Around Gracias

Balneario Aguas Termales

Some 6 km from Gracias along the road to Esperanza (side road signposted), are hot, communal thermal pools in the forest for swimming (one hour by a path, 1½ hours by road).

Parque Nacional Celaque

It takes at least a day to climb from Gracias to the summit of
Monte Celaque
(2849 m, the highest point in Honduras). Most people allow two days to enjoy the trip. The trail begins from behind the visitor centre of the Parque Nacional Celaque (1400 m), which is 8 km from Gracias, two hours' walk. There are several intersections, best to ask at each. You can also enjoy a day walk to
Mirador La Cascada
, about three hours from the visitor centre, 1½ hours downhill going back. At the centre there are seven beds, shower and cooking facilities, drinks available, well maintained. There is another cabin nearby with 10 beds. Take a torch and sleeping bag. Behind the centre is a trail going down to the river where a crystal-clear pool and waterfall make for wonderful bathing.

There is a trail all the way to the summit (trees are marked with ribbons) which takes at least six hours: the first three are
easy to a campsite at 2000 m (Campamento Don Tomás) where there is small hut, the rest of the way is steep. A better campsite if you can make it is Campamento Naranjo, with water, at about 2500 m - but you'll need a tent.
Between these two sites, the climb is particularly steep and in cloud forest. Look out for spider monkeys. Above 2600 m quetzals have been seen. Many hikers don't bother with the summit as it is forested and enclosed; it's four hours down to the visitor centre. Don't forget good hiking boots, warm clothing, insect repellent and, given the dense forest and possibility of heavy cloud, a compass is also recommended for safety. Also, beware of snakes. There is a trail westward from the summit to Belén Gualcho which is steep towards Belén. It takes a couple of days, a guide might be a good idea.

Visiting the other peaks around Gracias is more complicated but interesting. Information, maps that you can photocopy, camping gear and guided tours can be found at the Lenca Cultural Centre.

Gracias to Erandique

After Gracias, the road runs 52 km to
San Juan del Caite
(a few
hospedajes
, Lempira, Sánchez, and the comfortable Hacienda, two restaurants nearby, helpful people and Peace Corps workers). From here a dirt road runs 26 km south to the small town of Erandique. Founded in 1560 and set high in pine-clad mountains not far from the border with El Salvador, it is a friendly town, and very beautiful. Lempira was born nearby, and was killed a few kilometres away. The third weekend in January is the local
Fiesta de San Sebastián
. Best time to visit is at the weekend. Market days are Friday and Sunday. Each of the three
barrios
has a nice colonial church. Ask around as there are lakes, rivers, waterfalls, springs and bathing ponds in the vicinity. Nearby is
San Antonio
where fine opals (not cut gems, but stones encased in rock) are mined and may be purchased. The many hamlets in the surrounding mountains are reached by roads that have been either resurfaced or rebuilt and the landscapes are magnificent.

There are several roads radiating from Erandique, including one to
Mapulaca
and the border with El Salvador (no immigration or customs or bridge here, at the Río Lempa), a road to San Andrés and another to Piraera (all passable in a car).

La Esperanza

Beyond San Juan del Caite the main, but still rough and stony, road winds through beautiful mountain pine forests to La Esperanza. It is 43 km from San Juan del Caite and another 98 km on a good road to Siguatepeque. Capital of Intibucá Department, La Esperanza is an old colonial town in a pleasant valley. It has an attractive church in front of the park. There is a grotto carved out of the mountainside west of the town centre, a site of religious festivals. There is a market on Thursdays and Sundays when the Lenca from nearby villages sell wares and food but no handicrafts. Nearby is the indigenous village of
Yaramanguila
. It's an excellent area for walking in forested hills, with lakes and waterfalls, although very cold December/January. You can hike to
Cerro de Ojos
, a hill to the north-west and visible from La Esperanza. It is forested with a clearing on top littered with many cylindrical holes; no one knows how they were formed, and they are a strange phenomenon.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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