Lake Coatepeque, El Salvador

The journey from San Pedro Sula, Honduras to Guatemala involved a short stop in El Salvador.

Most visitors who have been to Central America will agree that El Salvador is probably the Central American country with the least amount of American or Western influences.

In fact, it attracts the least number of American tourists, particularly in recent years, due to the local youth gang violence and the petty crimes that ensued. As a result, things remain relatively less expensive than its neighboring Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras, and much less “touristy,” which, I personally think is a great thing.

Worried about gang violence? Simply use a little common sense. Avoid traveling to remote places in the dark; hide your valuables (like that expensive DSLR you just bought) that you carry on person; walk on well-lit paths when traveling at night; stay in reputable hostels and hotels, not some sketchy hospedaje or guesthouse.

Because my stay in El Salvador was so short, I had time to venture to one place – Lake Coatepeque, one of the most beautiful lakes in Central America.

Lake Coatepeque or Lago de Coatepeque (as it is known by the locals) is located on the eastern part of the Coatepeque volcanic Caldera. A stay in one of the hostels or hotels by the lake will offer stunning views of the emerald colored water, and a chance to take a dip in the cool and pristine lake.

Getting to the lake from the city, San Salvador, is quite simple.

From the international bus terminal (Terminal Puerto), catch the number 4 bus or any bus heading to Terminal Occidente. The bus stop is across the street from the bus terminal.

Get off in the town of El Congo. If you’re not sure, just ask someone on the bus, and they will most likely be able to tell you where and when to get off. From there, take the bus heading to Lago Coaltepeque.

Take heed. The bus route from El Congo to the lake can be slightly confusing because there are 2 different buses- both buses will take you to the lake, however, one will take you to the planas, which is the residential side of the lake that is quite dangerous.

Learn from my mistake. I ended up taking the bus to Las Planas. Thankfully, there were two police officers, one of whom, Angel, was extremely helpful. After realizing that my friend and I had taken one of the last buses to Las Planas, he called two of his colleagues, police officers patrolling the lake, to give us a lift to the nearest hostel.

It was quite surreal. I was on the last bus that was headed for the main town when a police truck with its sirens flashing, stopped the bus. One of the officers asked the bus driver for the two American passengers. I thought I was in some kind of trouble, only to realize that they wanted to give us a ride to the hostel.

So long story short, get on the bus that will take you to the side of the lake that houses the hostel, hotels, and restaurants. Hostel Tercero Mundo is a decent option for those looking for budget accommodation. They have dorm beds for $9 and private rooms with private bathrooms for $28.

If you go during the rainy season, which is October through December, make sure to bring a light blanket or long-sleeved clothes to keep you warm. At night, the lake’s surroundings tend to get chilly and windy.