On and Off the Beaten Path: A Story of Two Parks

 Part 2: Off the Beaten Path at Ecoparque El Espino

View looking down from Mirador Aleman 

Before dawn on a recent morning, my husband and I headed up the San Salvador Volcano to do some hiking and bird-watching. Our destination was Ecoparque El Espino - a place we have heard about for years but a place we had not yet explored. We will definitely make this a recurrent destination to enjoy on our own and with delegations of visitors.

Situated on the southeast side of the San Salvador volcano, Ecoparque El Espino consists of 102 acres of protected land, at an elevation of just under 4000 ft above sea level. Unlike Parque El Boquerón (featured in Part 1 of this story), El Espino is not managed by the national park system, nor has it been developed as a tourist site with "fancy" amenities. It is owned and managed by the El Espino Cooperative, which garners income from coffee production and, since 2003, eco-tourism. 

Can't pass up a swinging bridge!

We wandered, carrying mugs of coffee and our phones with bird identification apps because it is much easier to hear the birds than to see them in the dark! Every now and then we'd hear a rustle in the trees and spy a small pile of sacks along the path. Women were already out picking coffee in first light. "Buenos días," we quietly greeted one another so as not to disturb the birds singing dawn songs. It was peaceful and cool. 

Ecoparque (Ecological Park) El Espino is part of an expansive property formerly known as Finca El Espino - the coffee farm long-held by the wealthy Dueñas family. As part of a 1980 agrarian reform agreement, the land was ceded by Salvadoran President Duarte to the 450 families who historically lived and worked on the land. In 1987, the Supreme Court overturned that agreement and returned the land to the Dueñas family. After the war, in 1993, the Cristiani government purchased 83% of the land back from the Dueñas, and placed it into the hands of the workers cooperative. 

The Salvadoran legislature designated a good portion of the former finca as protected land, including Parque Bicentenario, Ecoparque El Espino and a large forest reserve. Over the decades, private and government development of commercial spaces, roads, and sports clubs have caused social conflict, eviction of families and threatened this fragile ecosystem. As a natural reserve, this land annually provides 4.2 billion gallons of water to the San Salvador area and acts as a lung for the region (capturing carbon and producing oxygen).

Of course, we were not really thinking too much about these aspects of the ecological park during our visit there. We were too busy scrambling up hills, exploring forest paths, listening and watching for wildlife, and checking out amazing views!

One of the first points of interest we stumbled upon during our hike was a spot called "el infiernillo." This area includes a line of vents which lead directly to active geothermic chambers of the San Salvador volcano. Moisture from the soil leeches into the hot chambers and then emerges as steam from the vents. This is the only site on the San Salvador volcano where this occurs, providing volcanologists with the opportunity to monitor the seismic and volcanic activity with instruments located near the vents.

I think my exact words were: How did we not know about this? We could feel heat coming through the soil beside us as we hiked along the hillside.

We followed the trail to where a lookout deck was previously located (it looked as if perhaps a lightning strike had caused it to burn). There are places to sit and rest while watching for birds and taking in the view. The trail is a little rustic and hard to find heading down from this point, but we ended up on the main road. The park has trails designed for mountain biking (which you can use for hiking), and several senderos (paths that go up) with stairs, loose soil and rocks. I would describe the trails as fairly easy, but be sure to wear good shoes and carry water. The road provides a good hiking experience for those who don't want to climb. We saw a few folks later in the morning, walking with poles, running, or biking.

The charred posts at the base of this photo held a lookout platform. This was a good spot to rest, finish our coffee, and watch for birds.

This black vulture swooped in over our heads with quite the wing sound!

There are signposts along the road, and it is definitely worth taking the side road to Mirador Aleman, Along the road there are great views, it is not a long walk, and the lookout is just above the road (so not a steep climb).

Mirador Aleman

Look for the lookouts at El Espino Eco Park: small detours off the main road offer some amazing views of Santa Tecla, San Salvador, and the natural wonders of the lower skirt of the San Salvador Volcano.

Google maps actually includes labels for several locations within the park, and can also be helpful in orienting yourself on the volcano. When traveling by road to El Boquerón, Ecoparque El Espino and Parque Bicentenario, it is a little difficult to figure out how these locations relate to one another.

Ecoparque El Espino has two entrances, one behind the sports complex in Ciudad Merliot and another off of the road up to El Boquerón. We entered from the volcano road, which is the closer access point for hiking the upper trails to the lookouts. This entrance is not well-marked. On the right hand side as you head north, look for a large rock painted red and a wooden sign with an arrow pointing toward "ADICTO Paintball." (If you pass Shack 503 on the right, you missed it.) Drive into the park on the dirt road. Before you get to the small parking lot, an attendant will collect $1.50 per person and $1 for parking.

Entrance road to Ecoparque El Espino

Camping is allowed in the park. A camping van was actually parked in the small lot when we arrived. There are a couple of family cabins with bathrooms which are available to rent for $25 per night. The park has decent restroom buildings located in at least 2 spots along the road. 

Our most successful bird walk was on Sendero 4, which we took as a shortcut back to the cafe. Although we didn't get many photos of birds, we were able to see them with binoculars and hear some amazing songs! 

The last bit of Sendero 4

We had hoped to eat breakfast at the cafe, but learned that it is closed on Wednesdays and Fridays, so after our morning adventure, we headed to a nearby pupusa and tipicos place. Their curtido was great, as was the chocolate. I asked if I could take a photo for my blog, and of course they said OK. 

It was a lovely adventure for a weekday morning, and we were home by 10 AM to start our work day.


Popular posts from this blog

The Plant that Came from Nowhere and Grows Everywhere

The Legend of El Tabudo

The Morro Tree