uncomfortable 2.5-hour run between La Ceiba and Urraco (US$2). It is also easy to catch the bus at the Saopin bridge, right where the dirt road up to Urraco begins. Be sure to check when the last bus leaves Urraco back for La Ceiba, as car traffic is scarce in the afternoon. By private car, the road is generally well-maintained as far as Río Viejo, beyond which four-wheel-drive and high-clearance vehicles are recommended. A taxi to Urraco might charge around US$16.