While exploring the Corn Islands of Nicaragua, I was asked by a fellow traveler which was the best route between Corn Island to Utila. I told him it was way too complicated to travel along the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua to Honduras. I suggested that he would have to go to Bluefields, then Managua, and on by land to Tegucigalpa. After spending a night there, he could travel from Tegucigalpa to La Ceiba. Once in La Ceiba, he could catch the ferry to Utila and make it there. This is a long, long route, and unfortunately, you miss the Moskitia, or Moskito Coast, along the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras.
This week, while in Trujillo, I was chatting to my good friend Jon Tompson at his restaurant, Café Vino Tinto. While we enjoyed the view, he talked about the Moskitia. I brought up the question about the route from Honduras to Nicaragua along the Caribbean Coast. His eyes lit up and he said he had the route all figured out. Next thing I know he gets up and comes back with a piece of paper. It has the contact numbers of different people along the route all the way from Trujillo to Leimus. This village is on the Rio Coco, AKA Rio Wanki, which is the border between Honduras and Nicaragua.
I am happy to share the content and give you the tips so that you can travel this route and discover the people and the forests of La Moskitia. Before I start, let me give you a couple of tips.
Travel Tips to La Moskitia:
The Moskitia is a remote location, and you will find limited services there. For one, you will find no ATM machines between Tocoa and Puerto Lempira. So you will need cash, lots of it! Bring local currency with you, and make sure you bring 100 lempira bills with you. Many of the local stores will not have change for 500 lempira bills.
If you are on any kind of medication, make sure you bring enough with you. You will not find drug stores in the area!
Most of your travels throughout La Moskitia between Honduras and Nicaragua will be either in the back of a pickup truck or on an open boat. If you do not have a waterproof backpack or luggage, your belongings will all get sopping wet. The best way to protect your things is to buy a large garbage plastic bag and put your luggage inside it. Keep in mind that as your bag gets handled, the plastic bag will probably break or tear. Go ahead and buy several bags, this way, you will have a replacement when you need it the most!
Do not expect to have good communication. Cellular phone service is available in the larger towns, but as a general rule, internet will be scarce. The cellular phone service will not get you much access to internet service, so do not count on it.
Since you will need a phone to contact the different persons along the route, I suggest you get a local chip for your phone. Do so before you leave on your trip. From what I know, Claro has a better signal than Tigo in the Moskitia. Make sure you have enough prepaid time on your phone to insure that you can use it. One benefit of your Claro phone chip is that it will work in Nicaragua. Claro has the best cellular phone service in Nicaragua.
Do take note that there are no immigration offices in Leimus. To get your exit stamp on your passport, you will need to go to the immigration offices in Puerto Lempira. Honduras now has a state of the art immigration system. Because of this I recommend that you make sure you check immigration before departing. This applies to you regardless of you are traveling by air, land or sea into Puerto Lempira!
The region is known in English as the Mosquito Coast, the name comes from the Miskito natives and not the mosquitoes. You will be traveling through swamps and jungles and there will be bugs to deal with. In addition to your sun block, bring some good mosquito repellent!
Finally, make sure you show up early to the departure points. Transportation is limited, and the trucks and boats fill up soon. There is a strict first come, first serve policy applied. Get there early, buy a ticket if you can, get your things on the boat or truck and be on the ball to make sure you get on!
Three Alternatives: Air, Sea & Land
Your route from Honduras to Nicaragua through La Moskitia has three distinct alternatives.
The first would be to fly from La Ceiba to Puerto Lempira. This is a flight of just over one hour. This is the fastest alternative, and will provide magnificent aerial views of the coast and the dense jungles. This option is also the most expensive. Unfortunately, it provides the least interaction with the Miskito and Garifuna people that live along the coast of the Moskitia. This to me is serious drawback, since the culture in the Moskitia is quite unique. Aero Caribe de Honduras offers regular service from La Ceiba to the Moskitia. Their routes include Puerto Lempira as well as Brus Laguna, Ahuas and Palacios.
A second alternative is to take the “Perseverancia Express” motor vessel from La Ceiba to Puerto Lempira. This cargo boat – passenger ferry boat operates once a week. Unfortunately, they do not have regular departure schedules, as the trip depends on the cargo to transport. The boat leaves from the Muelle de Cabotaje in La Ceiba. The best way to find out when they will depart is to check on facebook. Officially they leave from La Ceiba on Wednesday or Thursday, but do not count on it. Search facebook for “Perseverancia Express” you will find Eduardo Green’s posts with information on departures. Eduardo is the owner of the operation. You can also try calling Eduardo Green at telephone (504) 3176 0388.
This trip is at least a 24 hour trip, and conditions are not ideal. They do have some comfortable chairs to sit in. The cost of the trip is Lps 1,500.00 which is about $64 dollars at the current exchange rate. If you take this alternative, you will arrive at Puerto Lempira, where you will want to book a hotel and spend the night after the long trip. This alternative will allow you to interact with the different locals that use this transportation mode. The downside with this route is that you will bypass the different communities along the way.
This is by far the most adventuresome alternative. It is also the one that will give you more contact with the people of La Moskitia. The route I propose to you will take you from La Ceiba to Leimus, on the border with Nicaragua. The proposed route will take one week to travel. The total cost to you will be approximately $500 US dollars per person for the route. You could, of course, save some money by spending fewer nights enjoying a couple of locations.
Depart by bus from La Ceiba. Your first stop will be in Tocoa, about two hours away from La Ceiba on the road towards Trujillo. If you are in Trujillo, you can backtrack to Tocoa, and avoid the need to go back to La Ceiba. In Tocoa you will take a 4X4 truck that will take you to the community of Batalla. This is the furthest spot into the Moskitia that you can reach by car. The trucks departing from Tocoa to Batalla leave every hour between 7:00 a.m and 12:00 a.m.. The earlier you leave, the less sun and heat you will have. Of course, you can also spend the night in Tocoa, to insure the first departure from there to Batalla.
If you do stay in Tocoa, your best alternative is the Hotel Yadaly. This hotel is only three blocks away from the market where the trucks to Batalla depart from. The hotel has a pool and rooms have a private bath and air-conditioning. It even has a good Chinese restaurant on premises. A double room will cost you approximately $22 USA dollars. Staying there will give you the benefit of a fresh start for the journey to Batalla. The trip between Tocoa and Batalla and will take about 6 hours.
Before you set out on your adventure, make sure you buy some snacks for the route. You will also want plenty of water to take with you. Remember that you will be in the sun all day. If possible, get a good tie on hat on your head. Long sleeves and long pants will keep you from burning to a crisp under the tropical sun. A good layer of sun block for your face and hands is also a great idea! If you want to call in advance and make sure you have a place reserved on the truck, do so. The contact number is 3229 3031.
The route will take you east along the CA13 highway to the junction town of Corocito. There you will take the detour to Bonito Oriental and then turn northeast towards Limon and beyond. Limon is the largest Garifuna community in Honduras. As all other Garifuna Villages, it is right on the beach. From Limon the road leads east to Iriona. The first part of the journey will take you through extensive African Palm plantations. This crop was introduced by the old Banana Companies over a century ago.
From Iriona on you will be driving on the beach. This is where the adventure really begins. The truck gets stuck in the beach… You reach a river you need to cross and it is too deep… Now you need to negotiate a “panga” or raft to cross the vehicle to the other side of the river…
Six hours after leaving Tocoa you will be arriving at Batalla. This is as far as your truck ride will go. After collecting your belongings, it is time to get on a boat and go across the estuary to Palacios. I recommend that you skip Palacios and go on to Raista. This is a nearby village that has a nice lodge where you can stay and recover from your recent adventure.
The Lodge in Raista should cost you under $15 US per person. I suggest you stay three nights in Raista. You can choose between a “colectivo” or shared boat and an express service. The difference is the price, with the first being much less expensive than the second! If possible, always choose a colectivo, unless you are in a hurry and want to get there as soon as possible and don’t mind paying the extra buck.
After your day of adventure driving on the beach, you will want to relax a day or two. Discover Raista and the Miskito and Garifuna cultures. Remember that you are in a remote location you will probably never be back to. It is one of the last great wilderness areas left in the World. Many local communities speak English, so you should have no problem communicating with them! The people at the lodge in Raista will all help you out with local activities.
You might want to take note that the World Famous Rio Platano, which runs through the heart of the Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve is between Palacios and Brus Laguna. One of the most iconic areas of this biosphere reserve is Las Marias and Pico Dama. The first is a Pech Ethnic Community with some boulders with millennial petroglyps in the river. The other is a peak that you can hike to that will lead you deep into the Moskitia jungles.
If you have interest in a tour to this area, or down the Rio Platano from the headwaters to the Caribbean, contact La Moskitia Eco Aventuras. This is a tour operator based in La Ceiba. Owner, Jorge Salaverri has a wealth of knowledge about the Moskitia. He can arrange a once in a lifetime expedition through this World Heritage Site in Honduras.
When you are ready, continue your journey to Brus Laguna. The name comes from and old British settlement called Brewers Lagoon! The trip to Brus Laguna will be by boat. To arrange, it you can call Herminio Smith at 8911 0938. The best hotel in Brus is Hotel Ciudad Blanca. You can call in advance to make a reservation at telephone 8849 7414. The lagoon here offers World Class snook, tarpon and grouper fishing. Before the 2009 political crisis in Honduras, there was a fishing lodge in Brus Laguna. The lodge was Cannon Island, and it was on a Key within the lagoon. There were a couple of old English cannons on the Key that gave it the name.
The lodge has since closed, and although there is talk about re opening, nothing concrete has come up. If you do want to try your luck with fishing, contact Team Marin Fishing in Brus Laguna. You can call them at tel. 504/9987-0875. Their E-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
After Brus Laguna, you will need to journey up the Patuca River to Ahuas. This will be about a 4 hour trip between Brus Laguna and the community of Poptalaya. Poptalaya is a crossroads community. There are many boats that will take you either south, to Wampusirpe in the upper Patuca River, or South to Barra Patuca or Brus Laguna. If you want to arrange for an express boat trip, try calling Sandra Madrid at telephone 8970 8434. She can help you arrange to trip from Brus Laguna to Ahuas and from Ahuas to Puerto Lempira.
There are usually boat builders on the Patuca River banks here. It is interesting to see how they build one “pipante” or dugout canoe out of a large tree. The log is then carved out to create a one piece river vessel that will transport people and cargo up and down the Patuca River. In this neck of the woods, where there are no roads, the only way of transport is using the rivers. These dugout canoes are ideal as they can navigate through shallow waters.
From Poptalaya, you will get a truck to travel a few kilometers to Ahuas. The distance is about 7 km. Ahuas is on a pine savannah. It has a small runway with more or less regular air service. AeroCaribe de Honduras offers service to Ahuas from La Ceiba. The Moravian Church has a mission in Ahuas. They have a small plane that operates under the name of Alas del Socorro. They can help you get in or out of Ahuas, especially if it is to La Ceiba. At Ahuas, you will need to spend a night and get everything ready for another river trip. Ask around the community for Rudy, he is from Roatan and has set up in Ahuas. He is bilingual and can be a great source of information.
Day 6. Ahuas to Puerto Lempira.
Today, it is time to ride downriver towards a series of lagoons and finally to Puerto Lempira on the Caratasca Lagoon. Puerto Lempira is the largest community in the Department of Gracias a Dios. It is also the capital of the department. Here you will find a more marked presence of police, military officials and even a runway with regularly scheduled flights.
To get from Ahuas to Puerto Lempira, you will navigate down the Ribra River. This river is much smaller and less affluent that the Patuca River. During the dry season, you will start your trip on a dugout canoe and then move on to a larger motor boat. To get to the river you will first need a truck ride from Ahuas to the Ribra River. This is a short, 10 km trip across the Pine Savannah in the the opposite direction of the Patuca River. The trip downriver will take about 4 hours. You will navigate down the Ribra River, as well as a through a series of interconnected lagoons.
Puerto Lempira is on the Caratasca Lagoon. It has a nice dock and an airstrip. It also has the only bank office in the Moskitia. The Banco Atlantida office has an ATM machine where you should be able to make a cash withdrawal.
The best Hotel in Puerto Lempira is the Yu Baiwan Hotel. They are right on the lagoon. The Hotel Yu Baiwan has wifi with decent internet access, so you will be able to reconnect with the World! Another alternative is the Backpacker Hostel run by Junior. Get comfortable and enjoy your last night in Honduras. Tomorrow you will take the last leg of this journey up to the Rio Coco or Segovia, and across into Nicaragua. You should take advantage and visit the immigration office in Puerto Lempira with your passport in hand. This is where you will officially check out of Honduras. Get your passport exit stamp here.
From Honduras to Nicaragua through La Moskitia: Puerto Lempira to Leimus.
Regardless of whether you arrived to Puerto Lempira by air, sea or land route, this last leg of the trip applies to all three options. Before you start this last leg, I need to insist, one more time, that you should make sure to get your passport exit stamp at the immigration office.
Day 7. Puerto Lempira to Leimus to Waspan and Bilwi, AKA Puerto Cabezas.
Puerto Lempira is one of the few towns in the Honduras La Moskitia where there are roads that lead somewhere. Ironically, they do not go far within Honduras, but they do connect you to the border with Nicaragua. You will need to take a ride in the back of a pick up from Puerto Lempira to Leimus. This community is on the banks of the Rio Coco, also known as Rio Segovia. The trip will take approximately 1 ½ hours. Once there, you will collect your bags and take a short 5 to 10 minute boat ride across the river. Congratulations, you are now in Nicaragua!
Once in Nicaragua, get ready for the next part of the journey: next stop, Waspan. This is an uncomfortable trip, standing in the back of a pick up truck that will take you about 1 ½ hours. Once in Waspan you will have to wait for the bus to Puerto Cabezas, also known as Bilwi. This trip will be an extra 6 hours on a chicken bus. At least you will be sitting inside a bus for this part of the trip! I understand there is an immigration office at Waspan, so you should take advantage and visit it to get you entry stamp to Nicaragua. There is a runway in Waspan, and La Costena airlines used to provide service between Managua and Waspan. Check to see if they offer scheduled flights. This is the fastest way back to civilization!
If traveling by land, you will continue your journey to Puerto Cabezas, AKA Bilwi. This is the administrative center for the RAAN (Region Autonoma del Atlantico Norte). It is a port city and has an airport. La Costena Airlines provides service from Puerto Cabezas to both Managua and Bluefields. If you are headed towards the Corn Islands of Nicaragua, then you should fly to Bluefields. The trip between Puerto Cabezas and Managua is long and grueling. You do not want to waste a whole day of travel by land to Managua and another between Managua and Bluefields. Do yourself a favor and fly direct to Bluefields! From there, there are two daily flights to Corn Island. There are also some ferry and cargo boats that can take you from Bluefields to Corn Island.
At Puerto Cabezas, you will find many different hotels. I suggest that you stay in the Casa Museo Judith Kain. This is an interesting mix between a small inn and a museum. Once there, you will want to stay a couple of days and relax in comfort while you recharge your energy to continue your trip in Nicaragua.