A Forgotten Gem of Central America
Trip Start Jan 20, 2004
187Trip End Ongoing
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So, why then are we still here after ten days? Because El Salvador has been a delightful surprise! Yes, the country is small, but it has great charm and many areas of notable natural beauty and the people are friendly and eager to talk to visitors. It is more than a decade since the official end of hostilities and there have been significant efforts at reparation and conciliation. Maybe because of outdated travel books, there are very few other tourists here.....we've hardly seen another 'gringo' since we arrived
Our first destination was 'El Imposible' National Park - apparently named for a dangerous gorge in the mountains, but as far as we were concerned it could as easily refer to the very rough 20 km approach road climbing from the coast to about 2,500 ft altitude. The park is mostly original forest - somewhat of a rarity in a country plagued by overpopulation and problems of environmental degradation - and is home to an extraordinary range of plant, animal and bird life. Close by (almost everything is close by in such a small country!) is 'Cerro Verde' National Park where we camped at 6,000 ft and were rewarded with commanding views of the coastal lowlands, as well as over the still smouldering cone of Volcán Izalco. From the other side of Volcan Santa Ana (fortunately dormant) we could look right down into Lago de Coatepeque, a clear blue volcanic crater lake about 6 km across, just beckoning us to explore. Unfortunately, it turned out that the lakefront is almost entirely obstructed by the high-walled cottage properties of San Salvador's wealthy elite, but we were able to find a peaceful vacation oasis on the far side of the lake run by a local village cooperative. Three days later.....!!
Intrigued by a section of highway named 'La Ruta de Flores' we headed further into the highlands to Juayúa and Apaneca
Finally, we thought we should head down to the coast and enjoy a little more sun, sand and surf. Unfortunately, during Semana Santa (Easter Week) just about everybody in El Salvador has the same idea! The beaches along both 'La Costa del Bálsamo' and 'La Costa del Sol' were crowded and noisy, and all accommodation seemed to have been booked up weeks in advance. A few places where we might have stayed with the van were rather grimy and not very appealing, and the only alternatives with vacant rooms were exorbitantly expensive. After one night in a family resort - in a room rented out by 12 hour periods (at least there was a/c and a swimming pool) - we decided to head back into the hills!