Tucked away in the tropical forest on the outskirts of Santa Ana, is one of the country’s most incredible experiences: Salto de Malacatiupán, the hot waterfalls of El Salvador.
Due to the vast number of volcanos in the country, El Salvador is home to a lot of thermal activity. The earth beneath its surface is a hot and active place. And while there are several spots to safely enjoy the hot springs of El Salvador, the Malacatiupán hot waterfalls are one mind-blowing spot that is often overlooked by travellers.
What Are the El Salvador Hot Waterfalls
The hot spring waterfalls are exactly as they sound, although until you experience them first hand it’s hard to fathom. These hot springs are likely very different from anything you’re used to. Rather than a series of calm, relaxing pools, the water here flows down a stream and cascades brilliantly over several cliffs.
Calling it picturesque is an understatement and a cliche. Though it’s true and an accurate description. As merely a waterfall or natural swimming spot, the scene is already impressive. The fact that the river and falls are fed from an underground hot spring takes it to another level.
The main waterfall is around 10m (33 feet) high, so it’s perfect for cliff jumping. Several other smaller ledges surrounding the falls offer lower jumping platforms for those not yet comfortable with heights.
For those not looking to jump, the water below the falls is fairly calm and is great for swimming. There are also a couple of small soaking pools to the left of the main waterfall.
Along the stream and below the falls, a large, flat area of smooth stone is perfect for setting up a spot to relax. Soak up the sun, have a picnic, or just kick back and watch the locals leap from the top of the falls. Along the tree line and a little downstream, there is plenty of shade from the hot Salvadoran sun.
How Hot Are They?
Giving a specific temperature is nearly impossible as there is nothing regulating the heat. As well, the outside air will also affect not only the heat of the water but how it feels by comparison.
Some have compared it to a hot tub. From personal experience, most hot tubs I know are much hotter than these thermal pools. When we visited, the water was hot but not uncomfortably.
Having said that, dip your toes in before taking a full-on leap.
I don’t need to tell you that jumping from waterfalls comes with obvious risk. It’s nearly impossible to know exactly what is below the surface. Fallen trees or other debris could be under the water where even the day before there was nothing. And while the waterfall itself is unlikely to cause an undertow, never jump unless you’re a confident swimmer and have someone with you who can help you in case something goes wrong.
Climbing out of the pool can be tricky as well. As this is a natural pool, there are no man-made assistances, no ropes or ladders. Getting out requires scrambling up slippery rocks. It’s quite simple but worth noting the obvious risk of slipping.
Finally, though the stream is fed from an underground spring, the path it follows through the jungle makes for a perfect spot for flash-flooding. During the dry season, the risks are next to none. In the rainy summer months, there is a definite risk that the calm stream could fast become a raging river. Always talk to locals about the conditions before visiting. And play at your own risk.
What to Bring
Unlike a typical day at the beach, you’re going to need to bring some decent shoes. There is no smooth pathway to the falls, and access to the main platform requires a bit of a climb.
Flip-flops alone would be a bad idea.
Also, there are no services nearby, and while food vendors have been seen in the parking area at times, this is not common. It would be wise to bring along some snacks. And definitely bring plenty of water. El Salvador is hot.
In addition to decent shoes and food/drink, you’ll want to bring the typical beach gear:
- Insect repellent
When to Visit
Considering the high temperatures in the country, combined with the temperature of the water, early morning or evening is the most comfortable time to visit. You wouldn’t typically spend a hot afternoon in a hot tub.
That said, you’ll cool down in the breeze when getting out of the water. We once visited in the middle of the afternoon and it was lovely. Just be sure to find some shade.
How to Get to the Malacatiupán Hot Waterfalls
As this is one of the most unmissable experiences in El Salvador, even if you’re on a short visit, this should be on your list. If time is an issue, the easiest way to reach the Malacatiupán waterfalls is by hiring a driver. Ask around at your hostel for information. Nearly everyone knows a driver.
To get there by bus, take the 210 or 214 from Santa Ana to the town of Atiquizaya, around 45 minutes away. The bus should drop you off near the main town square. Here, you’ll find plenty of tuk-tuks and moto-taxis available to take you the rest of the way to the falls. It’s a good idea to set up a pick-up time with your driver for the return visit. Even better, get their phone number and call them when you’re ready to leave. If not, you’ll have to stand by the road and hitch a ride back to Atiquizaya.
When you arrive at the parking lot, head down towards the river (you can’t miss it). Follow it downstream along the rocks until you reach the edge of the falls. Facing downstream, head to the far right and look for the “steps” down to the main area below.
How Much Does it Cost
The hot waterfalls of Malacatiupán are open 24/7 and are completely free of charge. This could change as the once “hidden gem” is growing in popularity. So now is the perfect time to visit!
Occasionally there will be someone standing in the parking lot asking for a $1 “entrance fee” but at the time of writing, this is not official and is not required.
Enjoy the Malacatiupán Hot Waterfall of El Salvador
Swimming in nature is amazing. Swimming in a hot river surrounded by tropical jungle is next level.
There are few places on the planet where you can experience such an incredible thing.
Get out there and enjoy it!