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Cusuco National Park

Located in the Merendon Mountains south west of the industrial city of San Pedro Sula, Cusuco National Park covers an area of 222 km². Shortly after the Second World War, a US lumber company exploited big parts of the lower Cusuco region. Today, the forest has recovered and the national park, declared in 1987, presents an interesting mixture of primary and secondary forest. From March until May, one of the typical early morning sounds of Cusuco National Park is the call of the Quetzal, the mystic and holy bird of the Aztecs and Mayas. Other common birds are the Green Toucan or the small Hilguero. The park has a good maintained trail system. Four trails start from the visitors’ centre and offer walks ranging from one to three kilometres.


Location

Located in the Merendon Mountains, just 45 km south west of the industrial city of San Pedro Sula, but remarkably difficult to access, is Cusuco National Park. Due to its proximity to San Pedro Sula and for the great wealth of bird life in the cloud, pine, and subtropical forests Cusuco is a popular park for both Hondurans and foreigners. The park forms part of the watershed for the Río Motagua, on the north and west sides, and for the Río Chamelecón, on the south and east.


 

Size and Foundation

Cusuco was declared as a National Park in 1987 by the Honduran parliament. It covers an area of 234 km². The untouchable core zone protects the highest and most endangered ecosystems, which are found from 1,800 m to 2,242 m above sea level. Shortly after the Second World War, a US lumber company exploited big parts of the lower Cusuco region. The main access road to Cusuco was build during this time. In 1959, the lumber activities stopped, and the whole area was declared as a forest reserve conserving the last remaining primary forests in the upper areas. Actually, the forest has recovered. The whole area presents an interesting mixture of primary and secondary forest. The National Park got his name from a typical Armadillo that is found in Central America, which is locally called Cusuco. The inhabitants of the region gave the area that name because some of the lumber companies trucks with their rain protection cover, looked similar to a Cusuco.


 

Natural environment and Importance

On the lower parts of the mountains of Cusuco the vegetation consist of conifers (pine forests) and tropical forest. Huge tree ferns - some of up to 20 meters, the highest found in all of Central America - are typical for Cusuco and give the impressions one is is a Jurassic park world. Around 1,500 m the cloud forest begins. Cloud forests are mountainous broad leaf forests found from 1,500 m to 2,500 m above sea level, depending on the local topography. The clouds are the product of the high altitude and the resulting cooler temperatures of the mountains. This builds a natural barrier for the hot and humid Caribbean air that is forced to climb the mountains. It cools down and condenses. The result is clouds, constant fog and drizzle.

The vegetation has got adapted to these climatic and geographic conditions, for instance epiphytes. Epiphytes are able to take water and sometimes even nutrients from the air. Bromeliaeds (a typical family of the neotropics) and Orchids (the largest plant family in the world ) are examples for typical epiphytes. They should not be confused with parasitic plants. Epiphytes are not taking any nutrients or water from their host plants as parasites (for example the mistletoe) do; they are just using them as a seat. Lichens and mosses complete the coverage of trunks and branches; it seems like there is no space in the cloud forest without plants.

Cusuco National Park is of outstanding importance for the surrounding communities and San Pedro Sula. Water is the reason. Cloud forests are water reservoirs. The vegetation collects the water from the air. When saturated, the water drips from trunks or leaf tips to the ground. The ground is spongy, protected by the vegetation from soil erosion, and is collected in lower and rocky parts of the grounds. This water reservoir is guarantying a constant water supply even in the dry season.


 

Wildlife

During March till May, one of the typical early morning sounds of Cusuco National Park is the call of the Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno), the mystic and holy bird of the Aztecs and Mayas. Historic tales explain the bright red breast of the male Quetzal as a symbol of the eternal life of the Mayan warriors, who lost their battles against the Spaniards on the battlefield. The Quetzal came from the gods down to the warriors as they died on the battlefield, and saved their souls. The legends of the Aztecs are almost the same, saying that the red chest is the blood from their last king Montezuma, who died during the Spanish conquest. The habitat of the Resplendent Quetzal is the cloud forest of Central America.

Other typical birds found in the cloud forests of Central America are the Green Toucan (Aulacorhynchus praesinus), or the small Hilguero, which is detected by his beautiful and typical song in the morning, it has inspired poets and writers. A huge diversity of often strange and exotic insects and vertebrates are the food of the many birds of the cloud forest. Trying to survive, they evolve new and better forms to hide themselves from the view of their raptors. At the end of the food chain are the huge Pumas, Jaguars and Ocelots; they hunt for Coatis and Raccoons or Agoutis and Peccaries.


 

Activities

Cusuco has a good maintained trail system. Four trails start from the visitors centre and offer walks ranging from 1km to 3 km. The charm of Cusuco does not only come from the nature, but also because of the quit and harmonic life found in the 38 surrounding coffee towns. A visit to a coffee plantation completes the impressions that one takes home from this region.


 

Accommodation / Visiting times

There is a visitor’s centre close to the coffee town of Buenos Aires, which offers basic overnight accommodation with use of bathroom facilities. Especially during the rainy season the road can be treacherous. One stretch is almost too steep to drive with a normal car even when it’s dry. It is therefore recommended to enter the park with a 4x4 vehicle. About halfway up to the park from Buenos Aires, at the 1,800-meter mark and the edge of the core zone, is a gate that closes daily at 4 p.m. and on a few major holidays each year.

Since January 2008 we have been participating in a project to encourage development of sustainable tourism in Honduras. Specifically, we have been supporting the community of Buenos Aires in the buffer zone of the Cusuco National Park with the maintenance and the commercialization of their small Eco-Lodge. For more information visit SEEP Network.


 

Private tours