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Coatepeque And Ilopango: Memories From The Great Lakes Of El Salvador

Lakes Coatepeque and Ilopango are the two “great lakes of El Salvador” and both hold dear memories for Patricia Trigueros from childhood through adolescence. This article contains some affiliate (referral) links, where we will also make a small commission if you purchase anything after clicking, at no extra cost to you. 

When I’m talking about the two main lakes of El Salvador, I can never be objective.

I’m sorry, but I can’t stick to citing plain facts, not after my comings and goings.

To me, these lakes are more than size, area, and activities I’ve never done. To me, it’s a personal relationship with both Ilopango and Coatepeque, equal and separate but still wonderful.

Now and then, when the sky is clear and I’m on the road, driving to Sonsonate, I can see the depression where Lake Coatepeque rests, 2,448 ft above sea level, nestled next to the Santa Ana volcano and the neighboring mountains.

You can’t tell from the road how beautiful the deep blue waters look, surrounded by volcanic edges. There are too many shades of blue to keep track of.

As a child, I would go to Coatepeque every other weekend, a guest of my best friend’s family.

We would entertain each other on the long drive to the lake and sleep in every morning. She sleeps more so I would read before it was time to head down to the deck. Wonderful weekends full of talking and joking, swimming and music.

We’d be the youngest of the group, our activities divorced from the adults’ agenda unless it was time to eat. The main attraction was the food, I remember.

Be it breakfast, lunch, or dinner, her parents would encourage me to finish my plate and have more. My appetite didn’t matter, it only mattered that everyone enjoyed themselves.

It seemed those Coatepeque weekends had little to do with a jet-skiing or wind-surfing. They were about long meals and slow days and hammock naps.

My friend still says Coatepeque is her favorite place in the world, and she’s been to some nice places, too.

Her mother talks of her hikes up the mountain trails, and a cooler packed with snacks and drinks. Our routine was less glamorous: Tupperware full of seasoned sliced mangoes, a stack of magazines fit for the pre-teens we were, and paddleboat rides.

We’d get sunburns that would cool down with night swims in the cold waters.

Lake Coatepeque in the fog / Patricia Trigueros

When we grew up, we became her parents and did what we’d seen them do. We engaged in late-night conversations with other guests on the deck, drinking, and cultivating stories to remain ever private. We combined those stories with our childhood ones, accomplices in the inside jokes we kept to ourselves, over breakfast the next day and through time.

I still have weekends like that with her. We still enjoy conversations at Lake Coatepeque that result in an extensive archeology of our bond, and the people we’ve met along the way.

They say it’s bad to compare, and that you have to appreciate things for what they are.

But when I was last at Lake Coatepeque, overlooking it from the deck of a restaurant after a hike, I caught myself saying: “This is nothing. You should check out Lake Ilopango, it’s so much bigger”.

Ilopango is my other lake of memories in El Salvador. Newer memories than Coatepeque, but still powerful and emotive ones. Though both Coatepeque and Ilopango are volcanic, Ilopango is not as high in the mountains, so the relief is different. It seems so much more extensive.

But you should check out Ilopango. I’d only been living in San Salvador a few months when I first went there. It was a short drive and a short visit.

I still can’t brush off that first impression. It only took us thirty minutes to reach a house with a deck and a pool. I jumped in and out of that pool, and off the deck, and into the lake. I had lake plants on me and laughed so much I didn’t care.

Now, there’s more traffic, and it takes longer, but I still visit.

I go back to this one house and everything I’ve ever done there fits in an image; blurry, mixed memories.

The tree in the garden says hi to me in the same way, every time. I sit back after lunch and view the vast green-grassed garden, where I’ve played soccer and napped and read on a blanket. Now I see others doing the same as I did and watch everything unfold.

Lake Ilopango / Patricia Trigueros

It’s a cocktail that tastes like growing up or a haunted house.

I can taste the experimental margaritas from that Ilopango afternoon and feel the comfort of a nap on a blue sofa up in the mezzanine from that other Ilopango afternoon.

I’ve seen New Year’s fireworks at Ilopango, gone skinny dipping when no one’s watching at Ilopango, overeaten, drank too much, and danced.

The last time, though, it was tamer. Everyone did a swell job at charades, and no one knew guessing something could be so much fun, how about another round? But, first, another drink.

And what we usually do is have a quick breakfast to go on the boat and see the lake. Where will we stop today?

There’s a rock I once jumped from, but I haven’t been back since. The climbing was fine, but the jump was scary. I haven’t screamed that loud since, either. Then there’s the tree, which we climb to jump into the lake… but if we go there, I guess I’ll just lie in the sun.

I enjoy the islets too, Los Cerros Quemados from a late-19th-century eruption. We swim around them, and they always look beautiful.

And if not, we’ll swim somewhere else, anywhere, in this big huge lake.

Then it’s time to head back for lunch. It’s the prelude to a long afternoon of watching the sunset, its colors form and fade, in the seclusion of this big volcanic lake.


Patricia Trigueros is a free spirit, writer, and translator from El Salvador. She has the habit of drinking too much coffee and writing in English, French, and Spanish. Check out her blog, Paty Stuff, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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