Feeling like a local in San Miguel, El Salvador after two great weeks volunteering

Well, 2 weeks have flown past here at the Europa Guesthouse in San Miguel, in the south of El Salvador. As ever, I’ve had a brilliant  Workaway placement with two great hosts.

San Miguel Cathedral, El Salvador
Great view from the top of the town hall

Barbara and Mauricio made me very welcome and I’ve enjoyed every day here. It’s a cosy five room place, with just one small backpackers dormitory and the rest are doubles. The house, in a nice neighbourhood of El Salvadors second largest town San Miguel, belongs to an aunt of Mauricio’s who now lives in Miami. Mauricio and Barbara, who met while working in Seville, Spain, decided to head out here in 2016 to set up the first guesthouse in the city aimed at travellers.

My ‘work’ consisted of occasionally helping out with cleaning the rooms, although it’s a fairly quiet place as many guests are Salvadorans on business who stay Monday to Friday, with only occasional tourists or backpackers. Most prefer to pass straight through on the way to the beautiful beach at El Cuco or to Nicaragua. In fact I didn’t see another traveller once during my two weeks here, apart from the handful who stayed at the guesthouse.

My main project here has been to create a city map, showing the tourist highlights (not many if I’m honest!) and where to eat and drink. I quite enjoyed getting all creative with this and of course it was important to test out the cafes and bakeries on the list!

Copy of tourist map, San Miguel, El Salvador
My creative side eventually found its way out…

My excellent hosts included me in their lives, from inviting me to dinner at a friends beach house to taking me on a five hour bar crawl of  San Miguels evening hotspots. We swam in a lake just outside town, went for a walk in an abandoned Finca (farm) at the top of the Chaparrastique volcano and swam in the gorgeous natural pools at Moncagua.

Moncagua thermal waters, San Miguel, El Salvador
Moncagua pool – only a dollar entry and usually deserted

The Chaparrastique volcano can be seen from pretty much everywhere in town and is a symmetrical stratovolcano (nope, I’ve no idea what that means!). It’s also one of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador. It’s possible to hike to the crater  (with a guide organised by the guest house) but apparently it’s four hours of hard slog on a path of scree (two steps forward, one slide back) and the path goes straight up. Needless to say, I did not do the hike. I’ll save myself for other volcanoes later in the trip. Probably.

Chaparrastique volcano, San Miguel, El Salvador
This little girl chattered non-stop at me and insisted I admire her pretty dress

I did manage a nice day trip to the hilltop town of Alegria where I hiked out to the crater lake of Tecapa volcano with its stunning emerald waters. The legend goes that a mermaid loiters in the depths ready to lure unsuspecting male swimmers to their certain deaths. The town itself is lovely, set around a lively square full of market sellers. Several sold potted plants, as the cooler climes here make for easy growing, while others sold Naive-inspired paintings, a simplistic style of painting founded by Frederico Llort. It began when he discovered the seed of the ‘copinol’ tree, which has a white surface inside a brown frame. He started painting them with small and colourful drawings and went on to teach local people to do the same, founding an artisan tradition.

Alegria, El Salvador
The emerald green waters of Alegria crater lake

And of course I went to the beach several times. El Cuco is a lovely beach, long and straight with a view of Nicaragua in the distance. I grew to like the ramshackle town, with its motley crue of drunk locals lying prostrate across the pavements, young lovers on a day trip from town and rich San Salvadorans staying at the handful of $200 a night hotels along the beach. A twenty minute walk away from the town though and the beach is empty, the waves simply calling out for me to run gleefully into them. A longer walk took me past hand-painted fishing boats to La Tortuga Verde, one of the few places on the beach offering backpacker dorms but a long hot 45 minute walk from town. I had a nice coffee at their chilled cafe one day and swung lazily in a hammock, but the American prices on their menu put me off ordering anything else. I did however treat myself to cheesy chips from a stall on the beach back at the town. At a dollar a bowl, who could refuse?!

Patatas Fritas in El Cuco, El Salvador
Papas con queso on El Cuco beach

And now my time here is over. Tomorrow morning I hit the border crossing into Honduras. I’ve got two weeks until my next Workaway placement in Guatemala on Lake Atitlan. First stop though, Honduras capital Tegucigalpa.



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