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El Trifinio El Salvador: The Most Epic Hike in Montecristo National Park

El Trifinio El Salvador: The Most Epic Hike in Montecristo National Park

El Trifinio in El Salvador is an enchanting trail located in the beautiful Montecristo National Park. Also known as Parque Nacional Montecristo, this magical rainforest in El Salvador sits at the country’s north-western tip. Here, a large monument stands atop Cerro Montecristo to signal the meeting point of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Montecristo cloud forest is bursting with incredible flora and fauna. But, the El Trifinio trail’s crowning glory is hiking to the point where three countries converge.

Montecristo National Park in El Salvador is a protected area. Although a little off the beaten track, you should certainly aim to spend at least one day here. That’s exactly what we did. The El Trifinio in El Salvador hike was the perfect way to explore this incredibly special and diverse place.

In this guide, we’ll provide trail descriptions. Plus we’ll talk about getting to and from Montecristo National Park. We’ll throw in some interesting facts, because, who doesn’t love a fun fact. In addition, we’ll even suggest a few accommodation options for hiking El Trifinio in El Salvador.

The History of Montecristo National Park

Montecristo National Park was founded in 1987 and is part of a tri-national natural region. Together with Montecristo Trifinio National Park in Guatemala, and Trifinio Biosphere Reserve in Honduras, it forms “La Fraternidad Biosphere Reserve”. This is a protected area that covers 600km2. Parque Nacional Montecristo in El Salvador is also the first protected forested area to be announced in the country. That’s because it’s home to a range of flora and fauna not found anywhere else. This means, that alongside El Imposible National Park, Montecristo National Park has one of the highest biodiversities in all of El Salvador.

Beck stands on a fallen tree trunk in Montecristo National Park

What Does Montecristo National Park have to offer?

Montecristo National Park is perfect for nature lovers and hikers alike. This rainforest in El Salvador is a truly special place to visit. It’s also a destination not many tourists venture to, so you’re really seeing a more hidden side to El Salvador.

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Exploring the Park and Enjoying the Flora and Fauna

There are a handful of short hikes to enjoy in the Montecristo cloud forest. However, by far the most popular trail to complete is the trek to Cerro Montecristo, otherwise known as the El Trifinio in El Salvador hike.

Camping at Montecristo National Park

Another popular draw of Montecristo National Park is the opportunity to camp amongst incredible nature. Some of which are endemic to the area. Also, by camping at the foot of Cerro Montecristo, you’ll have a better chance of spotting some Montecristo National Park animals that call this place home. Having said that, Dan and I were lucky enough to encounter white-tailed deer and agouti’s whilst hiking El Trifinio.

Visiting the Garden of 100 Years

If hiking to the summit of Cerro Montecristo doesn’t fully satisfy your El Salvador rainforest thirst, then fear not. Another popular attraction at Montecristo National Park in El Salvador is the short walk around the Garden of 100 Years (Jardín de los Cien Años). This delightful stroll around a botanical-style garden shows off some of the park’s wonderful flora. The most famous within the garden is the ‘Tree of Love‘ or ‘Arbol de Amor‘. Two curious-looking Cypress trees are seemingly embracing one another. Well, that’s the clean version anyway!

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Dan at Santa Ana Volcano

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Montecristo National Park OverviewEl Trifinio Hike

As mentioned, there’s plenty to keep you busy in Montecristo National Park. But, in this guide, we’ll be focussing on Montecristo’s premier hike – El Trifinio in El Salvador. This 8.8km return hike is a steady climb up Cerro Montecristo, through El Salvador rainforest. The initial sections of the trail wind up through dry pine forest. It then traverses into a wholly different environment. Here, you’ll experience the Montecristo cloud forest. A dark and damp climate that conjures a somewhat eerie and almost mythical atmosphere. Sounds good, eh.

Dan stands at the entrance to Montecristo National Park ready to take on the El Trifinio El Salvador hike
Dan keen and ready to go at the entrance

Hiking to El Trifinio El Salvador Preview

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 8.8km
  • Time: 3.25 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 548m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Parque Nacional Montecristo Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

El Trifinio El Salvador Trail Description

After entering through the park’s main entrance, there’s around a 45 minute drive to reach the trailhead at Los Planes. Here, the hike begins with a steady uphill climb. Don’t worry, it’s nothing compared to other hikes in El Salvador, such as the San Miguel Volcano or San Vicente Volcano. This incline is not too taxing nor challenging.

Passing through a tranquil pine forest you’ll enjoy the shelter of some huge trees. The El Trifinio hike feels very different from other parts of El Salvador. Its highland position automatically means a cooler temperature, often fluctuating between 10-15°C. As a Brit, it was a welcome break from the searing heat of Central America. Although, El Trifinio in El Salvador is still one of the country’s most humid areas.

Cloud Forest

Eventually, at around the 4km mark, you’ll begin the steep and slippery wooden stair climb to the summit of Cerro Montecristo. Here, you’ll notice a dramatic change in the El Salvador rainforest vegetation. The dry is replaced by damp. The clear air becomes a sheer veil of mist. It’s at this point you should take extra care on the trail.

The moisture-filled atmosphere leaves the platform trail extra slippery. But hey, it’s the final push to the summit. So, all is forgiven for slowing the pace. Plus, there’s real enjoyment in admiring how well nature adapts to differing climates. The dank moss hanging from twisted trees, and the sounds of exotic birds fluttering through the opaque air. These were actually some of my favourite parts of the entire hike.

Summit of Cerro Montecristo

Soon enough, you’ll be out of the thick and following a short path up to Cerro Montecristo. This is actually the third highest peak in El Salvador. Met by mist, which is fairly commonplace, the 360 vistas dance in and out of view. Perhaps you’ll have better luck.

At the summit of El Trifinio, you’ll find a large mojón signifying the meeting of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. There’s also a tall tower to scale, should you have a head for heights. This provides even more extensive views.

From the peak of the El Trifinio El Salvador hike, you can marvel at the scale of Montecristo National Park, and La Fraternidad Biosphere Reserve as a whole. Of course, it’s quite breathtaking. You’ll feel a million miles from civilisation and completely immersed in the El Salvador rainforest.

After a rest, something to eat and your fill of epic views, it’s time to return. Just follow the exact same route back to the trailhead.

Dan at the summit of Cerro Montecristo on the El Trifinio El Salvador hike

El Trifinio El Salvador Recap

The El Trifinio El Salvador hike is a fantastic trail through Montecristo National Park. It’s a great alternative to volcano hiking in El Salvador. Indeed, the trail to Cerro Montecristo is a wonderful way to experience more off-the-beaten-track El Salvador. Hiking in the Montecristo cloud forest means being in the thick of nature. You get to see, first-hand, the wonderful conservation effort taking place and appreciate a side of El Salvador few will experience.

Visiting Montecristo National Park in El Salvador

  • You need a permit to enter the park: remember, you require a written permit from the Salvadoran Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) to enter the park. You CAN NOT simply arrive on the day and expect to be allowed in. Applying 48 hours before your intended arrival should suffice.
  • Get to the park on time: currently, Montecristo National Park operates on very strict timings. You can only enter the park from when it opens at 7.30am until 11am. So, if you arrive after 11am, you will not be granted access to the park. This is regardless of whether you plan on hiking El Trifinio El Salvador or not. If you are camping, you have until 1pm to enter Montecristo.
  • Early closing: the park closes at 3pm, so you really ought to be starting the hike from Los Planes by 8.30am, latest. This will ensure you have time to finish it. Unless you plan to speed hike that is.
  • You need proper transportation: the road from the entrance of the park to Los Planes parking area is 4×4 accessible only.
  • Check the trail to El Trifinio is open: this is important since you’ll likely be travelling quite a distance to hike El Trifinio in El Salvador. During the wet season, the trail can often be closed. The trail can also be closed during breeding season, to protect the flora and fauna. Both occur between May and November.
  • Hire a guide: it is recommended to hire a guide for walking El Trifinio in El Salvador, especially if you are unfamiliar with the route up to Cerro Montecristo.
  • Entrance fee: the entrance fee to Montecristo National Park is $3USD for nationals and $6USD for foreigners

Call MARN at (503)2132-6276, or visit their website here for more information about visiting.

How to get to Montecristo National Park

By Car

To hike El Trifinio El Salvador in Montecristo National Park requires some planning. We travelled there from San Salvador for the day. This involved a drive time of around 2.5 hours each way. But, a closer destination would be Santa Ana. This would take around 1.5 hours. Closer still would be to get there from the nearest town, Metapan. This is a drive time of around 40 minutes.

However, the roads at Montecristo National Park are not well maintained. A 4×4 is advisable. As mentioned previously, the road from the park entrance to Los Planes is unsealed. It is also not permitted to walk this section of road. Good transportation is your only option.

Car Hire

If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.

To find out more about renting a car with Discover Cars, read our Discover Cars review and Discover Cars Insurance review.

By Bus

If making your own way to Parque Nacional Montecristo by public transport, you can take bus #201. It leaves from Terminal de Occidente in San Salvador, heading firstly to Santa Ana. The bus leaves fairly regularly and the journey time is around 1 hour.

Next, from Santa Ana, you should head to Metapán. Bus #235 leaves from a station near the Urb Jardines de Barcelona Park where the Calle Aldea San Antonio meets 25 Calle Pte. The travel time is about 1.5 hours and leaves every 20 minutes.

Finally, from Metapán, you will need to find a driver in a 4×4 or pick-up to take you to Montecristo National Park. As far as I’m aware, drivers in Metapán charge anything from $80USD to $100USD for the round-trip.

If using public transport, remember that you must enter the park before 11am, and leave by 3pm. So, camping may be a preferred option.

Orchids growing in the botanical garden at the trailhead to El Trifinio El Salvador hike
Orchid garden in the Garden of 100 Years

El Trifinio El Salvador Tour Packages

Due to the location of Montecristo National Park, hiking El Trifinio in El Salvador kinda feels simpler to do as a tour package. Especially if you only have a day to spare and/or don’t love the idea of camping. We found Club de Mochileros was a great tour company to organise the whole day for us.

Based in San Salvador and La Libertad, Club de Mochileros organise cheap tours around El Salvador. This includes hiking and camping at Montecristo National Park. We used them for many of our El Salvador hiking tours. Their group tours are cheaper because they charge per group, instead of per person.

The El Trifinio El Salvador hike with Club de Mochileros is $140USD per group. So, with a group of four, it’s just $35USD each! To book a tour with Club de Mochileros, simply message them on Whatsapp (+503 7602 0000 or +503 7600 3454). Or, contact them on Facebook or Instagram.

Accommodation at Montecristo National Park

There are two main options for accommodation in Montecristo National Park. Camping or renting a cabin. Both are within the national park itself.

Camping at Montecristo National Park is particularly special. You’ll have a wonderful experience enjoying nature by pitching on the large grassy area at the forested site. After all, it’s all within an El Salvador rainforest. There are basic facilities. But, you won’t care too much about just how basic when you’re being entertained by the fauna at night.

Alternatively, there are two cabins available to rent on site. Both sleep up to eight guests and cost around $70USD/night. They come with beds, a kitchenette and a bathroom.

You should contact MARN directly for information about both of these options.

Hotels to Stay Nearby

Hostel y Restaurante la Toscana is a fine guest house located in Metapán – the largest major town closest to Montecristo National Park. All rooms have a private bathroom and the hostel has an on-site bar serving food and drink. Wifi isn’t currently available. Prices start at around $40USD/night.

Alternatively, Airbnb has a few rental options for around $20USD/night.

Nearby Tourist Places to Explore

  • Cerro Verde National Park: located next to the city of Santa Ana, there’s the chance to hike two fantastic volcanoes – Santa Ana and Izalco.
  • Salto de Malacatuipan: did someone say hot waterfall?! Just an hour north of Santa Ana, these cascades are the perfect way to unwind after a day of hiking.
  • Juayua: along El Salvador’s famed Ruta de las Flores is the sweet town of Juayua. Here you must take on the 7 Waterfalls Hike.
  • Ataco: one of our favourite stays in El Salvador. We enjoyed many a hike in El Imposible National Park.

Fun Facts: What You Didn’t Know

  • Montecristo National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • There are many species of birds that are endemic to this El Salvador rainforest area.
  • Around 70% of all orchid species in El Salvador are found in the park.
  • Cerro Montecristo sits at 2,418m above sea level.
  • Rainfall in Montecristo National Park exceeds 2,000mm each year.

Hiking Recommendations

Make sure to pack 2L of water, snacks, sunglasses, suncreen and a hat. Plus, be prepared for wet weather. The climate here is unlike other parts of El Salvador. Bring layers for cooler and potentially wetter conditions. Otherwise, here are some other useful hiking gear recommendations.

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Bonus Tips

  • Don’t skip El Salvador: many tourists miss El Salvador during their Central America trip. Check out our El Salvador guides to find other incredible places to explore. #dontskipelsalvador
  • Other fantastic El Salvador mountain hikes: check out our guides on Cerro Eramon, Penon de Comasagua and El Pital. Or, read 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not To Miss.
  • Park permit: DO NOT forget to apply for your entry permit. Otherwise, you risk being turned away.
  • Pack a lunch: the grassy areas around Los Planes are perfect for a woodland picnic. We saw a family of deer as we were tucking into our sangas (sandwiches).
el trifinio montecristo national park pinterest

Do you prefer El Salvador mountain hiking or volcano hiking? Or both! Check out our El Salvador hiking page for more inspiration.

Beck Piggott

With an art and design based background, Beck uses photography and writing to help inspire readers to climb mountains, hike coastal trails and chase waterfalls around the globe.

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  1. Jason says:

    I went up without a guide in late Jan 2024. I submitted a permit request to the MARN and never heard back. I went to their office in San Salvador – but they were closed fridays. I rented a 4×4 pickup and stayed in Metapan. I arrived at the gate at 730, and I think they probably would have let me in even without the permit – but if you have come from a distance, I would still submit it to MARN. Arriving at Los Planes, I parked and went up a trail for approximately 1 km – where the trail ended and I hit a road leading uphill and to the west. The road snaked back to the east, eventually leading to the stairs you describe. My total distance was 12.3 km return. There may have been shorter ways, but I was worried about getting lost by taking a different way down. Someone has taken steps to prevent people from going up the observation tower. One probably could have climbed up – but it was not worth the risk for me. I saw no other people at all on the hike. A great hike!

    • Beck Piggott says:

      Hi Jason,

      That sounds like a great adventure. El Trifinio is certainly worth the effort to get to. We hope you have more epic hikes to complete in El Salvador, there’s certainly plenty to explore. Thanks for sharing your experience.

      All the best,
      Beck & Dan