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Elusive El Salvador

sunny 32 °C

From Antigua we took a five hour shuttle bus to El Salvador, which crossed the boarder and dropped us off at our chosen destination -El Zonte. Knowing we had to meet our friend Jen, from Vancouver, we felt it was easiest to arrive in the country early and find accomodations for her to have a safe place to arrive. We picked El Zonte as it is described as the place for beginners to learn surfing, but soon realized that this little beach town is a gem of El Salvador which many miss for the more touristic spots further down the coast.

Endless black sands

Endless black sands


El Zonte

El Zonte


El Zonte

El Zonte

El Zonte boasts only a handful of accomodation options and some private housing, but largely remains an underdeveloped stretch of beach with a quiet charm perfect for finding tranquility and a frolick in the waves. We spent time looking between the few accomodation options until finding the French Canadian, family run, El Dorado. Out of our price range, the friendly owner dropped the price for four days until a large group was expected to take over every room. We were spoiled by having a little pool, a beach front lounging area, hammocks, and a small bar and eating area. The main and most important draw to this place was the friendly group of locals working here which we soon befriended. They tought us Spanish, joked and laughed with us and were what made our stay in El Zonte so memorable. (Galang galang Jen -private joke just for you).

El Zonte

El Zonte


El Dorado's pool

El Dorado's pool


Our local friends, Evelyn, Gato and Christina (after making lunch)

Our local friends, Evelyn, Gato and Christina (after making lunch)


The crew at El Dorado

The crew at El Dorado

For the first few days we simply suntanned all day, getting up to get a drink from the bar or jump through the large waves to cool down. It was quiet and uneventful, but exactly what we were after. El Dorado caters mainly to the French Canadian tourists with a charter flight bringing them directly in to El Salvador, with the owners advertising mainly to the one-week surf package tourists. At the time of our stay there were four, friendly, French Canadian guys staying and the combination of great people and beach was a perfect set-up for Jen to arrive to. We arranged for a car to pick her up from the airport as her flight arrived late into the crowded San Salvador, and she made it without a hitch.

Jen after a dip in the ocean

Jen after a dip in the ocean


Andrew and Jen

Andrew and Jen

The first night with Jen happened to be a Saturday evening and the locals had a party down the beach which we all attended, having a fantastic time goofing around and dancing. Jen had no problem making friends with our local "crew" and we danced the night away all together.

A night out in El Zonte

A night out in El Zonte


A night out with our French Canadian friends and Santiago

A night out with our French Canadian friends and Santiago

The following day we needed to find another place to stay as it was our last night in El Dorado, but we were lucky enough to be able to move one door down to Olas Permenantes. This beachfront accomodation is a busy hang-out, especially right before sunset as everyone gathers to see the bright red sun rapidly dropping into the ocean and the surfers catching their final waves before dark.

Olas Permenantes in El Zonte

Olas Permenantes in El Zonte


Ana waiting for the sun to set in El Zonte

Ana waiting for the sun to set in El Zonte


Andrew enjoying a corona and waiting for sunset

Andrew enjoying a corona and waiting for sunset


El Zonte's sunset

El Zonte's sunset


El Zonte's sunset

El Zonte's sunset


El Zonte's sunset

El Zonte's sunset

The beach in El Zonte is a stretch of fine black sand that glitters in the sunlight. I have never seen sand like this, resulting from the volcanic activity in the region. Little children roll around in the dark sands, looking as if they are covered in mud, but a quick dip in the water leaves them clean and repeating the process of covering themselves in the black sands with glee. The Pacific Ocean that runs the coastline of El Salvador made me think of our cold waters back in Canada, but we were amazed by the bath-water temperatures. A dip in the ocean was only slightly cooler than the 30+ degree weather and strong sun. The waves are large, but half the fun was jumping over, diving through them, or riding them back in to the beach.

Kids rolling around in the black sand

Kids rolling around in the black sand


Andrew loves Ana

Andrew loves Ana

We had two of our lovely local friends teach us to surf, and while Gato and Mojo tried their hardest to teach Jen, Andrew and myself, we realized just how hard this sport is. The waves are very strong and there are only two times in the day when they are ideal for beginner surfers learning to ride the white wash. Half the battle was trying to get our boards out past the crashing waves, but with multiple attempts and failures we were all successful in standing up and riding the white waters back to shore (which might sound impressive but only lasted for a few fleeting seconds and squeels of delight). We tried again the following day with another friend, Santiago, but now know that the only way to learn is to have one-on-one teaching -learners really need someone helping to get the board out past the waves and to give a little push until you figure out how to jump up fast enough. Obviously we just need to give surfing some more effort, but we had fun all the same.

Waxing up the boards

Waxing up the boards


Andrew in the white wash

Andrew in the white wash


Jen standing up in the white wash

Jen standing up in the white wash


Andrew surfing

Andrew surfing


After our first surf lesson with our instructors, Gato and Mojo

After our first surf lesson with our instructors, Gato and Mojo

Other than our lazy days, we did venture out on the chicken bus to the bigger town of La Libertad -the only place with an ATM and groccery stores. It is obvious that El Salvador is making a large effort to attract tourists as a walkway along the ocean is being built and accomodations and restaurants are just beginning to take off. The destructive civil war ended 20 years ago, but the people have had many difficulties with government and violent gangs since. It is unfortunate that many tourists skip El Salvador on their tour of Central America as the country gets a bad reputation for a lack of safety, but we have nothing but amazing memories of the kind and generous locals. The people of El Salvador are the real treasure of this country. They are hard working and eager to please, always smiling and joking. We had strangers approach us just to ask where we were from and to welcome us to their country. The people are happy to see tourists in their country and all understand that this is the only way to improve life in El Salvador. Two years ago, with a change of government, improvements have slowly started, such as elementary schools becoming free and the immediate rise in enrollment. While highschool is still costly, it now includes a lunch and glass of milk for each child and most children are making it at least through a highschool education. There is a minimum wage in El Salvador, but after inquiring we realized that most people make under two dollars an hour and work 50 hour work weeks. The currency in El Salvador is the American dollar, so their meager wages do not go far with the price of living being quite expensive. Locals do get a small break on prices as there is an inflation for tourists, but after going out for dinner with Santiago, we realized that for him to be able to eat with us would cost him almost a days worth of hard work; yet, the people here are very proud and he insisted on paying his own meal and was just happy to be out with us.

La Libertad

La Libertad


Andrew Relaxing

Andrew Relaxing


Catching the sunset in El Zonte

Catching the sunset in El Zonte

After over a week lazying around El Zonte we decided it was important to see more of the country and the three of us caught a bus down to the more tourist oriented beach of El Tunco. El Tunco is full of young travelers as this beach has more of a night life on the weekends, with many people coming in from San Salvador to party on the beach. We moved here on a Friday and were able to go out on the Friday and Saturday night to have a few drinks and people watch. We found a nice place to stay that included a small kitchen, so we ventured back to La Libertad to get food and spent our days eating, reading and being lazy.

Moving day

Moving day


El Tunco's beach

El Tunco's beach


Ana and Jen at El Tunco

Ana and Jen at El Tunco


Sunset at El Tunco

Sunset at El Tunco

From El Tunco we were able to rent a car and made plans to explore some of the interior of El Salvador. It is harder to get around El Salvador than it was around Guatemala, with no shuttle busses available the only option is to transfer from one over-crowded chicken bus to the next. We took a two-day road trip, heading to see some of the recommended sights of El Salvador, including Lago de Coatepeque, Ruta de las Flores and the Parque Nacional El Imposible. The volcanic lake Coatepeque is located in a valley surrounded by mountain peaks and the clean waters which attract many wealthy San Salvadorians for private vacations. The lake has countless homes around its waters edge, but all have high, closed gates, and we found it hard to find any accomodations. There is no town to speak of and it seems to be mainly a haven for the wealthy. After driving around we decided to head up through the Ruta de las Flores to the town of Tacuba, which is just before the enterance to the national park. The 'Flower Route' is a stretch of winding road with little towns scattered along the way. On weekends there are food fairs that happen in these little towns, but mid-week the drive was a quiet one which let us take in the view of inland El Salvador. The hills of the area are covered with coffee plantations as this is one of the main exports of the country. Reaching the quiet town of Tacuba we searched out the Hostal de Mama y Papa, known for the warmth of Mama and Papa, and their son Manolo's knowledge of the surrounding area.

Road trip

Road trip


Lago de Coatepeque

Lago de Coatepeque

We dropped our bags and then had the opportunity to go to the local hot springs, a 40 minute drive away. Loading up with drinks, we arrived at the volcanic thermal pools in the middle of a private coffee plantation just as dark enveloped us, and just as we sunk into the relaxing heat the heavy rains began. It was a lovely way to spend the evening, soaking away our aches and pains after the day of driving and waiting out the rain in the warmth of the pools.

The following morning we signed up for the four-hour waterfall tour in the Parque Nacional El Imposible. We were driven an hour into the park, from where we then hiked another hour into the jungle only to find a river that flows to create a series of waterfalls. Working our way down the river the guide pointed out where to stand and throw ourselves into the icy pools below. Some of the heights were dizzying, but we all made it, shrieking with joy after conquering our fears. Andrew pushed it further, always taking the highest jumps possible, spreading wide in mid-air so I could capture him in every photo. The final waterfall was a 60 meter drop (which you obviously jump from lower levels) and we lay on the rocks to heat up and eat a basic lunch while Andrew and our guide climbed the face of the waterfall. To end the tour we had an hour hike back up the mountain and while we were hot and tired, the guides were eager to show their knowledge of the area and local plant life, and with the addition of their humour we had a wonderfully adventurous day.

The view from a peak in the Parque Nacional El Imposible

The view from a peak in the Parque Nacional El Imposible


The jungle hike

The jungle hike


Jen's jump

Jen's jump


Andrew leaping

Andrew leaping


Andrew leaping

Andrew leaping


Ana looking over at the final waterfall

Ana looking over at the final waterfall


Jen at the last waterfall

Jen at the last waterfall


Andrew and our guide

Andrew and our guide


Andrew making the final leap

Andrew making the final leap


Andrew and Ana at the final waterfall

Andrew and Ana at the final waterfall


The three friends

The three friends

Needing to return to El Tunco to take care of last minute arrangements before leaving the country, we made the two-and-a-half hour drive back to the coast in the dark, quiet after a long day. We needed to drop Jen off back at El Zonte where she will remain for three more days learning to surf at the safe and friendly El Dorado. We then had to return the car to El Tunco, arrange our bus for the following day and find our own accomodation for the night. It all worked out after all the scrambling and with a sadly quick good-bye to our friend, we settled in for only a few hours of sleep. We needed to rise at 5am to get our five hour shuttle bus out of El Salvador, crossing into Honduras to the city of Copan. We just arrived and will stay here for a few days to take in the famous Copan ruins and the extremely popular hotsprings.

We hope to be able to post again soon... until then, we send love and hope everyone is well back home.

Ana and Andrew

Posted by A-Team 16:39 Archived in El Salvador Tagged waterfalls lakes people sunsets beachess

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Comments

Thank you for the great update and amazing photos. A single request: please post more Andrew leaping photos! :)

Love you!
xol

by Lana

stunning sunsets! Life is a beach for you guys!
Xox :)

by Heather Bates

Looks like you guys are having soooo much fun! You even have me thinking about doing this (maybe when I retire?) Have fun, and keep safe!
Ros

by Ros

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