Orientation Canton La Magdalena has been home to six Peace Corps Volunteers over the years, but it isn’t normally a tourist destination, which is a shame, because it is such a beautiful, tranquil area – perfect for hiking. If you looks towards Guatemala to the west while in the valley, Volcan Chingo is always visible. […]
Canton La Magdalena has been home to six Peace Corps Volunteers over the years, but it isn’t normally a tourist destination, which is a shame, because it is such a beautiful, tranquil area – perfect for hiking. If you looks towards Guatemala to the west while in the valley, Volcan Chingo is always visible. While it’s a tough hike, Volcan Chingo can be climbed in a day, especially if you start out closer to the base in the community of El Coco or El Tanque. Guides from the local protected area La Magdalena, (who have their main office in El Jute), can lead a hike up to the top and even into the crater. The protected area is also a mini eco-park where you can learn about the local flora and fauna, hike around, and camp on the grounds next to the office. There’s a composting latrine and 24-hour guard protection at the office as well, and if you leave a donation, they’ll probably let you use the shower and indoor eating area. The workers at the protected area are great and always hospitable; they’ve hosted a number of Canadian and American service groups in the past.
La Magdalena is an agricultural area made up of 6 different caserios, all surrounding one main sugarcane valley: El Pital, Las Tablas, San Cristobal, El Jute, San Luiz, and El Sarsal. Nearby is a large sugar processing plant, “Ingenio La Magdalena,” which is in production from about November-April. The overall elevation of the area is about 600m, with El Pital rising to 725m. In the 1970s nearly all of the land formerly owned by the “Patron” was reclaimed by the farmers and parceled up individually for area families, with the Cooperative La Magdalena retaining the entire valley of sugarcane.
Hiking and Eating
This area is not normally a tourist destination, but that’s part of what makes it so special! The people are wonderful, especially in El Pital and at the protected area La Magdalena. They’re usually happy to take people hiking all around (there are endless trails leading to higher corn fields and even coffee fincas). If you offer a bit of money, there’s always someone making a local food favorite in the afternoons (Nina Menche Juarez makes some awesome tamales, bunuelos, etc, and she lives only a few houses down from the school in El Pital). Also, contacting Maritza Rodriguez at the protected area is a great way to arrange hikes up to the Volcan Chingo, where you’ll pass through several large coffee fincas on your way to the top. The volcano is half in El Salvador and half in Guatemala, with border posts running across the top, and amazing views of both countries.
Maritza Rodriguez – Program Director of the Area Protegida La Magdalena, Phone: 01150372814626, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a video about the protected area:
Because the area is fairly isolated from development, many artifacts have been found in the sugarcane valley, especially in a part called, “El Sitio.” If you can get a local kid to take you out there, especially during rainy season when the top layers of dirt are washed away, you can uncover lots of pottery and obsidian fragments, some of which are quite large, and possibly even arrowheads and clay doll heads. It’s also near a creek perfect for getting your feet wet and finding some river snails, if you’re brave enough to try sopa de jutes.
There are several folks in El Pital who make crocheted manteles on home-made looms, namely Armida Menendez. There is also a group of women who make and sell natural aloe shampoo in El Pital, which is a great, cheap gift to bring home! Another woman who lives in El Pital, Nina Maria Nolasco, bakes her own sweet bread in loaves many afternoons and sells it for only $1.25. It’s delicious!
Camping at the protected area La Magdalena is probably your best option, but if you call ahead to my host mom Nina Anita Menendez, you could stay in a former Peace Corps Volunteer host house for little or no charge- it’s in El Pital only a few steps from the school.
Nina Anita Menendez phones: 01-1503-7726-0058 / 01-1503-7102-7801 / 01-1503-7245-7875
Again, Nina Menche and Nina Maria are great options on El Pital for authentic local food, and they probably wouldn’t charge much at all, but there are also three tiendas (small stores) in El Pital and EL Jute where you can buy eggs, oil, pasta, sauce, cheese, milk, and a variety of snacks and breads if you prefer to cook for yourself. If you stay at the protected area La Magdalena, the employees there can help you arrange for one of the local women to make pupusas or tamales as long as you ask ahead of time.
From Chalchuapa (home of the Tazumal Ruins): Get on the 234B “El Jute” bus out of the tiny bus terminal in town, which leaves at 12:30pm and 5:15pm sharp every day. The bus costs .50c and will take you up past Ingenio La Magdalena, then will make stops in El Sarsal, Las Tablas, El Pital (a small school is visible from the bus here), then it will snake back down the hill crossing through El Sarsal again, then continuing on to San Cristobal and finally El Jute.
If you’re going to the protected area La Magdalena, you want to remain on the bus until the end of the line in El Jute, then ask someone there how to get down to la oficina (“Donde esta la oficinia?”). The office isn’t visible from the bus stop, but you just walk 2 minutes up a hill, then 2 minutes down the hill and the office will be visible. Definitely easiest to call ahead so they can have someone come meet you at the bus stop.
Maritza Rodriguez– Program Director of the Area Protegida La Magdalena; Phone: 01-1503-7281-4626
From Chalchuapa, get back on the Panamerican Highway headed west with Chalchuapa on your left side. Be in the right lane and keep an eye out for a sign that says: “Ruta Canera“, you’ll want to turn right on that road to head towards La Magdalena. There are also several “FONAES” development project signs at the entrance to that road, but it is easy to miss.
Once you’re on the Ruta Canera, you’ll quickly pass the Cooperativa Cuzcachapa on your right hand side, and the road will become a dirt road. At the first fork, stay left, at the second, stay right. Continue on that road for about 3km until you reach a new bridge. After crossing the bridge and curving to the left, you’ll see a small sign for “San Sebastian” at a small fork in the road. Stay right to continue on towards La Magdalena. After about 3-4km, you’ll catch a glimpse of the Ingenio on the right- stay on the main road, and you’ll eventually get to a school (Canton La Magdalena), KEEP RIGHT at fork, then pass through the ‘parking lot’ in front of the Ingenio (which will be on your right side), and keeping right, stay on the small road that follows the wall around the Ingenio.
You’ll reach another small fork at the end of the property, this time veer left, and pass through the community of La Magdalena. You’ll reach another fork after 1/2km, stay right to pass over a small bridge, then the road curves left to enter the valley. You’ll know where you are because you’ll be surrounded by sugarcane almost as far as you can see. Keep straight on this road to enter San Cristobal, then continue on about 3km, following the main road, to reach the end of the road in El Jute. If you call ahead to the protected area, I’m sure they’ll offer to meet you at the Ingenio and take you the rest of the way. Of course, if you get lost, ask anyone living in a house near the road how to get to El Jute and they’ll likely help you.
(Information for this post contributed by RPCV Jessica Henry de Mariona)