Cerro Las Minas (2870m) is the highest mountain in Honduras. We expected a remote jungle experience, but it was more like a long walk in the park.
From Copan Ruinas to Gracias
Getting from the Copan Ruins to the small town of Gracias at the foot of Cerro Las Minas, however, was more adventurous than we expected. We started the journey in a collectivo bound for La Entrada. The old van was filled to the rim with luggage and local people, worse than a sardine can. Most people went off in nearby Santa Rita, which meant a long break there in order for the van to fill up again. In Santa Rita I also noticed some of the local guys walking around with guns in their pocket or belt. If Honduras was going to be a wild-west like this, it surely wouldn't be safe to spend a lot of time here. The van eventually arrived La Entrada after a couple of hours. This town seemed a bit more civilized than the previous one. At least I didn't see any guns or cowboys around. We had lunch in one of the local eateries. Tommaso also tried to find a place to repair his camera, but that was of course a waste of time.
From La Entrada we continued by a chicken bus to Santa Rosa de Copan, a journey of one hour. Then we easily transferred to another chicken bus heading for Gracias. It took another 1.5 hour before we arrived Gracias. The crazy man behind the wheel was driving slalom between the potholes in the road. The steep uphills and downhills in this overloaded bus, didn't exactly improve our confidence that we were going to arrive alive. I was most worried about the brakes, because I smelled a lot of friction.
A good place to stay in Gracias
Arriving the bus terminal in Gracias we had no idea in which direction to walk, so we decided to get a tricycle. He brought us to Hotel Guancascos, which is a lovely place run by a Dutch lady. She's been residing in Honduras for 25 years, a testimony that it's possible to grow old in Honduras as well, despite of the worst crime rates in the world. There are safe heavens in Honduras as well, and Gracias seems to be one of them. Our room in Hotel Guancascos was perfect, we even had a terrace outside where we could rest in a hammock. The only issue was the lack of aircon in the room. We usually suffered until midnight when the temperature outside dropped enough to give us some quality sleep. Hotel Guancascos also has a roof top restaurant with excellent food.
I had already received quite a lot information about Cerro Las Minas from my German friend Olli. We also asked the Dutch lady if it is easy to find the trail and she said we would be fine without a guide. There are a few horror stories about people who have disappeared in this jungle, including a guy from Holland. Bringing a local guide would of course be safe and convenient, but it would also cost more money (700 Lempira for one day, or 1000 for a two days itinerary). We eventually decided to do it by ourselves. We also figured out we would be fast/strong enough do it in one long day, rather than the normal two days schedule. We got the Dutch lady to book a tricycle for us the next morning (200 Lempiras each way).
Cerro Las Minas in one long day
Next morning the tricycle arrived at 5:00 as agreed. It was a bumpy 30 minutes drive up to the last village, where the continuing road was not doable by tricycle. From here we had to walk almost 2 km to the visitor center. We saw no one at the visitor center, probably because we arrived too early. Anyway we could pay the entrance fee when coming back. From the visitor center we continued straight ahead on a trail and crossed the river shortly after. The trail is well marked and we didn't experience any problems. I had also downloaded a gps-track (from my German friend Olli) to my Samsung S3 phone in case we were in doubt. Most of the time I had my phone shut off, so I would conserve battery. This way I felt safe to have enough juice in my phone to make a desperate backtrack on Olli's route in case we were in serious trouble. The trail was much better than expected, and we never had any worries at all getting lost in the jungle.
It's a long way to the summit (10 km) and a lot of uphills (2000 m). We passed a couple of camp sites where had short breaks. There is a crucial fork just a few minutes below the summit, but that fork is very well marked. We reached the summit in 4 hours, thanks to a very fast pace. We had a long break on the summit (1 hour), not because of the views, but rather to make sure we didn't arrive too early back for the tricycle.
The descent was uneventful. Back at the visitor center we paid the 50 Lempiras entrance fee to the guardian. He was surprised that we had been to the summit in such a short time. Usually people take two days for this hike. We continued down to the upper village where the tricycle was waiting for us. Back in Hotel Guancascos we got the usual Plato Vegetariono. The hammock was a really good place to stay after such a long walk.
Next day was rest day, because we had spent one day less than planned on Cerro Las Minas. While Tommaso visited the nearby hot springs, I stayed around the hotel to work on my computer.
We have no plans to visit any other places in Honduras, so now we will head straight to El Salvador to climb the highest peak there.
(100 Honduran Lempira equals 5.17 US Dollar as of Apr-2013)