While chicken buses are definitively the cheapest way to travel around El Salvador, renting a car was a convenient option for 24-hours of camping, hiking and sightseeing. The road-trip loop encompassed approx 130 miles starting and ending in San Salvador with stops in Sonsonate, Juayua, Apaneca and Santa Ana.
The main destination was just outside Juayua at Portezuelo Adventure Park for $5pp/night camping. After the four of us set up two tents it didn’t take long to realize we were completely unprepared for camping. Mario (the temp caretaker from the organic ‘farm’) had brought the tents, but that completed the supply list. All I could do was laugh, thinking about all the preparedness lessons I’ve been taught over the years. We had zero sleeping bags, camping pads, fire materials and um, no water (save my full Nalgene!)…doobeedoo. At least we had a car with some gas still in the tank! I had no right to complain though since I remained hands-off in the pre-trip preparations.
We set out anyways for a hike to Laguna Verde, a crater lake located near Apaneca. A local guy took pity on us and guided us the entire way after watching us immediately head off in the wrong direction. At times there was a path, but other times we wove through hillside cornfields or coffee bean plants. Along the way we were treated to stunning views of Volcano National Park, which includes Cerro Verde and Izalco, as well as Guatemala in the distance.
The hike was slightly more strenuous that we’d planned for and yet our new local friend didn’t break a sweat, as he made this up and down journey at least twice a day to turn on and off a water pump for his village. Before heading back to camp from the lagoon, a man pointed to one of his yard plants and offered us some ‘magic tea’ for our hike back. Politely making our escape back up the trail, our volunteer guide surprised us halfway back as he whistled over to us that we’d missed our turn off. He knew we’d get lost and made the trek once more to ensure we got back okay! These seemingly endless encounters of genuine kindness continue to surprise and amaze me.
In true camping fashion, we then piled back into the car and headed to Juayua’s super market for some supplies and Apeneca for pupusas. Juayua is a colorful, yet sleepy mountain town.
Every weekend there is a food festival, but being during the week the streets were nearly empty. The walls of the buildings are painted in beautiful murals that made roaming the streets a treat. The towns and landscape in this area of El Salvador were my favorite by far.
Bellies full and bodies exhausted, we attempted for sleep back at camp. Luckily I had my sleep sac and enough clothing to keep me moderately warm, but some of my companions didn’t fare so well in the cold. Barely into the night, one girl headed for the car and by the morning another guy was in there too. I wouldn’t say I slept very well at all, but I woke up at 7am laughing to loud dance music being blasted over speakers from somewhere nearby. At least I still had a light heart about the whole adventure.
Forgoing our plans for another hike that morning, the grumpy group piled into the car and took a scenic drive over to our final stop, Santa Ana. There we gorged on Tortas (a version of a hot dog ordered with soy meat and piled with hot sauce, ketchup and more for 30-40cents each) and walked around the main plaza.
It was a fast 24-hr excursion! Despite traveling fast, I was still able to see a few cities at a cursory glance, as well as stretch my legs and score a killer view while hiking. Four of us split the road-trip transportation bill of $57 ($32 car, $25 gas), making it $14.25pp. Add in the $5 camping spot and food, the two day/24-hr adventure cost under $30. I’d still call this a successful camping trip!