Case Report: Parallel Session on Nature Conservation/Greenery

The Potential for Eco Tourism and Conservation in La Ceiba, Honduras

by Margarita Dip, Mayor of La Ceiba, Atlantida, Honduras

La Ceiba is a city surrounded by an incredible potential in the development of eco-tourism. It is a city (population }200,000) in the Caribbean side of Honduras at the foot of one of the most spectacular mountains in Central America. The dramatic rise of this mountain chain ("Sierra Nombre de Dios") forms a series of stratified eco-systems consisting of tropical hardwood forests and mangrove estuaries at sea level all the way up to tropical rain forests and cloud forests reaching at altitude of 8,989 feet. In front of La Ceiba are the bay islands, which form part of the second largest barrier reef in the world and a marine eco-system that is attracting worldwide attention to La Ceiba. The Smithsonian Institute has recently set up a marine reserve experimental station on one of the nearest coral reef formations east of La Ceiba ("Parque Marino Cayos Cochinos").


La Ceiba is faced with the challenge of either becoming the eco tourism capital of Honduras, if we take timely and appropriate measures, or becoming a city that ruined its economic future by not generating a sustainable approach in the development of its agribusiness industry and ecotourism.

In 1994 the municipality took the unprecedented step in establishing an office of environmental affairs to respond to a myriad of cumulative environmental problems and future ones due to the rapid growth of agri-business and the city itself with the subsequent degradation of its surrounding watersheds and natural in habitats. The lack of education and environmental awareness coupled with a third world reality, where every day basic necessities take priority over environmental issues, have forced its concerned citizens to form one of the most active groups of environmental NGO's in the country. Since 1987 the NGO's of the municipality have successfully lobbied the government of Honduras to declare the Nombre de Dios Mountains as Pico Bonito National Park with an area of over 57 km2. In addition, a wildlife reserve, Refugio Cuero Y Salado has also been set up to protect 12 km2 of lowland tropical forests and mangroves promoting the growth of eco-tourism.


  1. Since 1992 the municipality has worked with the Educational Center for Agronomic and Tropical Research (CATIE) to ensure that the watersheds which provide water for agribusiness and also constitute the hydrological and biological corridor for ecotourism are protected for the future of both economic endeavors.
  2. It has also hired 30 park rangers who are being trained by a Canadian Broadleaf Development Project to support the protection of the watersheds and respective forested areas.
  3. A joint effort with NGO's and the UNDP has resulted in a management plan which will regulate the extraction of building materials from the rivers (gravel, sand) to ensure an ample supply for the building industry without ruining the rivers which are also an attraction for tourists and sportsmen.
  4. The municipality has also initiated negotiations and directives to curb agro-industrial pollution of its waterways by beginning to enforce the newly enacted national environmental laws of 1993.
  5. In a combined effort with USAID, a water treatment plant and its corresponding infrastructure will be ready to operate by mid 1997.
  6. The trash disposal problem of La Ceiba is being improved to present its burning and the subsequent air pollution by changing the concept from that of a crematorium to that of a landfill. The old site is being monitored to prevent burning of trash and a new site has been selected which fits necessary criteria. Funding from an international source will be required. The municipality of La Ceiba is a perfect example of a city at the crossroads of recognizing that its ecology and economy are closely related and interdependent. The same rivers that provide irrigation for agro-industry must also be shared with its new and promising eco-tourism industry. The pollution of one industry may ruin the future of another unless long range sustainable decisions continue to be taken by the municipality.
A wildlife refuge Cuero Y Salado which is situated 33 km from the town La Ceiba is actively supported by our municipality and is located on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. The area (13,250 hectares) is made up of a system of narrow canals and inlets formed by the rivers Cuero Salado and San Juan. In 1986 the area was declared a national wildlife refuge because of critical saltwater and freshwater wetlands it contains its manatee monkeys and over 200 bird species. It is managed by the NGO foundation Cuero Y Salado (FUCSA).

Approximately 84 families live within the limits of the refuge, and these earn their living mainly from agriculture, fishing and the harvesting of coconuts. Their diet depends largely on products derived from the wetlands e.g. fish, crabs, shrimps, wild fruits, and wild animals. Their houses with thatched roofs are constructed with the wood founded there "VARILLO"

It already employs over 21 persons and has a program in place to increase the number of boats and canoes in early 1997. The foundation will hire 4 new guides and 4 more park rangers in 1997.

About 35 species of mammals are protected in the refuge. With funding from IUCN, biologists from the National Autonomous University of Honduras are carrying out a study of the manatee population, preliminary date shows that their numbers have increased considerably since the species has been protected from hunting within the refuge.

The refuge is very rich in avifauna. Of the total number of bird species found in Honduras, 28% or 198 species exist in the refuge. Additionally migratory birds from the neartic region find shelter in this area.

Fifteen river basins which have their sources in the Nombre de Dios mountain range directly influence the refuge, particularly those rivers of the Pico Bonito National Park. The conservation of these river basins is subjected to several adverse factors, namely deforestation, pollution, sedimentation, and rapid soil erosion resulting from cattle raising and agriculture.

The Cuero Y Salado Foundation, with funding from the United Nations Program for Development (UNDP), USAID and the Honduras Institute for Tourism (IHT), is undertaking a pilot program that is innovative in its kind at a national level. It is hoped that it will serve as a model for the development of eco tourism in other protected areas in the country. The program has set up biological, ecological, socioeconomic and market studies to develop eco tourism and keep abreast of the needs of the human population at the refuge. A few statistics about the tourist influx to give you an idea of its potential.

In 1994 we had 1500 visitors.

In 1996 we had a 100% increase to about 3000 persons.

The city of La Ceiba also supports the efforts of another environmental NGO which protects the largest national park in Honduras situated practically near the city limits. (Fupnapib-Fundacion Parque Nacional Pico Bonito) there is an incredible potential for eco-tourism development and we are starting to see more eco-tourists. There will be several mountain lodges ready to accommodate visitors as we project for this year over 7500 visitors to the par in 1997.

The following is a brief prescription of the park.

Pico Bonito which means pretty peak in English is a unique, largely uninhabited and unspoiled virgin rainforest wilderness of the north coast of Honduras. This park is named after one of the highest and steepest peaks in Honduras (Pico Bonito), and is the largest national park in the country, with an unexplored core area (nuclear zone) of 50 km2. The park is located south-southwest of the coastal city of La Ceiba and is easily accessible.


Mountains of virgin tropical rainforest rise steeply from the Caribbean coast (at 100 meters above sea level). The wide range of elevation, the tremendous size of the park, and the large area of intact, old-growth forest are the factors primarily responsible for the incredible diversity of wildlife and habitats that you can find here. The lowland tropical rainforest in the north changes to "cloud forest" at higher elevations, and supports many endangered species of wildlife including jaguars, ocelots, margays, harpy eagles, spider monkeys,harpy eagles, iguanas, quetzals and howler monkeys.

Out municipality also supports 3 institutes that train young men and women to be eco-tourism guides and hotel staff to attend the increasing number of tourists which visit the area.

We feel that the most important economic activity in the future of La Ceiba is eco-tourism. It will generate employment and decent wages to a needy population, generate hard currency and motivate our citizens to protect our natural resources. The only way our population will protect its natural resources is if this same protection generates an income to cover their basic and immediate needs. Protected areas are becoming a haven for the foreign eco-tourist. When a Honduran "Campesino" sees that he can generate more long term income by charging a Japanese tourist to see a tropical tree that is home to parrots and toucans instead of cutting it for firewood we will have a better future. Our people will realize that our forests have more value as a protected area because tourists create jobs for their local inhabitants to be able to see their pristine beauty.

This will assure our country healthy watersheds which will provide an assured supply of potable water for our people, water to irrigate our fields of basic grains, water for hydroelectric power and biological corridors which will be a magnet to the eco-tourist and a source of natural substances which one day may constitute the chemical basis for important pharmaceuticals that will benefit all mankind.

In essence, our natural resources and beauty has vast potential. We are a city with a unique setting near the best scuba diving in the world. We have world class white water rivers (minutes from La Ceiba) for both: rafting and kayaking, five different companies have started operations and now we have become an internationally known destination for the sport.

Where in the world can you find a city with so much exotic diversity so nearby!

You are all invited to visit our city, its Caribbean coast and its tall impossibly green mountains.

You will enjoy our hospitality and beautiful tropical surroundings.

Thank you.

Fujisawa/Saarbrücken/Bangkok/Gulu Municipalities/Luisville and Jefferson County/Ratnapura/Jerusalem/Portland/La Ceiba/Shenyang