Backpacking in El Salvador? That's right. Though not traditionally one of Central America's most well-traveled destinations, more backpackers (and surfers) discover the small nation's attractions each year. Luxury travel is possible, as long as travelers keep to well-trod destinations; however, those who backpack in El Salvador will find a host of colorful, fun, and even awe-striking destinations, less accessible to those who seek extra threads in their sheets. Here's a selection of the top backpacking destinations in El Salvador.
Historically, San Salvador hasn't topped the list of Central America destinations, but the capital city is starting to emerge as a worthwhile stop for El Salvador backpackers and other travelers. Flights to San Salvador from the United States are some of the least expensive among Central America destinations, and it's central to many of El Salvador's biggest attractions, like La Libertad and the San Salvador volcano. Just be mindful of the still-high crime rates, traffic, and crowds in many areas.
Suchitoto, a small colonial village in the country's center, is a favorite El Salvador backpacker destination. Known as "the Antigua of El Salvador", the village's cobblestone streets and pastel-colored colonial buildings are definitely reminiscent of the larger Guatemalan city. Backpackers can opt for boat tours of the Lake Suchitlan and its islands and lakeshore villages, or a tour of nearby waterfalls La Cascada Los Tercios.
The most visited El Salvador beaches are located in La Libertad, including El Tunco and El Sunzal. The La Libertad beaches boast some of the best surfing in Central America, attracting a constant pilgrimage of backpacker surfers to the region's beach bungalows and ideal breaks. Even if you're not a surfer, the scenic beaches and laid-back surf culture (not to mention the seafood) are more than worth a trip.
Cradled by green hills, volcanoes, and an abundance of coffee plantations, Santa Ana is the second largest city in El Salvador, but missing the extremes of city chaos and poverty San Salvador suffers. Three of El Salvador's most popular attractions are extremely close to Santa Ana: Lake Coatepeque (Lago de Coatepeque), the Mayan ruins of Tazumal, and Cerro Verde, an active volcano hikers can trek. The Pan-American Highway crosses through Santa Ana, making the city easily accessible via bus, shuttle or car.
La Palma is a village located in El Salvador's mountainous region near the Honduran border, a cool break from the soaring temperatures of the capital. The majority of La Palma's citizens make their living from handicrafts and tourism, providing amenities for travelers without taking away from the village's charm. The nearby villages of Miramundo and Las Pilas are a bit farther off the beaten path, but no less charming; all offer budget accommodations for backpackers. Lastly, El Salvador's highest mountain, Cerro El Pital Volcano is close by and a (mostly) reasonable hike, though a little dodgy in the rainy season.
Montecristo National Park
Right where Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador meet lies Montecristo National Park (Parque Nacional Montecristo), an area brimming with flora and fauna. The park is closed from April to September, reflecting the El Salvador rainy season. When it's open, camping is permitted – and is the best way to catch a glimpse of the resplendent quetzal, one of the park's most famous inhabitants.
El Imposible National Park
According to Wikipedia, El Imposible ("The Impossible") was named for a hazardous gorge that killed a number of farmers and pack mules transporting coffee to the Pacific. Today, the park remains one of El Salvador's most incredible natural attractions, home to the country's richest biodiversity. Accommodation options are limited; try Hostal Imposible or Hostal Mama y Papa with Imposible Tours.
The Wild East
Popularized by intrepid surfers, El Salvador's "Wild East" coastal region boasts some of the country's best surf breaks – and most basic infrastructure. However, the region is just a few hours from El Salvador, and worth a trip for backpackers seeking unspoiled beaches, even if they're not big on surfing.