Costa Rica is famous for its abundant wildlife.
But let me tell you a secret. I have seen wildlife in every Central American country I have visited (I have been to all countries in Central America except Nicaragua).
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the most bio-diverse region of El Salvador. I am referring to El Imposible National Park (Parque Nacional El Imposible). This natural refuge contains 500 species of plants, 100 species of mammals, 53 species of reptiles and amphibians and 285 species of birds. The park contains interesting species such as ocelots (tigrillo), great curassows (pajuil), black-hawk eagles, toucans, macaws, anteaters, gibnuts, agoutis and many more.
Additionally, the park is considered a jewel since it is one of the last dry tropical forests in the world. It is also a source of water for the area communities (and other natural reserves) and its scenic beauty provides the opportunity of developing touristic projects.
All these facts may sound surprising. Eco-adventures, wildlife, abundant nature in El Salvador? There are a lot of treasures waiting to be discovered in this fascinating country.
The Peculiar Name
“Imposible” means impossible in Spanish (I guess you knew that). There is a peculiar story explaining the origins of the park’s name.
At the beginning of the 20th century, coffee farmers transported their coffee by mule-train from the farms north of the park to the port of Acajutla, using a trail that traversed the Hacienda El Imposible. At El Imposible Pass, there was a steep and narrow gorge between two mountains that impeded their route: there, the mule drivers constructed precarious bridges that on several occasions did not support their weight and collapsed, carrying beasts and men down the precipice. With time, farmers utilized all kind of tricks to ease the gorge passing. Some made all kind of noises to announce their crossings. Others started to blindfold the animals in order to calm them down. The efforts didn’t help much to ensure the safety of the pass.
In 1968, the government constructed a bridge at El Imposible Pass, opening up transportation from Tacuba to Cara Sucia. To celebrate the event, they left a plaque which says, “Since 1968, it is no longer impossible.”
There are three main hikes in the park.
- Los Enganches – This route takes you to an area were two rivers meet. There is opportunity to swim in big pockets of water. Two viewpoints (miradores) affording views of the southeastern part of the park are passed during the hike.
- Piedra Sellada – The trails end on a swimming hole. However, the main reason to do the walk is the opportunity to take a look at a stone etched with Maya writings (experts suppose it is Mayan).
- Cerro El Leon – This is the toughest hike in the park. It is basically an ascension to one of the park’s highest peak.
Even though many information sites only refer to these three main hikes, you don’t have to restrict yourself to the full circuits. For example, on day 1 we chose Los Enganches route but only made it to the two viewpoints and returned (because we started late and didn’t have a lot of daylight left).
The second day the group divided. Three of us decided to do the Cerro El Leon hike but asked the guide to extend the walking time a bit longer because we didn’t want to return by the same path. The other part of the group (with kids) walked only 1 km of the Cerro El Leon trail to the Ixcanal River. They jumped into the river and came back to camp.
Therefore, discuss with your guide your options. There is a hike perfect for your adventure level.
Talking About Guides
You cannot hike in the park without a guide. Wait, don’t get bummed because of this fact. The guides are residents of the community adjacent to the park (San Benito). They have been trained to provide information about all the aspects of the park. Believe me, they know every nitty gritty detail about the area. The ranger at the entrance of the park will put you in contact with one of the guides. They charge $10 for a group of up to 10.
I really like the model used on the area to compromise the community with the park. The park is a source of income for the residents. Therefore, they protect it.
The guides only speak Spanish. You will need to make good use of your Spanish skills, hike without a lot of talking or bring a translator (which surprisingly, many visitors do).
Ready for the Hike
As I mentioned, we did only part of Los Enganches hike. We met with our guide Carlos in the park “headquarters”. In there, we were explained the park rules.
There is a small museum were you can learn about the history of the park, including the origin of the name, and its resources. There are even some stuffed animals used to showcase the variety of species usually found during the hikes. Some of the animals were quite freaky.
As we started to hike, we found out part of the hike was interpretative (there were signs giving information about the flora and the fauna of the area). Carlos gave us a lot of information at each stop.
Here are some of our findings:
We saw a seed called monkey’s comb (peine de mico).
We saw a naked Indian. I am referring to a tree with that name. What were you thinking ? The tree is given that name because the bark peels easily.
The forest even has a foreigner. The bamboo grows here but it comes from Asia. This plant is used to avoid soil erosion and to cut high winds.
After seeing the huge food supplies everywhere, I understand why there are so many animals in the park. We saw wild berries.
And pacaya. This is the flower of a palm tree. It is edible and usually prepared by covering it with egg, frying it and serving it with tomato sauce.
We saw many more edible fruits and vegetables.
We even had the opportunity to have a look at the birth of the Ahuachapio River. Other streams feed the river as it goes down the mountains.
After admiring the wonders of the park, we made it to Mirador El Mulo (El Mulo Viewpoint). This point offers panoramic views of the southeastern part of the park. It was very foggy when we arrived. However, the views were still impressive.
A short walk took us to the second mirador (Madre Cacao).
It was time to go back to the lodge. Our fist hike proved to be really interesting. Stay tuned for more posts about El Imposible National Park.
Did you know about this park in El Salvador? Let me know in the comments section below.
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