¡¿Canyoning in El Salvador?! (El Salvador)

Party: William Lara (Uno), Felix Ossig-Bonanno, Alejandro Núñez, Alexander Gabriel, Bryan Ibáñez, Miguel Mejía.

After spending a couple of nights up on Acatenango and exploring part of Antigua. I started hitchhiking to El Salvador. Seven rides later I had collected my sleeping mat and made it close to the border. I was hosted a night in San José Las Cabezas and crossed border the following morning.

Before crossing I’d contacted Ernesto (from San Salvador), who had advised me to visit Ataco… Some reading revealed a company called El Salvatours who offered cliff jumping and canyoning tours…. Canyoning in El Salvador!? I hadn’t heard of anything between México and Costa Rica so it certainly peaked my interest. It turns out Ernesto knew the lead guide: William Lara (or William Uno (1)). I contacted him and was excited to hear his tour was “canyoning. Canyoning in the jungle. It’s seven waterfalls, seven jumps.” The problem was I needed a minimum of 3.

I was soon contacted by William Dos (2) who was actually the other (coincidently Australian) half of El Salvatours. I got some more info as well a link to an an amazing video. I had to go!

I started looking for more people as well as doing some research on the trip. Maybe I could work out where to go?

At first I was very confused… I found some blog posts on the Seven Waterfalls (Siete Cascadas) tour that seemed to leave from the Mamá y Papá hostel in Tacuba, but it also seemed to be a tour in Juayua? Finally I read something that confirmed they were two different tours. At the hostel it had been advertised as the Seven Waterfalls tour maybe to draw more customers by the already established name? As it turns out, William Uno used to work for the hostel but has since started El Salvatours with William Dos with the intention of improving the tour (and working conditions). The name Seven Waterfalls is no longer used. It was a little misleading anyway as many of the jumps were not actually waterfalls. It seems the name El Salvatours is now simply used for the route.

I managed to recruit Alejandro, and decided to pay for another local (Francisco) meaning we had the minimum of three for the tour to run. Everything was set, or so I thought. Francisco started questioning the safety of the trip, fearing gangs might be hiding in the forest following the new presidents push to purge them… He also questioned if the tour was actually in the national park if we weren’t travelling via Tacuba… Whist it didn’t really bother me if the canyon lay in the park or not, it was actually a valid point. The confusion lay in the maps; my topo map and OSM had the Imposible NP much smaller than what is marked in Google Maps… I still don’t know which is correct.

The day before the scheduled tour, everything seemed to calm down. Instead of Francisco, his son Alexander would take his place, and that night two of Alejandro’s friends joined making 5 in total. I couldn’t believe it!

The Tour :

Alex and I woke early and caught a bus into Ahuachapan so I could withdraw some money. We met William Uno at the bus stop and were soon on our way up to Ataco. I was still worried the others wouldn’t show up. We arrived at Comedor Kelita and I could finaly relax when the other three joined us. Phew, organising is a lot of work!

Alejandro was the youngest comercial pilot I’d met. His two friends were in their final year of school.

We had a great buffet breakfast with pupusas, eggs, beans and cooked plantain on offer. Once we’d had our fill we jumped into the back of a ute and headed up into the mountains. We passed a couple of miradors: El Cruz and El Cumbre. On a clear day you can see Fuego and Acatenango, we weren’t so lucky, but the cloudy views were still impressive.

Changing into a more serious Toyota Hilux we headed down roads, now dirt, that hugged the steep mountain flanks. Large birds rode the thermals above us and large butterflies, some blue, some white, fluttered about us. Eventually we took a small overgrown trail that reminded me of Vancouver islands logging roads, and in a clearing we stopped. We arranged a time to be collected, and drawing his machete we followed William into the jungle.

We moved at a nice place pausing to look at the wildlife as well as learn about the flora. A plant with white flowers could be used to make an alcohol and was also used at funerals to calm the nerves, another plant made a nice tea… This one was Árnica… I wished my Spanish was better.

A transparent mariposa flew away as we lumbered down the trail, a silent squirrel scurried away. We soon reaching a small arroyo and having a quick drink followed it down. Passing an impressive strangler fig (if I understood correctly, they call it the ‘hug of death’) we bypassed a small waterfall and after sampling some caña de crista, soon joined the creek at the bottom of the valley.

We followed the creek down and soon reached the first jump which involved a dicey step across a narrow chute to a small rock platform. This is the only part of the trip that made me a little uncomfortable. I don’t like relying on other ppl in these situations, but William insisted on straddling the gap and almost lifted ppl across the gap to a thin nylon rope dangling down from the other side. I was the last to jump. William and Alex walked around.

We waited for them at least five minutes downstream of another tributary before they finally appeared and the rock hopping resumed.

We soon arrived at the top of a waterfall dropping over volcanic rock into a large dark amphitheatre. William took his boots off, climbing up to assess something (Presumably the bypass).

Miguel and Alex put on harness so they could be belayed whilst they downclimbed. The rest of us jumped… That is except William who after sending the bags zipping down the rope we had pulled taught, seemed adamant to avoid the water and headed up to take the bypass.

The area at the bottom was probably my favourite. It was the deepest and most constricted spot of the creek. We spent some time here taking photos and simply enjoying where we were.

We met William as he was coming down from the bypass. We got a slide in and soon paused for lunch above another cascade. Lunch was El Salvadorian tortillas (much thicker than those in México) with avacado y egg. As well as some sweet bananas. I learnt that leaving the seeds in with the avacado stops it from turning black.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzchWB4e-eQ?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkKb4ELTmyA?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

Soon a handline was rigged, and one by one we dropped down beside the waterfall. Another slide and some more picturesque rock pools and we were at the top of the final and talest waterfall. It was probably about 35m. Jumping from the top wasn’t really an option. Climbing up to the left I touched some stinging tree. Ouch! We soon reached the junction, and headed down to enjoy the waterfall before climbing out.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2RfMknYiDI?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

The final waterfall was quite impressive. The hexagonal basalt pillars characteristic of volcanic rock where evident here and the swimming hole was deep allowing you to jump from quite high. Unfortunately William said the rock was too slippery to jump from the upper point.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKqN86HOFFM?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

The climb out was shorter than expected, but we still arrived half an hour later that what we’d told our driver. He was waiting for us and didn’t seem bothered at all.

We headed back to Ataco, again changing vehicles. We sorted gear and soon headed back to Ahuachapan. Alejandro gave us a ride back into town. All in all a fun day out!

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