Many skip El Salvador on their way through Central America, or only give time to the northern beaches. However, we spent ten days volunteering at a hostel on the southern beaches, followed by another ten exploring the north, and found that it had little less to offer than it’s neighbours.
We’ve all seen it on TV documentaries: the suspense as thousands of tiny baby turtles struggle through the sand to the sea as predators swoop down from every angle. So, it’s quite an amazing thing to be able to release some of the little guys into the sea from your own hands. Our time volunteering was spent at La Tortuga Verde hostel and turtle sanctuary, where during nesting season guests may get the chance to release some baby turtles into the sea.
After La Tortuga, we headed north, where our first stop was Tacuba and the Parc Nacional El Imposible. Certainly for the adventurous, a waterfall tour through the park takes you along the river to jump or abseil down seven different falls. There is also a trip to some nearby hot springs on offer.
Next, we headed to Juayua, one of the five mountain villages on the Ruta de las Flores (literally, Route of the Flowers), which we made sure to visit on the weekend to experience its famous weekly traditional food festival. The village was quaint and pretty, and the food was better than I expected. Local restaurants bring their cuisine to the street for two days of the week, and we enjoyed a huge plate of beef, sausages, battered prawns, potatoes, rice and more, all for $5! Juayua also boasts my favourite hostel yet, the well-decorated Casa Mazeta, which had a wonderfully homely feeling, a lovely garden, and a brilliantly kitted out kitchen for guest use.
After Juayua we headed to Santa Ana. Santa Ana isn’t a pretty town, and there is really nothing to do there. However, it is the perfect base for scaling Volcan Santa Ana, at the top of which rests a beautiful, bubbling turquoise crater lake. The ascent takes around an hour, and at 100 degrees celsius in the centre of the lake, unsurprisingly this isn’t one to cool off in.
The view of the lake is quite breathtaking, and isn’t to be missed if you’re in the area.
We finished in Suchitoto, a very small and quiet town with cobbled streets and a bright white cathedral in it’s modest plaza. A half an hour walk and you’re at El Lago Suchitlán; not great for swimming, but rather stunning to look at, nestled in the mountains. There is also a nearby waterfall to hike to, although we gave it a miss on this occasion as waterfalls are certainly not few and far between in the region! Don’t visit Suchitoto in expectation of a happening town; expect to chill out and do not very much for a day or two in the tranquility of what is little more than a small village.
El Salvador has all the elements of the more travelled countries of Central America; volcanoes, waterfalls, rainforest, quaint mountain towns…So take your time on your way through, and venture beyond the coast.