Buses: Austin & Mexican Gulf Coast to El Salvador

Jul 10th, 2019, 12:09 PM
  #21  
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*Initial impressions of El Salvador*

So, the bus made an initial stop just after the border. “Cinco minutos!” the driver called out, with much excitement among the pasajeros! Two stands with women cooking over a pan; the passengers’ excitement naturally had to do with returning to El Salvador, land of the pupusa! Not really knowing what the commotion was about, I did not get off! Had I known it would be 3 yummy pupusas for $1, I would have been lining up myself!

It had become dark probably within 20 minutes after crossing into El Salvador, so I really only started to get an impression of the country once we started getting into the lights of San Salvador. What struck me most was how Americanized everything looked. The shipping malls, the gas stations, the spacious American chain restaurants.

Checking into the Hotel Villa Florencia in San Benito (or the Zona Rosa) minutes after getting off the TicaBus, I was kind of surprised that when I told the guy at the reception that I was hungry and was looking for a recommendation for a restaurant, he said “oh, there’s a Papa John’s across the street, go up a bit more and you’ll find a Wendy’s and a Pizza Hut and if you walk just a little bit further there’s a Denny’s open 24 hours”. I said “¿No hay una pupusería?” and he said probably not at that hour (8 pm). Other than the fact that it was a bit tricky crossing the street to get to the Wendy’s, I did not feel ill-at-ease, especially as I saw some young women jogging past. The Wendy’s had quite a modern and air-conditioned layout, which would not have been out of place in the continental USA except that service came first in Spanish and possibly was tidier than many I’ve seen. I ordered the 1/4 single combo and thought to myself “I was not expecting this!” I then reflected that this was the only country in Central America to use the US dollar. Could that explain things?

So, I had 5 nights and 4 days in El Salvador. My impression was to evolve over the next several days. How so?

*Stay tuned!*

Daniel_Williams is online now  
Jul 12th, 2019, 08:29 AM
  #22  
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Just a little interlude before I get back to El Salvador.

I was back in Tapachula last night and I just wanted to add regarding this city if you ever end up here, that the breakfast at Hotel Casona Maya was among the best I’d had in Mexico, and that’s saying a lot! You might think you’d never end up in Tapachula but it’s actually a decent spot to break a trip for those who, say, want to do a trip that is a combination of south-central Guatemala (Antigua, Lago Atitlán, Guate for example) and Chiapas sites (Cañón del Sumidero, San Cristóbal).
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Jul 12th, 2019, 07:55 PM
  #23  
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Waking up my first full day in El Salvador, as I ate breakfast and looked out onto busy Avenida de la Revolución, I realized that arriving in the cover of darkness had given me a somewhat false first impression. No doubt, there were a significant number of American chains in the Zona Rosa and much modernity, but the feel of the city was still unquestionably Central America and not some far-flung US outpost. What with the school buses converted into public transit, people arriving to go to work standing by the dozen in a pickup truck and needing to cross busy traffic light-less Avenida de la Revolution with a strategy of waiting for an opening, running half way, then waiting again for a second opening and running the second half.

My first stop was the nearby Dr. David J. Guzman National Museum of Anthropology, a small but educational museum on the country’s history, with a significant focus on El Salvador’s pre-Columbian history and a focus on stories of migration out of the country, some that even considerably pre-date El Salvador’s brutal civil war in the 80s and early 90s that I was unaware of (such as to Panama in the 40s).

My second stop was to arrange a tour for the next day, which I did at Nahuat Tours, based out of the Sheraton up the street. I opted for the three-hour visit to el Boquerón, a volcano overlooking San Salvador, as a starting point to make a decision as to whether I wanted to do a longer tour.

My next activity was to catch an Uber from the Zona Rosa to the Centro Historico of San Salvador, about a 25 minute ride. Uber drivers are prohibited by company policy from picking up passengers in the Centro Historico (due to it’s being thought to be “dangerous”)—so I was surprised and delighted when my driver agreed to park in a lot and walk around with me (which we did for 20 minutes) and tell me about the various attractions of the city center. After which he drove me back to the Zona Rosa.

The Centro Historico definitely provides that otherworldly (for a Canadian) air of Central American commerce, what with with wall to wall stands and hubbub selling all variety of things as you approach the main squares. The main squares themselves are quite grand, with the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador and the Teatro Nacional all providing a colonial stateliness befitting a Latin American national capital. The most meaningful moment in the Centro Historico was sitting in the cathedral for several minutes with Jhonatan my Uber driver and looking at the large portraits of the much beloved Bishop Óscar Romero, and remembering his brutal assassination during the Civil War in 1980 along with the horror of the shooting of the mourners at his funeral.

Returning to the Uber, I bought myself a horchata and Jhonatan an orange drink from a woman with a variety of iced drinks in giant thermoses for 50 cents each. My horchata was delicious and refreshing to cool
off from the San Salvador heat and I thought, what can you buy in the States or Canada this good for 50 cents? Speaking of the Centro Historico, every one seemed to agree that it was ridiculous that Uber would not allow pickups there, although I must say given the hubbub of commerce near the main squares, I’m not sure how exactly cars could get close to some locations...

*I Fall For El Salvador through day trips. El Boquerón, Zonas Arqueológicas, Lago de Coatepeque, Suchitoto to come*
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Jul 12th, 2019, 07:58 PM
  #24  
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Pictures of the Centro Historico

Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador; Oscar Romero portraits at right

Catedral Metropolitana

Teatro Nacional

Palacio Nacional
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Jul 12th, 2019, 08:01 PM
  #25  
 
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Keep the reports coming, El Salvador's a place I've not been able to visit. You're treading new territory here in Fodor's. Bien hecho, compa.
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Jul 12th, 2019, 08:51 PM
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Baldone— As an experienced Mexico traveler and as one who appreciates Mexico’s offerings, I think you in particular would similarly enjoy El Salvador.

I noticed in Fodor’s there’s a featured article in their news section “In a Country that So Many are So Afraid of..” and I think I laughed out loud (not judgingly, it was just my reaction) when I saw it was about Guatemala. To me, Guatemala seems practically crawling with foreign tourists compared to neighbours (including much of Mexico).
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Jul 13th, 2019, 04:56 AM
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As Baldone said, you're way off the Fodor's map. I'm enjoying the story, though El Salvador was never on the map for me. Thanks.
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Jul 13th, 2019, 06:26 AM
  #28  
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*El Boquerón*

My first trip with Nahuat Tours was to the volcano El Boquerón, a three hour excursion. *Each trip I did was with the tour guide Evaristo, all in Spanish, but there are English tours as well for those that so desire.

What a jewel the citizens of San Salvador have at their doorstep! *Well-maintained paths, colourful flowers, tropical vegetation, colourful birds and butterflies visible and best of all, remarkably cool and fresh air that made this excursion a delightful escape from the heat of the capital. *It was not too strenuous to the summit and*the views of el Boquerón were pleasant, looking like a giant bowl overgrown with greenery,*with its crater visible, almost looking like an ant hill with an x in it from the height of the mirador (lookout). *The tour is capped off by a visit to Plaza Volcán, where I enjoyed pupusas (one the classic revuelto and the other con queso y loroco) and had an amazing latte made from Salvadorean beans.

*Archaeological Sites Tour*

The second tour I did was out to Joya de Cerén and Tazumal. *Joya de Cerén (found in 1976), a UNESCO Heritage Site,*is called the Pompeii of the Mayan world as a volcano eruption in 650 AD covered this community*with ashes, so as to leave the town well-preserved. *It’s*an interesting spot in the Mayan world as it gives insight into the day-to-day lives of the Classic Mayans that would not have lasted in other locations. *There are bodegas, small homes, but possibly most interesting and well-preserved is the temazcal, a steam sauna or sweat lodge. *

Although Joya de Cerén is fascinating*for its preservation, Tazumal, which has the tallest pyramid in El Salvador*was in a way more impressive, with most structures dating from 200 to 900 AD. *The guide spoke of how groups other than Mayans were at this spot, such as the Olmecs and Pipils. *Tazumal impressed me with its water drainage system, and this community was no slouch either in terms of what it offered in terms of engravings, sculptures and earthenware. *A definite priority to see if in El Salvador!

While I pondered ancient civilization, the driver took me to what was the most beautiful spot I saw in El Salvador, the Lago de Coatepeque. *The views of the lake*from the excellent restaurant la Octava Maravilla were phenomenal. *This lake is turquoise and is 26 km in circumference, sitting in a giant volcano crater bowl, with an island in the middle that has a naturally sourced thermal spa*and was absolutely stunning! *There are apparently restaurants and a hotel on the water front as well, popular with capitalinos on weekend for water-based activities.

Two great days in my life!

*Suchitoto and Final Thoughts on El Salvador to Come*

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Jul 13th, 2019, 06:33 AM
  #29  
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Excursions from San Salvador:



Temazcal (sauna), Joya de Cerén. Looks smaller than it is. Picture is from above; this structure is maybe 10-12 feet tall.

Tazumal.

Lago de Coatepeque.

El Boquerón. Brown circle in center is the crater. Observe the x in the crater.
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Jul 13th, 2019, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Daniel_Williams View Post
Baldone— As an experienced Mexico traveler and as one who appreciates Mexico’s offerings, I think you in particular would similarly enjoy El Salvador.

I noticed in Fodor’s there’s a featured article in their news section “In a Country that So Many are So Afraid of..” and I think I laughed out loud (not judgingly, it was just my reaction) when I saw it was about Guatemala. To me, Guatemala seems practically crawling with foreign tourists compared to neighbours (including much of Mexico).
I am sure I would enjoy the country. Bucket list? Your pictures are great.
Interesting blurb from the article about Guatemala. We first went there in '98, just a couple years removed from the end of civil war. We heard/read the same comments over 20 years ago. Our trips couldn't have been less (or would that be more?) uneventful, no doubt how your's was/is to El Salvador. Makes me think about Mmeperdu's recent post and how American/Canadian media likes to sensationalize the dangers of Latin American travel.
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Jul 14th, 2019, 02:26 PM
  #31  
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*Suchitoto*

My last day trip was to Suchitoto, a colonial town maybe 90 minutes from San Salvador. Suchitoto probably is the closest thing I saw in El Salvador to an Antigua, Guatemala in that it’s the place in the country where I saw the most foreign tourists, although Suchitoto is a good bit smaller than Antigua. A town with a Spanish language school, English-speakers were to be heard timidly trying out their Spanish at stores. Abandoned during the Civil War (bulletholes can be seen in some buildings), Suchitoto is now a tourism showpiece.

While there, as part of the tour, I did a workshop on dying cloth with indigo at the Arte del Añil next to the Parque Central, where I went through the process of dying a scarf-life cloth. Very interesting and Irma who leads you through the steps was a lot of fun. This was followed by a walk around town with cobblestone streets from the Parque Central & church to a delicious lunch at the Posada de Suchitlán overlooking the handsome artificial Lago de Suchitlán.

*Final Thoughts on El Salvador*

I would sit on a few occasions in the evening at the charming seafood restaurant Hola Betos near my Zona Rosa Hotel, enjoying the amazing ceviche or mariscada. (Indeed there were actually great restaurants and not just American chains near my hotel; maybe the hotel clerk assumed that a gringo Canadiense would want Pizza Hut?). While enjoying the incredible seafood and thinking back to each incredible day, I could not help but ponder how quickly those in other parts of the world dismiss El Salvador. Even friends of mine who are avid travellers in other parts of Latin America. Even Mexicans I met whose own region might be similarly dismissed out of fears of crime.

I can say I felt exactly as comfortable in El Salvador as I have everywhere else in Latin America. My biggest safety concern as always was not getting caught in gunfire or some such nefarious end, but getting accidentally run over by a motorized vehicle. I heard from so many Salvadoreans I met, “You see? It’s not like people say.” They know full well what foreigners think. I told them that I would sing the praises of their country to my friends and on travel sites, as a place where one can have an amazing vacation. And here I am keeping my promise. I told them I hoped that with enough word of mouth and all the great offerings (Mayan sites, ocean, colonial sites, volcanoes, stunning lakes, great food, amazing coffee fromfreshly picked beans, I could go on...) their country provides, that visitors would come. I have my doubts as sensationalist news stories reign in the minds of the ignorant, positive first-hand experiences are written off as “lucky” or “anecdotal”, but I do hope as the good people of El Salvador deserve it.

*From El Salvador, I backtracked to Copan Ruinas and Palenque. For those places, I’m making a new post on Fodor’s as these sites may attract a different audience*.

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Jul 14th, 2019, 02:33 PM
  #32  
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Pictures of Suchitoto



Colonial elegance in Suchitoto

Scarf (?) that I dyed with indigo.

View of the Lago de Suchitlán from the restaurant at Posada de Suchitlán where I tried the delicious dish gallo chicha for the first time
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