This little-known forest mountain region near the border of Nicaragua is one of the great hidden secrets of southern Honduras . Much of the 19,100-hectare Parque Nacional La Botija forest is pine, oak, and the hardwood quebracho, while seven peaks above 1,500 meters have patches of cloud forest on top. On the lower slopes descending into Nicaragua are patches of primary tropical dry forest, a rare find these days in Honduras. The highest elevation is the Jilguero peak at 1,735 meters. The mountains here give birth to the Río Coco, Central America’s longest river.
The forests of La Botija are excellent for spotting birds of all kinds, blue morpho butterflies, white-tail deer and white-faced monkeys (the latter most easily spotted February–March when they collect ojoche, the highly nutritious maya nut. The occasional puma is even spotted (or makes itself known by raiding a farm), although your guide will be none too thrilled help you to meet up with one in the forest. Several waterfalls are found in the sierra, including La Cascada de la Mina, near an old mine shaft, and La Loma del Salto. Another popular destination is Las Tres Pilas, three natural baths.
A Peace Corps volunteer, working with a group of locals, built an interpretive trail up to one of the forest-covered peaks, Cerro de Águila, but the markings have since disappeared. Plenty of less well-trod trails crisscross the forest, and having a guide is a good idea.
Doña Marta Garomar, of the Típicos Garomar restaurant in San Marcos, can provide information on the sights both in La Botija and elsewhere around San Marcos, and can organize a variety of half-day excursions into the park, either walking with guides (US$2.50) or on horseback (US$7.75). It’s ideal to notify her a few days in advance, to set up horses and guides, but something can usually be arranged by the following day. The best way to reach her is by calling the restaurant, at 504/788-3466.
Alternatively, you can contact Dr. Ángel Enrique Sándoval Lopez at his restaurant La Esquisita (tel. 504/788-3505), who can provide the same kind of information and contacts as Doña Garomar. In fact, both use the guide Javier Terceros in the village of Duyusupo, 11 kilometers from San Marcos, at the foot of the reserve. Javier is enthusiastic about preserving the beauty of the setting around him, and about using tourism as a way to both enjoy and protect the reserve. If you are interested in spending more time out in the reserve, you can rent a two-bedroom cabin on his property for US$26 a night, or even pitch a tent on his property (you’d have to bring your own equipment). Javier’s friendly wife will make breakfast for US$2 or lunch for US$3. If you speak Spanish, you can call Javier directly at 504/754-5691.
To get to Duyusupo, there are two buses a day, leaving San Marcos at 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., taking 45 minutes. The buses return to town at 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. If you have your own wheels, head up the hill past the church and take a left after Hotel Shalom. From there follow the paved road as it curves around to the right and becomes dirt. The 11-kilometer road is well-maintained and takes about half an hour by car.