The Sporty 40

Café con Acción

Nov 20, 2003
Outside Magazine

In bloom in the Sierra Madres

Java-loving tourists are discovering a different brew in Mexico and Central America, where small-scale coffee growers have realized—as California wine makers did decades ago—that their surroundings hold as much appeal as their product and have opened up their fincas to guests. Looped on lattes, the visitors take to the forests with their boots, bikes, and binocs, creating a new breed of plantation wildlife: the caffeinated adventurer.

Coffee beans are harvested from six-foot shrubs grown in bird-filled, mountainous rainforests where trails cut for farmworkers double as bikeable, hikeable, horseback-rideable paths. The tourist-friendly farms operate as combination eco-resorts and gourmet tasting venues—a perfect blend for outdoor lovers with refined beverage tastes. Here’s a sampling of five fincas, all family-owned or co-op-run and growing premium brew, where you can gulp and go.

1. Selva Negra Coffee Estate and Mountain Resort
North of Matagalpa, Nicaragua
The Brew: Smooth with medium body and a mildly nutty taste, these organic arabica beans are shade-grown on a family-owned farm. (Sun-grown coffee produces higher yields but contributes to deforestation and erosion.)
While Caffeinated: Lead your sweetie down the Romantico trail, so named because the slippery mud will quickly have you falling into each other’s arms; of the 14 maintained trails that run through the estate’s virgin rainforest, four are open to horseback riders ($4 an hour, Sundays only); visitors can also tour the plantation, including the stable and greenhouse ($3).
When the Buzz Wears Off: Refuel with sausage and sauerkraut at the lakefront German restaurant—the Euro-rooted Kühl family founded the estate in 1880 and continues to run it.
Bedding Down: Sleep off your post-jolt letdown in a youth hostel bed, a hotel-style room, or a private bungalow overlooking the Nicaraguan highlands; rates range from $12 to $50 per person.
Contact: 011-505-612-3883,

2. Finca Argovia
North of Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico
The Brew: Crisp and clean with a hint of mocha; the arabica beans are shade-grown under a canopy of tall trees that helps maintain the area’s biodiversity.
While Caffeinated: Ride a horse through misty guayabo groves in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas; mountain bike or hike throughout the 460-acre property in the company of peccaries and scarlet macaws (guided activities, gear, and finca tours are included in your stay).
When the Buzz Wears Off: Recharge in the Argovia swimming pool or wander through the flower farm and bury your nose in the oncidium orchids.
Bedding Down: Rooms in the 19th-century plantation home and adjacent palm-fringed lodge have private baths, hot water, and plenty of Old World appeal—the finca has been in the Giesmann family for almost a century. Cost is $125 per person, all-inclusive (meals, transportation, activities).
Contact: 011-52-962-625-9356, For reservations and finca tours to Argovia and other Tapachula-area coffee farms, call Aromas de Chiapas (011-52-962-625-4754).

3. Finca Esperanza Verde
San Ramón, Nicaragua
The Brew: This perfectly balanced, chocolate-tinged arabica is 100 percent guilt-free (certified organic, shade-grown, and overseen by a nonprofit cooperative that returns all proceeds to the farmworkers and their community).
While Caffeinated: Hop on a horse and let a farmer lead you through 46 acres of forested farmland to see toucans, howler monkeys, and waterfalls; guided rides and birding walks cost $5-$10; helping the workers pick coffee is free.
When the Buzz Wears Off: Borrow a bird guide and study your warblers and wrens, or mosey on down to the honey cooperative and butterfly farm to check out the pollens and pupae.
Bedding Down: A bed in the six-person bunkhouse costs $13 per person per night, and private cabins cost $35 per double. Meals are $3.50 each, or try the all-inclusive weeklong package (meals, tours, and homestays in the nearby village of San Ram-n) for $720 per person.
Contact: 011-505-612-5003,

4. Filadelfia Coffee Estate
Antigua, Guatemala
The Brew: Pleasantly pungent with a sweet aftertaste; coffee here is brewed from award-winning arabica beans that are shade-grown on the family-owned 900-acre farm, where the habitat encourages visits from migratory birds.
While Caffeinated: Zigzag through the coffee fields on foot or fat tires; short stretches of singletrack have been carved between the shrubs for the pleasure of visiting cyclists (bring your own bike or rent one in town).
When the Buzz Wears Off: Learn about the bean biz on the finca tour ($15, including transportation, a T-shirt, and a coffee drink), which drops you off at the tasting room, then pull up a barstool, order more joe, and let triathlete/owner Juan Pablo Aragón chat you up about the local adventure-racing scene.
Bedding Down: There’s no lodging on site (though plans are in the works), but über-charming downtown Antigua—and its plethora of quaint accommodations—is two miles away.
Contact: 713-934-8234, For a half-day “Sip and Cycle” mountain-bike tour, contact Bike Guatemala ($30; 011-502-914-5808,

5. Finca Hartmann
Santa Clara, Chiriqui, Panama
The Brew: Sweet-smelling and smoky with medium body; voted one of Panama’s best in national competitions; the arabica and caturra beans are shade-grown on a family-owned farm that hosts a steady stream of international bird researchers.
While Caffeinated: Search for the elusive quetzal on farm trails and in the neighboring cloudforests of Parque Nacional La Amistad; guides are available to take you through the 370-acre property, 75 percent of which is primary rainforest (prices for guided activities vary).
When the Buzz Wears Off: Retreat to your room and practice your imitation of the local three-toed sloth.
Bedding Down: Semirustic cabins (flush toilets and hot showers, but no electricity) cost $15-$20 per person.
Contact: 011-507-775-5223,

Filed To: Central America