Through my travels I’ve met several folks that started their trip in Belize or the Yucatan Peninsula and worked their way south. For me, I’m happy to have started this trip in El Salvador. It’s a country that most travelers seem to bypass (when I was there I only saw tourists when I was at the surfing beach) and yet it has so much to offer to visitors. Plus, now I have a few countries to come back for!
Not one for crowds, I was hesitant when I read that El Salvador was the smallest and yet most densely populated country in Central America with around 6 million people (approx 2 million alone in San Salvador). Besides perhaps the ever crowded chicken buses, I didn’t sense the country was bursting at the seams with people. El Salvadorians generally were incredibly kind and helpful. Previously I wrote about my amazing Couchsurfing experience in San Salvador and my incredible new friend, Mario, from the farm, but there were always little acts of kindness that made my stay in ES so lovely. On a bus in San Salvador I had a bus driver stop the bus as he and a dozen patrons helped me get to where I was going – complete with hand gestures and whistle noises to communicate ‘up and over’. It was humbling – especially as my Spanish skills have been to slow to come back and I rely heavily on the patience of others.
If you’ve ever wondered where all the minted one dollar gold coins go, it’s to ES. The currency is the US Dollar, but rumor was they’re phasing out the $1 bill and going to the $1 coin instead. My approx avg cost per day = $30 w/o volunteering, $17 w/volunteering. Pupusas were around 40-50 cents each, beer $1, hostels $10-15/night, chicken bus rides under $1 (even for long trips).
My route took me primarily around the western part of the country and it felt as though I barely scratched the surface. I read somewhere that when tourism does reach El Salvador it will hit this area first and I would bet on that. Juayua was a pleasant town I could have spent more time exploring and would recommend it to others. I’m not too keen on the big cities here so I’d pass on San Salvador and even Santa Ana. If I were to go back, I’d check out the area around Tacuba and Suchitoto.
Best Hostel Stay:
Esencia Nativa in El Zonte – it was just a relaxing, pleasant stay. For once Lonely Planet’s recommendation was spot on.
Worst Hostel Stay:
Random hotel in La Palma – nothing worth stopping for at this border town in my opinion. I wish I remembered the name of the place I stayed at because no one should ever stay there. The water stopped working, which was apparently a very common occurrence as they had a bucket of water ready for me. There were hairs and questionable stains all over the sheets (that I only discovered after paying). This is how I slept: rain jacket turned pillowcase, completely encased in my sleep sack. It was a fitful night to say the least.
Perhaps cliche, but it’s hard to pick just one. Maybe making pupusas from scratch on the farm and trying new foods. My mouth is watering just thinking of a drink there called ‘horchata‘.
Toss up between the mosquito bites from the farm and watching people throw trash out of the bus windows on every bus ride. Typically they’d buy a treat from the vendors that pounded down the aisles, consume it and then toss the plastic bag/wrapper/bottle out the window. Trash was everywhere; it was slightly heartbreaking to be admiring the stunning beauty of their country as a trail, street, (fill in the blank) was lined with trash.
Sprinting through a raging river that moments before had been a road to catch a bus that wasn’t leaving anytime soon. Though I also remember crazy fits of giggles on many chicken bus rides too. The moments where you should be worried, upset, annoyed or aggravated, but instead you respond with uncontrollable, crazy person laughter.
This picture makes me laugh every time I see it.
Looking back on traveling in El Salvador now, I already feel different for having embarked on this journey. My confidence to socialize with complete strangers is building. I find enjoyment in hearing about their stories and am heartened by friendships I’m establishing. Lately I’m handing potentially stressful travel situations differently and not get as worked up. My appreciation for little things has also grown immensely. All of which are welcomed changes that I hope stay with me wherever life takes me.
If you’re thinking of traveling to El Salvador and have questions, I’d be glad to help if able!
I’m a few countries behind as I’m already in Leon, Nicaragua! More fun adventures to come though from the Copan Ruins to visiting a working Finca and hot springs!