We might love watching surfers catch waves as the sun sets, but we GlobetrotterGirls don’t surf. Since the beaches of El Salvador are great for surfing but rocky and not great for swimming, this was not the part of the country that grabbed our attention, nor were the big cities or the landscapes. The most enjoyable part of El Salvador was the smaller towns and villages throughout the country with their peaceful mornings, friendly locals and artistic inspiration. We’ve already outlined the towns along the ‘Ruta de las Flores’, El Salvador’s flower route, but the two towns that have our hearts are Suchitoto and Alegria.
Alegria is a small mountain village in the Usulutlan region, surrounded by El Salvador’s highest mountains, coffee farms, and several volcanoes. The village itself is as sleepy as a mountain village can only get. When the bus lets you out on the main square, you might not see a single soul out in the midday sun, except for the two ladies making pupusas right on the square.
Alegria is famous for is the Laguna de Alegria, a crater lake two kilometers outside of town, which you can visit by yourself or take a guided hike like we did. There are only three or four accommodation options, and you may run in to one or two foreigners during your time in town, as this village is truly off the beaten path.
Other than that, there is not an awful lot to do in Alegria. You can sit on the main plaza and chat with the locals, eat your way through various pupuserias in the village, check out the views at the spot of the 100 Steps. To work off all the pupusas, walk up and down these 100 steps, or even jog them, like some of the locals do. Otherwise, tour the cobblestone streets to admire the street art and murals that color the town.
If you are looking for a place with nightlife, museums and entertainment, Alegria might not be the right place for you, but if you are looking to hang back for a few days, relax, take in some El Salvadoran village life and enjoy the fresh mountain air in the highest village in the country, then Alegria is this is the most ‘authentic’ place you can find.
How to get there: From Usulutan, bus No 348 goes directly to Alegria
Where to stay: We have already recommended the superb hostel
‘Entre Piedras’ in our Hotel Tip of the Week, but we are not getting tired of mentioning again that it also contributed significantly to the memorable time we had in Alegria ($20.00 for a double room, free wi-fi).
At a quick hour’s ride north of San Salvador, Suchitoto is the top mountain getaway pick for tourists and locals alike.
Although the town contends with Alegria for the title of ‘El Salvador’s most picturesque village’ we think Suchitoto wins hands down. A colonial town with cobblestone streets, a large, bright central square, well-preserved colonial houses and trees and flowers throughout town, Suchitoto is also home to buzzing restaurants, cafes, bars and pupuserias.
During El Salvador’s civil war, artists fled the capital and made Suchitoto home, an inspiring influence which can still be felt throughout the town. Alternative artists and stylish residents browse through quirky shops and art galleries and the smaller Parque San Martin is decorated with sculptures. The creativity can even been seen on the iconic Iglesia Santa Lucia cathedral in central park, which has a stunning white façade, six columns and three towers on top which are decorated with….dinner plates! We love how creative and economical this decoration choice was. There are several festivals throughout the year, when live music on the central square can be enjoyed while having a drink or a coffee in the many cafes and restaurants that line the Plaza.
You will see Lake Suchitatlan from town, and this popular weekend destination is easy to reach from town by heading down 3 Avenida Sur all the way down the hill either on foot or by frequent local bus ($0.45) The lake can be crossed by boat or ferry, and is also the starting point of the adventurous hike to the Los Tercios waterfall (a bit too adventurous for us). For equally thrilling but less risky adventure, join the people who zipline across the lake.
How to get there:Bus No 129 from San Salvador (Terminal de Oriente) goes directly and very frequently.
Where to stay: There is a cheap hostel often recommended for $10.00 for a double room (6 Calle de Oriente), but it was run down and we wouldn’t recommend it. We opted for the more expensive but also much more comfortable Villa Balanza ($20.00 for a double room, wi-fi, kitchen, TV, lake views), which also has a fantastic restaurant which is worth a visit for affordable typical food and creative décor.