La Encrucijada is 357,824 acres of fabulous preserve that has lagoons, swamps and the only Zapatonal forest in the region. The mangrove forest is one of the best preserved on the Pacific Coast. The reserve is a natural bridge between the neotropical and nearctic regions of the area. Because of this, it is critically important to the locals, who rely on the natural resources for their living. It supports a local fishing economy, and the wetlands serve as an upstream filtering system for the lower watersheds.
You’ll see more wildlife here than you expect; it has 11 kinds of amphibians, 294 species of birds, 34 reptile types and 73 kinds of mammals. This may be the only place other than a zoo where you can see spider monkeys, boa constrictors, jaguars, Mexican anteaters, river crocodiles and other endangered species. It serves as a nesting place for threatened species of birds such as the chestnut-bellied heron, the giant wren, roseate spoonbill and 94 other species of shore and songbirds.
The area has had a long, uphill battle to survive. The railroad construction in the early 20th century disturbed the watershed and the area is now threatened with deforestation and disturbance to the water resources, which erode the vegetation. Land clearing methods generally consist of setting fire to the forest and this, as well as poachers, threaten the reserve and the rare and threatened life that makes the reserve their home. This endangers turtles, rare forests of palms and grasslands as well as the wetlands.
You can reach La Encrucijada from Highway 200 leading from Escuintla, about 55 miles north of Tapachula. You will follow the road to Acapetahua then cross the train tracks and take the dirt road for eleven miles until you get to Las Garzas. From there you can hire a boat to take you to Las Palmas, a small fishing village on the outskirts of La Encrucijada.
Unfortunately, there are no formal tours that you can take to see all the amazing sites of La Encrucijada. There are fishermen that will happily give you an informal tour of the reserve, though. They know the area intimately and will be able to point out birds, animals and reptiles that you would probably not see on your own. You’ll see mangrove trees soaring up to seven stories high, sheltering marine life that, in turn, helps to maintain the wetlands and thus the watershed that protects the lands downstream. You’ll hear birdsong, the mating calls of frogs, crocodiles and other amphibians and see graceful jaguars prowling among the trees if you are lucky.
Be sure to tip your guide well! While they don’t depend on giving tours for a living, the extra income allows them to keep their equipment in good repair and perhaps buy shoes for their children or school supplies. Take insect repellent with DEET and some bottles of water to drink along the way.
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