El Salvador’s Top Spots for Nature Adventures
Hiking, mountain biking, rafting, surfing, swimming: Whatever adventures you’re into, El Salvador has a lush playground for you to partake of it. Easy-to-reach waterfalls, hot springs, volcanoes, and beaches come together in this outdoor lover’s paradise, with expert outfitters ready to gear up and whisk you to the best spots.
The easiest way into wild El Salvador is at one of the many ecotourism centers scattered across the country, where you can arrange your own adventure with English-speaking guides and all the equipment you might need. Here’s where to get wild.
Montecristo National Park
Great For: Hiking & Camping
This park sits high in the cloud forests of the Sierra Madre Mountains, some 7,000 feet (2,1336m) above sea level—an entirely different world from the dry tropical forests that dominate the Salvadoran countryside. Cool (50°F/10°C), wet weather has created the perfect home for massive ferns, fantastic orchids, pumas, and vibrantly colored birds like the resplendent quetzal.
You’ll also find a wooded and well-maintain campsite, and several hiking trails up to 4 miles (7 km) in length. The longest, steepest trail leads to a monument where El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras meet. Bring everything you’ll need for your hike and stay, as services are limited.
Great For: Hiking, Camping, and Swimming
El Salvador’s “Wild East” is just a bit less developed and accessible, preserving its natural wonders for more adventurous travelers. Start in the mountain town of Perquín, which has become the area’s center of ecotourism.
Guides can arrange all sorts of hikes through the mountains, taking in waterfalls, rivers, and hot springs, as well as multi-day excursions that include tent rentals and meals. One of the most popular destinations is the Rio Sapo, a river that rolls past one of the best campgrounds in the country, with toilets, fire pits, security, and swimming holes; a double waterfall is a short hike away.
Great For: Whitewater Rafting
The most important river in El Salvador is the Rio Lempa, once the southernmost border of the Mayan Empire. Its 262 miles (422 km) rush past rolling mountains, epic gorges, and small villages on the way to the Pacific. Experienced kayakers can paddle the Class IV and V rapids at the top of the Lempa, but most people head to Apazunga Aquatic Park Center to take easy whitewater rafting trips down the Class II and III portions.
Apazunga (which translates to “where the river begins”) also has a refreshing spring for bathers, a small canopy tour for adrenaline junkies, playgrounds, and other family-friendly amenities.
Great For: Biking, Kayaking, Sea Turtles, and Beaches
The mangrove-forested inlet of Bahia Jiquilisco Biosphere Reserve is a quiet place of almost unspoiled natural beauty, covering more than 150 square miles (400 sq km). Locally run tour operators offer boat and kayaking trips around the islands and inlet that are perfect for birding, fishing, and wildlife spotting.
This is also one of the world’s most important hatcheries for hawksbill turtles, critically endangered because their translucent shells are used to make much-coveted jewelry; ask your guide about visiting a conservation project. Or choose to arrange bike rides, visits to plantations and wildlife preserves, and overnights along the endless white-sand Pacific beaches.