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Trip Report Trip Report

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At long last, I have a few moments to write my trip report. First up, thank you to Roque , a super nice guy who was incredibly helpful in answering all my questions, and took me to a great restaurant in San Salvador, and up to the hills for a great view of the city.

General impressions - El Salvador is much more modern than the neighboring countries. The roads are in good shape, the power stayed on 24 hours a day, every village seems to have electricity, a school and a health clinic. Hardly anyone speaks English, and it is not exactly set up for tourists. Tourists offices, maps, marked trails, etc... are in short supply, but so what? And despite the terrible history, it is so peaceful and relaxing.

San Salvador - By far the most exciting capital in C.A. Don't miss the war memorial in Parque Cuscatlan, modeled after the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. It is quite a moving site, and the best possible introduction to the history of El Salvador, especially to anyone interested in the war period. Right next to it is a great little art-gallery with some excellent paintings and great air-conditioning. And it's free. I walked from there to the Plaza Barrios, which seems to be a bit of a gay pickup spot, to see the cathedral and the Iglesia del Rosario, which also should not be missed. I also saw the Hospitalito, the Marte art museum and the Centro Monsenor Romero, all of which were OK.

Perquin - It is a nice little town that really feels like it's in the middle of nowhere. The war museum is worth a quick visit and you can see a bomb crater out back (they are always quick to point out that the bombs were American made). I showed up at the Prodetur office and took a tour with a former guerilla to climb Cerro Pericon and then walk to El Mozote. It was billed as a 3 hour tour but was actually closer to 6, which was fine. The following morning, I drove to the nearby village of San Fernando and the El Chorreron waterfall.

Alegria - I wasn't planning to stop here, but passed a sign along the road, so decided to go for it. It is a beautiful little town about 5000 feet up in the mountains. You can hike to the Laguna which is beautiful, though if you have a car, it is much easier, as I learned the hard way.

Ruta de Las Flores - My very favorite part of the trip was a morning hike to Chorros de la Callera. Even if you've seen lot of waterfalls before, these are particularly dramatic. And definitely bring a bathing suit so you can swim underneath. You can walk or swim through a cave between two of the waterfalls, although this was impossible when I was there since there were some hombres working. So I took a quick walk into the cave, saw some bats and turned around. It is not a difficult hike, but the trails are not marked so a guide is a good idea. I had a private guide named Mario, who works with the Hotel Anhuac (who I strongly recommend) for $7 including a breakfast he prepared for me along the way. Again, don't miss this!

Otherwise, Juayua is a nice quiet little town, Apaneca has absolutely nothing happening and Ataco is beautiful, much like Granada or Copan before the tourists came. There are lots of very pretty colonial buildings, a bunch of European style cafes (which were all completely empty when I visited) and a large cross overlooking the town that you can hike up to.

Los Cabanos beach - Sucked. This is the first time I can recall in many countries visited that I got to a place and immediately turned around and left. The beach was pretty unappealing and the hotel (Hotel Garrafon, or something like that) was awful. I looked at another hotel but was not impressed with that either, so I hiked back to the highway and got a ride in the back of a pickup to Sonsonate and then to Santa Ana.

Santa Ana - The main square is nice. Other than that, it is really like any other large Central American city, but it is very convenient for Cerro Verde and Lago de Coatapeque.

Cerro Verde - Another must-see. It is about two hours or so by bus from Santa Ana. Lonely Planet says there's a bus at 7:30 and another at 8:30. I got there at 8:10 just as the bus was leaving. Don't know if that was the 7:30 leaving late, the 8:30 leaving early (unlikely) or maybe they replaced them both with an 8:00. But I'd get there by 8 to be safe. You must take a police guided tour which leaves daily at 11. I climbed the Volcan Santa Ana along with a Swedish guy, an Italian guy, a German woman, a Salvadoran now living in the US, a young Salvadoran couple, a park guide and two super-friendly police escorts. The hike is not all that difficult. You start out walking through the cloud forest, then the landscape looks more like a desert and toward the top, is completely barren. At the top, you look down the cliff into the crater lake which is about 3000 feet below. The Italian guy came within about half an inch of his life while taking pictures on the edge. The police will make sure you're back in time for the 3:00 bus. The very nice Salvadoran-American guy offered to take me to see the Lago de Coatapeque which is beautiful and a great stop after the volcanoes. We met up with some more Salvadoran-Americans who were seeing how much beer they could drink and still drive their jet-skis.

Accommodations - The Hotel Tazumal in San Salvador is in a great location and run by a very friendly family. A/C, cable, hot water (never touch those electric water heaters while the water is running) and a great breakfast. This was the best place I stayed.
Perkin Lenka - This is the best place in Perquin ($40 a night), but I was not impressed. There were bugs in the beds and the food was mediocre. When I called to make a reservation and had trouble communicating in Spanish, they hung up on me, even though it is American owned.
Quality Inn at the airport - I was not intending to stay here, but wound up there anyway. It is nice, but way overpriced.
Hotel Anuhac in Juayua - They have dorms and a couple of private rooms ($15). There is a TV, some books, a nice dog and one computer. Everyone seemed to be happy there. It is supposed to be run by English speakers and offer English speaking guides though I didn't see either.
Hotel Sahara in Santa Ana - $39 a night for A/C, cable, hot water and breakfast. A pretty good choice.

Getting around - I rented a car for the first few days, which was both good and bad. The roads are in pretty good shape and it is much faster to drive than take the bus. But in many places signs are non-existent and trying to find your way through small towns is not easy. I was disappointed with AVIS El Salvador since they added some hidden insurance fees and when I returned the car, the lady didn't speak any English and I was delayed for 2.5 hours. I am now disputing the charges and they've been completely unhelpful. It was a relief to get rid of it. The buses, including the chicken buses were fine. Taxis are plentiful in San Salvador, but hard to find in Santa Ana and non-existent in small towns.

Weather - Perfect. Beautiful and sunny every day. Warm but never too hot, never humid and a nice breeze. In the mountains it can get quite chilly at night.

Safety - Once again, I think the whole safety issue is exaggerated. I will say that the walls around the houses in San Salvador are higher than I've seen in other countries and there is a lot more barbed wire and concertina. And there are private guards with rifles patrolling some of the nicer neighborhoods. But I never felt unsafe. I walked around at night, and rode on the bus once after dark, despite the dire warnings. The police are very over-protective of tourists and are also great help in the absence of tourist offices in many places. Don't let the safety issue stop you from going.

Interesting experience - Hitching a ride on the back of a pickup. It is much more fun then you might think and is a popular way of getting around. When I got out, the driver didn't realize I was still unloading my backpack and started driving away and ran over my foot, which is actually a lot less painful than you might think.

All in all, I had a great time. So much to see, so much hiking, so much history and such friendly people, from Senor Roque, to the police escorts, to the very friendly Salvadoran-Americans and the guy at the internet cafe in Santa Ana who drew me an amazingly detailed map to get back to my hotel along the very dark and deserted streets. Get to El Salvador before everyone else does.

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