El Salvador: Coffee, Volcanoes and Heaven by Terry Zinn

While the city of San Salvador offers sights of historical significance, the country side is where the real El Salvador flourishes. The country is known for its cultivation of fine coffee, its prolific number of volcanoes, and now a beach side eco oasis that can rival any in the world. Getting out of the city with Salvadorean Tours as your guide, you will most likely be taken via the Route of Flowers to the eastern section of this small country. Here in several villages you will see the local art displayed on low rise buildings in the traditional bright Central American colors depicting people and places of the local venue. A short stop in each town will give you a sense of place and ease with the countryside. Salvadorean Tours may even have special shopping experiences designed into your tour, to enable you to pick up some indigenous crafts. We asked our guide Eduardo for a local shop for our souvenir needs, and he supplied directions with no problem.



We spent the night in the small town of Ahuachapan at the low slung hacienda of Hotel La Casa de Mamapan, which is in a colonial building. The interior offered a variety of rooms with baths, and common meeting places, often with an open air screened roof and decorated with a plethora of antiques. It’s next to the large Asuncion Church and across from the La Concordia Park complete with clock towered bandstand. The proprietors were very accommodating but spoke no English, a common occurrence in El Salvador.


Our stop in Ahuachapan (Place of Oak Houses – founded in the 5th century and today an important coffee producing area) was accented with a meal at the original Pupuseria Olguita, where we ate the finger food of Pupusas. Pupusas are a fluffy-like tortilla filled with a variety of fillings of your choice, from mushrooms, cheeses, garlic, vegetables and such. The freshness of the grilled tortilla-like bread added to its appeal. Pupusas are the food of the people. This particular establishment is one of the original in the area.

Coffee is grown on many of the hillsides you will pass on your way to the El Carmen Estates with its El Salvador Hotel and Coffee Resort. Here you will find the labor intensive and long process of washing, drying, extracting, sorting and aging the coffee beans for optimum quality. Coffee beans grown at the highest of elevations are said to be better in quality, so the volcanic hills of El Salvador provide an ideal venue. Away from the warehouses and processing buildings is a small but attractive set of accommodations for rent. I’d say you can’t get a fresher cup of morning coffee than here at the El Carmen Estate.


Along your tours you will pass or drive up near the top of a number of Volcanoes, many dormant for decades and even one, Izalco, which puffs out its tiny share of steam. What makes this volcano even more appealing is that you can drive up to a common parking area and peer down on it from a wooden observation stand, a great safe distance away, but with a spectacular view. For the hearty there is a hiking trail up the side of the adjacent Santa Ana volcano you drove up, which gives you another special view. For the truly outdoor adventurous there are many hiking trails up the sides of dormant volcanos across the county. This area is also the locale for the Volcanic Lake “Coatepeque” a beautiful water filled dormant volcano, where shore side you can dine, swim or take a boat excursion.


The best surprise is the pacific coast retreat of La Cocotera, located on the southwestern most part of El Salvador. Here you are treated to accommodations of thatched elegance, accentuated by posts of farmed teak, amid a grove of mature coconut palms. A small true Eco lodge, it has only 3 two storied casitas, positioned apart from each other, with a maximum total lodge accommodation of 18, if every bed is filled. As part of its eco heritage only 11 palm trees were downed for the lodge’s construction and each of those were replaced on the property with ten each in new plantings. Several other floral varieties are constantly being planted. This shows the concern for El Salvador’s future.


The décor and appointments of each apartment hosts an outdoor lounge, wide expansive doors (which have screened shutters for privacy) that open up to expanses of palms, water and groomed sand. The room has a separate toilet, a separate lavatory and storage, and a separate rain head shower. The water is solar heated and each apartment has its own water supply. You’d think the water might not be hot enough for your liking, but it can be scalding, so be careful. Yes, it may take several minutes for it to arrive at your room, but such is eco lodge luxury.

Of course the king size bed, or double beds, are the quality you could expect at the best 4 start hotel, as is the housekeeping staff who knows just when to service your room so as not to inconvenience you. I heartily recommend the second story apartments with an expansive view of either facing the calm estuary and distant volcanoes or, my favorite, the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean. The gentle rustling of the forest of palm fronds and the somewhat white nose of the surf, provides the serenity that is so often missing in resorts.


And as this was not enough, the eco lodge is a nesting ground and releasing area for the endangered Olive Ridley turtle. In fact during the dry season they may have a supply of small turtles ready for your releasing into the surf on their ten year journey at sea before returning to La Cocotera to lay offspring. This along with their long term Scarlet Macaw program, gourmet breakfast lunch and dinner, a fully stocked and manned cocktail bar, economical rates, a video library, salt water pool, and the most spectacular sunsets on a most gentle slanting beach, is completed with all the palm atmosphere you could ever hope for. I mentioned to the congenial manager, Ricardo that I thought this was heaven. He replied, “Yes, and I am San Pedro.” (Meaning he was Saint Peter, the guardian of heaven.) And I agreed.