Not a Shithole Country: 14 Reasons to Visit El Salvador This Year

What a shithole, am I right?

 

church park el salvador travel

Shitty beaches…

 

sunset in el tunco el salvador beach vacation
Heading out for a sunset swim in El Tunco, El Salvador

Shitty scenic roads engulfed in wildflowers and lined with coffee farms…

 

ruta de las flores travel el salvador flowers coffee
A coffee farm along the Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador.

Shitty waterfalls and sweeping landscapes…

 

traveling solo female in el salvador swimming in waterfalls
Swimming in Los Chorros waterfalls in Juayúa, a town along the Ruta de las Flores.

Shitty warm weather, $8 hostels with beautiful pools, and shitty $2 rum + coconut…

 

hostel el tunco lodge el salvador pool vacation
My Hostel in El Tunco, El Salvador (El Tunco Lodge)
el tunco vacation rum coconut streets el salvador
Fresh coconut with rum, anyone?

Part of me wants to just let anyone who believes the stuff that comes out of Trump’s mouth believe that El Salvador is a shithole, because hopefully then they’ll stay out. One of 1,001 reasons I love to vacation in El Salvador is that it’s not so filled with these basics, because they’re all too scared to go there. You don’t see many backpacker bros just drunkenly stumble into El Salvador wondering what the currency is and which hostel has the highest female to male ratio and the cheapest shots, at least not to the extent of other places on the “gringo trail” (read: San Juan del Sur). People come to El Salvador with intention, and tourists in most places are a good mix of foreigners and Salvadorans, which makes for an ideal traveler community.

“The reports that it’s the murder capital of the world might scare you away. President Trump including Salvador on his list of shithole could make you avoid her, but I say ignore that and go visit.”

Then I realized that would just attract more naive missionaries and unskilled volunteers who think that being from a rich country makes them qualified to solve global poverty, so I decided to write an article on all the reasons why El Salvador isn’t a shithole.

In all seriousness, I want to stick up for El Salvador, because it is a beautiful country with people who all deserve dignity, respect, and the ability to take pride in their homeland.

A lot of tourists in Central America, particular tourists from the U.S., avoid El Salvador altogether because of bad press – so much so that the country’s tourism board has adopted a #DontSkipElSalvador campaign. And you shouldn’t skip it. It’s one of my favorite countries to visit, for many reasons, including this…

pupusas street food el salvador beach
Pupusas for $.50 cents each – one with cheese and beans and another with cheese and jalapeño.

So, why do so many travelers skip El Salvador?

Let’s be real here: it’s not just Trump. He said what a lot of Americans, liberals and conservatives, ignorantly think about El Salvador, Haiti, and all 54 countries in Africa. “Shithole” was just a more explicit version of terms like “undeveloped” and “third world,” terms almost all of us have used before without a second thought. (*Raises hand* including me! Guilty!). He spat out a harder to swallow version of the phrases we hear on the news every day, like “murder capital” and “corruption” and “starving African children.”

It’s crucial to learn the historicity to poverty and to the situations countries in the global south find themselves in, and hint, most of it is the fault of powerful, rich white men (I’ll take “the U.S. funded El Salvador’s civil war” for $500 please). As Salvadoran filmmaker Alfonso Quijada explained to us, “El Salvador is a nation (like all developing countries) that has been systematically robbed of its wealth and rich resources by European countries in the past and now by the USA. These “shithole” countries have enriched Europe and the USA tremendously.” For more context, see our Know Before You Go piece on the civil war, gangs, and safety in El Salvador.


Related reading: Is El Salvador Safe for Travel? Maras, Chicken Buses, and the Civil War


But we don’t hear that. We don’t learn the story of how these countries got to be the way they are today, and we don’t see the people who are thriving and succeeding despite an oppressive history and the whole world boxing them into a one-dimensional stereotype. We see photos of a garbage dump, not photos of the quiet, charming small towns or postcard-perfect beaches (unless it’s a private, gated resort filled with white people).

If American media is all you’ve seen of the global south, what else do you have to go off of?

Hell, America has even convinced immigrants and their children that their countries are shitholes! I remember a friend of mine back home with Nicaraguan parents telling me that I’ll get robbed by machete and likely murdered if I travel to Nicaragua. (Nicaragua is actually ranked 40 slots above the United States on the Global Peace Index, and El Salvador is just one spot below the U.S.). Of course, part of this is their proximity, like the fact that many of their parents were actually around during rougher times (like the civil war in El Salvador or the Nicaraguan Revolution). But part of it also stems from living in a place now that’s constantly calling their country a shithole, albeit in less explicit terms.

Christy Rico, who is a U.S. citizen born to Salvadoran parents and just recently visited El Salvador, gave me some really interesting insights into this in her essay about visiting her family’s home country for the first time. “I’d like to point out that people who’ve never visited El Salvador or have familial ties there have tried to condition me into believing that my country is one of disappointment or a second-rate travel destination,” she writes.


Related reading: Don’t Skip El Salvador: Visiting My Family’s Homeland For the First Time


I think that travel blogging could play a huge part in fighting these misconceptions. Sure, I’ve talked a lot of smack about the failings of travel blogging, but I also have a lot of hope for what travel bloggers COULD do – that’s why I’m so hard on it. I think that blogs and travel writers have an immense opportunity (responsibility!) to present, first-hand, what it is actually like to visit a country that’s completely misrepresented by mainstream media, AND how locals define their own country.

“El Salvador will always have a special place in my heart, and it has made me never make an assumption about a place I haven’t visited ever again. “

Don’t Skip El Salvador: Salvadorans on Why They Love El Salvador

With all the media out there painting El Salvador as nothing more than “the murder capital of the world,” Salvadorans rarely get the opportunity to tell the world what’s so great about their country. So, I’m going to step off my soapbox now and pass the mic to a group of Salvadorans, some of whom I met while traveling and some who are U.S. residents whose families immigrated from El Salvador.

What exactly makes El Salvador a FIRST RATE travel destination and a beautiful country? Let me count the ways…

1. The land of volcanoes and endless fruit trees.

antigua guatemala travel volcano hike fuego acatenango

“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.”

-Christy Rico, Salvadoran-American, @her_adventurez on Instagram

2. It’s a surfer, swimmer, and beach-lover’s paradise.

surfing waves in el tunco el salvador

surfers in el tunco el salvador beach

Seriously though, some of my favorite beaches in Central America are in El Salvador. I often stay in El Tunco, where I’ve taken private surf lessons with world champion surfers for $20/lesson. The community there is great – such an archetypal surfer/beach town, not yet overrun by tourism to the point of resorts and surf schools. Everyone knows each other’s names, and a lot of the tourists there are people who have been coming back for years. I met some older surfers who had been coming to this exact spot since 1991! There’s also a lively but chill and small party scene with a good mix of locals and foreigners.

“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.”

-Christy Rico, Salvadoran-American, @her_adventurez on Instagram

3. The impossible turquoise of Lake Coatepeque.

“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.”

-Christy Rico, Salvadoran-American, @her_adventurez on Instagram

4. It’s the smallest country in the Americas

visit el salvador street art birds

“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 roundtrip in as little as one day. But, please stay longer.”

-Christy Rico, Salvadoran-American, @her_adventurez on Instagram

“The best thing about El Salvador is its size, it is the smallest country in Latin America, so you can easily discover what the undiscovered El Salvador has to offer to the world, from world-class surfing waves, colonial towns to majestic active volcanos around the country. And not to mention its people, Salvadorans are always smiling, they are charming and always making jokes about everything.”

-Salvatore Escalante, Owner of Tunco Life, from El Tunco, El Salvador

5. And then there are the people of El Salvador…

travel el salvador pueblo flag

“My parents are both from El Salvador. They went to college there and experienced the violence of the civil war that the U.S. brought upon El Salvador. I was born [in the U.S.] but I go [to El Salvador] every year to see my family. Everyone is always so friendly when they greet you and the cities are all full of amazing people who work hard and have a passion for their land and an education for all the kids.”

-Priscilla Castillo, Salvadoran-American living in California

6. Unparalleled hospitality, gratitude, and love

coffee in el salvador hospitality travel

“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. 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.

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

-Christy Rico, Salvadoran-American, @her_adventurez on Instagram

7. Diverse landscapes, cultural icons, and risk-takers

why you should visit travel to el salvador

“When it comes to the land itself, we have a gorgeous landscape with mountains, rivers, and ocean just to mention a few characteristics. When it comes to its people, we have the famous Consuelo de Saint Exupéry, Roque Dalton, Alvaro Torres, Francesca Miranda, Mauricio Cienfuegos.. just to name a few. They are all successful in different areas such as sport, poetry, fashion, etc.

Some may ask, how about the rest of its people? Well, no one can describe us better than you coming here and experiencing it yourself. But, just to hook you to visit us, we are calid, entrepreneurs (this one is important, there is saying that goes “Salvadorans can sell you anything”), and risk takers.

-José Romero, from Santa Tecla, La Libertad

8. One word: pupusas.

reasons to visit travel el salvador pupusas street food

“Well the food and cheese is the best reason to visit. PUPUSAS are the best food in the world.”

-Erick Diaz, lives in U.S. and visits El Salvador regularly with his mother who was born there, @diazoesp on Instagram

“The warmth and friendliness of its people, our people. They make you feel at home everywhere.

Also pupusas, man, pupusas are nature’s 8th wonder.

-Samuel Juárez, from Mejicanos, San Salvador, living in the U.S.

“Hands down pupusas. Yuca with chicharones. And did I mention pupusas. Man I love pupusas.”

Henry Justiniano, from El Salvador

9. BUT SERIOUSLY, THE FOOD

eating best food in el salvador
Photo credit: Stefan and Sebastien of Nomadic Boys

“If you enjoy eating freshly cooked meals, there’s 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 will 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?!”

-Christy Rico, Salvadoran-American, @her_adventurez on Instagram

Don’t Skip El Salvador: The Tourist Perspective

So, now you’ve heard it from Salvadorans themselves. But what about people just passing through, travelers with no pre-existing connection to the country?

“If you think that El Salvador is only what you see on the media, then you’re seriously missing out on some of the best human beings I’ve ever met in my life.”

10. “There’s nothing unromantic about El Salvador.”

reasons to visit el salvador travel romantic

“When I think of my time in El Salvador, the word that comes to mind is romance. From the brilliantly green mountains that rise up around you and the sound of a pouring waterfall ahead, to the mist kissing the treetops of the coffee plants, to the dentist who filled my cavity then jumped on a surf board to catch the remaining waves of the day, to the elderly couples holding hands on the beach watching the sunset of El Tunco, there’s nothing unromantic about El Salvador.

But the most romantic part of El Salvador is the people who follow a strong moral code. For example: I had surfing lessons at 9AM, but thinking I was on Latin American time, I started my breakfast at 9AM and found the whole town looking for me because my instructor was exactly on time. And at the end of our stay, all the surfers we had met jumped into our taxi and drove 2 hours to see us off at the airport.

Then came the tour through El Salvador and my guide not telling me he wasn’t able to afford lunch. When I asked him why he wasn’t eating, he finally told me, after a 12 hour day together, that he would only get paid $11 for this day and food was $5. Obviously I paid for his food and my driver’s food and whoever else wanted to eat and didn’t think more of it. On the way home, we stopped at a pupuseria and they showed us pictures of their families, and gushed over their wives saying things like, “I’ve lived next door to her my whole life and she’s the person I always want to live next to,” or “She’s the most beautiful woman in the world, when I met her and still today.” At the end of the meal, we were prepared to pay for the entire meal again since these guys had just spent 15 hours driving us around. However, they had secretly paid for our entire meal and just wanted to “thank the angels for allowing this time together.”

If you think that El Salvador is only what you see on the media, then you’re seriously missing out on some of the best human beings I’ve ever met in my life.”

-Kiona from How Not to Travel Like a Basic Bitch, Surfing in El Salvador: Where to Go, What to Do 

11. “Here you’ll find no jaded tourist industry.”

visit el salvador mural don't skip

“The reports that it’s the murder capital of the world might scare you away. President Trump including Salvador on his list of shithole could make you avoid her, but I say ignore that and go visit.

It’s perhaps because of this, and because of travellers’ fear, that Salvadorians go out of their way to welcome you. Was it the pupusa seller in El Tunco who took the time to explain how to make them to us? Was it the Hostel Owner in Santa Ana, who spent 40 minutes explaining in great detail how we could take public transport rather than his shuttle? Or perhaps it was the bus drivers themselves (never the easiest of people to talk to) who made sure we got off at the right place.

In our 2017 trip through El Salvador, these and other engagements with locals made us feel entirely welcome to their country. Salvadorians take the time to share their love of their country and to help you, as a visitor, understand her history, her people, her food and her future.

Here you’ll find no jaded tourist industry. It feels fresh, that you are actually welcomed by the local on the street, who is glad to have you in their country and their village, and not just the Government as you walk across the border.”

-Sarah Carter and Nigel Dockerty from A Social Nomad

12. You can see a lot with a long layover in San Salvador.

layover in san salvador travel

“We visited El Salvador once as part of a long layover during our Latin America trip. El Salvador has plenty of gorgeous landscapes like the Boqueron volcano crater, which you can hike around, as well as many Mayan ruins. Also, The El Rosario Church in San Salvador is one of the most unique churches we’ve ever seen. Our favorite one thing about El Salvador however are pupusas – the national dish. They are stuffed tortillas usually made from corn, containing a mix of cheese, beans and pork.

We recommend visiting the capital city San Salvador if anything to see the gorgeous El Rosario church and also the Boqueron National Park to get up close to this sleeping volcano.”

Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac of Nomadic Boys, 5 Best Things to Do on Your Layover in El Salvador

13. You’ll learn not to judge a place you’ve never been to.

don't skip el salvador travel

“I’m from Germany, and I was only 19 when I left for Guatemala (and onwards to ES), and I’m female, so everyone’s reaction was “it’s not safe” and “there’s nothing there”, “you’re being stupid”, “do you wanna get killed?” etc. I know the crime rate is very high but I felt safe the entire time I was there, and I met some amazing people.

The food is great, and the natural beauty is astounding. El Salvador has volcanoes, beautiful lakes, beaches, Mayan ruins, colonial towns, cloud forests. There is so much more to it than what the media portrays. My favorite memory is probably just riding the buses and looking out of the window, or going to places like Juayua or Ataco and seeing all the families outside with their kids eating food and having a good time.

El Salvador will always have a special place in my heart, and it has made me never make an assumption about a place I haven’t visited ever again.”

-India Vanessa B., from Germany

But in the end, if you’re really asking why El Salvador isn’t a shithole, here’s the only answer:

14. No country is a shithole.

el salvador is not a shithole

“Why El Salvador is not a shithole? Well, no country is a shithole.

At the end, it all comes down to this: We are human beings who deserve respect. No one comes from a shithole. No one will ever will.”

-José Romero, from Santa Tecla, La Libertad, El Salvador

Ready to plan a trip to El Salvador now?

How to Get There and What to See

Coming Soon! Subscribe in our sidebar to the right for the latest updates.

Still worried about safety?

Check out Know Before You Go: Is it Safe to Travel in El Salvador?

Travel there with a 20% discount!

During my interview with Tunco Life, a locally owned tour operator based in El Tunco, El Salvador, the owner was generous enough to offer my readers 20% off any of their packages! Just mention that you heard about them from my post when booking.

Instagram: @tuncolife
Website: www.tuncolife.com

 

Have you been to El Salvador? If so, what was your favorite part? If not, do these interviews make you want to go? Let us know in the comments!

Post Author
Elizabeth Aldrich
Completely insane and totally rational. World's most optimistic cynic. Founder, editor, and head author at Temporary Provisions. Find me on Twitter @LizzieAldrich and Instagram @TemporaryProvisions. I'm a freelance writer and full-time traveler, wannabe farmer, amateur beer-connoisseur, aspiring renaissance woman. Check my work at www.elizabethaldrich.com.

Comments

9 Comments
  1. posted by
    Cherene Saradar
    Jan 20, 2018 Reply

    Such a well-done post! And you had me at pupusas. I haven’t been to Central America yet…plan to visit the entire region next year and I will definitely not skip El Savador!

  2. posted by
    Mayuri
    Jan 20, 2018 Reply

    Great Post! I was considering visiting El Salvador and safety concerns made me think
    Thank you for writing this article, now I’m more then excited to book the tickets

    xoxo
    M

  3. posted by
    Christy
    Jan 20, 2018 Reply

    This came together so well! thank you for giving me the opportunity to be apart of this and for spreading the word #DontSkipElSalvador

  4. posted by
    Denny
    Jan 21, 2018 Reply

    When we planed our Central American trip, we new 2 things:

    1. we travel from Mexico to Colombia and always keep traveling south.

    2. We skip El Salvador! (For all the cliche reasons)

    Because of the political situation and the closed borders in Honduras, we had to actually skip Honduras. So, we had to go to El Salvador. I honestly believe that this was one of the best decisions we made during our trip. The people are amazing! The food is great! The people are amazing!! The nature is incredible! Did I say that the people are amazing? I mean, so many people wanted to help us (two girls traveling together with very limited Spanish). A 70+ years old lady wanted to give me her seat in the full bus (yes, public transport is TOTALY fine and safe!). People were coming to us just to say “Hi” or to talk to us and practice their English and tell us more about their country.

    There are so many things i loved about this country and i can’t wait to write my blog post about our trip there!

    But there are two things I want to comment regarding your article:

    1. You write about “America” referring to USA. People in Central America consider this disrespectful, because they all are Americans. It was difficult for me to change the way I speak and write about it too, but I feel I own the Central Americans this respect.

    2. Maybe… it’s actually all good people to skip El Salvador in the end. The less gringos (specially the loud, drunk hordes of tourists), the longer El Salvador will be as authentic and incredible as it is now.

    Eat pupusa, drink fresh orange juice and dance as the locals do!

    Safe travels 🙂

  5. posted by
    Bee
    Jan 21, 2018 Reply

    I’m planning our 2018 holidays and this was on our list. I will save this because I’ll need it as a guide. Thank You.

  6. posted by
    Emily
    Jan 21, 2018 Reply

    El Salvador wasn’t even on my radar until Trump made those ugly comments, but now I’m dying to visit! These photos are gorgeous, and this post definitely shows how much you loved the country. Excuse me while I go search for flights…

  7. posted by
    Silvia
    Jan 23, 2018 Reply

    I appreciate the positive feedback about my country and the fact that you encourage tourism. However, I wish you didn’t use the headline referring to the negative words spoken about El Salvador and other countries. Those remarks do not deserve to be repeated.

  8. posted by
    Keith Penhall
    Jan 23, 2018 Reply

    Loving that papusas are going to be one of the main reasons for moving people’s opinion of El Salvador. 🙂 Worth putting on a wish list, for that reason alone…then you throw in miscellaneous Mayan sites…. Sweet.

  9. posted by
    Lorial Roballo
    Feb 4, 2018 Reply

    This is amazing and now you’ve got me looking at flights!! 🙂

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