Location: Perquin, El Salvador
Camping: Basic campsite
Guidebook: Moon El Salvador
Perquin (or Perkin) in the north eastern El Salvador is often associated with the anti-government forces during El Salvador’s civil war, which (some people need reminding) ended in 1992. Walks in the hills around the town still reveal the faint remains of guerrilla camps and hide-outs, and many of the guides you can hire in the town fought in the civil war or provided support to those who did. On a previous trip our guide explained how at the age of 14 she had carried guns into the hills for the fighters hiding there, before fleeing over the border to Honduras when the situation became too dangerous for her to stay.
There are several good hikes in the area which are generally walked as day-hikes but can also be combined. We have typically used the Perquin Lenca hotel as a base as they are the best accommodation in the area and can arrange guides and transport quite easily.
In many areas of El Salvador locals insist that a guide (or even armed security) must be taken, but in Perquin walking without such assistance is still generally safe. That said, if you are not familiar with the area a guide is a good option, the prices they charge are very fair, and supporting the local economy in this way can only contribute to security in the area.
Note that there is no safe drinking water available on any of these routes: we always used the SteriPen to be sterilize water, even from the campsite taps.
Rio Sap lies at the south of a protected natural area to the southeast of Perquin, past the town of Arambala. There is a pleasant campsite and picnic area with basic facilities. If you arrive by car (4WD required for the last section from the road to the gate), you will find yourself on the east side of the Rio Sapo river where it is sometimes permitted to camp. However, the bathroom facilities and the campsite proper are on the west side of the river – it can be crossed using a series of stepping stones. One thing to note here if you do camp – if you hear people walking around near your tent at night, it is probably just the security guards or the military who provide security. It can be somewhat unnerving to look out of your tent and see a man in camouflaged gear with an assault rifle, but it is not that unusual in El Salvador.
Near Rio Sapo on the east side of the river are several short hikes, probably the best of which is the trail to a double-waterfall. The walk takes about 45 minutes each way and starts by following the dirt road north and then turning right through a chain-link gate (if you get to the small stream crossing, you have gone too far). Although there is a clear path, the trek really requires a guide as it is easy to walk past the final turn-off to the waterfall. Towards the end of the hike there are a few small streams that need to be crossed via logs, and a few fallen trees to be ducked under or climbed over. We swam in the (cold!) pool at the bottom of the waterfalls without any problems.
Llano del Muerto
Llano del Muerto lies at the northern boundary of the Rio Sapo protected natural area. A single dirt roads leads to it from Perquin village. Llano del muerto refers to an area along the road where several ‘resorts’ are located – properties with cabañas (cabins) for rent, often with a small bar and restaurant, and sometimes a pool.
A good hiking option is to walk from Llano del Muerto roughly south-southeast (on the east side of the river) to Rio Sapo. The hike is mostly an easy, downhill or flat walk, but navigation can be very difficult. In theory there is a trail all the way – in reality there are often several faint and animal trails in the mix, and losing the real trail is very easy. It is not a significant problem if you do – there is a nice cliff on your right (western) side to guide you, but the terrain is rough and going cross-country will slow you significantly.
Another challenge comes towards the end of the day: trying to find the one safe route from the top of the hill down the steep cliffs to the plains below. There is only one route – a clear path with a barbed wire fence on one side, but it can take some finding if you were off-trail. Nevertheless, the cliff is steep and dangerous and this is the only way you should consider descending it.
After descending the path is clearer and leads across flat fields (watch out for bulls) alongside the river to the Rio Sapo picnic area.
Pericon is the highest peak in the area and offers great views over the surrounding landscape. It can be climbed from Perquin or Rio Sapo, though it is closer to the former. The climb up is a hard slog (two hours from Perquin – four from Rio Sapo).
The above locations can easily be combined into multi-day hikes. One option is to get transport to Llano del Muerto, walk southeast to Rio Sapo where you will camp, and then on the second day walk north-west towards Pericon and back to Perquin village.
This could be extended to a three day / two night trip by walking the first leg from Perquin to Llano del Muerto. When we did this we walked cross-country, north of and parallel to the Llano del Muerto road. The ‘resorts’ at Llano del Muerto have cabins and also allow camping, and several times we have wild-camped in the area beyond Llano del Muerto, about 45 minutes down the trail to Rio Sapo.
Museo de la Revolución
Perquin is the home of the Museo de la Revolución (Museum of the Revolution), which documents the conflict from its roots in student protests during the 1980s until the peace accords in 1992. The museum includes extensive photographs, posters from all over Europe demonstrating against the conflict, and the remains of a military helicopter destroyed by the guerrillas using a bomb hidden in a radio transmitter.
Near Perquin, along the road to Arambala, is the hamlet of El Mozote, infamous for the 1981 massacre of hundreds of civilians by US-trained governments forces. Today empty buildings remain in the village alongside a moving memorial to those who were killed.
San Fernando Waterfall
This waterfall which lies right on the border with Honduras is accessed by traveling though Pequin and taking the Ruta de la Paz (the Peace Route) out the other side. This is the only significant road in the area so it shouldn’t be too hard to find. The road down is steep and the waterfall is accessed via a private house, which charges a small fee. As with most waterfalls in El Salvador, it is most spectacular in, or shortly after, the wet season.