The final part of our week long adventure in Central America was to the surprisingly beautiful El Salvador! While most people don’t know anything about El Salvador and if they do it usually because of the possible dangers there… Well I have to admit I was a little apprehensive spending two nights in San Salvador but I am so glad we did as it was my favorite part of the whole trip! We enjoyed delicious pupusas and hiked up the beautiful Santa Ana Volcano (also know as Ilamatepec).
Read up on some of my other Costa Rica and El Salvador posts!
The Setup: Upcoming Trip to Costa Rica & El Salvador
Part 3: El Salvador & Santa Ana Volcano
Santa Ana Volcano Hike, Cerro Verde National Park, Izalco Volcano
With really only one full day to explore El Salvador we hired a tour service, Maya Triangle, to help us learn about the country and hike up the 7,812 ft Santa Ana Volcano in the Cerro Verde National Park. Our tour include a driver and tour guide and they were wonderful! Jose was our guide, a native Salvadorean who loves his country but also wants to explore the world. They picked us up promptly from our hotel at 8:30 am and headed towards the Cerro Verde National Park. It was about an hour drive and we talked a lot about the perception and history of El Salvador. We stopped at a gas station to pickup drinks and snacks for the hike. A tip, El Salvador uses the U.S dollar as their official currency so no problems with exchange rates and everything was a lot cheaper! Next we pulled off to the side of the road to get a great view of the Santa Ana Volcano and Izalco Volcano (the picture above). Before reaching the base of the hike we had one more stop to get a scenic view of Lake Coatepeque, another picturesque stop.
Entering the Cerro Verde National Park it was completely packed as it was the Saturday before Easter. Jose informed us that it is usually not like this but it was fun seeing all the Salvadorean families. For the actual hike it is requirement to have two police officers, this was more of a procedure rather than safety concerns and their is only one hike per day at 11:00 am. I personally thought it was kind of weird to have a set hike time but that was the law so we began the hike with our guide Jose and 150 other Salvadoreans.
It was a two hour hike up, 30 minutes up to, and two hour hike back down with incredible views at every turn, namely the Izalco Volcano. It wasn’t an overly difficult hike but with all the other people going with us it was hard to stay up front. On the way up the police officers stopped about every 30 minutes so by the time you broke away from the massive group you had to wait and then start again with all 150 people. Pretty interesting sometimes trying to get ahead of people as the path was usually only wide enough for two people. Another thing to note is that the hike goes through farm land and the farmers wait for the daily hike and make you pay a fee, our guide paid for us so I am not sure not what the price was but it was a weird protocol.
At the top you could literally see half of El Salvador! It is about the size of Massachusetts. Amazing views reaching to Honduras and all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The most spectacular points tho were Lake Coatepeque, Izalco Volcano, and inside of the Santa Ana Volcano! Santa Ana Volcano has this incredible turquoise blue boiling lake that pictures cannot fully capture. What I thought was funny, was how the locals dressed up top. It might have been 60 degrees with a decent breeze but some dressed up like it was a blizzard. No problems for me in my t-shirt and shorts! The hike down was a little slippery on the loose rocks but we made it to the bottom and successfully hiked a volcano!
Courtyard San Salvador
Our two nights were at Marriott’s Courtyard San Salvador Hotel which is located in the upscale mall area of San Salvador. Jose, our guide said it is one of the best hotels in all of El Salvador and I would have to agree! I have never met such friendly hotel staff ever! It was really nice since in Costa Rica I didn’t have the greatest experiences with service. Everyone at the Courtyard was beyond friendly and most spoke English! Beth and I really tried to practice our Spanish while in El Salvador and managed to have a couple of very small conversations, it was weird coming home to hear everyone speak English. The rooms for the hotel were pretty standard but there was a pool and small walled in courtyard outside that we used at nights. The food was incredible, especially the breakfast spread! Tip, make sure to buy the hotel rate with the breakfast included, totally worth it and not expensive. The spread included El Salvador’s famous pupusas, rice, beans, eggs, yogurt, cereal, pancake making station, and really anything else you asked for from the staff. They even helped us pack up a huge breakfast when we departed from the hotel to catch an early flight. The hotel keeps taxis onsite 24/7 and they charged a very reasonable $25 to the airport which is a 45 minute drive.
Just a quick snippet about my flights back to Indianapolis. We flew Avianca on an Airbus A319 from San Salvador (SAL) to Chicago (ORD) and was served an actually breakfast for free! Granted it was not the greatest, very salty… I still appreciated it. They also let you use most of the features of the built in entertainment screens for free. In Chicago we were initially scheduled for a 4+ hour layover but we managed to standby for an earlier flight cutting our waiting time to only 2.5 hours. It also helped that I used my free United Club passes to access the lounge for free food and drinks.
Final Thoughts on El Salvador & Trip
This little country was so welcoming, they are some of the friendliest people I have met while traveling! My favorite part of my entire Central America trip was taking in the wondrous sites of El Salvador while really learning from the locals. The volcano hike was truly one of the most interesting and rewarding hikes I have ever done. Even tho I only explored the country a couple of days I want to come back! Maybe next time I will check out their beaches known for surfing or some of the Mayan ruins!