The perception of El Salvador has come a long way. What was once a place “off-limits” to paranoid travelers has proven to be a tropical paradise that reaps huge rewards for those who look past the perpetuated fear. Terms like “gangland” have given way to more appropriate monikers like “Surf City” and “Bitcoin Beach” – which is where my family and I found ourselves for my 10th visit in 7 years (aka El Zonte, La Libertad).
My wife and daughter came down with me to explore “the savior” in 2016 and this was their first time back. Not much has changed since then, other than the usual “upgrades” that come with an up-and-coming travel destination: more visitors, more accommodations, more expensive. Regardless, when you consider this was “spring break,” everything was still well within reason. In fact, the general vibe of the visitors here in 2022 is one of a comfort level that would rival a ski town in Colorado during peak season.
What once was a playground for a light scattering of well-traveled Canadians, retired Aussies, and a few adventurous Americans has given way to more of the everyday tourists that we might see at home on the Emerald Coast of Florida. The kind that have completely let their guard down in an effort to fully enjoy the moment without the worries of being mugged or kidnapped. And rightfully so…the only worries worth entertaining in El Salvador these days is where the next adventure will take you.
While our white sand beaches could never be upstaged, the coastline in El Salvador is arguably the most beautiful in Central America. Pair that with world-class surfing on perfect point break waves and you have the perfect family vacation destination. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t still fallacy hurdles to overcome, they’re just more specific.
While the overall perception of El Sal has finally swung to the positive side of the pendulum, the expectation of first-world luxury is still elusive, despite being widely available. Upon arrival, the modernized airport makes for a surprising initial impression for first-timers. Roads are well kept and easily traversed. Accommodations for my early visits were based on my personal preference and budget. I easily found everything I needed, nothing frivolous: Great food, clean water, comfortable beds, AC, and Wifi. Hot water and TV were rare, yet rarely missed. But if you’re trying to relax with your family, the comforts of home are far more welcomed, and believe it or not, El Salvador delivers in a big way.
For our 5 night stay, we checked into Palo Verde, an “eco-friendly/sustainable” hotel sitting right on the beach at the beginning of the point in El Zonte. When most people think of “eco-friendly” accommodations in El Sal, they probably think of a $10 per night, open-air bungalow with no electricity or running water. But visionary owner/operator Camilo Menendez, an El Zonte local, has combined various forms of sustainability (environmental, community, economic, service, comfort) to achieve a guilt-free level of [affordable] luxury that would rival any beachfront resort I’ve ever stayed at in the states. Best of all, it still feels authentic to the culture of El Salvador, which makes it worth every penny. I hate to admit it, but despite the tropical temperatures, I REALLY love a fancy drink and a hot shower after a family surf lesson.
So don’t let misconceptions hold you back from the vacation you’re dreaming of. El Salvador is right under your nose, and it will likely surprise you in almost every way. ¡Salud!