Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve (World Heritage)

By | September 27, 2021

The over 5,000 km² reserve stretches from the Caribbean coast to an altitude of over 1,300 m. It has the last inaccessible tropical rainforests and gallery forests in Central America and is the habitat of around 2,000 Indians who were able to preserve their traditional way of life here. It is also a retreat for abundant wildlife, such as macaws, jaguars, puma and tapirs. The reserve has been on the World Heritage Red List since 2011.

Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve: Facts

Official title: Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve
Natural monument first Central American biosphere reserve; Habitat of 2000 members of Indian peoples, total area with buffer zones 5000 km²; 1969 protection as an archaeological national park, 1980 as a biosphere reserve, 200 significant archaeological sites of the Maya culture
continent America
country Honduras
location Río Plátano, in northeast Honduras
appointment 1982
meaning one of the last, mostly inaccessible tropical rainforests and gallery forests in Central America
Flora and fauna 85% of the area is tropical rainforest, pine swamps, gallery forests, mangrove thickets, as the habitat of 126 reptile and amphibian species; 377 species of birds, including parrots such as scarlet macaws, turkey-sized tree fowl (hokkos), one of the strongest birds of prey on earth, the stately harpy eagle weighing up to 4 kg, and black-plumed toucans with a massive yellow beak; “Wild hunters” like the spotted jaguar and the black weasel cat with striking white “fur”; peaceful sea creatures such as the West Indian manatee and endangered American crocodiles

On waterways through the jungle

Neither Spanish conquistadors nor English pirates have ever succeeded in conquering the vast expanses of the Honduran east, the Mosquitia. The resistance of the Indian tawahkas was too great and bad luck, too impenetrable were the inhospitable mangrove swamps and the humid tropical rainforests, too hostile the oppressive climate with the torrential downpours and the myriads of tormenting mosquitoes. The Biosphere Reserve Río Plátano as part of the Mosquitia is still one of the most inaccessible areas in Central America.

According to physicscat, jaguars and ocelots disappear silently on gentle paws in the undergrowth of the jungle, sedate anteaters and nimble armadillos rustle, while sloths, which live up to their name, doze perfectly camouflaged in the treetops and the terrifying screams of howler monkeys penetrate the forests. There are forests in which man has not processed cedar, mahogany, kapok and rosewood trees into essential oils, fine furniture and incense sticks; Forests where orchids, ferns and pineapples compete for space in the sun. Only a few Indian village communities get lost in this largely intact nature on the Río Plátano. Since pre-Columbian times, Tawahkas and Pech have settled in thatched stilt houses along the rivers, hunting and fishing and growing rice, bananas, Yucca and beans for personal use. These residents were joined in the 17th and 18th centuries alongside those presumed to be from South America Chibcha- descended Misquitos or the Garífunas. The latter were originally African slaves who had been released by the English on the Honduran coast to prevent uprisings on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

Winding paths and lonely waterways are essentially the only trails in the biosphere reserve. Pipantes (canoes) and cayucos (outboards) serve as means of transport on the water – provided the rivers and their tributaries do not rise so much in the rainy season or sink so much during the dry periods that they become impassable. Only those who, as a visitor, have perseverance and a spirit of adventure will be able to reach the villages, which are often several days away from each other, and discover the unique flora and fauna: Exotic giants of the jungle and extensive bamboo groves pass by on a river tour like on a big cinema screen. Crocodiles slide their ribbed armor into the water with a barely audible splash. Colorful flocks of parrots fly away screeching.

With seemingly endless beaches and coconut palms swaying gently in the wind, the Caribbean coast in the north of the reserve resembles the world of a Robinson Crusoe. This coast, divided by the deltas of the Plátano and the Paulaya as well as two large lagoons, once provided ideal hiding places for English pirates.

On secluded sandy beaches, leather turtles, loggerhead turtles and green turtles dig deep hollows in the sand to lay their eggs. With a little luck, you can see manatees, which have become rare, in the azure blue water.

Despite all the idyll, Honduras’ ecosystems on the Río Plátano are threatened. In the absence of reliable controls, more and more settlers, lumberjacks and cattle breeders are advancing from the south along the river valleys and leaving their visible traces in the rainforest with clearing and slash and burn. A new road, named after the Río Wampú, has also opened up the heart of the reserve for new settlements. Increased deforestation of mahogany, American sweetgum and Roystonea donlapiana, a relative of the columnar royal palm, are gradually endangering the continued existence of the unique Honduran tropical forest. In the north, meanwhile, the lobster grounds on the coasts are overfished because unscrupulous societies hire the misquitos as lobster divers.

But despite the advance of modernity, the humid rainforest of Central America still harbors evidence of a bygone settlement that needs to be preserved and deciphered: Who were the indigenous people, of whom the “Piedras Pintadas”, the enigmatic rock carvings in the river bed of the Río Plátano were, originate, and who is the master builder of the legendary »Ciudad Blanca«, the »White City«?

Rio Plátano Biosphere Reserve (World Heritage)