El Imposible National Park is easily one of the best national parks in El Salvador. Otherwise known as El Imposible Parque Nacional or Parque Nacional El Imposible, this beautiful tropical forest is a nationally-protected area. And, for good reason. With some amazing plants and animals, El Imposible National Park is a nature lover’s paradise. Better yet, El Imposible has some awesome hiking trails. Beck and I combined the three most popular hikes – Cerro Leon, Piedra Sellada and Los Enganches, into one big amazing hiking route. We’ve named it, the El Imposible National Park Loop.
In this guide, we’ll answer all of your questions about El Imposible National Park in El Salvador. Plus, we’ll detail how to do this extraordinary hike.
We hope you find this guide useful. For other hikes in and near El Imposible, check out our guides on the Seven Waterfalls Tour, Hidden Waterfalls Hike and La Llorona. For even more hikes, read 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not To Miss.
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El Imposible National Park El Salvador
In 1979, the government of El Salvador named a new national park – El Imposible. Located in the department of Ahuachapan, the area covers an astonishing 5,000 hectares! El Imposible even shares a border with Guatemala.
In the 1990s, great lengths were put into researching the area to help with conservation. Today, around 25 committed rangers help with maintenance of the park. Thanks to these efforts, you can enjoy the beauty of El Imposible National Park. It’s actually one of the only dry tropical rainforests in the world. Beck and I really enjoyed hiking in this gorgeous environment. We highly recommend you take the time to visit El Imposible during your time in El Salvador.
Why Is It Called El Imposible National Park?
In English, El Imposible translates to the ‘Impossible One’. There’s an interesting story behind it all. We’ll keep it brief, as we know you’re wanting to hear more about the epic El Imposible National Park Loop. Click here to skip straight to the juicy details about the hike. Continue below for storytime!
In the early 20th century, coffee farmers transported their goods by mule train from farms on the northern part of the park to the port of Acajutla on the coast.
During the journey, they’d have to endure El Imposible Pass. It’s a steep and narrow gorge separating two mountains. To help navigate this dangerous section, mule drivers built some bridges. But, these were dodgy at best. Sadly, on many occasions, the makeshift bridges collapsed when used. Many people died making the somewhat ‘impossible’ trip through El Imposible National Park.
In 1968, the government of El Salvador finally built a bridge at El Imposible Pass. This allowed safer and easier transportation across the national park. The journey was no longer impossible!
Hiking in El Imposible National Park
There are awesome hiking trails in El Imposible National Park. Traditionally, the most well-known trails are completed as individual hikes. These include Cerro Leon, Piedra Sellada and Los Enganches. Individually, each hike is around 7–8km.
But, Beck and I recommend combing all of these trails for an unforgettable hiking experience. It’s also much more efficient, as the total hike is 16km. This means you’ll hike around 7–8km less than doing each trail separately as out and backs. And, you don’t even skip or miss out on any parts of the trail you’d otherwise complete by doing the hikes separately.
Visiting El Imposible National Park
It’s best to visit El Imposible National Park during the week. On the weekend, El Imposible usually has hundreds of visitors, who are mostly locals. It might not sound like a lot. But, there are only a few trails and areas open to the public for exploration. So, it can feel quite crowded in these spaces on the weekend.
For a more peaceful and chilled experience, try and get there during the week. That’s when Beck and I visited. We only saw a few locals around the museum and one family during our hike.
Entrance to El Imposible National Park is $6USD. When you arrive at the main national park entrance at San Benito, you’ll find a large visitor centre. This is where you’ll pay. The visitor centre also includes the Mixtepe Museum, which has a small display of local animals and plants found at El Imposible National Park.
The best time to visit El Imposible National Park is during the dry season. This is from October to February.
How to Get To El Imposible National Park
Getting to El Imposible National Park is an absolute minefield. Beck and I really struggled to find information online about how to visit El Imposible independently. Even locals struggled to provide us with information on how to visit.
To arrive at the main San Benito entrance independently, you’ll need to get a chicken bus from Cara Sucia. This bus goes to El Imposible via San Miguelito. Timetables are constantly changing. But, the bus generally departs daily at 11am and 2pm. Costs of the bus are around $1USD.
To reach Cara Sucia in the first place, you’ll need to get a chicken bus from Sonsonate. This shouldn’t cost more than $1USD.
For the return journey, the chicken bus usually departs the El Imposible National Park entrance at 5:30am and 1:30pm. From here, you can go all the way to Cara Sucia. Or, you can depart at intersection CA-2 and Rio Aguachapio. From here, take the #259 bus to Sonsonate. This bus travels in between La Hachadura and Sonsonate. Again, the costs for each of these buses are no more than $1USD.
El Imposible National Park Guides
You can’t hike in El Imposible without a tour guide. So, you can get there independently. But, you can’t explore the national park on your own. In total, there are around 20 fantastic guides at El Imposible National Park. Generally speaking, hiring a guide costs around $10USD per group to do one trail (Cerro Leon, Piedra Sellada or Los Enganches). Usually, you don’t need to organise a guide before you arrive. There are generally plenty of tour guides at the park.
Admittedly, to do the whopping 16km El Imposible National Park Loop, the costs are going to be higher. Plus, you might have to organise doing this longer route in advance. Personally, Beck and I found that most locals did not think it was possible to combine all three hikes. We think that’s because the tour guides aren’t used to doing this route. After all, it’s quite hard work. So, the guides may not want to do this long route. But, if you pay $20USD per group and organise in advance, it’s possible to do the El Imposible National Park Loop.
The most difficult part is organising this in advance independently – lining up a guide who’s willing to go on a longer than usual hike in the national park. That’s where Club de Mochileros really helped us out. They were able to contact a guide for us who agreed to do the longer hike. Otherwise, if you want to cut out the middle man, you can find contact details for official local guides in El Salvador here.
El Imposible National Park Tours
Honestly, it’s very difficult to get to El Imposible National Park. That’s why doing an organised tour of El Imposible National Park isn’t a bad idea. A tour company can easily organise getting you there. But, there is a major flaw to doing a traditional one-day El Imposible National Park tour. These sorts of tours usually depart from the city of San Salvador, Santa Ana or El Tunco. Given the 2–3 hours drive time each way, you don’t actually get much time in the national park. So, you can forget about doing any major hiking.
There are some tour companies that offer overnight camping trips. This is a great alternative to explore more of El Imposible. But, their schedules can be quite rigid and fixed. So, you probably won’t be able to do the El Imposible National Park Loop. Plus, these tours are quite expensive. You’re looking at $250USD per person!
Personally, Beck and I decided to visit El Imposible National Park with Club de Mochileros from San Salvador. At the time of visiting El Imposible, we had recently done a few camping trips and basic stays (Xela to Lake Atitlan 3 Day Hike, Volcan Acatenango/Fuego Overnight Hike and Conchagua Volcano Camping). Plus, we had a few more coming up in Nicaragua (Cerro Negro/El Hoyo, Telica Volcano and Somoto Canyon). So, we only wanted to visit as part of a day trip.
Club de Mochileros (Backpacker’s Club)
The friendly owner of Club de Mochileros, Camilo, was very flexible in changing their usual camping itinerary to a day trip. He was also very helpful in coordinating with El Imposible National Park to organise a guide who agreed to do the longer hike.
For this day tour, it’s usually $130USD per group. This sounds expensive, well, because it is. But, other tour companies charge around the same price per person! And, you won’t even get to do the El Imposible National Park Loop. The great thing about Club de Mochileros is that they always split the costs between the group. For example, if you have five people, the costs are only $26USD each. Splitting the costs of the guide will only be $4USD each. Plus, it’s $6USD for the entrance fee.
Most importantly, it’s possible to do the longer El Imposible National Park Loop hike. But, make sure to organise this with Club de Mochileros in advance. The best way to contact them is by messaging them on Whatsapp (+503 7602 0000 or +503 7600 3454). For more information about Club de Mochileros, check out their Facebook and Instagram.
FYI: In the rainy season, the tour is usually $160USD per group, as the company’s minibus can’t handle the road to the entrance. The extra costs cover the 4×4 transportation you’ll need to access the national park.
El Imposible National Park Loop Preview
- Type: Loop with 2 x Out & Backs
- Distance: 16km
- Time: 6–8 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,005m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: El Imposible National Park Entrance
- Map: Wikiloc
El Imposible National Park Loop Hike
Quick overview: Heading in a clockwise direction, you’ll initially head straight up to Cerro Leon. On your way back to the El Imposible National Park visitor centre, you’ll do two out and backs. First, to Piedra Sellada. Second, to Los Enganches.
From the visitor centre, you’ll almost immediately join a trail heading deep into the dry tropical forest. Early on, we saw our first animal in El Imposible National Park – an agouti scurrying off the trail and into the shrubbery. The trail is clearly defined and winds its way up and down through the forest. Eventually, you’ll reach a small river stream, which is easy to cross. The trail then steepens as it heads toward the peak of Cerro Leon. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some huge butterflies along the way.
From the get-go, we were able to speed hike. So, Beck and I were thrilled!
What’s speed hiking? Lots of hikes in El Salvador are difficult to speed hike. That’s because common hiking trails in El Salvador are up steep volcanoes or along narrow and slippery waterfall trails. But, it’s definitely possible to speed hike in El Imposible! Find out more about speed hiking here.
Just shy of 4km, there is an unofficial viewpoint as you approach the top of Cerro Leon. After a challenging upward hike in the heat, it’s a welcome break. Plus, you’ll get your first sweeping views of the El Imposible forest.
Not too much further along, you’ll reach an intersection. Turn left and hike 450 metres, to reach Mirador Cerro Leon. At 1,113 meters, this is the highest point in El Imposible National Park. The views are just mindblowing! You’ll even see Guatemalan volcanoes in the distance!
You’ll then retrace your steps and rejoin the main loop trail. Although you’ll be a hot sweaty mess, we guarantee you’ll be transfixed and distracted by the mesmerising forest. At around 6km, you’ll reach Mirador El Mulo. From this wooden platform, you’ll face a different direction, compared with Mirador Cerro Leon. Mirador El Mulo shows off even more of the spectacular mountains that make up El Imposible.
From there, you’ll reach another wooden platform Mirador at around the 8.5km mark. If El Imposible National Park is good for one thing, it’s brilliant Miradors. Lap up this viewpoint, because your next challenge will be a steep zig-zagging trail heading down towards Piedra Sellada and Los Enganches.
At the 9km mark, you’ll reach an intersection. Basically, turn left for Piedra Sellada. Turn right for Los Enganches. Our tour guide chose to head to Piedra Sellada. So, that’s where we went! During the approx. 1km hike to Piedra Sellada, you’ll pass through an incredible tree. Split in two at its base, it’s like walking through some sort of magical passageway. You’ll also hear the sounds of many birds. But, otherwise, we didn’t see any other animals during this section of the El Imposible National Park Loop.
Piedra Sellada is actually a huge boulder that’s split in half. At face value, we thought Piedra Sellada was an amazing natural wonder. But, there’s more to this rock than just being a geological attraction.
Here, carved in the back of one of the large split boulders, are ancient hieroglyphs from previous Mayan civilisations. Apparently, there are institutes in the USA, that have offered to buy this boulder, such is the historical significance of the engravings!
Right around the corner from Piedra Sellada is another gigantic boulder, positioned right next to a small but deep body of water. It makes for the perfect spot for lunch, and, a great place for a swim!
Once you’ve eaten lunch, you’ll retrace your steps to the previous intersection and head left. From the intersection, it’s a 1km walk to reach Los Enganches. Nearing the end of this short side-trail, the track descends down to a river steam and a series of cascades.
When you arrive at the river, turn left and head further upstream, against the direction of its flow. This will help you reach a small waterfall. It’s also the site where two river streams meet. Unfortunately, Beck and I didn’t have much time to enjoy Los Enganches. That’s because it started to rain heavily. With a risk of flash flooding, we quickly retraced our steps, skipping over rocks along the river to return to the official trail. Hopefully, you have a bit more luck when you visit!
Luckily, the dense canopy of the forest helped prevent us from getting completely soaked. Rain, hail or shine, the outward hike from Los Enganches involves a tough climb up. Breathing heavily, you’ll again pass the previous wooden platform Mirador. At around 14.5km, you’ll rejoin the loop trail and head back towards the visitor centre. On the way, you’ll pass two campsite areas.
The El Imposible National Park Loop is the best hiking trail option in the area. By combining the three most popular hikes in this part of the national park, into one, you have the most efficient way to explore these routes. If you’re up for a challenge, we highly recommend doing the El Imposible National Park Loop.
Camping at El Imposible National Park
It’s possible to camp at El Imposible in El Salvador. But, you’ll need your own camping gear, if you visit independently. Included in the $6USD national park entrance fee, there are actually no extra costs to camp. As mentioned, there are two main campsite areas. Both are filled with wooden platforms to pitch, sheltered tables and toilets.
If you visit independently, and camp, it may be logistically difficult to fit in the El Imposible National Park Loop if you only stay for one night. That’s because the earliest bus in arrives early afternoon and the latest bus leaves around 1:30pm. So, it might be difficult to fit in the hike the day you arrive or the day that you leave. The guides at the national park work from 8am–5pm, so I’ll doubt they’ll agree to do the long hike with you, the day you arrive, or the day that you leave.
That means you may want to camp for two nights and do the hike the day after you arrive. But, remember, you’ll need to line up a guide before you arrive, that is willing to do the longer hike with you.
Other Accommodation Options
It used to be possible to stay at Hostal El Imposible, which is located just outside of the national park. But, in early 2022, it seems to be closed. And, there’s no sign of it re-opening soon.
El Imposible National Park Animals
There are many amazing animals to be found in El Imposible National Park in El Salvador. El Imposible is home to exotic species of animals and birds. Specifically, there are around 100 species of mammals, 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 285 species of birds.
All in all, you can find pumas, leopards, wild boars, anteaters, gibnuts, agoutis, butterflies, hawks, eagles, great curassows, toucans and macaws at El Imposible National Park. What an amazing array of animals to be found in El Imposible National Park! You’ll also find many migrant birds from North America spending winter here.
El Imposible National Park Plants
Apparently, there are over 500 species of plants and shrubs found in El Imposible National Park. But, it’s possible that there are even more. Interestingly, many orchids and plants in El Imposible National Park have healing properties and medicinal value.
There are over 400 species of trees alone! No wonder El Imposible is considered the most biodiverse area in El Salvador. In fact, there are species of trees in the national park that haven’t been found elsewhere in El Salvador.
Other El Imposible National Park Facts
- In 1992, El Imposible National Park was registered on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List
- There are 35 families who live in the national park. They farm on small plots of land to grow food for their daily use.
- An incredible 18 archaeological sites dating back 3,000 years exist in the park.
- There are six separate rivers in El Imposible and many other small streams.
More About El Imposible National Park
Most people visiting El Imposible National Park explore the southern side of the park from the San Benito entrance. However, the northern part of El Imposible is just as impressive and beautiful. From Concepcion de Ataco, it’s possible to access this less-known northern area of the park. The only catch is, you can’t hike in this area without a tour company.
Thankfully, El Salvatours offer great hiking and waterfall tours from Ataco. Not many tourists have visited this northern area of the park before. So, trekking and chasing waterfalls here feels genuinely adventurous.
For more information, read our guides on the La Llorona and Hidden Waterfalls hikes.
Other El Salvador National Parks
Alongside El Imposible National Park, there are other fantastic El Salvador National Parks. We’ve handpicked our three other favourite national parks in El Salvador, which are best for hiking.
- Cerro Verde National Park (Los Volcanes National Park): located just outside of Santa Ana, there are two brilliant hikes in Cerro Verde National Park. There’s the well-known Santa Ana Volcano hike and the lesser-known Izalco Volcano hike. We actually preferred hiking Izalco Volcano. But, of course, you must visit Santa Ana Volcano for the otherworldy crater lake.
- Montecristo National Park: similar to El Imposible, Montecristo National Park has a beautiful tropical forest to explore. We recommend doing the El Trifinio hike.
- El Boqueron National Park (Crater del Volcán de San Salvador National Park): we’re sure you’ll be spending some time in San Salvador as part of your El Salvador trip. Make sure you do the short hike around San Salvador Volcano crater.
Five Hiking Essentials for the El Imposible National Park Loop
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
Make sure to also pack 2L of water, snacks, sunglasses, suncreen and a hat.
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Make sure to also visit El Imposible from Ataco or Tacuba: there’s much more to explore in El Imposilbe than just Cerro Leon, Piedra Sellada and Los Enganchos.
- Plan ahead: if you visit El Imposible independently and want to do the El Imposible National Park Loop, you should contact a guide before you arrive.
- Don’t skip El Salvador: If you’re travelling in or planning to travel around Central America, make sure to spend a good amount of time in El Salvador.
Have you had trouble finding a guide to do the El Imposible National Park Loop? Let us know in the comments below.
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