April 17, 2017
We had our first guests in Central America when our good friends Jeff and his 14 yr old daughter Jianna joined us in El Salvador. It was also a good excuse for us to go traveling around the country.
We were able to rent a car really easily and cheaply, which was quite surprising after our experience renting a car in Mexico. In Mexico, we had to put down a pretty hefty deposit on our credit card and pay a pretty penny for full insurance. But, in El Salvador they delivered us a rental car for $25/day in cash with no deposits. I don’t think they even looked at our driver’s license or passports.
The car had 87,000 miles on it and a pretty bad alignment, but it drove and had A/C! So, that was a win for us. But, driving in El Salvador is something else. Most of the streets don’t have street signs. Even when they do, they don’t always make sense. And, there are not easy ways to get on and off the highways. We found that having Google maps open on the iPad and following the blue dot was the only way to navigate. However, even Google maps is not infallible, as it once took us down a dirt farm road and another time led us to a dead end at a river.
After spending a day driving around San Salvador and seeing the sights, we decided to drive up into the mountains with stops at a volcano and archeological sight on the way. The great thing about the size of El Salvador is that you could drive the whole country pretty quickly.
Our first stop was a hike up the Vulcan de San Salvador. After a few wrong turns, we finally found our way up to the top of the Volcano. You can drive almost to the top where there is a very well marked trail to hike to see the top of the caldera.
Our next stop was at Joya de Ceren. This is an UNESCO world heritage site. It is a Mayan farming village which was buried and preserved by the ash of a volcanic eruption around 600 AD, similar to Pompeii. It really was a unique and fascinating site. It is not as grand as the Mayan pyramids at other sites, but it shows the daily life of the people who lived here.
We finally made it to Juayua, our destination up in the mountains. Another cruising couple had recommended a small hotel, Hotel Anahuac, which was just perfect. It had a coffee shop attached brewing locally grown coffee and a cute courtyard around the six or so hotel rooms. It was inexpensive and catered to the backpacker crowd.
We inquired at the reception about taking a tour the next day, and it was recommended that we take the Siete Cascadas (Seven Waterfalls) hike. Our guide would pick us up at 8 am the next morning at the hotel, and it only cost $20/person. Perfect.
So, we dressed for hiking and getting wet and met a young woman at the front of the hotel the next morning who introduced herself as our guide. She didn’t have a car, so we just followed her walking through the town until we got to a dirt road that led back to a lean-to type home with chickens and dogs wandering around. She told us that we would be meeting up with another guide here. Soon we were introduced to Douglas, our second guide, who greeted us with a large rope slug over his shoulder and a machete. I was beginning to wonder what we had gotten ourselves into…
We started following our guides further into the woods? jungle? not sure what you would call it… Douglas pointed out various plants that the locals use, and soon we started seeing the coffee plants. Although the terrain is mountainous, the coffee is planted up and down the sides of the hills. I can’t imagine how much work it takes to plant and harvest the coffee beans in this inhospitable terrain.
We began to walk farther and farther through somewhat difficult trails. I saw why he brought the machete…to cut our way through the wild plants that may have grown over the trails. We never would be able to do this hike without the guides, as the trails weren’t always marked well and sometimes required scrambling up or down rocks and tree roots.
We finally got to the first of the seven waterfalls and all decided to cool off. It was a warm day out, but the water was cold! It felt good, even though it took your breath away at first.
A couple of waterfalls later, we were actually standing at the top of the waterfall. We all looked at each other as we saw Douglas take down the rope he had been carrying and start to a fix it around a tree. We were going to repel down the waterfall!
One at a time we slowly make our way climbing down the waterfall. Douglas went ahead of each of us to show us exactly where to put our footing, and we all made it down safely.
The last few waterfalls have been damned up into pools that you can swim in. After a picnic lunch, we took advantage of the deepest pool and did some swimming. The waterfalls were amazing!
Overall, this was a fantastic hike and one of the best things we have done in the last year. The views of the waterfalls were spectacular. It was a moderately difficult hike, but I would recommend it to anyone traveling to this part of the world. Juayua was also a really cute little town to stay in. I wished we’d had a bit more time to explore, especially more time to see the coffee plantations. But, we’ll just have to put that on the list for another time.
We had so much fun with our guests, and we hope they come back and visit us again soon!