The famous flowers grown in and around Alegría, El Salvador eluded us when we traveled there, but we did find the area’s suspiciously green and possibly haunted volcanic lake and a relatively affordable place to stay in this budget-travel-challenge of a town. Hey, two out of three ain’t bad.
The word alegría means cheerfulness in Spanish. However, this town gets its name not from its sunny disposition but from its most famous citizen, Presbytery José Miguel Alegría, a professor of Latin who founded a philosophy school in town in 1883. Remarkable. There’s a bust of him in the main square and the professor’s remains are in the crypt of the main church.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Coffee was king in Alegría until Santa Ana took that title a number of years ago. You can still see some shade-grown coffee on the slopes at 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) around Alegría, but many local farmers have shifted gears from beans to blooms and commercial flower production is the main cash cow in town these days. Or so we’ve been told. While in Alegría we saw signs for nurseries (called viveros in Spanish), however we never actually saw any flowers growing.
Hiking to a hot, nuclear green lake
A winding, climbing gravel road out of town leads to Alegría Lagoon inside the crater of Tecapa Volcano which is still active enough to keep the water hot and infuse enough sulphur and other minerals into it to turn the lagoon a color we like to call “nuclear green.” Those feeling a lot of alegría may agree with people who call the eerie lake “The Emerald of Central America.” Or not.
If the color doesn’t squash any thoughts of swimming in Alegría Lagoon, consider this: a persistent myth tells of a mermaid who lives in the lagoon where she lures men she likes. Once she’s done with them, she releases their lifeless bodies which float to the top. Despite the toxic color and presence of a love monster, locals flock to the lake to picnic along the shores and collect mineral-rich mud which many believe is medicinal.
It’s more-or-less a 3 mile (5 km) round trip hike from town including the pleasant loop trail around the lagoon itself. The lagoon is open from 8 am to 5 pm and a man at the gate charges US$0.25 per person to enter. There’s a small shop selling basic snacks and cold beer for US$0.75. A hostel near the entrance gate has a prime location and offers rooms for US$10 per person.
Serious sticker shock
Alegría is a small town which doesn’t yet rank on most foreign tourists’ itineraries so we expected to find budget-friendly prices from a handful of hostels and restaurants happy to see a few visitors. How wrong we were. A steady stream of local tourists provide enough demand to keep prices on the high side by El Salvadoran standards. Hostal y Cafe Entre Piedras, for example, quoted us US$16 per person for a basic, clean room with a private bathroom, parking, and Wi-Fi. The pleasant place, which is right on the plaza, was nearly full.
That’s too rich for our blood so we walked around the tiny town looking for a more budget travel friendly option. We found it at Hostal Danielle (just off the square–ask anyone) where we paid US$10 per person for the same amenities.
If you manage to find a meal in Alegría for under US$5 let us know where…
Here’s more about travel in El Salvador