Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve
Flora and fauna
From before christmas until June is the dry season. Less mosquitoes and hotter.
Boat services depart with great infrequency from La Ceiba and Trujillo. These are cargo barges that makes stops along the coast to sell mechandise to local stores. Ask at the docs.
By land from La Ceiba
First off you have to get on a chickenbuss bound for Tocoa that leaves early in the morning from the busstation in La Ceiba. In Tocoa there are pickups leaving every morning around 9. They gather across the streat from the marketplace by the busstation. All of them till try to sell you a ride in their own pickup, but dont let anyone grab you bag untill you have negotiated a fair price. Prices for the 5-6hour very bumpy pickupride vary between 300 and 500 lempiras, depending on negotiating skills, luck and if you get to ride inside the car or up back with the merchandice (it will be loaded bad). Car robberies are common on this route, make sure to hide creditcards and camera memorysticks as well as your passport in case of bad luck.
The pickuptrucks stop in Batalla, which is just across a narrow strait of water from Palacios. From here you can get a "collectivo"-boat to take you where you would want to go. Dont pay anymore than 200 lempiras to get to Belen or Raista.
To Las Marias
"Collectivo" Once you are in the Belen-area you can ask around for the next boat heading to Las Marias. With bad luck you might have to wait up to 4 days, but usually there leaves a motorized canoe at least 3 or 4 times a week. The one way "collectivo"-price here should be no more than 800 max, 500 is the common price. It is a bit more expensive to go upriver than down. Making the reverse jurney should cost between 300 and 500 lempiras. Use your negotiating skills without beeing too rude. It is only fair they charge outsiders a bit more than locals that pay even less than the prices stated here.
"Expresso" If you are short on time and have the money to spend, it might be worth considering hiring you private boat. This will cost between 3000 and 4500 lempiras, is a roundfare, and usually includes the 2 or 3 overnight stays that the driver has to do in Las Marias. Most boats can take 4 people.
Regular takeoffs from La Ceiba, in small aircraft. Palacios near the park has a small airstrip. From there you can enter the park by boat or on foot. The airstrip in Las Marias is too short to be used for anything else than emergencies. Both Belen and Puerto Lempira also have airstrips.
There is no park entrancefee. In Las Marias the head guide asks for a voluntary donation.
Inside the reserve there are no roads and all transport is done by boat. The local boats are called "Pipante" and are hollow treetrunks sometimes motorized by outboard engines. They are a more pricy form of trasport than the inboard engine alternative called "tuck-tuck". For some travels you dont even need a motor.
Quad wheelers and motorcycles traficate the beaches.
It is also possible to fly.
Petroglyphs can be seen in the upper reaches of the Río Plátano. Archeologists suspect a hidden town somewhere around this place in the jungle.
The Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is the home of unique wild life such as toucans, monkeys, parrots, rare butterflies, and sea turtles. Terrain includes jungle, forest, and beach land. Some communities even offer tours of archeological sites! Travelers also get to see how indigenous residents live their every day lives.
There is so much to do in the Biosphere Reserve! Tours through the indigenous communities of the La Ruta Moskitia Ecotourism Alliance allow travelers to view beautiful natural environments. Travelers have the opportunity to engage in authentic cultural exchanges with the indigenous communities of Belen, Raista, Brus Laguna, Yamari Savannah Cabanas, Plaplaya, Batalla, Les Marias. These cultural activities include storytelling, dancing, drumming, singing, and craft making. Travelers can also kayak, swim, hike, and canoe to explore the land and waters of the biosphere.
Trips departing from Las Marias for the independant traveler
As an independant traveler one will be sought out be the "sacaguias", the head guide upon arriving in Las Marias. He charges a one time organizing fee of 100 lempiras. They have a rotating guide system so that everyone in the village can take their turn at making a days living as a guide, usually they will want to send 3 guides for most overnight adventures. The prices here are fixed and there is no use negotiating or trying to be accompanied by less guides. Try not to circumvent the head guide, as that is the way the whole community has decided to organize things and trying to arrange other deals would create conflict withing the community.
Also ask for Agua Muerta or Sendero Lomriz.
All prices exclude your own accomodation and food, usually about 200 lempiras per day.
Those who come here in search for the archaeological secrets beyond the petroglyphs will have to arrange a special deal, that probably will come at a pretty hefty price. The head guide does not offer any tours to the fabled "White City". Stories of it include well preserved bright white stone buildings, of unknown origin far up the river Platano. One has to remember though that this site has not been excavated or barely even noted by archaeologists, making it a very susceptible to unscrupulous souvenir hunters and ignorant tourists. Don't touch anything, and make sure that the guide taking you also respects the great importance and cultural value of the place. One of the few people in town who knows of its position is Don Luis at the Los Angeles hospedaje, although he himself never has been there.
Gold prices in Las Marias averge 200 lempiras per gram of rivergold. That is about half the normal price fetched in cities. Be aware however that the supply is steady but a bit slow - and dont expect to be able to buy great quantities at once. One riverminer fetches on average 1 gram on 2-3 days of good work.
In the Great Pine Savannah, home to the Yamari Savannah Cabanas and the Bus Laguna, travelers enjoy fresh seafood dinners. Other areas allow tourists to watch how their meals are being made such as the Batalla community where traditional ‘casaba’ bread is made.
In a lot of these communities one should expect a staple diet of yucca, rice, beans and platones with very little variation. It might be a good idea to bring some spicy sauce from the city.
Travelers can access alcoholic drinks in most communities. One should however be a bit self consious about how much one drinks and where and when. Alkoholism here is by far the major social problem, and locals have a tendency to mimic the behavour of visitors. In the village of Las Marias drinking doesnt, as of yet, pose as big a problem as along the costal comunities. Lets try to keep it that way. Think twice before consuming alcohol, and if you do - try to set a responsible example.
In the small town of Las Marias it is possible to stay with the indigenous people.
Most of the host communities are part of the La Ruta Moskitia Ecotourism Alliance, which provides lodging for travelers. Lodging is typically in the form of small cabanas with comfortable single beds or larger ecolodges. Showers and flush toilets are available at all locations.
In Las Marias it is hard work to try to convince the head guide that one would rather camp out during excursions. Permanent lodges are placed along the standard hiking routes. It might be arranged to live in a tent las marias, but the hospedajes there are cheap anyway. And it is important that the local community feels that is gains economically from tourism.
You will find stiff resistance to attempts of going at it alone. In Las Marias they dont want tourists venturing into the djungle without a guide.
It is good to respect that not even local women feel secure walking alone at night in the costal communities.
Malaria happens frequently. The scare of dangerous wildlife is just something tour companies pull in order to make sure no one ventures alone. There was no serpent antidote in Las Marias in Apr `09 because of a broken solar fridge. The locals say that they have herbal remedies that work just as good.
Crime wise Las Marias is as safe as your own back yard. The small village social control makes it nearly impossible for robbers or thieves. But of course, kids can be tempted so leave your doors locked when you are not there.
The desolate route Tocoa - Batalla, is robbed with frequency. Hide your most dire possessions well, but otherwise work with the robbers and you will be ok.
One good way to avoid unfortunate situations is to not stir up temptation from potential thieves. Put away unnecessary wrist watches and jewlery, and be very discrete with your camera and technical gadgets. This also helps to preserve local culture as the great interest in these valuables, combined with the belief that a life in the city is sure to provide heaps of money, leads to an unfortunate urbanization which in turn results in all the social problems of life in the shantytowns around the cities.
From Raista/Belen there is a 3 AM colectivo pipante that arrives just in time for the days only pickup departure from Batalla.