Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
It became more apparent there were no other visible international tourists when we finally arrived in San Ignacio via the local chicken bus. El Salvador tourism doesn’t seem built up yet and there aren’t any luxury buses or mini vans for tourists, so the only option for getting around is chicken buses. Lucky we know enough Spanish to ask the conductor where to get off and change buses. It isn’t always where the bus terminates and could be at a roadside junction such as a gas station. When we arrived in San Ignacio the lonely planet mentioned a few hotels, unfortunately we could only find one in the whole town. I was wondering “where are we?” because this doesn’t seem like a tourist location.
How to get to El Pital
We picked San Ignacio as it had a direct local bus to gain access to climb the highest mountain in El Salvador; El Pital. We asked at the hotel how to get there, and from what we could gather as everything was in Spanish, that we couldn’t go in the afternoon because we wouldn’t be able to return and it was better to go in the morning. She said her brother was coming home soon and spoke English. When her brother met us, our guess on the translation was correct; there was no return bus so we had to go in the morning. Unfortunately he didn’t know when the buses were (again confirming not many tourists come here) so we went to the bus stop and asked the locals. They said the bus left at 7am and returned at 12.30pm. From what we can gather, the lonely planet information is still valid. Take bus 509 from San Ignacio to Rio Chiquito ($1.30/pp one way – 45 minutes). They leave at 7am, 9.30am, 12.30pm, 2.30pm and 4.30pm. The return times are a bit unknown, but we got on a bus around 12.15pm back to San Ignacio. From here, you can totally cheat and get a pickup truck to take you basically all the way to the top. We didn’t, so we don’t know the cost. It’s about 5km to the top and takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Since we had an afternoon to kill, we decided to go and see La Palma. This is the more popular of the two towns about 3km closer towards San Salvador. It is known for its very colourful and detailed murals and paintings on its buildings. We took the local bus ($0.25ea one way) and squished on with the hundreds of other locals, and got off at La Palma. There seemed to be more hotels here so I think this is where more tourists stay. The town is absolutely beautiful. On the main street we passed numerous murals on shops, schools, hotels and artesania’s.
After an hour we had walked through town and seen most of the murals and stopped off in a cake shop for afternoon tea. We shared a piece of cake, I am still not sure what it was but it was absolutely delicious.
Posada de Reyes
We then returned back to our hotel, Posada de Reyes. Their son (Mario) was very helpful and spoke really good English. He explained to us he won an award for his English and that he didn’t get many opportunities to practice with others. He also had the cutest dog Bruno which I made friends with. He looked so cute in his mini sweater. The whole family there was really friendly and helpful and we would recommend anyone to stay there. We got a double with hot water, cable TV, wifi, drinking water and air conditioning (not really needed) for $25/night. It was really quiet and comfortable.
Climbing El Pital – the highest peak in El Salvador
With an early start to catch a 7am bus, I stopped for coffee in a local comedor costing me a total of US$0.35. We were the only tourists on the bus, so we asked the conductor to let us know when to get off. The bus dropped us off at a small little town called Rio Chiquuito, 5.5km by road from the peak of El Pital. We asked the locals where to go and they pointed along a road going upwards. Along the way we passed numerous comedors, and hotels (we opted not to stay here as lonely planet quoted prices of US$70 upwards). The weird thing was on our climb up is we didn’t see anyone else walking up the mountain. The views along the way were amazing with clouds rolling in and out.
It became evident later on that all the locals drove up and camped at the top of the mountain. When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we found lots of people who had been camping there overnight. From what we gathered it was mostly El Salvadorians. There was an access fee here of US$3 per person which we believe is to maintain the area, which was clean and quite picturesque.
We met a family at the top from San Salvador (the capital) who had camped overnight. They asked us why we chose to visit El Salvador and what our plans were. They also said to be careful on where we go hiking as it’s not always safe to go alone up mountains (due to robberies). We finally made it up the official top which was marked by a beautiful communications tower (sarcasm) and a white monument. The monument was fairly unique in that it marked the border of Honduras and El Salvador. The border itself was separated by a very simple and low wire fence. Yay! We made it and at least by walking it rather than cheating and driving we felt like we achieved something.
The only disappointing thing is we didn’t get to enjoy the view. It had been clouded in all morning and likely to continue all day, so we gave up and headed back to get the early bus. While waiting, we stopped at a Pupuseria for some Pupusa’s and coffee. The bus was full on the way back, so I stood the whole 30 or more minutes of the mountainous journey.
In summary, if you want an easy climb, mingle with the locals and to say you’ve been to the highest point in El Salvador then this is the hike for you.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/