EL SALVADOR: GOOD SURF, GOOD SEAFOOD, NOT CRAZY VIOLENT.

Last October, El Camino was graciously invited by the Ministry of Tourism of El Savlador and Cotidiana Collective to explore and traverse the various landscapes of the country. 

Before departing we were unsure what to expect. If you are a regular NPR listener like ourselves, the news coverage broadcasted about this country is often bleak, violent, and hopeless. However, we are never ones to shy from an adventure, so despite the warnings and concerned comments, we packed our bags ready to discover the surf, colonial towns, and coffee farms of El Salvador. 

SPOLIER ALERT: WE WERE BLOWN AWAY.

Before proceeding, we think it is important to note that we ended the trip feeling like El Salvador is a deeply misunderstood country. Though El Salvador has a complicated history of civil war whose remnants are still felt in various aspects of society, it is unfair to paint this country and its people with one brush.  It is unfair to a country, which you will soon see, has immense potential to create a thriving tourism industry that could lift thousands out of poverty.  Every country (including the United States of America) has its issues, but those challenges should not be the only characterizations that define it. 

We never felt unsafe, we never felt threatened or encountered any of the hundreds of warnings that you read about at the US Department of State travel warnings website. Unlike the U.S. Media, let's focus on what is good about El Salvador. We want to share a narrative that will have you checking Kayak for the cheapest flight possible to get you there the quickest way possible. 

DAY ONE: We started the trip exploring the capital, San Salvador; one of the CALMEST capitals we have visited in Latin America. San Salvador is a good launching point for various destinations throughout the country. Within twenty minutes one could be on the coast surfing or travel forty-five minutes in another direction and volcano hikes were waiting. 

EL CAMINO TIP: If your time is limited (a week or less), we would skip San Salvador all together and head straight from the airport to the coast. There is too much to see and often the case, not enough vacation days to see it. 

View from the Holiday Inn located in downtown El Salvador. 

View from the Holiday Inn located in downtown El Salvador. 

Lush flora and fauna line the streets of San Salvador.

Lush flora and fauna line the streets of San Salvador.

This is the real deal coconut water. Buy it on the street, have the top chopped off with a machete, and stick a straw in it. 

This is the real deal coconut water. Buy it on the street, have the top chopped off with a machete, and stick a straw in it. 

DAY TWO: The next day we headed out to visit the colonial town of Suchitoto and the surrounding area. We visited an indigo farm and the bizarre rock formations that make up the waterfall, Los Tercios.  Most of the day was spent roaming the picturesque town and we ended the night at the colonial hotel of Los Almendros. 

EL CAMINO HIGHLIGHTS: The serene atmosphere of Los Almendros and meeting Victoria, a 97 year old woman who has been rolling cigars for decades and continues to do so like a boss. 

WHAT WOULD WE DO NEXT TIME: Learn how to make the typical Salvadorean pupusa dish (see below). Pupusas are thick handmade tortillas that are usually stuffed with a combination of cheese, pork, and refried beans. 

Resident parrot at La Posada de Suchiatan.

Resident parrot at La Posada de Suchiatan.

A lesson in pupusa making. 

A lesson in pupusa making. 

Pupusas being made in the center of Suchitoto. 

Pupusas being made in the center of Suchitoto. 

A welcomed traffic jam that came in the form of a community celebration.

A welcomed traffic jam that came in the form of a community celebration.

Victoria rolling cigars like a boss. 

Victoria rolling cigars like a boss. 

DAY THREE: We spent the day visiting various archeological sites including Joya de Ceren and Tazumel. 

EL CAMINO HIGHLIGHT: Lunch at Finca San Antonio. The family that owns this farm discovered the top of a Mayan pyramid in their backyard. This pyramid has not been excavated, but you can have lunch right below it and see the very top of it sticking out of the lush forest canopy. It was one of those travel moments where you really felt you had discovered something special and unknown. You can see a picture below. 

Exploring Tazumel.

Exploring Tazumel.

A colorful vignette spotted off the Pan-American Highway

A colorful vignette spotted off the Pan-American Highway

Lunch at Finca San Antonio. If you look at the very center and through the canopy, you can see the top of a Mayan pyramid sticking out and ready to be excavated. 

Lunch at Finca San Antonio. If you look at the very center and through the canopy, you can see the top of a Mayan pyramid sticking out and ready to be excavated. 

Walter, a local, sat and talked to us about politics and his work maintaining the surrounding area. 

Walter, a local, sat and talked to us about politics and his work maintaining the surrounding area. 

The market at Nahuizalco is a great location to take photos. It is filled to the brim with bright colors, produce, and activity. 

The market at Nahuizalco is a great location to take photos. It is filled to the brim with bright colors, produce, and activity. 

DAY FOUR: We started the morning by touring the coffee estate of El Carmen that is part of a 36 kilometer stretch of winding roads called Las Rutas de las Flores. We ended the day touring another small colonial town called Izalco. 

EL CAMINO TIP: While the coffee tour was informative and organized, see if you can visit a coffee farm that is Fair Trade certified and guarantees their workers a fair wage. There is a lot of abuse of worker treatment and payment within the coffee industry and we believe it is important to always try to support those farms that are taking the harder, but the more moral path forward. It was unclear if El Carmen strived for a high standard of fair worker treatment. 

 

Izalco, El Salvador. 

Izalco, El Salvador. 

The main church of Izalco. 

The main church of Izalco. 

Every town was guaranteed to have two vendors, a pupusa maker and a snow cone slinger. The snow cone carts were brightly painted so they could not be missed. 

Every town was guaranteed to have two vendors, a pupusa maker and a snow cone slinger. The snow cone carts were brightly painted so they could not be missed. 

A display of popular snacks such as fried pork skin, yucca chips, and plantain chips.

A display of popular snacks such as fried pork skin, yucca chips, and plantain chips.

Coffee beans bagged and ready to be exported. 

Coffee beans bagged and ready to be exported. 

Finca El Carmen, a coffee plantation off the Rutas de las Flores. 

Finca El Carmen, a coffee plantation off the Rutas de las Flores. 

DAY FIVE: We ended the tour in the beach town of El Tunco part of the La Libertad area. El Tunco reminds us of what the bohemian town of Tulum must have felt like ten years ago. It is one long dirt path surrounded by boutique hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops on either side. There is enough width on the road for 1.5 cars to pass through. The town is sprinkled with surfers from all around the world who are here for some of the world's best surf, a regional secret not fully appreciated. 

EL CAMINO HIGHLIGHT: All of El Tunco was a highlight, but we particularly enjoyed the incredible view at B Hotel. The hotel is built into the side of a cliff and high up from the ocean water. The infinity pool is a minimalist's dream... white cement all day. Unfortunately we visited at night and could not get any good pictures. 

The view from the major highway, El Litoral. The highway is reminiscent of the Pacific Highway 1 and runs along the coast of El Salvador. 

The view from the major highway, El Litoral. The highway is reminiscent of the Pacific Highway 1 and runs along the coast of El Salvador. 

The surfers of El Tunco. 

The surfers of El Tunco. 

El Tunco is a maze of side paths and alleys that shoot of the beach and decorated with surfboards everywhere. 

El Tunco is a maze of side paths and alleys that shoot of the beach and decorated with surfboards everywhere. 

The seafood market located at the port of La Libertad, about a ten minute drive from El Tunco. 

The seafood market located at the port of La Libertad, about a ten minute drive from El Tunco. 

Fresh catch for the day at the La Libertad seafood market. 

Fresh catch for the day at the La Libertad seafood market. 

Seafood stew filled with fresh lobster, shrimp,  fish, and a broiled egg. 

Seafood stew filled with fresh lobster, shrimp,  fish, and a broiled egg. 

The rest of the week was spent getting to know the small tour operators in the country to better understand how travel companies, such as El Camino Travel, could best work with them. In between meetings, a group of us would sneak off for midday surf sessions and lessons at La Libertad, a twenty minute drive from the capital. We would post up with our friends at Adventure Sport Tours (AST) La Terraza  who have a stunning view of the town. 

Thank you El Salvador for your hospitality and generosity, and for putting on a good show. We can't wait to get back! 

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