From Turtles to Trails – Barra de Santiago & El Imposible National Park, El Salvador

2019-02-03T14:01:45+00:00September 28, 2012   ||   Posted in: El Salvador - , , , ||   9 Comments

One of the (many) things we like about El Salvador is its easy-traveling combination of diversity and size. It’s got beaches, cities, volcanoeshot springs, coffee plantations and archaeological sites and the place is so tiny you can get a taste of it all in a single day if you want to. This is why it was possible for us to be releasing turtles on the beach in the morning near Barra de Santiago and hiking the trails of El Imposible National Park in the afternoon.

Baby sea turtles - Barra de Santiago, El Salvador

Baby turtles ready to hit the open ocean in Barra de Santiago, El Salvador.

Turtles run the gauntlet in Barra de Santiago

There are few things as adorable–or doomed–as a baby turtle. Even in protected areas where locals no longer sell and eat the eggs and where organizations carefully protect every nest, their survival rate is the stuff of nightmares.

Baby turtles - Cocotera, El Salvador

Releasing baby olive ridley turtles at La Cocotera Resort in El Salvador.

This lends a bitter-sweet quality to the baby turtle releasing process. It’s sweet because you get to briefly hold the excited, squirming hatchlings before putting them on the sand and watching instinct take over as you hope that each perfectly shrunken version a turtle will get the chance to grow into a massive version of itself.

Baby sea turtle - Barra de Santiago, El Salvador

A baby olive ridley turtle moments before scrambling to the sea.

But as you watch the last straggler disappear under the sea foam where the water hits the shore, you know that out of the 100 or so baby turtles in each nest few will live to see tomorrow, let alone adulthood.

baby sea turtles released in Ocean - El Salvador

Home at last.

Turtle release - Barra de Santiago, El Salvador

Eric shooting video of the baby turtles’ instinct-driven march to freedom.

Still, we never say no to the chance to take part in the release of baby turtles, like the olive ridleys we released while staying at La Cocotera Resort & Ecolodge. The six room resort, which generously hosted us for two nights, is wedged between two bodies of water: The Pacific Ocean is on one side and a mangrove-lined lagoon is on the other. Turtles love the location too and nest here every year. Resort staff collect the newly-dropped eggs and re-bury them in a protected place on the resort grounds until they’re ready to hit the water.

Watch the baby turtles’ epic journey into the Pacific in our video, below.

Cool nature and a cool name in El Imposible National Park

El Imposible National Park gets its super-cool name from the extreme and daunting gorge at its heart whose steep, rocky sides claimed the lives of farmers and livestock before the area was made a national park in 1989. However, you would be forgiven for thinking the inspiration for the park’s name came from the “road” which leads to it.

El Imposible National Park gorge - El Salvador

The imposing gorge which inspired the awesome name of El Imposible National Park in El Salvador.

Once you leave the pavement you’re faced with a rough, rocky, steep road that’s so bad in places that locals have actually set football size boulder into the dirt for traction.  We bumped over this brutality for more than an hour before we reached the spectacularly unmarked entrance to the park which covers nearly 15 square miles (38 square km) of threatened habitat which is home to exciting rarities like puma and king vultures. It is generally considered the most bio-diverse spot in El Salvador.

Parrots - El Salvador

Parrots in El Imposible National Park in El Salvador, one of the most bio-diverse areas of the country.

Most hikes in El Imposible aren’t impossible but they are steep, slippery, strenuous affairs. When we visited the park Eric was still recovering from his cracked ribs so we settled on a 1 mile (3 km) loop that would at least take us past two lookouts with views down into El Imposible canyon.

We’d already paid US$3 per person to enter the park and another fee to park our truck so when rangers told us it would be US$10 for the mandatory guide to accompany us on what amounted to a little stroll we weren’t having it. Increasingly heated Spanglish was exchanged back and forth and it was finally determined that the US$10 was merely a “suggested” fee and the guide would be happy to accept any tip we felt like giving. Fine. But why the game in the first place?

Still slightly miffed, we hit the trail. We’d completed the mostly-shaded, well-built trail in less than an hour and the final stretches of the loop back to the parking lot took us past some of the park’s three basic but spectacular camping areas. Camping area #1 even has covered tent sites. At US$1 per person per night, the camping in El Imposible is a bargain.

El Imposible National Park - El Salvador

It might be time for a new sign at El Imposible National Park in El Salvador.

Here’s more about travel in El Salvador



  1. Debby Summerlin September 28, 2012 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    Great video of the babies! They looked so tired trying to make it through the mud. I cheered when the one finally made it!

  2. Laurence September 29, 2012 at 3:19 am - Reply

    I love the way baby turtles always look like wind up toys as they frantically work their way towards the beach. Kind of sad that so few make it to adulthood, but that’s nature I guess. If they all made it.. we’d just have an ocean of turtles!

  3. Cole October 1, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

    Oh man I would love to look after baby turtles! They are super cute. Great write up.

  4. Mary October 3, 2012 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Even though the chances are slim that these babies will make it, I still hope that some of them beat the odds. We got the amazing chance to see a Mama Leather-back turtle laying eggs in Dominica, but didn’t get to see the eggs hatch. It must have been an amazing experience!

  5. Matthew Karsten October 3, 2012 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    You can do it baby turtles! 🙂

  6. Susan October 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    AHH! I’ve always wanted to see this. Love the photos!

  7. Nathaly October 3, 2014 at 12:48 pm - Reply


    I am curious, what is it abou the $10 fee that you disliked? That is one way members of the community earn their living in a part of the world where that makes a difference in their quality of life. I have traveled to many, many countries that charge more than that for access to their parks and it did not include a guide. It seems a reasonable amount to me.

    • We have no issue with such fees at parks that are authorized by the government. This however, was a random figure that was asked for apparently based on the fact we were foreigners who arrived in their own vehicle. We had visited other National Parks in El Salvador including one that was a UNESCO World Heritage site and the entrance fee was nowhere near $10. This fee seemed unusual so we inquired about it and found out this was the person at the visitor’s center “suggested fee”. This I have a problem with as it was not presented as a suggested fee, but as the required fee.

  8. Sofia March 31, 2015 at 1:03 am - Reply

    If ever I pass thru all the rough terrain, I could literally say: “I made the Impossible” 😀
    hey, that could be a nice print on shirt too. hmm

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