Friday, April 5, 2024

A Solo Adventure in El Salvador: A 5-Day Itinerary

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, offers a rich tapestry of experiences for those looking to explore its vibrant culture, natural beauty, and historical sites. In just five days, I managed to cover a variety of attractions, making it an ideal destination for a week-long trip. With well-maintained roads and affordable car rentals, getting around is both convenient and economical. Here’s a detailed account of my solo adventure in El Salvador.

I was able to arrange a rental car with the hotel/casa owner I was going to be staying at for the first and last nights of arrival and departure into the country, which was very close to the airport. The rate quoted at the time was $30USD/day which was a good deal as it included a $500 deductible with insurance.

Pupusa, a flat bread
made out of corn/rice flour
stuffed with beans or meat, and cheese
Day 1 (Arrival into El Salvador): 
Arrival: My flight touched down at 8 PM local time. Immigration was a two-step process: first, purchasing a $12 "tourist card" (cash only), and then presenting it to the immigration officer. The entire procedure took about 30 minutes, depending on the number of arrivals. 

Accommodation: I stayed near the airport at Casa de Descanso Poder de Dios, a charming place where I had pre-arranged a car rental for $30 per day, including insurance. One of the staff members picked me up from the airport, making my arrival hassle-free.
Santa Ana Centro

Lago de Coatepeque
Day 2 (Santa Ana and San Salvador)
Morning in San Salvador: After a restful night, I picked up my rental car and drove to the capital city, San Salvador, via Highway 5. The journey took about 30-40 minutes. I parked near the centro, where I visited the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the newly established National Library, a modern marvel gifted by China gifted by China. 
San Salvador centre
Brunch: I couldn’t miss trying pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish made of corn or rice flour stuffed with beans, meat, and cheese. They were delicious and the perfect fuel for the day ahead. 

Afternoon in Santa Ana: I then drove to Santa Ana, taking a scenic detour to Lake Coatepeque. Despite the haze, the lake offered serene views. I reached Santa Ana around noon and spent the evening exploring the charming Santa Ana Centro, just a short walk from my hotel.

Day 3 (Volcano Santa Ana) After having a sumptuous breakfast at my Santa Ana hotel, I left for the main attraction of my visit the Santa Ana Volcano hike. I started my car ride at around 7:30 am, and it a little more than an hour on the curvy hilly road around lake 

Vista along the hike

Morning Adventure: After a hearty breakfast at my Santa Ana hotel, I set out early for the Santa Ana Volcano hike. The drive to the Cerro Verde car park took a little over an hour along curvy, hilly roads. The park entry fee was $4 ($1 for parking, $3 for entrance).

Hike Details: Guided hikes depart hourly between 9 AM and 11 AM (check timings as they may vary). Joining a group costs $3. The initial part of the hike was gentle, passing through forests and a short road section. The final 3km stretch was steeper, but the effort was rewarded with stunning views of the turquoise crater lake at the summit.

Cost Breakdown: Total hike cost: $4 (entry) + $3 (guide) + $6 (volcano entry) = $13


Day 4 (Tazumal Park and Nuevo Cuscatlán)

This was my last day in Santa Ana and I wanted to visit the Tazumal mayan ruins before I left the city. The ruins are about an 30 minutes away by car, and I was able to get to the park which opens at 9am.  There are 2 ar
chaeological sites in Chalchuapa. El Tazumal and La Casa Blanca. Tazumal is a pre-Columbian Maya archeological site inhabited since the Preclassic period and that is as far back as 2000 BC. The fee is 5 USD for foreigners, and you can explore at your own pace. There is a map that tells you the main structures within the site.

Planes de Renderos Lookout
While speaking with the caretaker, he said though much smaller than Tikal in Guatemala it was important for the Mayan civilization and it was one of their first settlements. He also said there were some Japanese archeologists who did the excavation work here. 

My lunch on my way
There is also an underground site which shows the bases below the ground and a museum with some artefacts from that time period. 

I was told not to fly the drone here by the guard, but I'd already flown and captured some footage by then, so I just brought it back after he warned me, but he was generally chill about it.

Afternoon, I reached by Airbnb in Nuevo Custcatán and after a short nap, took a car ride to a lookout point (pic above) about 30 minutes away, where you can get a view the greater San Salvador metro area.

Fish soup with 
a view
La Libertad Coast
Day 5 (La Libertdad) On my final full day, I drove to the coastal province of La Libertad, famous for its surf-friendly waves. While the town's roads are rough, the highway leading there is in excellent condition. I enjoyed flying my drone and had a relaxing lunch at a seaside restaurant, soaking in the beautiful coastal views.

Travel Essentials


Airline: Avianca

Car Rental: Arranged through the hotel at $30/day with insurance.

Tips for Travelers:

  • Carry cash for tourist cards and some park entries.
  • Confirm hike schedules in advance.
  • Respect local regulations regarding drone usage.

El Salvador is a gem waiting to be discovered, offering a compact yet rich travel experience perfect for a short but fulfilling adventure.