Salvadoran Naive Art and Mountaintop Hitchhiking in La Palma

Salvadoran Naive ArtLa Palma is in the northernmost reaches of El Salvador, just across the border from Honduras.  It’s home to world-famous Salvadoran painter Fernando Llort.  He founded a style called ” naive art ” which became extremely popular, and then he taught lots of locals how to duplicate paintings in this style, turning them into craftsmen with income-generating businesses!  Because of naive art’s fame and brilliance, and the many capable painters in town, La Palma has the most public murals per capita of anywhere in the world!  Every wall, business, house, telephone pole, curb, EVERYTHING is painted in this vivid, simple fashion.

Salvadoran Naive Art

Salvadoran Naive Art

La Palma is surrounded by lush mountains and the temperature is quite cool–yay!

Salvadoran Naive ArtOnly 12 kilometers away is Cerro El Pital, the highest peak in El Salvador, at 2730 meters (around 9000 feet).  San Ignacio, the next town over from La Palma, is the departure point for this hike.  The climb is not very daunting, as a road goes most of the way up, so you only have to hike the last 5km of the trail to the summit.  Of course we missed the bus going up, but as we started walking uphill from San Ignacio, we saw some people jumping into a pickup, confirmed that they were heading uphill, and joined them!  The views as we rode in the back of the truck, climbing higher and higher, were outstanding!

Salvadoran Naive Art

Even better, when we got to the trail and asked the driver how much we owed him, he just smiled and replied, “Nada!”  Finally, a first hitchhiking success after many fruitless attempts!  The trail up the summit took us about an hour and a half and was steep but not too strenuous.  Unfortunately, due to our inability to get up early, clouds were rolling in as we climbed and we couldn’t see anything but white fluff from the top.  During clear times (early morning) you can supposedly see into Honduras and Guatemala from the top.  So learn from our mistake and if you want to have great views from the summit, go early!

Salvadoran Naive Art
Zach, victorious, at the summit

Hiking back down, we got some more partly cloudy views.  Again, there was no bus in sight, so we just started hiking down the road hoping a car would pass and pick us up.

Salvadoran Naive ArtLuckily, just as our knees were starting to feel it on the steep slope, a bread truck with two guys in it stopped and crammed us in.  They were super friendly and gave us a free ride not only to San Ignacio, but all the way back to La Palma, since they were going that way anyway.  Hurrah for hiking and hitchhiking success!!!!!

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Hotel La Palma in La Palma, El Salvador

Hotel La Palma is a vivid yet rustic hotel for travelers looking to take in the art scene in La Palma or climb El Salvador’s highest peak, Cerro El Pital.

Hotel La Palma

Although the hotel shows its age a little bit, the bright murals throughout the halls and rooms of Hotel La Palma make you feel happy and energetic.  Rooms are spacious and bathrooms have hot water.  There is also a restaurant serving local classics for all three meals, as well as an “Indian hen” special on weekends.

Hotel La Palma
Patio

For further recreation in between hikes and adventures, Hotel La Palma has a swimming pool, basketball court, and tons of hammocks for lounging.  There is also a sizable wooden patio with a great view of the passing Rio La Palma.  The whole property is surrounded by peaceful woods, although colorful La Palma town is just outside the front gate.

We would definitely recommend Hotel La Palma with one caveat–bring a mosquito net as they are not provided and window screens are lacking.

Services Offered:

WiFi

Hot water

Restaurant on site

Pool

Basketball court

TV in lounge

Conference rooms

Tourist information

Gift shop

Parking

Address: Barrio El Tránsito, La Palma , Chalatenango

Phone: 23359012 or 23058483

Email: hotellapalma@yahoo.com

Website: www.hotellapalma.com.sv

Prices:

$14 per person

This post is sponsored by Hotel La Palma.

A Fresh Perspective

Today’s been a long day of travel from capital to capital- San José, Costa Rica to Managua, Nicaragua.  But we have an exciting reason for not being in bed yet!  Zach’s old friend Steve is on a plane as we speak, flying in to join us for 10 days in Nicaragua!  Steve has never traveled outside the US or Canada, but he’s always up for adventures so we know it’s going to be a good time.  We’re excited to “show him the ropes” per se, and to have someone else to hang out with!  Mostly, I think it’s going to be really cool to have a friend with us as we near the end of our trip.  I’m hoping that we can show Steve a really amazing time and that traveling with a “newbie” will help us see things through fresh eyes again.  But enough from me, I’ll let Steve introduce himself:

“I’m Steve and I’m and joining Zach and Carrie on part of their journey through Central America. I’m very excited to experience someplace very different from what I’m used too. I’m looking forward to a good culture shock in Nicaragua with new language and lifestyle. My Spanish isn’t the best but I love a challenge and learning/experiencing new things. In all I’m just very excited about the experience I’ll have there, and everything I’ll be able to learn from being in a vastly different culture. Of course, when I tell people about traveling to Nicaragua they all have their comments (good and bad), questions, and concerns. My main concern for the journey is the SUN! So hopefully I don’t get too sunburned, otherwise I know this trip is going to be remarkable journey!”

2/3 Highlights!

So, due to our crazy schedule changes, we’re actually past the 2/3 mark on our trip :-(.  But, since we just left South America and are heading to Central, we figured now would be the most logical time to do our “Close-enough-to-2/3rds” superlatives!

Days in South America:  168

Dollars Spent (not including flight):

Countries Visited: 4

Books Read: 19 (Carrie), 12 (Zach)

Number of shirts left: 6 (Carrie), 3 (Zach)

Superlatives

Favorite Food: ceviche (Zach), llapingachos (Carrie)

Favorite Snack: corn/cheese pancake thingies from Ecuador

Favorite Beverage: Campos de Solana vino tinto from Tarija, Bolivia

Most Craved Food Currently: orange cheese (Carrie), sour cream (Zach)

Things We’re Most Excited For in USA:  friends, Netflix, cooking, baking (Carrie), telling stories to family and friends (Zach)

Most Annoying Phenomenon: staring people

Longest Bus Marathon: 3 days almost-straight, Trinidad, Bolivia to Arequipa, Perú

Favorite Activity: still The Inca Trail with The Southwest Circuit as a close second.

Nicest People: still Colombians

Favorite Big City: Lima, Perú

Favorite Small City: Cuzco, Perú

Dumpiest Town: Uyuni, Bolivia

Best Hostel: Hostal Las Olas in Copacabana, Bolivia

Best Place to Open Our Bar Someday: Canoa, Ecuador

Most Enjoyable Hike: Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Most Miserable Hike: Laguna Quilotoa, Ecuador

Most Controversial Post: Happy Birthday Blog

Worst Addiction: Fried chicken

Most Life-Changing Moment: getting engaged

Hottest Place: Colombian coast

Most Mosquitoes: Bolivian Amazon

Biggest Disappointment: Taganga, Colombia

Biggest Ripoff: Bus from Medellin to Santa Marta, Colombia during Easter week=130,000 COP ($70) per ticket

Still Our Favorite Country: Ecuador!!!!!!!  We love you!!!!

Goals for Central America

1. Not sweat to death!

2. Show Zach’s friend Steve a good time in Nicaragua!

3. Do more filming!

4. Improve our Spanish!

5. Make it home safely, and with a little bit of money left.

Taganga: What happened to this place?

Carrie taking a swim at sunset in Taganga, Colombia.

About a month ago, we reserved our sailing trip from Cartagena, Colombia, through the San Blas Islands and into Panama.  This put us on a schedule and, wanting an entire week on the Colombian coast, we had to cross the interior without stopping.  From the Ecuadorian border, it took almost exactly 48 hours to travel up to the Caribbean beach of Taganga.  It was a grueling journey but we were also very excited to be back in Colombia where the adventure began.  I remember writing about the country when we first arrived in South America.  At the time it had seemed so scary, chaotic, and poor.  Now, after our travels, it looked very safe, orderly, and rich.  It’s amazing how much your perceptions change after a few months on the road.

We planned poorly in picking our time to depart for Central America.  All the Colombians were headed to the beach for Easter week which greatly inflated bus prices and made everything a lot more hectic than normal.  You just can’t ever remember which day Easter is supposed to be until it’s upon you!  Luckily we found a hostel to review which saved us from paying the horribly expensive holiday accommodation prices.  So we rolled into Taganga in a taxi, not really sure what to expect.  A friend who had traveled to Colombia several years ago described the place as a “relaxing and quiet fishing village with a slight hippie vibe” which sounded kinda like exactly what we were looking for.  Oh, how things can change in a couple of years.

What we found was something very different.  Some words to describe the new Taganga would be as follows: dirty, overcapacity, loud, commercial, expensive, annoying, and did I say dirty?  Lets go over each of those adjectives one by one.  Dirty:  The town lacks proper trash collection to deal with the hordes of irresponsible Colombians that just throw their garbage everywhere.  (Let’s be honest…we’ve observed that it is mostly the Colombians, not the North American/European/Australian tourists that litter everywhere.  It’s probably an education problem.)  The beach is a straight environmental nightmare piled high with beer bottles, plastic plates, all kinds of trash, much of which ends up in the ocean.  It made us sick how no one really seemed to care.  It’s sad when people have so little respect for the world around them.  Overcapacity: The town is just too small for this amount of people.  The road is completely blocked up with taxis all day long, and the infrastructure is years behind the demands on it.  Since we’ve been here, transformers have been blowing up all over the place from the amounts of electricity being used, turning the power on and off all over the town.  Ahh, what a mess.  Loud: You just can’t escape the noise.  The town is in a little bay and sound just reverberates off the surrounding hills.  Commercial:  There are some hippies selling cool bracelets and things along the beach, but most of the shops sell generic garbage that you find everywhere else.  The restaurants have nothing new or exciting, and it is hard to find anything out of the usual. Expensive: Sure it’s Easter week, but the cheapest thing to eat is about $5.  The hotels in the area have inflated prices at this time, but their usual rates are still way higher than other places along the coast.  It’s just so not worth it.  Annoying:  You add expensive and commercial together and combine it with thousands of boom boxes and Colombians trying to show off their drunken English, and what you get is classic annoyingness.  SOOOOOO DIRTY:  People should really be ashamed of what they are doing to the beautiful beach.

Good things about Taganga include some spectacular sunsets that just made us sadder thinking about what this place used to be like…

Taganga is a classic case of what happens when a place gets too popular too fast.  We wish we could have seen the Taganga our friend saw two years ago, the Taganga we were hoping for.  While the tourism boom is surely benefiting local businesses, I’m afraid that if the infrastructure doesn’t catch up fast, the environmental effects of this many visitors in this tiny, unprepared village will be disastrous.

Quilotoa Loop, Part 3: Chugchilan to Laguna Quilotoa…and back.

Some days you just don’t have any luck.  This was one of them.  After the previous day’s 14km, we were not super excited for another big hike.  We heard that walking from Chugchilan to Laguna Quilotoa was pretty grueling, with a 900m elevation gain, but that there were buses there that we could take and then have a pleasant hike back.  This is what we wanted to do.  But nope, as soon as we finished breakfast and prepared to leave, the hostel manager told us that there were no buses to Quilotoa town that day and we would have to either hike or hire a truck for $25.  Of course there was no way we were willing to pay that much, so we set out on foot, planning to man up to the difficult hike there and then take a bus back after seeing the lake.
The hike was steadily uphill almost the whole way and at altitude it was tough.  We stayed positive and strong and made it through the 10km in under four hours.  As soon as we arrived in Quilotoa town, of course we saw a bus pulling in from Chugchilan!  Thanks hostel manager for the proper information!  Oh well.

Laguna Quilotoa
Laguna Quilotoa, a volcanic crater lake

The lake was gorgeous and we snapped a few photos.  But even if we had had enough energy to walk part of the trail around it we couldn’t have, because my knee was pretty sore; I guess I had pulled or twisted something on the hike to Chugchilan the day before and continuing to stress it wasn’t helping.  But all was well, we thought, “We’ll take the last bus out of town.”  The general consensus of people we asked was that this bus left at 2pm, although there were a few differences of opinion on this matter.  We had seen many buses coming this direction on the way so figured catching one would be easy.

Laguna Quilotoa
Hiking back to Chugchilan

WRONG!  After sitting by the road for a few minutes, we got too cold so decided to just start hiking down and let the bus catch up to us.  Maybe save a few cents, we figured.  One hour later, we’re at the point where the trail diverges from the road, out of water, my knee is killing me, and there have been no signs of any buses….
I think you know where this is going. OF COURSE we ended up hiking the whole way back.  By the end I was literally crying, limping, and leaning on Zach with most of my weight; my knee hurt so badly.  Luckily we found someone selling water bottles so we didn’t get too dehydrated.  We finally hobbled back into town five hours after we left.  Sunburned badly?  Yes.  Exhausted, sore, and frustrated?  Yes, yes, and yes.  So what is the issue here?  Do the buses not really have a schedule and just run when they feel like making some money?  Probably.  Do people give us made-up information when they don’t really know the answers?  I think so.  It’s one part of backpacking South America that will never be very fun.  The crater lake was gorgeous but was it worth all that?  Don’t think so.  At least we made it through what will go down in history as our worst hike ever.  And don’t worry, a few days of rest were all it took to heal my knee.

But unfortunately, this night was about to get even worse…

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 4

Enjoy this post about Laguna Quilotoa and hiking the Quilotoa Loop? Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and subscribe to our Youtube Channel.