Don’t you love traveling? I have two upcoming trips to Miami and Mexico soon and I’m trying to plan a trip to LA. If you know me, you know how much I absolutely adore travelling and how impulsive I can be for booking trips.
With that being said, I’m definitely a thrill seeker. I’m not afraid of danger and I’m obsessed with different cultures. I mean, to be fair, in university, I took anthropology, world religion, and witch craft courses as my electives. I even went as far as adding history to my minor. There’s just something about humanities that peak my interest and that keep me wanting to know more about the world we live in and the cultures that shape it.
Anyway, as some of you might know, my mom is from El Salvador and a lot of my upbringing was centered around this very fact. I was taught Spanish, I grew up eating typical Salvadoran dishes, I went to a Latino church, I listened to Latino music, etc. I had visited El Salvador once when I was 4 and didn’t remember much from that trip after it ended. That said, I’ve always been extremely proud to have this background and I’ve done what I could to learn more about it. In fact, it wasn’t until this past December that I finally revisited the country.
Now, if you Google “El Salvador”, the results won’t be pretty. I just did a quick Google search and the top three articles are, “Teenage girls most at risk amid rising sexual violence in El Salvador – report“; “El Salvador’s president-elect wants migration to flow into, not out of, his country“; and “I Left El Salvador to Protect My Family. It Didn’t Work“. I mean, when most people think of El Salvador, they think of MS-13 or 18th Street Gang. They think of mareros covered in tattoos, violence, and crime and to be frank, I thought the same prior to visiting. I envisioned un pueblito pequeño with men covered head to toe in tattoos walking around in broad daylight.
I was dead wrong. Factually speaking, yea, El Salvador’s a third world country and it’s deemed a Level 3: Reconsider Travel in the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory database and a Level 2 on the Canadian version of the list. However, the country was far from what I imagined it to be. In all honesty, it felt like I was still in North America, just with a hotter climate and more brown skinned people. There was a Walmart, a Zara, a Forever21, a Wendy’s, shopping centers, and even Uber!
So, on top of the fact that El Salvador had all the first world luxuries I’ve grown accustomed to living in Canada, it was honestly beautiful. The geography in El Salvador is pretty crazy; I mean, the country has over 20 volcanoes, is prone to earth quakes, and considering how tiny it is, is densely populated. Simply put, it’s bumpy, mountainous, and disproportionate. That said, the forestry and views are gorgeous. Never did I think I would ever be capable of trekking up a volcano but this was possible in El Salvador. Even the beaches were an experience in themselves. If you’re not a strong swimmer, I wouldn’t recommend swimming at a Salvadoran beach because those waves are intense but it’s still so much fun nonetheless.
The beaches were absolutely gorgeous. El Salvador has the perfect climate (at least for me) because it’s so damn hot during the day and a bit cooler at night. Considering how hot it was everyday, the beaches and lakes made it really easy and nice to cool off. Not only that but the area around la playa El Tunco, for example, is extremely cute and quaint. It’s a little beach town where everyone is super chill because it’s basically run by the tourists who come to surf… cowabunga dude.
Moreover, you’ll also find amazing, fresh food. Man, I’m low-key salivating just thinking of the amazing seafood I had, paired with a beautiful view of the beach and the sunset. Places like El Lago de Coatepeque are also a must-see; surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, this lake is refreshing, there’s amazing food all around, and there are so many activities to do – jet skiing, boat tours, etc. All around the lake, you’ll be able to see the mansions of El Salvador which are gorgeous. There’s actually a house that’s uninhabited and said to be haunted; we passed by it in a rower’s boat and I got some weird brujeria vibes, for sure.
Now, the seafood by the beaches and lakes was amazing but let me tell you, all of the typical Salvadoran dishes… I-. Girl. They were delicious. Obviously, I already knew most of the dishes but it’s a different experience when you’re actually enjoying it in your country. From empanadas de leche, to churros españoles, to nuegados, to panes rellenos, to pollo asado, to pupusas, to elote loco, to casamiento, to minutas, to Pollo Campero, whether it was served in a restaurant or by a street food vendor, I was in a foodie Heaven. Like girl, Paseo El Carmen had some of the dankest street food I’ve ever tried. Plus, my ass got hella fat from all the corn they use in their food so I had zero complaints.
The best part was how cheap everything was! If you go to a Salvadoran restaurant here, you could spend $40 easily. In El Salvador, you’d have to be ordering enough pupusas to feed a wedding in order to reach that amount. Even sodas, for example, would sell for under $1. In Canada, for a glass of Jarritos soda, you could get charged up to $3. Now, not only was the food hella cheap, but Ubers were ridiculously cheap. The same trip that would cost me $80+ here one way, was probably around $40 in El Salvador, round trip. I actually got accustomed to paying just $3-5 Ubers, it was sick but depressing when I came back to Ottawa.
Going into the mercados, such the mercado cuartel, was also dope because everything was cheap but you could negotiate. I got souvenirs for all my friends without breaking bank. In the mercado central, I was able to get my mom a really cute knock-off Michael Kors bag for about $10 and it’s a good knock-off. I also got myself a knock-off Adidas sweater for around $12 and it’s so warm; it feels as legit as the Adidas sweaters you can find in Canada. In addition to clothes, they also sell makeup, shoes, food, movies, alcohol etc. all for very cheap.
In terms of crime and violence, I didn’t see much, if any, of that. I mean, my family really liked going out at night and nothing scary ever happened. When we went to el centro, even though it was during the day, my family warned me to watch my phone, pockets, and myself which honestly, had me a little shook. I had just gotten a brand new iPhone XS Max and I was not about to lose that bitch.
However, once we were there, although people will grab on you to try to get you to buy from them, it wasn’t overly intimidating. You either ignore the sellers or say “no gracias” and keep it pushing. Obviously, my experience might be a little different than yours because I was with my family who are native to the area but for real, Salvadorans are really nice and a lot of them are just trying to make an honest living. Well, as honest as it’ll get considering they sell so many knock-offs, ha.
On that note, considering how often I would go clubbing with my cousin, what really surprised me was how I never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. There were bouncers and security, and the clubs were legitimately poppin’. Even in the areas known for being ran by mareros, we would leave late as Hell and drunk as shit, but still get home safe. In fact, El Salvador has some really dope clubs, bars, and lounges. You’ll find a little bit of everything including hip-hop music, Latino music, gay bars, shisha, and more (honestly, the gay bars were lit as fuck). Drinks are cheap, especially bottle service, and some places actually had a system where let’s say, you’d pay 25$ in cover, they’d give you 15$ back in drink tickets, #ItsLit!
With all this being said, at the end of the day, El Salvador isn’t Canada. Yes, industrialization and modernization are on the come up but the country still has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, there are homeless people all over downtown, the police and government are corrupt, people will overcharge you if you’re a tourist, and there are many areas that just shouldn’t be visited (Soyapango, Mejicanos, etc.). If you’re not totally aware of this or used to this type of environment, then maybe El Salvador is not for you.
To use an example, one afternoon, my cousin and I Ubered to the base of a volcano. By the time we came back down from our hike to the top of the volcano, it was dark and cold as Hell, and we had no service. Our only options were to walk down the volcano’s surrounding forestry, in the dark, and find a bus, or wait until we could get a signal to call an Uber. Fortunately, we figured it out but I can almost guarantee, if we had walked down, something bad would’ve happened to us.
The volcano area is very touristy and some of the houses on the mountain are mansions in gated communities. However, the small town directly underneath it is poverty-stricken and crawling with untrustworthy people. To make matters worse, Salvadoran buses are not to be trusted because if you’re not a local, you will get mugged or hurt. To provide some context, usually, the places that are run by mareros are the poverty-stricken areas because these are people who have recused themselves from society. But that’s a long story.
All in all, if you’re looking for an adventure and an amazing culture, I’d totally recommend visiting El Salvador as a tourist. There are endless things to do and gringos survive just fine there. As long as you’re cautious, you should be fine. Just remember that people can be dangerous and violent, so use common sense.
503 forever, baby!