The Birth of Tourism in El Salvador
By Allison Neves
When we arrived in San Salvador in May of 2007, the changes and improvements made since my last visit in 1995 were readily apparent. The city had a completely different feel, a different energy. On our drive from the airport to my aunt’s house, we saw new neighborhoods, new homes, and beautiful shopping malls complete with towering palm trees and outdoor courtyards. The once fractured infrastructure had been restored and the capital now had the feel of an emerging city.
In 2004, the government of El Salvador created the country’s very first ministry of tourism. During my trip, I had the opportunity to sit down and speak with the Minister of Tourism, Rueben Rochi.
“El Salvador is a brand new destination. It’s more developed than what people would expect,” said Rochi. The country with a population of 5.6 million was host to 1.1 million tourists in 2006 and Rochi anticipates that number to grow to 2 million in 2014.
In fact, the country boasts a wide variety of activities and attractions that could fulfill the expectations of many tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. My husband and I had the opportunity to experience quite a few activities that the country had to offer. From beaches, volcanoes and coffee plantations to hiking and biking to whitewater rafting, El Salvador was indeed more than I expected. Here are just a few choice spots that I visited and highly recommend.
Beaches, Volcanoes and Coffee Plantations
Known as one of the world’s surfing Meccas, La Libertad is a small, uncrowded village located on the Pacific Ocean approximately 30 minutes west of El Salvador’s capital San Salvador.
Within La Libertad on a beach called El Tunco, you’ll find Tekuani Kal, a small six-room hotel with a Temescal (a traditional Aztec sauna), a bar, massage room and surf shop. All rooms provide guests with air-conditioning and cable TV. They are clean, comfortable and tastefully decorated with crafts created by Salvadoran artisans.
A paved path leads visitors directly from the back of the hotel and to a palapa-covered row of hammocks running across the black sand beach. Tekuani Kal as well as various surf shops along the beach offer surfboard rentals and lessons given by experienced locals. And if you happen to get thirsty between sets, the beach is dotted with a handful of outdoor restaurants that offer iced Supremas (the local cervesa) by the bucket.
Rooms at Tekuani Kal are $70 per night (double occupancy), which is a lot less than the popular Roca Sunzal Hotel located a half a mile up the beach. The Tekuani Kal staff is polite and helpful, the food is great and the accommodations are charming and affordable. Reservations for Tekuani Kal can be made on their web site: www.tekuanikal.com.
If you are looking for a more upscale surfing excursion set your sights on the Los Flores Surf Club, an all inclusive surfing resort with a private beach located two hours south of San Salvador on Playa Los Flores. Amenities include modern suites all with ocean views, an oceanfront restaurant overlooking the point, meals created by award-winning Executive Chef Santos Gavidia, an Infinity pool with swim-up bar, and WiFi-access through the entire resort, beachside lounge with hammocks, tables and chairs, BBQ and fire pit, individual surfboard storage lockers, a spa with ocean-view massage stalls and surf shop.
The owners have created their own little Shangri-la by paying meticulous attention to the design aesthetic of each room and common area on the property. A good variety of boards are available to guests. Daytrips to other surfing spots as well as other activities including kayaking, wakeboarding and eco excursions can be arranged by the staff. Billabong surf camps are also scheduled throughout the year. Visit www.wavehunters.com to learn more about the resort and package pricing.
Volcano Izalco is a picturesque volcano located about 45 minutes outside of San Salvador and located within the Cerro Verde National Reserve. You can go for a day trip and enjoy a quick hike to view the volcano, but I recommend renting the affordable and funky igloo-like accommodations at a site called Campo Bello.
Each igloo has two bedrooms, a bathroom which includes a shower with hot water and a common area for playing cards or having meals. The campground also boasts more traditional one and three bedroom cabins. A one room accommodation is only $22 a night and the standard two-bedroom igloo is $35. From the camp site you wake up to a phenomenal view of the volcano. Go to www.campobello.com.sv to make a reservation.
Or while in Apeneca, the coffee growing region of El Salvador, stay at Hotel Santa Leticia a mountain lodge surrounding by ancient Mayan ruins and a family-owned coffee plantation. The rooms are rustic and charming. The on-site restaurant offers a wide array of foods to choose from for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While there you can partake in an archaeological visit, birding, a coffee tour, mountain bike riding, deep sea fishing, horseback riding or ecological excursions such as exploring the local canopy or mangroves. Go to www.hotelsantaleticia.com to learn more.
In Ataco, make a stop at the finca Café Ataco. The farm is a family-owned cooperative that provides its services to small local farms in the area and sells their beans to Starbucks.
United, American and Taca airlines all offer affordable flights from major U.S airports to San Salvador. Taca regularly offers specials so sign up at www.taca.com to receive the airlines promotional emails in order to get a jump on the best deals.
A fair warning for the not so seasoned traveler: While there are many places worth exploring all throughout El Salvador, the country’s tourism industry is fairly new as its foray into developing a modern tourist infrastructure. Pollution is a problem as is the occasional mugging of unsuspecting tourists which is a problem not only in El Salvador but in most tourist destinations. As always, it is important to keep alert, be diligent about your safety and be smart and cautious while traveling within any country.
Go to www.elsalvador.travel for more information on visiting El Salvador.
Allison Neves is a freelance travel and fitness writer from San Francisco, California. With parents from San Salvador and Hong Kong, she’s made a personal commitment to re-connect with her roots by traveling extensively through out Latin America and Asia. When she’s not trying to save the world one press releases at a time, Allison spends her time with her time traveling, stretching her limbs in a pilates studio, scuba diving and spending time with best friend and husband, Travis. More information on Allison can be found at: www.operationink.com
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