El Salvador, literally “Republic of the Savior” is the smallest, but most densely populated country in all of Central America. El Salvador has a population of around 6 million people and according to the International Monetary Fund it has the third largest economy in the region, behind Costa Rica and Panama!
El Salvador's origins of human civilization date back to the Pipil people of Cuzcatlan, which means “The Place of Precious Diamonds and Jewels”. The people of El Salvador are referred to as Salvadoran, while the name Cuzcatleco is commonly used to identify someone of Salvadoran heritage. In pre-Columbian times the territory was inhabited by various native american people, including the Pipil, a Nahuatl speaking population that occupied the central and western regions of the territory, and the Lenca, who settled in the east of the country.
In 1520 the indigenous population of the territory had been reduced by 80% due to the smallpox epidemic that affected the Mesoamerican area. The Spanish Admiral, Andres Nino, led an expedition to Central America and disembarked on Meanguera island, which he named Petronila, in the Gulf of Fonseca, on 31 May 1522. Thereafter, he discovered Jiquilisco Bay on the mouth of Lempa River. This was the first known visit by Spaniards to what is now Salvadoran territory.
During the colonial period, El Salvador was part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, also known as the Kingdom of Guatemala created in 1609 as an administrative division of New Spain. The Salvadoran territory was administered by the Mayor of Sonsonate. On 5 November 1811, Salvadoran priest José Matías Delgado rang the bells of Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, calling for insurrection and launching the 1811 Independence Movement. This insurrection was suppressed and many of its leaders were arrested and served jail sentences. When the Federal Republic of Central America dissolved in 1841, El Salvador maintained its own government until it joined Honduras and Nicaragua in 1896 to form the Greater Republic of Central America, which later dissolved in 1898.
Another interesting fact that our CouchSurfing friend alerted us to, was that El Salvador leads the region in remittances per capita with inflows equivalent to nearly all export income! How crazy! What da! Apparently about one third of all households receive these financial inflows, which are remittances from Salvadorans living / working in the United States. They are sent to family members in El Salvador and are a major source of foreign income offsetting the substantial trade deficit of USD 4.12 billion. Remittances have increased steadily in the last decade, and reached an all-time high of USD 3.32 billion in 2006 which accounted for approximately 16.2% of the country’s GDP. This of course has had a positive and negative affect on the country! For example, local prices have been driven up as a result of the influx of cash, which has meant that some things, notably property, have become too expensive for the locals who are not fortunate enough to receive these payments from family members who are abroad.
We set off from our couchsurfer’s house in La Entrada, Honduras around 8am in the morning with the intention to catch a bus to the border with El Salvador. After some several hours on the bus and having to catch a taxi, we arrived at the aduana ready to have our passports stamped and cross into a new country.
We managed to navigate our way by foot through the Honduran and El Salvadorian border control offices with relative ease and made our way to the bus station. So we had a few more hours ahead of us on a “chicken bus”, which is no more than a USofA school bus with the exception that some buses in El Salvador are decked out as disco party buses. We watched and listened to music for a few hours and at times it was a good distraction to the cramped environment on the bus!
We arrived in San Salvador not knowing that much about this small Central American country other than that it has one of the stronger economies in Central America and also is home to some of the toughest street gangs in the world – just google 18th Street gang and MS-13 (aka Mara Salvatrucha). These El Salvadoran gangs are active all through Central America and up into the US. At the time of writing both gangs were going through a period of “truce” in order to reduce the daily killing spree from 15 people a day! Whilst we were there it had reduced to 9 killings a day, so this was seen as progress. As a tourist you almost never come across any of this violence as it is usually pocketed in a certain area that is of no interest for a tourist!
By late afternoon we had reached the home of our next couchsurfer, the wonderful Jose Roberto Diaz. After acquainting ourselves and settling in we had some dinner (two Dominos pizzas) and then went to bed.
So for the following few days we hung out at Jose’s place, visited the main historic attractions in the centre of the city and also visited Zona Rosa, which is like being in the US as it has all the “mod cons” and fast food chains that you would see a little further north!
Jose was a superb host, very friendly, helpful with travel tips around El Salvador and in general just a top man! Thanks Jose Roberto for all your help mate. Greatly appreciated! One thing Jose helped us with was organizing our day trip on the well known “Ruta de las Flores”, which is a trip through some of the most beautiful landscape El Salvador has to offer!
Ruta de las Flores
So as mentioned, the Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers) is a day trip in a car from San Salvador around the volcan area of Cerro Verde and Cerro Santa Ana. We also visited several small pueblitos (villages) that still maintain a lot of character and culture from hundreds of years ago.
Thanks to Alfredo our tour guide as he was not only a very nice person, but also provided us with some of the best information about the area. We were lucky enough to get close to Volcan Izalco when visiting Cerro Verde – check out the pictures we took as we were only some few hundred metres away from the volcan!
Interestingly, El Salvador's most recent destructive volcanic eruption took place on 1 October 2005, when the Volcan Santa Ana spewed a cloud of ash, hot mud and rocks that fell on nearby villages and caused two deaths. However, the most severe volcanic eruption in this area occurred in the 5th century AD when Volcan Llopango erupted, producing widespread pyroclastic flows and devastating Mayan cities. Due to El Salvador sitting on what is known as the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, the people also have to contend with significant tectonic activity which can trigger earthquakes! Over the years El Salvador has had its fair share of earthquakes – in 1986 over 1,500 were killed and as recent as 2001 over 1,000 were killed in two separate earthquakes only months apart! For the people living in El Salvador, and most of Latin America for that matter, this is accepted as something that is normal and part of daily life knowing that an earthquake could occur or a volcan could erupt at any moment!
We also enjoyed stopping at the villages of Concepcion de Ataco, Apaneca, Juayua and Salcoaltitlan! The scenery was stunning and I would go as far to say it was genuinely some of the best we have seen on the whole trip. Incredibly beautiful – check out our pictures! Also fascinating were some of the stops during the day where you could see the Pacific Ocean and in the distance several volcans in Guatemala!
Playa El Tunco
After 3 days hanging out and around San Salvador we packed all our gear up and caught a local bus to the coast, which is only some 30 minutes away by car but a little longer on public transport! Playa El Tunco, and most of the El Salvadorian coast for that matter, is home to some of the best right hand point breaks in the world…basically because the country doesn’t have a westerly land mass facing the Pacific Ocean, it only has a southerly facing coast line! This natural coastal line provides right hand breaks almost all the way down to the border with Nicaragua.
We spent two days hanging out at this beach town, which has not yet become victim to over commericalisation…give it a few years! Fudgie took it easy by the pool most of the time and I was lucky enough to get out and have a surf with a couple of my new mates from Canada – cheers and nice to meet you James and Alejandro! Great fun!
So that it is it for El Salvador – we only had 5 days in the country as we needed to head up to Guatemala and spend some time there before concluding our travels in Mexico! I must say El Salvador was an unknown quantity and whilst we knew it was not well known for tourism, it certainly exceeded our expectations! Muchas gracias El Salvador x