Our first impression of El Salvador was that it reminded us a lot of Mexico. Specifically, the mountains on the horizon reminded us of Baja and the arid hills reminded us of the mainland. The landscape proved to be diverse as the tropical vegetation soon took over.
Santa Ana was our first stop in the small country. We read that the cathedral near the town square is a must see so we circled a few times before we were able to find a parking spot and immediately made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was delicious!
The cathedral and surrounding square was beautiful and so much different than the layout and architecture we had seen in the previous countries we visited. The mission style churches of Mexico and Guatemala was replaced by the gothic style church with sharp lines and numerous steeples. It was interesting to note that a step to the side of the church revealed that it was a brick exterior covered with white adobe on the front, but bare on the side. I was most fascinated by the scaffold inside the church that had partially fallen.
We grabbed a few groceries and bought some cheap and pretty terrible beer and headed towards Lake Coatepeque. On our descent down the hill, we peered through the trees which revealed a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains.
I thought these masks were incredibly creepy…
As we were relaxing the the camper, Laughlin stopped our podcast and asked who the men were walking down the street. I poked my head out the window and saw three men in camo with rifles and ski masks strolling down the street nonchalantly. We dropped the shades in our camper and watched as they made their way down the street. The man working the parking lot indicated that they were just military keeping watch on the touristic areas. Military had a pretty strong presence in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala, but we hadn’t seen military walking through the streets with ski masks. Ah, Central America!
Leaving Lake Coatepeque, we backtracked towards Santa Ana and headed towards the town of Juayua. The view from atop the mountain pass was incredible as the landscape sloped from around 6,000 feet to sea level quickly. We poked around Juayua for a short while and when we discovered the pasteleria had incredible prices, we enjoyed pineapple, apple and strawberry empanadas and a piece of merengue cake.
We continued closer and closer to the coast where we had Cocolitos campground lined up for a couple of days. After taking the more direct but incredibly steep road to the bottom of the hill, we sandwiched our truck between palm trees all around. Immediately we felt the intense heat as we hopped out of the truck which was amplified by the humid air and the black sand beaches. A dip in the ocean proved to only slightly cool us off as the water temperature was drastically warmer than anywhere we had been to this point. Our only relief from the heat was sitting in the shade and letting the steady wind do its work.
Black sand beach…
The dogs were also a nice distraction from the heat. Coco was probably the most friendly of the three dogs and was very interested in the mangos…
The chickens were also fun to watch. It cracked us up when they tried to sit in the hammock!
Our second day was spent reading on the beach and swimming in the ocean during the morning. After just an hour we couldn’t take the heat and retreated to the camper. Laziness quickly set in and we did everything we could to stay cool. Later in the afternoon, just before sunset, our friends, took us on a hike where we had a bird’s eye view of the town of Mizata. We could see the steady stream of ocean spray filling the palms with humidity. The humidity made for a stunning sunset of orange, red and pink colors.
That night with our new friends, we made our way to a pupusaria where they make pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador. Pupusa is essentially a corn meal dough that surrounds cheese, beans, etc. and is cooked on a hot griddle. It resembles a thick pancake when cooked and tastes somewhat similar to a soft shell taco. We were delighted with the experience and began to see pupusarias on every corner from thereon.
The heat was too much for us at Cocolitos, so we packed up camp and retreated to the mountains. San Salvador, the country’s capital city, was along our route. Initially we intended on skipping the city due to the it’s reputation for crime but we decided it would be a shame to be so close and skip it. We drove all around the city running errands, visited the local market and, when it was time to leave, we were surprised at how much we enjoyed the city and how beautiful it was.
In San Salvador, we made our first contact with another vehicle as we were backing out of the parking lot and nearly ripped the mirror off the car next to us. Fortunately it was a breakaway mirror and very little damage was done. The parking lot security took note of what happened and when the owner failed to show up, we were free to go. Next time we will be a little more watchful.
Lake Alegria was our next destination after San Salvador. We heard that the elevation provides cooler temperatures and the lake itself is quite interesting. The lake happens to be at the bottom of a volcanic crater and camping was allowed in the crater as well. A definite sulfur smell filled the air throughout the day and night, but the strong breeze through the night reduced it slightly and made for great sleeping weather. The stars shone brighter than any place since leaving Baja, making it all the more enjoyable.
Suffering from short term memories, we coasted down the volcano and back to the oven (beach) once again. We located a camp area with toilets, showers, wifi, electricity and cheap drinks for $5/night. As we pulled into our camp spot, we immediately noticed a sweet Toyota FourRunner with a rooftop tent and Illinois plates. Instantly, we recognized them from Instagram as Andy and Laura from Sumo Goes South. We chatted for a bit, grabbed a bucket of beers and had a pool party for the afternoon. We enjoyed the visit and can now officially change our acquaintance from “internet stalkers” to friends!
Our life on the road has had it’s difficulties, but our visit to El Salvador was relatively easy and a truly enjoyable visit. Although our visit was short, it will remain towards the top of our favorite countries without a doubt!
Following our quick visit to El Salvador, we will have have two border crossings in two days and quick visit to Honduras before crossing to Nicaragua. I assure you, it will be a post you must read!