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Introducing Parque Nacional La Tigra

Parque Nacional La Tigra (adult/child US$10/5; 8am-5pm Tue-Sun, no entry after 2pm) covers 238 sq km of rugged forest a short distance northeast of the capital. The park includes cloud forest and dry pine forest, numerous rivers and waterfalls, and a large and varied (but exceedingly shy) population of mammals, including pumas, peccaries, armadillos and agoutis (a rabbit-sized rodent). Somewhat easier to spy are the park’s numerous birds – 350 species in all – making La Tigra the country’s best bird-watching spot after Lago de Yojoa. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a quetzal, which has a distinctive aqua color and long tail feathers. Impossible to miss is the park’s exuberant flora: lush trees, vines, lichens, large ferns, colorful mushrooms, bromeliads and a million orchids (so it seems).

For all its natural beauty, La Tigra bears many scars too: for more than 70 years it was the site of intense mining and logging by the American-owned Rosario Mining Company. Most of the forest along the trails is actually secondary growth. On the upside, abandoned mines and buildings – even the ruins of a US Consulate – dot the area. And although you should never enter one without a guide, they make for interesting sights, some filled with water, others being slowly reclaimed by the forest. Upwards of US$100 million in gold, silver, copper and zinc were extracted from the mountains between 1880 and 1954, mostly by thousands of exploited Hondurans. The mining company finally pulled out after the Honduran government began talk of instituting corporate taxes and miners began to lobby for better wages. The park was set aside as a forest reserve in 1952 and declared a national park – Honduras’ first – in 1980. Today, besides being a major tourist destination, the park provides fresh water for 33 communities around its periphery, and almost a third of Tegucigalpa’s water.

Ready access – the closest entrance is in Jutiapa, just 22km from Tegucigalpa – and a series of well-maintained trails of varying difficulty make La Tigra a popular destination for day-trippers. A campground, simple eco-lodges and one terrific mountain retreat (Cabaña Mirador El Rosario, opposite) near the second entrance at El Rosario make staying the night an attractive option too.

The temperature in La Tigra can fluctuate unexpectedly – wear suitable shoes and bring an extra layer of clothing. Long pants and long sleeves are good protection from mosquitoes, which are annoyingly abundant.