Traveling out of the country is always a real travel adventure. Traveling to an unknown country overseas with a turbulent past is truly a real adventure. It’s always nice to have someone in that country looking after you and you can go to should things go off track.
I recommend Salvadorean Tours with its manager Rodrigo Moreno to plan and execute a pleasurable travel adventure with few bumps in the road. As you know travel anywhere has its risks. If you wanted to be completely safe, you would stay at home and hope nothing happened. But in travel more times than not, especially using a travel suppler and common sense, you are more than safe.
El Salvador is remembered for its turbulent civil war of the 1980s, and when you travel there you will be told of its effect on the country. But with the 1992 peace accord, El Salvador is looking to building a bright future. A small country in size, on the Pacific coast boarded by Honduras and Guatemala, the natural landscape is dotted by many volcanoes, now mostly dormant, which is a reminder of its geological birth. Viewed today as tourist attractions, they can even be seen surrounding the Capitol of San Salvador, and from your hotel room at La Mirador. Hotel La Mirador is a good home base for your exploration of the city via the sights arranged by Salvadorean tours.
You will certainly want to have a walking tour of downtown, stop in for a brief visit to the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador where you can pay your respects to the revered Catholic priest, Oscar Romero’s impressive resting place. The interior of the cathedral with its stain glass is a testament to the traditional strength of Catholicism in the country.
For a modern worship venue a few blocks away is the Church of the Rosary with its inventive use of glass and concrete, along with sculptures and stations of the cross, in a more contemporary style, often made from left over metal from the church’s construction. From the outside it appears to be a dark and heavy structure but inside the symbolic gradation of light and the column free expanse is imaginative.
If you have our tour guide, Eduardo, you can’t help but see and be affected by his enthusiasm for his country and what it has to offer. To ease us into our first day we had an enjoyable lunch and cocktail at the Bennigans in the World Trade complex, accentuated by a spectacular panoramic view of the city. The attentive bar tender and the large portions were greatly appreciated.
In the evening we were treated to the upscale and trendy Mai Thai Restaurant, where the owner gave us examples of his bartenders art and dexterity before tasting plates of a variety of his specialties. Next door is a contemporary nightclub/disco with a popular late night crowd.
For a more relaxed and organic entertainment venue, Rodrigo took us to the near by town of Santa Tecla, where a main street is closed to traffic in the evening and the patrons of clubs and restaurants spill out into the night. This is an example of the community saying, “build it, ~ or provide it ~ and they will come.” They upgraded the street and buildings for seven blocks, and entrepreneurs and merchants moved in, and it’s now the place to be. Wished we could have stayed longer.
Before venturing out into the country side, the real Salvadorian attraction, a quick visit to the Archeological Museum will give you a basic history of the country, and a walk through the Museum of Art gives insight into the contemporary mind set. The two museums are within walking distance along a very busy thorough fare. From your hotel you can often take taxis almost anywhere in the city with a fare of $6.00. It’s good to note here, that the U.S. Dollar is the currency used in El Salvador and the electric current is 110 with familiar pug in outlet configurations. These are comforts that make Salvador convenient for US travelers. You won’t find many English speaking people, other than at your hotel or your tour guide, but with a piece of paper of the address of where you want to go, Taxis are no problem. It’s good ask the price before departing.
On one of my solo taxi excursions I had to see the 1950s mansion, around which the modern Centro Commercial Galerias mall was built. Because of its turbulent geological past, few very old structures survive – so this midcentury architectural conservation is a rarity. The multi-storied mall, complete with food court and cinemas, is host to a variety of department stores and upscale boutiques. There is even a Starbucks on the top floor of the mansion.
Preservation of the distant past is accomplished at the archeological site known as “Joya de Ceren” which is a world heritage site, preserving the earliest structures of El Salvador’s ancestors. It’s called the “Pompeii of America.” Here also is a convenient small outdoor curio shop, where I found a modern clay figurine reminiscent of the ancient ones found in the archeological museum.
While the city of San Salvador offers sights of historical significance, the country side is where the real El Salvador flourishes. The country is known for its cultivation of fine coffee, its prolific number of volcanoes, and now a beach side eco oasis that can rival any in the world.
Getting out of the city with Salvadorean Tours as your guide, you will most likely be taken via the route of flowers to the eastern section of this small country. Here in several villages you will see the local art displayed on low rise buildings in the traditional bright Central American colors depicting people and places of the local venue. A short stop in each town will give you a sense of place and ease with the countryside. Salvadorean Tours may even have special shopping experiences designed into your tour, to enable you to pick up some indigenous crafts. We asked our guide Eduardo for a local shop for our souvenir needs and he supplied such with no problem.
We spent the night in the small town of Ahuachapan, at the low slung hacienda of Hotel La Casa de Mamapan, which is in a colonial building. The interior offered a variety of rooms with baths, and common meeting places, often with an open air screened roof, and decorated with a plethora of antiques. It’s next to the large Asuncion Church and across from the La Concordia Park complete with clock towered band stand. The proprietors were very accommodating but spoke no English, a common occurrence in El Salvador.
Our stop in Ahuachapan (Place of Oak Houses – founded in the 5th century and today an important coffee producing area) was accented with a meal at the original Pupuseria Olguita, where we ate the finger food of Pupusas. Pupusas are a fluffy-like tortilla filled with a variety of fillings of your choice, from mushrooms, cheeses, garlic, vegetables and such. The freshness of the grilled tortilla-like bread added to its appeal. Pupusas are the food of the people. This particular establishment is one of the original in the area.
Coffee is grown on many of the hillsides you will pass on your way to the El Carmen Estate; El Salvador Hotel and Coffee Resort. Here you will find the labor intensive and long process of coffee bean, washing, drying, extracting, sorting and aging the beans for optimum quality. Coffee grown at the highest of elevations are said to be better in quality, so the volcanic hills of El Salvador provide an ideal venue. Away from the warehouses and processing buildings is a small but attractive set of accommodations for rent. I’d say you can’t get a fresher cup of morning coffee than here at the El Carmen Estate.
Along your tours you will pass or drive up near the top of a number of Volcanoes, many dormant for decades and even one, Izalco, which puffs out its tiny share of steam. What makes this volcano even more appealing is that you can drive up to a common parking area and pear down on it from a wooden observation stand, a great safe distance away, but with a spectacular view. For the hearty there is a hiking trail up the side of the adjacent Santa Ana volcano you drove up, for another special view. For the truly outdoor adventurous there are many hiking trails up the sides of dormant volcanos across the county. This area is also the locale for the Volcanic Lake “Coatepeque” a beautiful water filled dormant volcano, where shore side you can dine, swim or take a boat excursion.
The best surprise is the pacific coast retreat of the Eco Lodge and Resort of La Cocotera, located on the southwestern most part of El Salvador. Here you are treated to accommodations of thatched elegance, accentuated by posts of farmed teak, amid a grove of mature coconut palms. A small true Eco lodge, it has only 3 two storied casitas, positioned apart from each other, with a maximum total lodge accommodation of 18, if every bed is filled. As part of its eco heritage only 11 palm trees were downed for the lodge’s construction and each of those were replaced on the property with ten each in new plantings. Several other floral varieties are constantly being planted. This shows the concern for El Salvador’s future.
The décor and appointments of each apartment hosts an outdoor lounge, wide expansive doors (which have screened shutters for privacy) that open up to expanses of palms, water and groomed sand, a separate toilet, a separate lavatory and storage, and a separate rain head shower. The water is solar heated and each apartment has its own water supply. You’d think the water might not be hot enough for your liking, but it can be scalding, so be careful. Yes, it may take several minutes for it to arrive at your room, but such is eco lodge luxury.
Of course the king size bed, or double beds, are the quality you could expect at the best 4 start hotel, as is the housekeeping staff who knows just when to service your room so as not to inconvenience you. I heartily recommend the second story apartments with an expansive view of either facing the calm estuary and distant volcanoes, or my favorite the crashing surf of the Pacific Ocean. The gentle rustling of the forest of palm fronds and the somewhat white nose of the surf, provides the serenity that is so often missing in resorts.
And as this was not enough, the eco lodge is a nesting ground and releasing area for the endangered Olive Ridley turtle. In fact during the dry season they may have a supply of small turtles ready for your releasing into the surf on their ten year journey at sea before returning to La Cocotera to lay offspring. This along with their long term Scarlet Macaw program, gourmet breakfast lunch and dinner, a fully stocked and manned cocktail bar, economical rates, a video library, salt water pool, the most spectacular sunsets on a most gentle slanting beach, is completed with all the palm atmosphere you could ever hope for. I mentioned to the congenial manager, Ricardo that I thought this was heaven. He replied, “Yes, and I am San Pedro.” (Meaning he was Saint Peter, the guardian of heaven.) And I agreed.
Journalist Terry Zinn, is past president of the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association and a sampling of his articles, can be found at ~ www.travelswithterry.com and www.martinitravels.com