Honduras: choose your own eco-adventure!

Introduction

With nearly 800 recorded bird species, Honduras presents a wonderful destination for anyone looking to experience the neotropics. Toucans, hummingbirds, and oropendolas all call the country home, and a developing ecotourism infrastructure facilitates access to more of the country than ever before. I was fortunate to travel to Honduras earlier this year, and I’ve already penned a thorough account of my time around Lake Yojoa. In this installment, I’ll highlight some other Honduran birding hotspots, some of which I visited first-hand and others I know through international reputation. Think of this as a Honduran hodgepodge from which you can customize your own trip. Here we go! 

The Lodge and Spa at Pico Bonito (or just ‘Pico Bonito’ or ‘Pico’)

Situated on the Caribbean/Northern side of the country and adjacent to the incredible Pico Bonito National Park, Pico Bonito is the crown jewel of Honduran ecotourism. The property is consistently rated among the world’s top ecolodges, and over 400 species bird species have been recorded on the grounds. The electric blue Lovely Cotinga is Pico’s signature bird, and visitors might also find Little Tinamou, Violet Sabrewing and other hummingbirds, Great Potoo, Black Hawk-Eagle, Black-headed Trogon, woodpeckers and woodcreepers, Plain Antvireo, Red-Throated Ant-Tanager, or Montezuma Oropendola. The property is also a great place for reptiles and amphibians, and ocelots make periodic appearances as well. There are plenty of non-birding activities, so it’s a fun place to bring a family or group with varied interests. You cannot go wrong at Pico Bonito. This property and the next are best accessed from San Pedro Sula.

Pico Bonito, © Pico Bonito

Pico Bonito, © Pico Bonito

 

Room at Pico Bonito © Pico Bonito

Cabin at Pico Bonito © Pico Bonito

Rio Santiago Nature Reserve

Rio Santiago is another full-service ecolodge bordering Pico Bonito National Park. The property offers similar birding to the The Lodge at Pico Bonito but is less luxurious and more affordable. The accommodations are still lovely, and the property is graced by over 300 species including Ferruginous Pygmy-OwlSlaty-tailed Trogon, Chestnut-colored Woodpecker, Olive-throated Parakeet, Black-faced Antthrush, Red-capped Manakin, and Black-cowled Oriole. Four species of motmot – Keel-billed, Lesson’s, Turquoise-browed, and Tody – are also possible. Rio Santiago has traditionally been a very good spot for photography, so it’s worth checking with them about the status of their feeding array if that’s your thing. The property is currently changing owners, so do note that moving forward.  

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl © Dorian Anderson

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl © Dorian Anderson

La Tigra National Park

Located an hour north of Tegucigalpa, La Tigra (2000m/6500ft) offers excellent high elevation birding. Wandering a series of trails through the cloud forest, birders should look for Mountain Trogon, Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrush, Rufous-collared Robin, Blue-and-white Mockingbird, Common Chlorospingus, and many others. Though rare, the unbelievable Resplendent Quetzal resides in the park, and visitors interested in seeing it are advised to hire a local guide to focus the search. There’s no dedicated lodging for La Tigra, but there’s enough civilization nearby that visitors shouldn’t have a hard time finding accommodations. It’s easy to access the park from Tegucigalpa, and La Tigra couples very with Zamorano University (below).

Resplendant Quetzal © Dorian Anderson

Resplendant Quetzal © Dorian Anderson

Zamorano University

Zamorano is 1200-student agricultural institution an hour southeast of Tegucigalpa. Situated at 800m/2600ft, the expansive campus offers excellent birding across a variety of secondary habitats. Students have constructed an Ecosendero (walking trail), that winds through woodland, riparian, and agricultural habitats, and along it my group found Common Black-Hawk, Ruddy Crake, Barred Antshrike, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, White-throated Magpie-Jay, Cabanis’s Wren, and Streaked-backed Oriole. Those with extra time should also make arrangements to visit the Uyuca Biological Reserve, a satellite research area at 1700m/5600ft. Key birds at that site include Green-breasted Mountain-Gem, Rufous-browed Wren, and Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush. My group even caught a glimpse of a Jaguarundi, and incredibly secretive forest cat that was a life mammal for everyone in the group! Zamorano and Uyuca are private property with very tight security, but access can be obtained by hiring a local guide pre-approved by the university. 

View of habitat along ecosendero at Zamorano University © Dorian Anderson

View of habitat along Ecosendero at Zamorano University © Dorian Anderson

 

Rufous-naped Wren at Zamorano © Dorian Anderson

Rufous-naped Wren at Zamorano © Dorian Anderson

Copán Mayan Ruins

Copán is located very close to the Guatemalan border and is one of the most important Mayan archeological sites in all of Central America. It was most active from 400 to 800 AD and encompassed as many as 25,000 people at its peak. Visitors can explore various temples, altars, and other structures, and there is even a museum filled with works of art excavated from the site! Over 250 species of birds have been record at Copán, and weaving through ancient structures birders might find Laughing Falcon, Lesson’s and Turquoise-Browed Motmots, Keel-billed Toucan, Gartered Trogon, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Bushy-crested Jay, Masked Tityra, Elegant Euphonia, or Chestnut-headed Oropendola. The amazing Scarlet Macaw is also present so keep your eyes open for the huge red birds making lots of noise!

Temple at Copán Ruins © James Adams

Temple at Copán Ruins © James Adams

 

Mayan stonework at Copán Ruins © James Adams

Mayan stonework at Copán Ruins © James Adams

Celaque National Park

If you’re into hiking, then Celaque is your place! Miles of trails – many quite steep and challenging – allow fit individuals to explore a variety of elevational habitats including pine forest and cloud forest. The most ambitious can aim for the summit of Cerro Las Minas (2870m/9416ft), the highest peak in Honduras! Birding at Celaque is more about quality than quantity, and with proper patience visitors might be able to find Ocellated Quail, White-faced Quail-Dove, Garnet-throated Hummingbird, Wine-throated Hummingbird, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Azure-Hooded Jay, Unicolored Jay, Spotted and Ruddy-capped Nightingale-Thrushes, and others. Those who hike all the way up to the cloud forest will have a shot at Resplendent Quetzal, but it’s a really hard hike!

Author on steep trail in Celaque @ Dorian Anderson

Author on steep trail at Celaque National Park © Dorian Anderson

The nearby town of Gracias has a variety of lodging and is sufficiently fun and funky to keep non-birding spouses, children, or friends occupied for a few hours. The town and the areas north of it are good places to find the Honduran Emerald, Honduras’s only endemic bird. Hardcore listers will want to make sure to find that most uniquely Honduran species!

Reserva Natural Privada El Consejero

This is an easy and totally worthwhile in-transit stop for anyone venturing to Celaque. Located in Yamaranguila just west of La Esperanza, El Consejero is a private residence with a fantastic hummingbird feeder array in the front yard. Dozens of Azure-crowned and White-eared Hummingbirds are normally present, and occasional Rivoli’s and Berylline Hummingbirds cycle through as well. This place makes for a nice driving break. There is an entrance fee ~$5 US per person. It’s 100% worth it!

White-eared Hummingbird at El Consejero © Dorian Anderson

White-eared Hummingbird at El Consejero © Dorian Anderson

 

Azure-crowned Hummingbird at El Consejero © Dorian Anderson

Azure-crowned Hummingbird at El Consejero © Dorian Anderson

Summary

Honduras really has a lot going on, and a tour of these hotspots will give visitors a wonderful sample of it. Most main roads are in decent shape and navigation to these sites is straightforward. Those with Central American travel experience shouldn’t have difficulty renting a car and exploring the country on their own. Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula can have crime problems, but I found the rural areas very safe and welcoming. It’s the same as most countries; avoid the big cities and get out into the birding areas as fast as possible! With this post and my previous article as a guide, you have nothing stopping you!

For additional Honduras information, please see this blog entry and this blog entry on the author’s personal blog, The Speckled Hatchback.  

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