A WEEK IN EL SALVADOR
El Salvador has had a bad wrap with being dubbed the murder capital of the world and with the rise of young gangs like MS13 that fill our newsfeed. However, I just spent a week in El Salvador and it was actually quite delightful. Let me preface that I WAS concerned about safety and we definitely played it more safe than other countries we have visited. First, we traveled in a large group (there were about 10 of us traveling together to attend a wedding) and we were staying in the main tourist beach town, El Tunco. The town is super tiny, everything is walkable, and it has its own police/security force to ensure the safety of its visitors. If you’re looking for a chill vacation #dontskipelsalvador.
Boca Olas Resort
While there are a handful of hotel options, we all stayed at Boca Olas Resort, which was reasonably priced for US standards and offered a delicious breakfast daily (move over Continental breakfast!), two pools (one with a swim up bar!), and beach front access. (Starting at $150/night in Playa El Tunco).
Puro Surf Hotel
The wedding was at Puro Surf Hotel, which sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean and incorporates an environmental design ethos into their 13 room boutique hotel. Located in El Zonte, Puro has revamped this once dangerous town by employing the locals who run the surf school and the hospitality side. Their open-air restaurant serves traditional El Salvadoran cuisine with all ingredients being locally sourced or farmed. Even the thatched/palapa style roof of the restaurant was designed to catch and funnel water that recycles the water for the gardens and lawns! (Starting at $200/night in El Zonte.)
B Boutique Hotel
If $$ weren’t an issue I would have jumped at the chance to stay at B Boutique. This tiny luxury boutique hotel boasts a big view of the Pacific and looks like a total dream. Plus, I’ve seen some pics of a cave overlooking the ocean that you can dine in! (Starting at $275/ night in Sunzal.)
Playa El Tunco
This cute little surf town is a major attraction for foreigners and natives alike with its world class surf. There are many options for surf lessons in town and its best for beginners to head out early in the morning when the waves are a bit calmer. The town boasts two main streets so be prepared to relax while you’re here. Some spots we enjoyed eating at were Dale Dale Cafe with a great open patio and $3 for 3 pupusas and a coffee, Day cafe for smoothie bowls, Point Break Cafe if you want a real cappuccino, and Tunco Veloz for a hip little pizza+wine spot that feels like it could be in Brooklyn.
Santa Ana Volcano
Santa Ana is El Salvador’s highest volcano AND you can hike (an estimated 2 hours) to the top of it, which offers a peek at the turquoise sulfur lake that lies inside it. Hiking requires hiring an official park guide and a police officer to escort you to the top so we found a delightful tour company, Tunco Life, to coordinate this all-day outing. Unfortunately, the winds were too dangerous the morning we arrived and we were not allowed to ascend. Guess that’s one reason to come back!
Ruta de las Flores
Since we couldn’t hike the Volcano, we explored the Ruta de las Flores instead. The “Flower Route” takes you up the mountain through colorful colonial towns that seem untouched. We visited a coffee factory in Ataco along the route and were amazed to see the entire process from cherry to cup. I have a new respect for only buying fair-trade coffee now.
Tunco Life also offers a night tour of the capital, San Salvador, which we jumped on to get to see the culture of the city life. Again, parts of San Salvador are super unsafe so going with a local guide felt like the safest way to experience this and we got a quick history lesson along the way. We visited the historic downtown square (which up until a few years ago was still unsafe for locals to hang out at but has seen a transformation since) that is situated around the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and Saint Oscar Romero’s tomb, The National Theater (that once played porn movies for a mere $3 admission fee), and my favorite — Iglesia El Rosario — a church with an arched ceiling and colorful stained-glass along the entire ceiling that casts a rainbow throughout the entire place.