Fun and Danger at the Abandoned Santa Ana Water Park

El Salvador Water Park: Some Dangerous Fun!

Inside the Santa Ana Water Park

Ever spent time in an abandoned amusement park and thought of zombies and post-apocalyptic scenarios? This story doesn’t go quite that far, but it does contain men wielding shotguns and extremely dodgy water slides.

At the time of visiting we were staying in Santa Ana with Jose, a friend of Christine’s family in the States. Jose had returned home to visit his family in El Salvador at the same time that we were passing by, so it worked out perfect for us to go stay with him for a couple of nights.

In true El Salvadorian hospitality Jose went out of his way to make us feel welcome in his beautiful country. We checked out a local festival and visited his family (who fed us like it was our last meal on Earth). But the funniest part of the trip was our visit to a semi-abandoned water park.

When we arrived at the water park and the first thing I thought was “damn it’s closed”. I mean I realized it was the middle of a workday, but there was literally one or two cars out the front. We got out of the car and went over to the big steel gates, just as a man with a shotgun came out of a smaller door to the side. Of course at this stage in our Latin American adventures we were pretty accustomed to seeing random people guarding odd places heavily armed, so we politely smiled and followed him in.



When we first stepped inside it was kind of like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Think Zombieland towards the end when they’re in the amusement park. There was no one around, everything looked chipped, faded, broken or under construction, and none of the dozen or so slides were operating. However, it was a hot day so we weren’t about to let that stop us. We changed into our swimmers and hit the pool.

Jose knew a few of the people working there and pulled some strings to get a couple of the slides running, and then just as the water kicked on a bunch of rabid zombies came running out of nowhere looking for blood. Ok, not quite that dramatic, but we were surprised to see a very large family tucked away in some corner picnic area suddenly emerge once the slides kicked on and the action got started.

Over the next hour we swam around the pool enjoying one of the smaller slides before I took to the almost vertical drop slide. Nobody else seemed game enough (or confident enough in the structure) to give it a go, but I thought ‘what the heck’. On the climb up to it I had to first dodge a couple of construction barriers and then avoid the chipped concrete falling from the levels above. I made my way up a couple of levels and onto the platform of the slide.



Looking down it looked almost vertical and wobbled when I shook it. Never a good sign. Everyone was eagerly looking on by this stage, and because I’d already committed I couldn’t back out, so I just went for it. It was painful, but quick. And the structure didn’t fall a part mid slide and send me hurtling to the ground, so that was a win. After that I braved it a couple more times to get some footage before making a wise decision to quit while I was ahead.

The slide was just one of many funny things about that day. What started as a fairly predictable day of visiting a water park, ended up as so much more. That’s what we love about travel! When predictability is challenged and you’re faced with exciting opportunities to expand your horizons and make something out of nothing. 


Fast toboggan only under supervision… whoops!


Ever had a travel experience that has surprised you and turned out better or worse than expected?


Hiking the Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador

Although only a small country, El Salvador packs a serious punch when it comes to activities for the adventure backpacker. Sometimes over looked or rushed through by passing tourists, El Salvador is fast making it’s way onto the backpacker scene with it’s wide variety of natural beauties to be explored.

What better way to break into that scene than hiking the Santa Ana volcano? El Salvador’s highest and most active volcano! The Santa Ana volcano (vulcan Llamatepec), at almost 2,400m (7,850ft) in height, offers some beautiful panoramic views of neighboring towns and scenic landscapes from the top. But the highlight is undoubtedly the stunning turquoise lake that sits in the centre of the crater.

Santa Ana Volcano Hike

Accessing the volcano is best done from the nearby city of Santa Ana, where public bus schedules match the tour companies, and the whole day trip to Santa Ana volcano can be done without signing up for an expensive tour (see a full list of directions at the bottom of the article).

Once you get to the park that sits at the base of the volcano you will have to arrange the ascent with one of the official guides. They’ll take you up, escorted by one or two policemen, to ensure a safe journey to the top. The police, wielding their firearms, are there to stop any potential bandits from robbing you along the way. Apparently in the past, unknowing tourists taking on this trip themselves would occasionally be robbed, but it’s super safe now and the police ensure no one tries any funny business.

How Difficult is the Hike?

The hike itself isn’t too difficult, but a basic level of fitness will definitely help you ascend to the peak without being out of action for the next week. It’s roughly a 4 hour road trip hike to the volcano, which includes some time at the top to take in the views. The beginning of the hike goes through some flat areas, which are pleasant and relaxing, before you hit the main ascent.

As you’re nearing the top you’ll start to smell the authentic sulphur scent that oozes out of the volcano and when you finally get to the craters edge, dripping in sweat, it’ll all seem worth it. An eerie mist of steam simmers across the top of the crater lake, as the colors dance in the sun light, switching between shades of turquoise, blue and green. But don’t be fooled by it’s alluring glow, especially when all you want to do is cool down, unfortunately this is one crater lake you can’t swim in.

Now you’ve mad it, spend some time up at the top, you’ve earned it! The views are incredible. Every now and then a distant cloud may approach, sliding across the top of the crater temporarily obscuring your view below, but wait it out because they pass fast. There isn’t too much area up top to go exploring, but find a spot to yourself and take a moment to take in all the beauty that lays before you. From the top you can look down to another small volcano, the large lakes that surround the area and the speckled spots of towns in the distance.

On the way back down the volcanoes the guides are pretty keen to get to the bottom. They’ve finished their job and want to get back to kicking it in the park, but don’t let them rush you. The two police who escorted us from behind were more than happy to just amble along behind us and chat about the latest soccer results. They’re on the government clock, so they are in no rush. This gave us a great opportunity to really appreciate the beautiful views that we missed while powering through on the way up.

Getting to the Volcano from Santa Ana

1. It’s an early start to get the #248 bus at 7:30am from La Vencedora bus station. If you’re staying away from the station you can also pick up the bus as it follows Calle 25 out of the city. Ask your hostel for the best directions. 1.5hrs – 90c

2. Arrive at Cerre Verde National Park between 9-9:30am after a nice scenic drive around Lake Coatepeque. Pay $1 to enter the park, and then kick your feet up for a couple of hours. The tour doesn’t start till 11am. There’s a small comedor serving basic food, coffee and snacks that is good to kill some time.

The Hike Up Santa Ana Volcano

3. The tour leaves for the main crater at 11am with a guide and a couple of police for security. Pay $1 for their services, but don’t be alarmed, the police are just a precaution. Nobody has had any trouble with bandits on route to the crater once the police escort started.

4. After a half hour leisurely cruise you’ll cross some private land, where the owner will be ready and waiting to charge you another $1 just to cross through his gates. Unfortunately the route to the volcano goes through his land and this is another little tax you have to pay. Handy little business he’s got going on if you ask us!

5. Soon you’ll hit the official park entrance to the Santa Ana volcano, where you need to pay the rangers the entrance fee. It costs $6 for a foreigner or $3 for a national.

6. After another hour or so and you’ll hit the crater at the top. You can smell the sulphur as you reach the outer rim. Depending on how fast you made it up you’ll get a little bit of time to hang around and take in the views. Most guides want to start getting down by 1:30pm.

Getting Back to Santa Ana

7. You arrive back at the park entrance by around 3pm, but you’ll have to wait till 4pm to get the bus back into Santa Ana. This gives you time to relax a little and stretch your legs before jumping back on the bus.

8. The bus can take between an hour and an hour and a half to get back in the city. You’ll get back to Santa Ana from the volcano around 5:30pm and it costs 90c.

9. Alternatively look for people who are driving back into town and try hitch a lift. Many people hire cars for he day and they’re likely to be on your same tour going to the crater. Make friends with them and see if you can get a lift back. We were fortunate enough to meet a few other travelers who had rented a car for the day. Bingo!

Total time for the day trip to El Salvador’s most active volcano is 10 hours and $12.80 for transport and entrance (or $9.80 for a national). It’s a fun, adventurous activity that shouldn’t be missed if you’re spending time in El Salvador. One extra tip, bring some snacks, especially if you’re a vegetarian, where the options are  fairly limited at the comedor. You’re going to get hungry, especially after the hike!

Continuing Your Travels in El Salvador?

If you’re continuing to travel in El Salvador be sure to check out some of our other popular articles.

How to Chow Down at the Juayua Food Festival

Juayua Food Festival

Tucked away in the Northern highlands of El Salvador, along the Ruta de Flores, is the small town of Juayua. This sleepy town comes alive every weekend with their famous Juayua food festival. The normally quiet plaza bursts into action with stalls lining the street, each cooking up different delicacies for tourists and locals. Stepping into this madness can be overwhelming, but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Sample it up

A couple of stalls will be giving out free samples. Take advantage! If you’re unsure, go back for seconds. Let the cooks woo you with their savory treats. Let them fight over you. It’s all part of the fun.

Don’t fill up on maiz

Latin America loves corn. They have about 10 million different foods based on an infinite combination of ingredients, but all with the same base staple: corn meal. Cooks will be grilling and frying up these corn treats in all shapes and sizes. Politely decline. The fried goodness may be delicious, but it’ll fill you up instantly, leaving you regretting that you didn’t get to the good stuff earlier.

Get the biggest bang for your buck

Just because you’re in El Salvador doesn’t mean things will be cheap. At the festival, a cup full of shrimp cocktail will cost about $5. That may not sound like much, but when you can get a heaping plate of beef, potatoes and salad for the same price, it’s not worth it. The combination plates are where it’s at. These dishes can have up to 4 different animals on them at once. This is really where you’ll get the most for your dollar and be able to sample a few different foods. Just be sure to….

Know what you’re getting

Don’t be shy. Ask what is on your plate! You may think you’ve just ordered a big helping of fresh fish only to discover a greasy unidentifiable mystery meatball hiding underneath. Ask for a full explanation of your plate before you start digging in. Especially if you have any food allergies or preferences.

Don’t miss the entertainment

After you’ve stuffed your belly full of deliciousness, roll yourself over to the main plaza. If you’re lucky, local celebrity Manuel Jose will be wooing the crowd with his vocal abilities. What better cultural experience that watching a middle-aged El Salvadorian man sing and dance to Gangnam style?

Invest in the dulces

If you have any room left in that belly, be sure to take advantage of the dessert section. These sweet treats may be on the pricey side, but trust me, they’re worth it. Snatch up the tiramisu before it sells out.

Happy feasting!

Treat Yo Self! Things To Do In San Salvador

When people talk of things to do in San Salvador it often involves a sense of uncertainty and unease. Many backpackers making the trip through Central America find themselves skipping through not only the city, but also the whole country of El Salvador and opting for the more well known destinations of Nicaragua and Guatemala. So if you’re like us, and you find yourself wanting to buck the trend and check out something different, we definitely recommend a trip to San Salvador.

By this stage in your Central American travels the talk of gangs and violence are becoming the daily norm, but you should know not to always believe the hype. The same goes for San Salvador. The truth is, San Salvador is a highly functioning city full of development. If anything we found parts of it too developed. In some areas San Salvador boasts the highest number of fast food restaurants that we’ve ever come across in Latin America. As well as the food, there are also massive shopping malls that showcase the latest fashions and technologies. So what to do with all this development? Treat yourself!

If you are looking for a comfort day, then San Salvador is the perfect place to treat yourself. For us this was a welcomed change after backpacking like the traveling circus for the majority of our time. It was nice to be in a little comfort zone for a few days while checking out all the city has to offer. In between old churches, museums and galleries we made sure to treat ourselves (a very rare occurrence) with a trip to the mall, a movie, some popcorn, a large soda and an ice-cream or two. And it was awesome!

Although showing many signs of moving towards the future, San Salvador still bares the scars of a brutally recent civil war. If you’re looking for a great combination of history through art, then be sure to check out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Along with some pretty wacky stuff, the museum hosts a great walk down El Salvador’s history through classic and contemporary art. From the indigenous ancestors, to the European influence that came with the first coffee plantations, to the more recent impacts of the civil war on the development of Salvadoreno culture.

If you’re still keen for some more learning just down the road from the MOMA is the Museum of Anthropology. Don’t expect the Smithsonian here, but for a $3 entry it will give you some really interesting info on the history of El Sal, starting with a detailed look at the former indigenous inhabitants. The photos on the bottom floor are a bit weather worn and there are few descriptions in English, which can be difficult for a non-Spanish speaker. Overall, though, the museum is an interesting way to spend an afternoon.

Other than that San Salvador is at the disposal of the wanderer. Head into the center of town, check out the old infrastructure that has been patched up and replaced over the years as a result of natural disaster damage. Hit up the market and be sure to grab a couple of pupusas, the national dish in El Salvador. Balls of corn masa, stuffed with your choice of cheese, beans or meat, then flattened and fried on a grill plate. Deliciously served with shredded cabbage and onion, usually three for a dollar!

Where to Stay: For us we couldn’t look past the hostel Cumbres de Volcan. At $8 a night for a dorm (which is well priced in El Sal), the place has everything you need to get some home comfort for a few nights. Great hot water pressure, strong wifi and by far one of the best kitchens we’ve ever come across. Blender, oven, juicer and pot and pans with real handles!

Arriving: Depending on what terminal you arrive in, you can get a reliable public bus for 20c to most places. If you arrive in the terminal oriente get a #52 bus and it will take you almost directly to Cumbres de Volcan. Asked to be dropped off at ‘el torre del futuro’ and then navigate the address from there. If you’re coming from Guatemala here is the easiest and cheapest transport guide.

Leaving: Take the same #52 back to the terminal oriente and from there you can navigate to most locations. If you’re off to Nicaragua then here is another step-by-step guide to help you save a lot of money. If you’re off to the beach, then be sure to check out El Tunco vs El Cuco write up.

Not a Lot of Time: If you are only passing through El Salvador and don’t have time to explore, here is a great way to experience a layover in El Salvador, while still managing to see some great attractions.

Beaches of El Salvador: El Tunco Vs. El Cuco

The Beaches of El Salvador Showdown

El Tunco vs El Cuco

Chances are, unless you’re a surfer, you haven’t heard much about the beaches of El Salvador. Mexico, yes, Nicaragua, sure, but El Salvador? As it turns out, the coast of this little country has more than a bit to offer. As a non-surfer and surf nut traveling together, we were looking for the perfect beach town that had the best of both worlds. Here’s our take on El Tunco vs El Cuco.

The Beach

El Tunco

The beach in El Tunco isn’t that much to look at. Besides a couple of picturesque sunsets and a photogenic rock formation jutting out of the water, it’s not a very pretty beach. The black sand and thick layer of rocks that cover the shore don’t exactly make for good lounging or swimming conditions.

El Cuco

The beach at El Cuco turned out to be one of our favorite beaches of Central America. It’s vast shore leaves plenty of room for sun soaking or playing football. The waves are calm and perfect for swimming. We were there for one of the biggest holidays in El Salvador, and the beach was still serenely quiet and empty.

El Tunco beach

The Surf

El Tunco

The La Libertad area, including El Tunco, is famous for its surf. Surf shops clutter the small town and board rentals are available for $10/ day. For beginners, there are small waves and plenty of local surf instructors available for lessons. For the more experienced, Sunzal offers a consistent right break and nearby La Bocana has a more challenging left.

El Cuco

If you’re looking for surf, Las Flores is the place to be. There are smaller waves for beginners and a consistent flow of right-handers to keep surf veterans happy for days, and if the conditions are good you can probably sneak into a decent barrel.


El Tunco

This town is packed with hostels, so you won’t have trouble finding a place to sleep. Hostels range in price (about $6-$10 for a dorm bed) and in quality (dingy to luxury). If you’re looking for a party hostel, there’s plenty with bars and many with pools perfect for day drinking, but if you’re looking for a quieter night, best to head a block or two off the main road.

El Cuco

The beach from Las Flores down to the end of Esteron is dotted with sun worn surf hotels and resorts. Proper hostels are hard to come but there are a few budget options along the way. We stayed at La Tortuga Verde. More of a laid back resort than a hostel, but with dorm beds at $10/ night, it’s a gorgeous property right on the beach. The only downside is the hostel has no open kitchen and the restaurant is expensive for a backpacker budget.

El Cuco beach


El Tunco

The restaurants here can be fairly pricey, especially further down by the water. If you’re on a budget, don’t even bother looking at the menus of the spots on the beach. There are a couple cheaper taco/ burrito spots that you can’t miss. If you plan on cooking, bring groceries in from La Libertad, because the few shops in town have a small (expensive) selection. There are two ATMs in the center of El Tunco if you need to get money out.

El Cuco

Most hotel and surf lodges will have a private restaurant, but it’s a pricey option. If your accommodation does have a kitchen, it’s best to buy groceries in San Miguel, because the stores in El Cuco are limited. Hit up an ATM in San Miguel before you come down as well. There are no ATMs in El Cuco and you’ll have to head back to Chirilagua to take out money. In the center, cheap comedors and pupuserias are available, but enduring the long, scorching walk into town isn’t fun.

El Tunco beach


El Tunco

If you’re looking for a beach spot to let loose with other travelers, El Tunco is it. The dense concentration of backpackers means a party any day of the week. Most restaurants serve beer buckets and the bars along the beach play live music or have DJ’s most nights.

El Cuco

These beaches are the perfect spot to sleep off your El Tunco hangover. Most hotels are pretty quiet at night. There are a couple spots in town to grab a beer, but the center can get a bit seedy after dark.

So there you have it, both fun little surf towns, each with their own draws. If you find yourself down at the beaches of El Salvador, let us know which you prefer! Here’s a few more pictures to help convince you!

What do you think of the beaches of El Salvador? Which is your favorite? Drop us a comment below or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

El Cuco beach

El Salvador Beaches at Their Best


El Salvador beaches are known for their world class surfing, but not always for their beautiful views. I think a couple of these shots prove the critics wrong. As well as stunning sunsets and white sands, you’re also blessed by having a lot of these spots to yourself. With many of the crowds opting for more well know spots in Central America such as Costa Rica or Panama.

If you’re trying to work out the best beach to visit, then you have to check out our El Tunco vs. El Cuco article to find out which El Salvador beach fits your travels needs. The ultimate head to head battle between El Salvador beaches!

The endless stretch of white sands and clear waters at El Cuco beach make it a personal favorite of ours. How could you not love this picturesque view?!

Thinking of a trip to some of these beautiful beaches? We can help create the perfect trip for you! Find us on Facebook or Twitter to ask us any questions!


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