I was sad to leave Roatan but I still have so much left to see in the next few weeks so it was time to move on! I landed in San Salvador a little after 6pm after a lovely first flight on Taca airlines, El Salvador’s national carrier. To get from Roatan to Guatemala, a change of planes in San Salvador was necessary so I’d decided to spend one night there and try to see a little of the city.
Ironically, Central America’s smallest nation is also home to its largest economy. But densely-populated El Salvador is also the least visited country in the region. Its war-torn history is partly to blame but the country has also been plagued by natural disasters like Hurricane Stan in 2005 which was immediately followed by the eruption of Volcán Santa Ana. Flooding from the remnants of Hurricane Ida also hit the country hard in 2009. With two volcanic ridges spanning east to west, daily life in the country known as the “Land of Volcanoes” is anything but boring.
After enduring another lengthy immigration line, I finally emerged from the arrivals hall a little after 7pm to a sea of humanity. There were easily a thousand people jockeying for space in the waiting area, some holding flowers, other with signs bearing neatly printed names. I was immediately grateful I’d had the forethought to email my hotel (the Sheraton Presidente San Salvador) a few days prior and schedule the hotel taxi to pick me up. I found the sign with my name on it and we hit the road for the 45-minute ride to the hotel. When we arrived, there was obviously some kind of major event at the hotel starting at 8:00pm because traffic was backed up to get to the valet about 40 cars deep. My driver eventually gave up on getting to the front door and dropped me off at a side door instead.
I didn’t have much time in El Salvador, less than 24 hours, in fact. So I did what has become my standard M.O. when time is short, I threw money at the problem. After getting a decent night’s sleep, I headed down to the bell desk in the morning to inquire about my options. Typically, in situations like this, it’s best to just hire a car and driver for the day. Figuring I needed to be at the airport by 1:00pm for my 2:30pm flight to Guatemala City, I had about 4 hours to explore San Salvador and its surroundings.
Ideally, I was hoping to see a little of downtown San Salvador, make a trip to the Boquerón volcano and out to the Pacific coast to the town of La Libertad. Unfortunately, after talking with the bell captain and the taxi driver he recommended for me, Giovanny, it seemed I would only have time for two out of three. Since they both suggested skipping downtown as there wasn’t much to see (who am I to argue with two locals on that?), I decided to focus my efforts on the volcano and the beach.
Bags loaded in the car, Giovanny and I headed for the San Salvador volcano, also known as El Boquerón. Adjacent to El Salvador’s sprawling capital, the western edge of San Salvador actually lies on the slopes of the volcano. The drive to the top has a few good view points and we stopped for photos at two. After parking at the visitor’s center, we began the hike to the top.
The hike was fairly easy and when we reached the top, the views into the cavernous crater were excellent and the trails around the ridge were well-kept and easily navigable. During the volcano’s most recent eruption, in 1917, the crater lake evaporated and a cinder cone appeared, nicknamed “Boquerocinto” by the local volcano people. We walked along the ridge trail taking in the views from every angle before hopping back in the car to make the 45-minute drive out to the coast.
El Salvador is the only Central American country without a Caribbean coastline. Instead, the country’s rugged Pacific coast is primarily known for fishing villages and surfing. Historically, the gritty beach town of La Libertad has been better known for drugs and crime than surfing and tourism but the government has made a conscious effort in recent years to improve both the tourist infrastructure and safety. A colorful boardwalk was added on what’s now considered the tourist-friendly side of the pier, while food carts abound on the more local side of the beach. La Libertad’s pier was the first ever port built in the country but these days it serves only fishing boats and is home to a (let’s just say) boldly-aromatic daily fish market.
After a stroll down the boardwalk and through the fish market, Giovanny and I got back in the car and headed for the airport. It was a brief glimpse into a country that no doubt has much more to see but I felt like I maximized the few hours I had and I thoroughly enjoyed the visit.
Next up, Guatemala!