Published: December 11th 2008November 6th 2008
Pupuseria en Concepcion de Ataco
Pupusas. El Salvador's finest contribution to the gastronomic world.
For a fourth and final visa run of 2008 I wanted to get a bit further away. There are wonderful places in both Nicaragua and Panama that are close and convenient but I have sampled both. Given the monotonous rainy season, I also felt that the greater the distance the better between myself and Costa Rica's central valley.
Having a TACA pilot as a private student has a few advantages. As well as informing me about some of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica, that escape the guidebooks but don't escape a bird's eye view, he can also tell me about the cheapest times and days to get a ticket, (but unfortunately can't give me discounts or let me have a crack at flying). I decided on El Salvador, for entirely ridiculous reasons.
The reasons were, in order of ridiculousness/ridiculousity/whatever:
1. I have never been to a country beginning with E. (England doesn't count. At the risk of offending the Scots and Welsh, the country is the UK)
2. It is the only country in Central America that I hadn't visited. It's not like I have visited every last centimetre of the other seven but it's
During a rare moment when the clouds parted.
nice to go somewhere new.
3. Tourists tend to avoid it (see title).
I appreciate that it is hypocritical to dislike places with a lot of tourists when I myself am a tourist. However, when you travel in the more popular places you tend to meet only other foreigners and miss out on meeting locals who often provide the most memorable experiences of any trip. For people with a similar attitude to myself, I heartily recommend El Salvador. You will be the only foreigner on the buses, the only foreigner in the hotel and will probably also share entire national parks with only local people. Mega.
The title of this blog mirrors the general reputation of El Salvador. And that reputation is not only passed on by Fox News fearing Americans, speak of El Salvador to the majority of Latin Americans and after a sharp intake of breath they will shake their heads and change the subject.
The dangerous reputation in part comes from the memory of the particularly nasty, even by Central American standards, civil war. It officially occurred from 1980 to 1992 and left anything from 60,000 to 200,000 dead depending on what you
La Iglesia en Juayua
Probably the prettiest town on the very agreeable Ruta de las Flores.
Admittedly the war ended sixteen years ago but according to a report published last week by a Brazilian research group, El Salvador still has the highest murder rate in the world. In fact, in the 15 to 24 age bracket, the murder rate stands at a staggering 92.3 per 100,000. Compare that to an average of 1.2 per 100,000 for Europe and you can see that the dangerous reputation is not completely unfounded.
However, and it is a big however, the vast majority of the perpetrators and victims of the killings, are the notorious maras
. These gangs are numerous and powerful in this part of the world and have a reputation for settling matters rather aggressively. But stay out of their way and you won't be bothered. The capital San Salvador is the hotspot of the violent crime. I avoided it but I have two friends who lived and worked there for three months who never had any problems.
So why include this little country on your Central American tour? Surfers know the answer; miles of deserted beaches with great breaks. For me it was the scenery inland that attracted me. The parts of the country
Cerro El Pital
El Salvador's highest mountain. Complete with enormous TV mast and the most evil looking perros bravos I have ever winced away from.
that I visited (the north and the west) were mountainous and full of national parks. It was difficult to appreciate that this is the most densely populated country in Central America; 7.1 million people squeezed into an area about the size of Wales. Maybe they all live in San Salvador.
I was constantly surprised at the beautiful scenery of El Salvador, particularly around Lago Coatepeque. Unfortunately most of the wonderful views I encountered were through bus windows so I have no photos to back up my claims. You’ll just have to come and see for yourself.
A principal reason for visiting this country is the people. They are incredibly welcoming and polite. They also cook fantastic food. It will never win any awards on a global scale but compared to the majority of Central America, El Salvador gets all the Michelin stars.
There are more photos below