Just southwest of Ruta de Las Flores is El Salvador’s largest national park, Parque Nacional El Imposible (tel. 2411-5484, open daily, $6 pp). The park is a haven for hikers and nature lovers, offering pristine rivers, archaeological sites, well-maintained campsites, and challenging terrain.

A green lizard suns itself on a log in Parque Nacional El Imposible, El Salvador.

A green lizard suns itself on a log in Parque Nacional El Imposible, El Salvador. Photo © Adam Baker, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Parque Imposible’s 4,000 hectares of protected tropical mountain forest are home to an array of wildlife, including wild boars, tigrillos, and more than 285 species of birds. You are more likely to see wildlife if you spend the night in the park, as many of the animals are nocturnal, but day hikes will take you past towering ceiba trees and local plants with educational signs, plenty of butterflies and birds, and maybe even some smaller creatures like armadillos. It has been years since the last puma prints were detected, but it’s possible that this majestic animal also still roams the forest.

The steep topography of the park offers extreme hikes and incredible views that reach all the way to the Pacific coast and Guatemala’s edge. Multiple rivers rush down the slopes of the park, creating waterfalls and swimming pools throughout and finally emptying out into the Barra de Santiago. The park was named El Imposible because of the steep, vertical gorge between two mountains that used to claim the lives of people and pack mules traversing the forest on their way to the Pacific port in the early 20th century. In 1968 the government finally built a bridge at El Imposible Pass, adorned with a plaque that reads “The year 1968: No longer is it impossible.”

The park is administered by SalvaNatura (tel. 2279-1515), El Salvador’s excellent independent conservation organization. The main entrance to the park is on the southeast side through the tiny community of San Miguelito in the town of San Benito. This is a true rural tourism project, with the park entrance fee going toward maintaining the park, and the $10 hiking fee going directly to your guide. There are 12 guides who have been professionally trained and are very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna as well as the history of the park.

The best time of the year to visit the park is November to April, when the weather is warm and dry.

Hikers admire the riverside view in Parque Nacional El Imposible, El Salvador.

Hikers admire the riverside view in Parque Nacional El Imposible, El Salvador. Photo © cheleguanaco, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

Hiking

You must have a guide to explore the park; visitors are not allowed to hike alone. The $10 hiking fee is per group. You do not need to book a guide in advance—just tell the park ranger when you pay your entry fee that you would like a guide.

Los Engaches

A seven-kilometer round-trip hike will bring you to Los Engaches, a beautiful shady part of the park with swimming pools and lots of grassy areas for sunbathing or picnics. If you want, you can continue from here another kilometer to Mirador El Mulo, a mirador that looks out over the forest and river.

Piedra Sellada

An eight-kilometer round-trip hike takes you to Piedra Sellada, where you will find fascinating petroglyphs on massive boulders in the middle of the forest beside the Río Venado Canyon. They date back to AD 600-900 and contain more than 100 pictures of geometric patterns, butterflies, and birds. You can swim in the cool, crystal clear, and clean river and relax on the sun-warmed rocks before heading back. This hike takes about two hours and is intermediate in difficulty.

Cerro El León

The most challenging hike in the park is to Cerro El León, a very steep, eight-kilometer round-trip through primary forest that opens up to spectacular views of the park and the Pacific coast. You will need at least four hours to complete this hike.

Guided Tours

Another option for exploring the park is the backdoor route through Tacuba, just west of Ahuachapán. El Imposible Tours (Av. Cuscatlán near Calle 10, Tacuba, tel. 2417-4268) offers hikes that enter the park unofficially (not at the main entrance) and some that explore the periphery. These tours are for those seeking a more rugged and adventurous experience. Guides will take you through difficult terrain on the famous waterfall tour, a seven-hour hike through the thick of the forest, jumping off waterfalls and swimming in pristine pools. El Imposible Tours also offer bike tours that go all the way from El Imposible to Barra de Santiago; the 20-kilometer route takes a day.

It is best to organize your tour a few days in advance, and to be very clear about what you expect from your tour, as there can be discrepancies around the level of difficulty as well as the actual route.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon El Salvador.