Chances are the first thing you noticed when you arrived in La Ceiba , especially if you came in by plane, was that massive emerald-green spike of a mountain looming beyond the airport. This is the 2,435-meter-high Pico Bonito, centerpiece of Parque Nacional Pico Bonito.
Covering 107,300 hectares in the departments of Atlántida and Yoro, of which 49,000 hectares are a buffer zone, Parque Nacional Pico Bonito is the largest protected area in Honduras  apart from the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve. Pico Bonito is also one of the least explored, a dense, trackless jungle, ranging from humid tropical broadleaf forest in the lower regions to cloud forest on the peaks.
Some 20 river systems pour off the park’s mountains; the rivers display their fullest splendor during the fall-winter rainy season. Because of its rugged, natural isolation, Pico Bonito is a refuge for animal life seen only rarely in other regions of the country. Still, getting in to a place where one might run across a jaguar or ocelot requires some serious effort.
Parque Nacional Pico Bonito can also easily be accessed via the Río Zacate, a river pouring off the southern flanks of the mountains to the west of La Ceiba . Here, one can hike into the La Ruidosa waterfall, reached by a well-kept trail through lush jungle alive with birds and sometimes monkeys at the edge of the mountains. Continue upstream to explore additional falls and look for more wildlife.
To get to the Río Zacate, take a bus or drive on the highway to Tela , and look for a dirt road turnoff in the middle of a pineapple plantation between kilometer markers 174 and 175, past the highway village of El Pino . Walk straight up the dirt road toward the mountain until it hits a junction with another road, by some power lines. Turn right and continue to the end of the road, where there is a watchman, who should take your US$6 payment and give you a receipt in return.
Past the ranch, you’ll come to the river’s edge at a waterfall with a deep pool, good for swimming. Look for a series of stone steps, which lead up the hillside through the jungle to the Ruidosa falls, an impressive sight in the jungle. The walk takes about an hour from the ranch and a little less back down. The trail is generally in good condition but can be muddy.
The Pico Bonito foundation in La Ceiba  may be able to arrange guides farther into the forest along fainter trails. A better option, though, is to go to the village of El Pino  along the La Ceiba–Tela highway and get a guide there (easily reached by frequent local bus from the La Ceiba terminal).
For the adventurer, it would be hard to find more of a challenge in Honduras  than a trip to the top of Pico Bonito. It may look like a relatively short jaunt, but in fact it takes a solid 9–10 days of hacking through the jungle while clinging to a steep, muddy hillside, hoping there are no snakes nearby. Jorge Salaverri of La Moskitia Eco-Aventuras  has climbed the summit and can organize a trip (well in advance) for those who want to try their luck.
For more information about the park, stop in at the offices of Fundación Parque Nacional Pico Bonito (FUPNAPIB, tel. 504/442-3044, www.en.picobonito.org , 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–noon Sat.), on 15 Calle half a block east of Avenida 14 de Julio in La Ceiba. Local guides and other activities can be arranged through the tourism committee in El Pino.