All I knew about El Salvador before I went was pupusas which, shame on me. And shame on you too if you’re nodding in agreement that that’s all you know about it.
Obviously, there’s much more to El Salvador than the delicious thick, handmade corn tortillas stuffed with things like frijoles, queso and meat, but a trip there would probably still be worth it if you just went to eat pupusas.
The country is warm in more ways than one, it’s tropical, it’s laid back and some people and companies there are doing some really creative, innovative things, like my new favorite jeweler Lula Mena (more on her below).
If you’re interested in seeing stuff and not just eating pupusas, and you’re in the San Salvador area, here’s a few things you can do with two days there.
Sleep at Barceló (if you like big international hotels) | 8:00 p.m.
Since I was in El Salvador for work, I slept in Barceló San Salvador (big international hotel), which I wouldn’t normally choose as I prefer one-off boutique properties that have more of an essence of a place. But for a big international hotel, it was beautiful. It was also centrally located and my room came with a volcano view. The biggest win, however, was breakfast. It was buffet style, included with the room and there was a pupusa lady. I came to love her. And when I came down every morning for my hot, fresh, made-to-order pupusa with frijoles y queso, she knew what I wanted before I even asked. I miss her and her pupusas.
Head for the beach | 10:30 a.m.
I try to find water wherever I go and as quickly as I can, especially since I’m starved for it in New York (the Hudson does not count). A drive out to Sunzal is a must. You’ll get to see the rolling tropical countryside and street life on the hour-ish drive to get to the surfer hotspot. I’m told Paul Walker used to frequent the place to surf and loved it. It’s a quaint and quiet beach town where you’ll have your pick of seafood restaurants with ocean vistas to match.
Eat at Beto’s Restaurant | 12:00 p.m.
While on the Sunzal side, make your way to Beto’s Restaurante for lunch. It’s the kind of restaurant fancy people in movies would dine at while wearing billowing caftans. Except in real life it’s still dreamy, but not pretentious and not expensive. And there’s no beating the endless view of blue ocean and the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks below. Order the ceviche if you like fish. There are easily 27 different varieties. Also, drink a frozen fresh lemonade, it’s the best. The drive back will be good for the food coma that will sneak up on you.
Explore the artisan market | 3:00 p.m.
Artisan markets are the best places to get goodies from a country. The stuff there tends to be the most authentic and the best price since haggling is part of the deal. At Mercado Nacional de Artesanias, you’ll find textiles, indigo dresses and blouses (indigo, or anil, is specialty there and artisans use plants for the natural dye in a tradition still practiced the way it was always done), hand painted pottery and lots of hammocks (which are also a specialty there). The market is small and many of the vendors have similar things, so you can knock your shopping out pretty quickly and come away with good stuff.
Get to Lula Mena | 4:00 p.m.
Now, before I got to Lula Mena, my friend warned me that I’d fall in love. That the last person she took went back every day until he left. I thought she was over-hyping it, as people are known to do, but she was not. As soon as I walked into the trendy home and fashion artisanal design boutique, I fell in love with the feel, the vibe and the goods. From handmade tassel necklaces to earrings made from wire and balls of colored silk to pillow cases woven on handlooms, there’s little not to love about Lula Mena. The best part though, is that all of the products are handmade by at risk women in rural communities that might not have otherwise been able to find work and send their children to school. Materials for the artisanal crafts are all fair trade, sourced in El Salvador and made using traditional techniques from indigenous communities. You’ll likely meet Lula Mena herself when you shop, too. She helped me pick out a necklace until she left to pick her daughter up from school. I bought a basket full of things and thought I was set. But much to my surprise, I made my friend take me back the next day for another basket full, just like she said I would. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Scope out Lago de Coatepeque | 11:00 a.m.
Adding more water to the mix, missing out on Lago de Coatepeque would be unfortunate. It’s one of those crater lakes surrounded by hills and volcanoes that’s so distinct to Central and South America. It’s this perfect body of water now sitting so quietly after being forged out of a volcanic eruption. There are hot springs and swimming spots and places to just sit and take it all in.
Eat at La Pampa | 1:00 p.m.
You’ll want to prolong your lake views, so stop for lunch at La Pampa. It’s a chain in the country, but the location at Coatepeque is easily the most beautiful. You can sit outside under umbrellas while the lake breeze blows and enjoy your meal. I ate grilled conejo. I won’t tell you what kind of animal it was if you don’t already know, but I will tell you that it truly did taste like chicken. But, most extremely importantly, the flan here was the best I ever had. And had I known that before, I would have skipped the conejo, eaten a salad and ordered three flans because it was that good. Leave space if you love flan.