Don’t Skip El Salvador: Visiting My Family’s Homeland for the First Time

Before I share a few reasons why you shouldn’t skip in El Salvador, I’d like to point out that people who’ve never visited El Salvador and have no familial ties there have tried to condition me into believing that my country is one of disappointment or a second-rate travel destination.

Fortunately, my parents have shared countless stories of what El Salvador really is. Those stories do include moments of hardships, crime, and grief but an overwhelming amount are stories about outdoor exploration and love. While gang violence is a real thing in El Salvador, I don’t believe it is an issue that affects tourists. During my 7-day visit, I never once felt threatened nor did I witness anyone being attacked or assaulted by MS members.

I saw all the fruit trees you could ever imagine. I saw the Boquerón volcano overlooking the highways we drove on. I saw beautiful ancient Mayan ruins, which my parents frequented as teens while they dated.

ancient ruins el salvador travel

For the majority of our stay, my parents and I stayed in their home located in Santa Ana. So, what did I see and what did I do? I saw all the fruit trees you could ever imagine. I saw the Boquerón volcano overlooking the highways we drove on. I saw beautiful ancient Mayan ruins, which my parents frequented as teens while they dated.

Like many countries in Central America, it is hot and humid for most of the year. Beat the heat and visit Lake Coatepeque, considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. For years my dad boasted about how incredibly clean and clear the turquoise colored water is in El Salvador, and growing up in Los Angeles, I assumed he was just trying to brag. It lived up to my expectations. It was possibly my favorite location we visited while in El Salvador. We commuted there by chicken bus that cost a whopping .20 cents. And no, no one was hurt or killed on the lake that day.

where to go in el salvador lake coatepeque

Although the war ended almost 30 years ago, the devastations remain and about half of the country’s population live in poverty. However, for the luxury travelers if you’re under the impression that all of El Salvador is poor and miserable, you’re wrong. It’s undeniable that the country has suffered many injustices and the civil wars impacts are still evident. I won’t go into politics and start a blame game but I will emphasize that the United States played a significant role in supporting and funding the bloody war. Let that sink in.

There is definitely a wealthy elite that exists and the lake holds some of the most beautiful mansions I’ve ever seen, owned by this elite. Many of these mansions are also available for vacation rentals and go for as little as $60 per night. There are plenty of other options for staying on the lake, for those who are interested in something more budget friendly.

I remember seeing the beach in Acajutla and catching eyes with my dad, he knew what I thinking. “Dad, let’s see if you’ve been lying to me.”

The beaches didn’t disappoint either. Among the claims that were validated during my visit were the warmth of the water and the beach waves. I remember seeing the beach in Acajutla and catching eyes with my dad, he knew what I thinking. “Dad, let’s see if you’ve been lying to me.” I headed for the water and didn’t stop walking until the water was neck deep. I didn’t hesitate once. It’s that warm. If you surf, you’ll definitely have plenty opportunities to “ride the wave.”

If you’re short on time, that’s another reason to not skip El Salvador. The country is so small that you could realistically drive through the entire country on a roundtrip in as little as one day. But, please stay longer.

If you enjoy eating freshly cooked meals, there are food vendors nearly everywhere. Enjoy some of the countries traditional foods like yucca frita y chicharrón for $2, pupusas for roughly .50 cents, three pastelitos for .25 cents, sopa de gallina (chicken soup) or pan con chumpe (a turkey sandwich that’ll change your life!) for just $3. If you don’t know what all these dishes are, what are you doing with your life? See, another reason to NOT skip El Salvador. You can easily budget $3 for your meals for the day and you’ll be just fine. I wanted to highlight some of the most popular dishes because they’re just that good. Pair them with a refresco de ensalada (fruit salad refreshment). With all the tropical fruit trees around, why wouldn’t you?!

reasons to visit travel el salvador pupusas street food

 What made the biggest impression on me were the people I met and saw in El Salvador. When my parents migrated to the US, they left behind so much of their family that still lives there till this day. My experience was unique in the sense that it was very emotional; I met my grandparents for the very first time during my trip.

Everyone works, everyone takes care of one another, there’s a sense of community there.

We brought two luggage’s filled with shoes and clothes. My parents travel to El Salvador almost yearly, each time they go they pack at least 50 pounds’ worth of gifts for the people there. One of the memorable moments was all the children who lined up in my parents living room hoping for a pair of shoes.

My mom had packed a pair of dance boots that belonged to me in high school. I thought she was ridiculous for thinking anyone could possibly want them. Shit, let me tell you this is where my heart was torn out of my chest. She handed them to my little cousin and she was so happy. She tried them on and was beaming with joy; extremely grateful to us. And, my mom always thinking of less fortunate people in El Salvador. I cried. Man, my heart was so happy and sad all at once.

Everyone works, everyone takes care of one another, there’s a sense of community there. And, people are willing to help you and give to you even if they have very little. The hospitality is unparalleled. My uncle climbed a 100-foot mango tree, which was on my grandfather’s property, just because my aunt got a craving. That’s another thing, the love. In my experience with Salvadorian men, they love hard. My dad is the prime example of a man who lives and breathes for his wife, she is his forever sweetheart. If you travel, the culture and people are what will definitely make your time worthwhile in El Salvador.

el salvador is not a shithole

The downside of my visit in El Salvador was that it was short-lived and overshadowed by something more significant that I would like to address. It was limited. There is a long list of places I didn’t get to see and it is largely a result of the widely adopted negative feelings people have towards my country.

Her fears intensified as we headed to the airport; she admitted that she even prayed for us to return home safely. And yet, as soon as we landed in El Salvador, and were greeted by our family, most of her worries had disappeared.

My mom was afraid to take me. This fear began long before we even arrived. She felt the need to supervise me during the packing process; to determine what was “too nice.” The fear was that I might draw too much attention to myself as a tourist. It was made very clear that I was not allowed to dress up during our stay, though with all the heat, who would want to?

Many travelers skip El Salvador because they’re under the impression that they will be pickpocketed, assaulted, or killed. I recently asked my mom if she could explain why, she too, felt nervousness and fear for me as a tourist. Her response was fairly simple, but it articulated the misconception that is perpetuated by many. With so much of our family still residing in El Salvador, we hear of the dangers and tragedies that the locals experience.

My cousin was murdered by gang members just a few hundred feet away from his home. An extended family member on my mother’s side was mutilated and found on a hillside near his hometown. She explained that these events and other stories she’s heard from the locals are what made her nervous to take me. Her fears intensified as we headed to the airport; she admitted that she even prayed for us to return home safely. And yet, as soon as we landed in El Salvador, and were greeted by our family, most of her worries had disappeared.

So for those of you wondering if you should skip El Salvador because you too have been fooled to believe it’s not worth seeing or because you’re afraid, don’t skip it.

“Mija, as someone who was born there, grew up there, and has lost family to the gangs, I know that there is always a possibility that something may happen. But, once I’m there and I see my family, my country, my people, I’m no longer afraid. It’s just that tiny, “what if” that makes me nervous for you.”

travel el salvador pueblo flag

So for those of you wondering if you should skip El Salvador because you too have been fooled to believe it’s not worth seeing or because you’re afraid, don’t skip it. It’s a beautiful country with lots to see and good people.

There is a large misunderstanding of El Salvador. Many opt to “skip” because of extreme trepidation. When in reality, the locals are the those who are victimized. Please educate yourself on the country. If you still decide to skip El Salvador in your travels, please stop trying to convince others to do the same, we should all be allowed to explore and adventure as we deem. For many, travel is a luxury that isn’t possible. So, if you’re fortunate enough to visit El Salvador like I was, you’ll witness firsthand the wonderful people and amazing places throughout the country like I did.

 

Have you visited El Salvador? What did you think? Have you ever gone to visit your family’s homeland? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments!

Post Author
Christy Rico
Hi, my name is Christy and I live a pretty ordinary life in Los Angeles working a 9-5 job. But, that doesn't stop me from trying to see all of what this beautiful world has to offer and maybe snap a picture or two while I'm at it. Sometimes I go for a hike, sometimes I overwork myself, sometimes I do indulge in life's little pleasures like eating a big bowl of Hot Cheetos and sometimes I do absolutely nothing. I guess it's a matter of finding that balance. Much of the time I have a million thoughts running through my head; so every now and then I'll write in my blog to create something tangible of them. You can find me on Instagram @her_adventurez.

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