I know, I know. I skipped over all the fun Honduras posts. And I promise I’ll be sharing them shortly. But I’m just too excited to share my favorite El Salvador photos, and why I chose to go to this surprisingly fun country.
Why El Salvador?
As I mentioned before, Honduras was basically chosen for me by my friends Shawn and Danyeal. That is not a complaint in the least. I was thrilled to get a chance to go. But I also knew I wanted to go somewhere else after the wedding. Originally I thought Cuba. Surely it had to be cheaper to fly to Cuba from another island in the Caribbean, right? Nope. Not even a little. One way tickets were $800 at the cheapest (I just bought a round trip ticket to Cuba from Seattle for $716, but more on that another time), which just seemed too expensive.
So where else could we go? Obviously it made sense to stay in Central America. I’ve been to Belize and Costa Rica and would prefer to go somewhere new (not that they weren’t both amazing, but new countries are always a priority for me). Emma wanted to go to Nicaragua, and I really wanted to go to Guatemala, but in searching airfare to both countries, it was $400+ one way! For an hour flight? Insane. Going overland, while much cheaper, would take 2 days. With our short timeframe, it just didn’t seem reasonable to spend so much time traveling.
One thing all those flights had in common was a layover in El Salvador. I decided to check out what a one-way flight to San Salvador would cost. At $365, it really wasn’t much cheaper than other Central American destinations. But it was direct, and savings are savings.
Before we made our final decision, I wanted to make sure El Salvador would be worth traveling to. It’s never been high on my list of places to visit, so I wasn’t entirely sure what there was to do there. Time for a bit of research…
Planning the trip…
The first place I looked for information was some of my favorite travel blogs. Adventurous Kate spent a few days in El Tunco, and after reading her post, I knew I’d have to check it out myself. I enjoy surfing, and though I’m not very good at it, I can usually stand up. But as I get older and more injured (thank you sports), even that is harder than it used to be. So lessons were definitely in order.
I also knew I wanted to see more of the country. Kate included a link in her post to the Globetrotter Girls. They visited the Ruta de las Flores (charming mountain towns), Suchitoto (colonial town) and Algeria (volcano hiking). I immediately put all 3 places on my list and figured that would probably be enough to fill another week or so.
Having been to Central America before, I wanted to see if El Salvador had any Mayan ruins of it’s own. Honduras has Copan, which I wanted to visit. But crossing the border on public transport would have taken changing buses 5 times (from Santa Ana). It’s on the route from Roatan to El Salvador if you travel by bus, but we didn’t have the several extra days needed. Fortunately, El Salvador has a few of it’s own, including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Joya de Ceren. The three most popular sites (Tazumal, San Andres and Joya de Ceren) are within an hour of Santa Ana or San Salvador.
Speaking of Santa Ana, I didn’t have it on my list, but after a bit more research, I realized it had a very popular hike nearby of the Santa Ana volcano. Pictures online showed a beautiful turquoise lake in the crater. I was already planning to hike a volcano in Alegria, but the more I thought about it, the more Santa Ana seemed like the better city to visit. It’s closer to the Mayan ruins and the Santa Ana volcano hike seemed a bit more well-traveled in a place that isn’t well-traveled at all. So I made the decision to go to Santa Ana instead of Alegria.
One thing I’ve learned about travel in underdeveloped countries is that their infrastructure isn’t always great. Travel between locations can often take much longer than you think it should. As such, I wanted to make sure we planned enough time to get from city to city, especially if we would be taking the chicken buses.
One of my friends has a lot of family in El Salvador. I asked him about the transportation situation, particularly if chicken buses were a safe way to travel. Apparently not even a little. This is a sentiment I heard echoed by other travelers who were also warned against using the chicken buses. I was a bit bummed out because they’re such a cheap way to travel. Truth be told, if I was traveling alone, I might have done it anyway. But I knew safety was important to Emma (and my mother), so we hired a private driver for inter-city trips. It’s quite a bit more expensive, but it’s better than having something terrible happen (see mom, I AM careful). They can also be arranged through the hostels as it’s not an uncommon method of transportation. We saved the chicken buses for shorter day trips.
Final trip details…
After all that research, our trip ended up looking like this –
Santa Ana – 3 nights, Santa Ana volcano hike, Mayan ruins
Juayua – 3 nights, Ruta de Las Flores, 7 Waterfalls hike, food festival
Suchitoto – 2 nights, sightseeing around town
El Tunco – 2 nights, surfing, night life, relaxing on the beach
Where we stayed…
The only place we had a reservation for was Casa Mazeta in Juayua. Everywhere else we simply showed up and asked for an available room. We did some research before we left and had an idea of where we wanted to stay. Traveling in the off-season makes this easier, however La Barranca in Suchitoto was apparently closed – for the season or permanently, we never found out.
Santa Ana: Hostal Casa Verde – Possibly the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. Dorms – $10 Private rooms – $25 AC – $5/night extra (in private rooms, not sure about dorm). Two kitchens, swimming pool, hammocks, free wi-fi, laundry $6/load, hot showers, TV room with large selection of movies. Free drinking water and coffee. Pop, bottled water, wine and beer available for purchase. Quite time is 10pm. Grade: A
Juayua: Hostal Casa Mazeta – Nice common area with lovely courtyard gardens. Thin walls, but during our visit, no one stayed up past 10pm. Fairly quiet during the day. Dorms – $9 Private rooms – $20 No AC. Kitchen with coffee, tea, pop, beer and drinking water available for purchase. Free wi-fi, laundry $6/load, cool showers, arranges local tours. Grade: B
Suchitoto: Los Almendros de San Lorenzo – Definitely a splurge hotel for us, and you get what you pay for. Nicest place we stayed by far. $93/night (VAT included) for the cheapest room, 20% discount applied in September. Includes breakfast. Restaurant and bar, pool, free wi-fi. Grade: A
El Tunco: Papaya Lodge – Decent, though probably our least favorite hotel in El Salvador. The rooms are nice sized, but you get the feeling everything is just a bit dirty. Walking distance to the beach and restaurants. Dorms – $10 Private rooms – $25 AC extra. Small kitchen, pool, hammocks, place to store surf boards. Grade: C