Travel off the Beaten Path in El Salvador

Now El Salvador isn’t exactly a top tourist destination, which is such a shame considering this country’s wealth of natural beauty, quaint colonial towns, and incredibly friendly locals. ❤

As such, I’ve come up with THREE off-beaten-path places worth checking out in El Salvador:

1. La Ruta de las Flores

2. Cerro Verde National Park

3. San Salvador

How to Visit La Ruta de las Flores and Cerro Verde National Park

To visit the first two places on my list, I chose to make my home base in the stunning colonial city of Santa Ana.

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Cathedral of Santa Ana

Santa Ana has one of the most beautiful central plazas in Central America. Both the Gothic cathedral and the renaissance theater of Santa Ana are truly a sight to behold.

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Teatro Nacional de Santa Ana

As well, from the city of Santa Ana, I could easily make day trips to the Ruta de las Flores and Cerro Verde National Park.

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Santa Ana is a home base, and the Ruta de las Flores and Cerro Verde National Park are only 1-2 hours away

Getting Around in El Salvador:

To travel from Santa Ana, and to travel in El Salvador in general, I took chicken buses. These are basically old American school buses that have been pimped out with colored paint and decorations, and now serve as the main public transport in Central America. Overall, chicken buses are cheap, fast, and easy for navigation. I mean, the destination is written in bold on the front of the bus! 😀

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colorful chicken bus

Where to Stay in Santa Ana: 

Now I have stayed in many hostels before, and I have to say that Hostel Casa Verde is one of the best! Not only is Carlos, the owner, incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, he has designed this hostel with the backpacker’s needs at heart. The rooms are spotless, the lockers have outlets inside for charging, the beds have personal fans, and each guest has their own rack to hang their belongings. As well, the full kitchen has free coffee and spices for use, plus an array of beverages and snacks for purchase. If that weren’t enough, they have a rooftop terrace, an indoor pool, fast WiFi, free purified water, and hundreds of DVDs to watch in their common room. This place was a dream! ❤casaverde

Cost: 11 USD/night

1. Cerro Verde National Park

The Cerro Verde National Park is home to three of the country’s most impressive volcanoes: Cerro Verde, Izalco, and Santa Ana. DSC_2796I chose to climb Santa Ana, since it’s the country’s highest volcano, and offer spectacular views of its neon-green crater lake. volcan3To get to Cerro Verde from Santa Ana (my home base), I took the local bus #248, which took 1.5 hours and cost 90 cents.

Fun fact on currency: USD is the official currency in El Salvador; however, I’ve noticed they also use uncirculated dollar coins. Check out these John Adams $1 coins! ticketI chose to climb Santa Ana with a guided tour, which cost 1 USD and is recommended for overall safety. I had an hour to kill before my tour, so I decided to wander the botanical garden at the Cerro Verde National Park.

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This hedge trimmer must be a Picasso in the making, because I don’t know what these are supposed to be. 😕
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gorgeous native plants in Cerro Verde

Anyway, when the tour finally began, about 30 locals gathered around our hunky guide, and we began our 2-hour hike to the summit. 😛
DSC_2781After about halfway through, it started to rain, and it seemed like I was the only one with rain gear (i.e. my purple umbrella). Some women were even wearing high heels! Anyway, despite being sopping wet, everyone continued to follow the rocky path to the summit. DSC_2784I was a little worried about visibility with the rain clouds, but luckily the path was painted with bright yellow paint. DSC_2801Although it rained during our ascent, we were so fortunate that when we reached the summit, the clouds cleared and the rain suddenly stopped. We had perfect views of Santa Ana!DSC_2807We even had great views of the surrounding mountains and Lago de Coatepeque, a volcanic lake, said to be one of the most beautiful in the world. DSC_2822

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Lago de Coatepeque

I also took in the beautiful local vegetation around me.

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cacti growing on the volcano

Now as I looked into the crater, I could see the water bubbling and smell the volcanic gases (i.e. sulfer).

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the lake bubbles due to geothermal energy

What was so interesting to me though, was the powerful geothermal energy generated from the volcano. It even caused my hair to stand straight up! volcan2Check it out in this video! 😀

Anyway, at the summit, everyone sat down along the crater to enjoy a self-packed lunch.

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Look how small the people look compared to the crater! 😮

That’s when I started chatting with some Dutch travelers and a local El Salvadorian, who became my new travel buddies during the descent.

new friends

Cost: 3 USD park entry, 6 USD volcano entry, 1 USD guide fee, and $1.40 for bus transport

2. La Ruta de las Flores

La Ruta de las Flores (The Route of the Flowers) is a series of five charming villages in northern El Salvador, home to colonial architecture, regional cuisine, and fascinating indigenous traditions. DSC_2722The allure of this route is to slow down your pace, and enjoy the local culture of this area, in a naturally beautiful place.

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woman walking through Juayúa, carrying a basket full of pupusas

Of the five major towns on this route, I chose to visit Juayúa, which is well-known for their weekly Feria Gastronómica, or food festival. DSC_2753

To get to Juayúa from Santa Ana (my home base), I took bus #238, which took one hour and cost 70 cents. I was lucky to get a seat, since the bus was packed with people standing in the aisles. I think that’s why they’re called chicken buses, since people are packed in there like animals. Hah! As well, during the ride, many people came on the bus to sell items, offering everything from fresh fruit and pizza slices, to notebooks and zip lock bags full of marshmallows. One guy even came on to preach Bible verses. It was such a lively affair, and yet, the guy standing next to me managed to dose off while standing up! What?!

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l: man sleeping; tr: woman selling pizza; mr: fruit and veggies for sale; br: packed in the bus like chickens 😛

Anyway, I arrived in town quite early, so I took a stroll through the streets and made my way to visit the nearby waterfalls.

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streets of Juayúa
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street art in Juayúa saying, “Peace isn’t found, it’s built.”
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typical home in Juayúa
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Los Chorros Waterfall- about a 25-minute walk from the center of town

Anyway, that walk worked up an appetite, so I headed back to main square of town to check out the local food fair.

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cathedral in the main square of Juayúa

The main square of Juayúa is quite charming, with very family-friendly vibe.

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locals relaxing in the main square

They even had rides for kids. 😀
DSC_2733I also found the street art in town quite lovely and colorful. The street poles are covered in designs of tropical birds and plants, and even the public restrooms were painted in vibrant colors. DSC_2766

As for the food, I spotted lots of options, like plantain chips and fresh juices.

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plantain chips and limes
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hibiscus juice, coconut juice, horchata (a sweet seed-based milk, mixed with spices), and fruit juice (mixture of pineapple, apples, oranges, etc)

They also had main meals, like grilled meats and seafood, served with rice and fresh vegetables. To serve alongside, I saw this crazy pineapple drink that was mixed with rum, then topped with Worcestershire sauce and chili. Definitely a sweet and spicy combination! foodfairHeck, I even saw this local fruit called inga. This gigantic green pod is full of sweet white flesh, with a tropical taste of pineapple and raspberry. It’s been nicknamed the “ice cream bean” for its sweet and creamy consistency, but also nicknamed “Hulk’s penis” for obvious reasons. Hah! 😛
DSC_2732Personally, I wanted to try a regional staple, the pupusa. I visited a local restaurant, Pupuseria Sugey, and checked out their menu, which included a variety of fillings.

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Revueltas (been, cheese, and chicharron (pork skin)), Camaron (shrimp) and many local herbs and vegetables (mora, papelillo, and ayote)

I opted for papelillo, a green leafy plant, that is mashed with cheese, stuffed inside a corn dough, and cooked on the grill.

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woman at Pupuseria Sugey preparing pupusas

The end result is a greasy and delicious El Salvadorian grilled cheese, that you can top with pickled vegetables and a spicy sauce.DSC_2760Here’s a short video of the cook making the pupusas. Hope you enjoy! (Sorry, no smell-o-vision) 😛

3. San Salvador 

San Salvador is the country’s capital city, which may have a bad reputation in the media, but is actually home to many hidden gems.

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the cathedral of San Salvador, as seen from the entrance to Iglesia el Rosario

I’ll admit, on my first day there, I kind of hibernated at the hostel, playing with the hostel’s dog, unsure about how secure it was to walk and see the city’s sights.

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cute puppy at my hostel

That being said, if I wouldn’t have ventured out, I never would have found places like this! 😮

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iglesia el rosario in the historic center of San Salvador

Sights in San Salvador: MARTE

The first place I turned was MARTE, the museum of art, which uses art as a way to outline the history of El Salvador, including pieces which show the devastating effects of their civil war.

DSC_2885I couldn’t take photos inside, but here is a contemporary sculpture near the entrance. DSC_2887

Cost: 1.50 USD

Sights in San Salvador: El Arbol de Dios

Fernando Llort is an internationally recognized local artist, who has created beautiful and colorful, two-dimensional art pieces, which exhibit the beauty of rural El Salvador. DSC_2869The inspiration for his pieces came during the Salvadorian Civil War, when Llort fled to the small rural village of La Palma, to enjoy the simple life in the mountains, and escape the realities of his warn-torn country. Many of his designs include animals, nature, and village life in El Salvador. DSC_2884His larger message; however, has been the importance of community in his country. In fact, not only did Llort paint artwork in La Palma, he taught the whole community to paint as well. Now, the village of La Palma draws visitors internationally, to see the community’s beautiful artwork spread across the town.

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artwork in La Palma(a small town in northeastern El Salvador), courtesy of Google images

Although I wasn’t able to see the art in La Palma, I did visit El Arbol de Dios, Llort’s gallery in San Salvador. I loved trying to teach this cute old security guard at the gallery how to use my camera. I think he did a nice job. 🙂DSC_2880Anyway, the gallery showcases a few art pieces, which are painted on both wood and ceramics. DSC_2874The gallery also has a large amount of souvenirs for sale. DSC_2875I opted for a small pendant for my necklace. DSC_2876Cost: 1 USD for the pendant, FREE entry to the gallery

Now after all that walking and art-viewing, I felt I deserved an iced cold beer, so I headed to a local microbrewery.

Sights in San Salvador: Cadejo Brewing Company

This place had six beers on tap, and I opted to try the Popol Brew, a cream ale, brewed with local maize(corn).17361926_1212338485553278_3784295413226351663_nThe beer was light and well-balanced, and I found the brewery house had a very inviting atmosphere. They also offer tours of their brewery, have a full restaurant on-site, and they’re even pet friendly! ❤DSC_2890

Cost: 1 USD per beer sample

Overall safety in San Salvador: Similar to any major city, there are both good and bad neighborhoods in San Salvador. Personally, I enjoyed the neighborhood of Escalón and San Benito, which has lots of restaurants, cafes, and upscale homes. This is also near to where I stayed, at Hostel Cumbre Volcan (7 USD /night). 20170516_111615

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Galerias mall near Escalón, with lots of chain stores and restaurants

In contrast, the historic center of town is quite impoverished and dilapidated. Basically, make smart decisions with where you go and when. Don’t travel at night, and watch your belongings in crowded areas.

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Hard to believe these pictures and the ones pictured above are from the same city! 😮

Anyway, these are just a few sites in a country filled with countless charming villages, miles of Pacific coastline, and hundreds of acres of unadulterated forest. I hope you enjoyed this snippet of El Salvador, and it inspires you to see what else the country has to offer! 😀

Up next, I’m visiting the country of Honduras, to see more off-the-beaten-path attractions. Stay tuned to hear all about it. Until then. 🙂

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