El Salvador. As real as it gets
This is a perfect destination for those who are looking for a holiday without the intervention of marketing glitz. The capital, San Salvador, has 4-star luxury hotels complete with large swimming pools, long busy bars, meeting and conference facilities, and unremarkable hotel-level cuisine. The principle attraction of this destination for most of the European and American tourists, those who have packed their surf boards, t-shirts, shorts, swim suits, sweatshirts and little else; their main focus is not on ancient ruins, contemporary art and design, or shopping. El Salvador is at the top of the bucket list for tourists looking for world-class surf and nearby inexpensive accommodations.
Surfing addicts return again and again for the strong waves that can be found 45 minutes from the capital. Surfers claim that the best months for the sport run from March to November; the months from December to February are better for beginners and long-boarders.
Where to Surf
According to The Encyclopedia of Surfing, "The Point at La Libertad is the country's most popular spot, and its long, powerful, well-foiled waves are often compared to Rincon in California, " and El Tunco is also considered a world class surf location. I cannot attest to the legitimacy of these locales as I am unable to do anything with a board and confine my need for water sports to swimming pools. However, surfing experts claim that El Tunco offers 6 foot waves 24/7/365 and those that know what they are doing can ride them for up to 10 seconds. If the thought of carrying a board through airport security is more than you can endure, rumor has it that rentals are available for $10 a day.
Not Into Beaches
Just because your knees are anti-surfing does not mean that you should not go to El Salvador. For shoppers, art collectors and history buffs, the historical/colonial town of Suchitoto (45 minutes from the capital) hits the top of visitors “to do” list.
Accommodations range from sharing a room and a shower with other nomads to hotels with historic charm & style. Hotel Los Almendros de San Lorenzo is a 200-year old restored colonial hacienda that offers accommodations, a pool, restaurant and an excellent location. Art and sculpture are displayed throughout the property and feature the many talents of Salvadoran artists.
This quaint town could easily become a shopper’s paradise – for it is where Indigo fabrics and clothes are made by hand (Irma Guadron, firstname.lastname@example.org). If the Indigo bedspread or dress is not available, designers will be delighted to take personal orders and ship when ready. The difference between hand-dyed Indigo and factory-made products are quantitatively and qualitatively different – so beware of what you are buying. If it is inexpensive – it will not be a hand-dyed/hand-made garment.
Beyond shopping, there are dozens of bakeries, bars and restaurants, as well as boating on Lake Suchitlan and weekends full of festivals that feature the art and culinary skills of the community. Recommended: pupusa, a thick handmade corn flour or rice flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, shrimp or spinach. Frequently it is served with salsa roja (cooked tomato sauce).
Do Not Miss the MARTE
Spending a night or two in San Salvador before returning home should be part of the plan. Recommended for its location, swimming pool and excellent buffet breakfast (included in the price), plus a very friendly bartender - is the Sheraton Presidente. It is within walking distance of the Modern Art Museum (MARTE) – which must be part of the scheduled city stops. It is one of the few locations in the country where the wonderful contemporary artists and designers from El Salvador can be scene.
From OMG 2 WOW
Any international fashion label looking for something wonderful and new for 2015 should get on the next flight and round-up the men and women whose works are exhibited at the MARTE. The Salvadoran designers have deconstructed traditional designs and styles of the region, whirled them about in color and good taste – resulting in scarves and bags and tops that would be most fitting in the display windows of Bloomingdale’s and Saks and proudly worn by NYCs Upper Eastside fashionistas.
Getting to El Salvador
1. International Airport: Aeropuerto Internacional Comalapa
Major Central and Latin American hub; gateway to /from North American cities such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Airport is modern in design and improvement programs are scheduled through 2014; immigration rituals are efficient (and annoying)
Modernization plans include:
• Increase the number of gates from the existing 17 to 29
• Additional remote parking spaces
• Upgrade of existing terminal
• Observation deck replaced by a new food court for passengers
• Control tower - new visual enhancement including new glass panels that are environment -friendly and sound proof diminishing jet sounds inside the terminal
2. Airlines to El Salvador include:
AeroMexico; Air Transat; American Airlines; Avianca, Continental Airlines; Copa Airlines; Delta Airlines; Iberia; Spirit; Taca; United Airlines
Getting In To El Salvador
U.S. citizens must present a current U.S. passport and either a Salvadoran visa or a one-entry tourist card. The tourist card may be obtained from Salvadoran immigration officials for a $10.00 fee upon arrival at an airport or seaport. U.S. travelers who plan to remain in El Salvador for more than 30 days can apply in advance for a multiple entry visa, issued free of charge, from the Embassy of El Salvador in Washington, D.C. or from one of the 16 Salvadoran consulates in the United States. El Salvador has an exit tax which is usually included in the price of the airline ticket.
Safety and Security
Read the US government advisories and you are likely to come away with the thought that El Salvador is a dangerous place. While the statistics are discouraging, the reality is that visitors will not find it any safer or scarier than other places on the planet.
If you are fluent in Spanish, and like to drive along the many unpaved roads with little or no signage, rent a car. Backpackers (who speak Spanish) are likely to find the local bus services more than adequate. Everyone else should make plans to visit the country under the guidance and direction of a tour company. The tourism organizations are very professional and guides are well-informed and eager to provide a wonderfully charming and realistic view of the country.
To find the right organization and the appropriate guide(s) contact ASOTUR (Tour Operators Association). The people who run GreenBlueRed.com are very well versed in the culture of the country and will be delighted to listen to the wants and needs of the visitor, planning everything from surfing to museum visits – meeting the individualist and variations of group members. For visitors looking to utilize the medical services in El Salvador, contact Rodrigo Moreno at Salvadorean Tours (www.salvadoreantours.com).
Airport Heads Up
Be prepared for multiple levels of security; there may be as many as three stops between the time you are processed through the airport check-in and arrival at the departure gate. Just because you got through the first security barrier with the full-size tube of toothpaste or the newly purchased bottle of perfume from the Duty Free shop, does not mean that you are “home free.”
Be prepared to chuck all bottles, tubes and containers that do not meet strict TSA requirements. I have learned the hard-way to stop bringing along my usual stash of makeup removing liquids and baby-wipe clean-ups and now rely on La Fresh. These wet wipes are for grown-ups and the disposable packets sail through security in a suitcase or a handbag. The most useful of the collection: toothpaste (in a foil package), plus facial and make-up removal, insect repellant, antiperspirant, and sanitary swipes (www.lafreshgroup.com).
For additional information: http://www.elsalvador.travel/