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Celaque National Park

Just 7.5 kilometres from the historical town of Gracias is Celaque National Park. In 1537, Gracias and the surrounding mountains were the setting for the last battle lead by the Maya leader Lempira. In honour to this famous indigenous leader who resisted the Spaniards for such a long time, the Honduras currency has been named after him. Seven years after his fall, in 1544 the Spaniards proclaimed the town of Gracias as headquarters for the garrison of Guatemala.

The Celaque National Park was declared in 1987 by the law # 87-87, The park covers 267 square kms, with 159 square kms being in the core zone. Celaque means Box of Water in the local Lenca language. The Park is the starting point of many small streams that provide the surrounding area with clean water year round. The park ranges from 1,000 mts to 2,849 mts above sea level. It is home to the highest peak in Honduras. The park also hosts one of the largest and best preserved cloud-forest areas in Honduras.

Celaque is home to varies eco-systems because of its range of elevations. Below 1,500 m, the park consists mainly of pine-oak forests. Celaque contains six of the seven pine species found in Honduras and eight oak species. Above 1,500 m the forest changes to a mixture of cloud-forest and pine forest. Which includes such tree species as Liquidambar (Styraciflua), Mountain Zapotillo (Clethra macrophylla) and Aquacatillo (Nectandra gentlei)

Between 1,800 m and 2,000 m the real cloud-forest begins. Cloud-forests are mountainous broad-leaf forests found from 1,500 meters to 2,500 mts above sea level, depending on the local topography. The clouds are the product of the high altitude and the resulting cooler temperatures of the mountains, this builds a natural barrier for the hot and humid Caribbean air that is forced to climb the mountains. The air cools down and condenses. The result is clouds, fog and drizzle.

The vegetation has got adapted to these climatic and geographic conditions, for instance epiphytes. Epiphytes are able to take water and sometimes even nutrients from the air. Bromeliaeds (a typical family of the neotropics) and Orchids (the largest plant family in the world) are examples for typical epiphytes. They should not be confused with parasitic plants. Epiphytes are not taking any nutrients or water from their host plants as parasites (for example the mistletoe) do; they are just using them as a seat. Lichens and mosses complete the coverage of trunks and branches; it seems like there is no space in the cloud-forest without plants.

As mentioned Celaque is a source of water for the communities in the surrounding area. Cloud forests are water reservoirs. The vegetation collects the water from the air. When saturated, the water drips from trunks or leaf tips to the ground. The ground is spongy, protected by the vegetation from soil erosion, and is collected in lower and rocky parts of the ground. This natural water reservoir guarantees a constant water supply to the surrounding communities even in the dry season.

Above 2,500 mts planes of Elfin Forest can be found, a rare form of cloud-forest. The vegetation has adapted to the poor soils and the strong winds crossing the plane. Trees with some 100 years of age, that are normally found up to 40 mts tall in the lower parts of the area, here only reach 3 to 5 meters. The trees are covered under a thick layer of mosses and lichens.

Many animals make their home in Celaque, Jaguars, Ocelots, Coatis, Raccoons, Agoutis, Peccaries, Tapirs, and Armadillos just to name a few. Many bird species also inhabit the park. These include several species of warbler, woodpeckers, vireos, the American swallow-tailed kite, white-fronted parrot, green parakeet, red crossbill, bushy-crested jay, and brown creeper. The cloud-forest of Celaque is home to many endemic species the best known ones being quetzals, collared trogons and emerald toucans. It is nearly impossible to list all the species in Celaque because of its range of elevation the park is home to thousands of different flora and fauna species.
The visitors centre and park entrance is found on a spring of the Arcagual River. The visitors centre was created using two old houses of a small hydro-electric power plant that once was in operation. The centre is at an altitude of 1,400 mts above sea level. The visitor centre provides all basic facilities: cold shower, toilet and drinking water (not disinfected so purified water is recommended). Beds are limited, but its possible to bring tents and camp.

There are 2 main trails, one leads visitors to a waterfall; a 4 to 5 hour return walk, the second trail leads to the highest point of 2849 metres a hard 7 to 8 hour hike one way. There are two more camps along this path, the first is called Don Tomas at 2,050 mts which consists of an out house and a basic shack with 2 beds, the facilities here a very basic it is best to have your own camping gear. The second camp El Naranjo is located at 2,560 mts, and is just a few flat pieces of ground for tents and a fire pit. Local guides can be hired, which is a good idea as they are knowledgeable of the parks flora and fauna.

For tours check out our private tours.