Sunsets and volcanoes: I’m a sucker for any variation of the combination.
Today we began with a lazy morning taking turns obtaining negative test results for COVID-19 so we could return home. In lieu of visiting local clinics, I packed 7 BinaxNOW home test kits I had ordered ahead on emed.com for everyone on the trip.
All you need is 20 minutes on a laptop with a webcam. After an online proctor verifies you performed and interpreted your test correctly, you’re good to go!
Brandon had a near miss obtaining an inconclusive test result, but a spare test kit I had luckily packed got him through on a second attempt.
Beginning our day at 11am and after picking up some local Salvadorean coffee, we drove up to the top of Los Cerros National Park, aka Volcanoes National Park.
We paid the $3 admission fee and with a quick bathroom break we immediately befriended a group of Salvadorean locals curious to our presence. Our group of 7 then became 15.
Assisted by our driver Loretta, we found a trailhead to begin a half an hour hike with our last minute assigned guide Enrique. Our favorite were the views over Lake Coatepeque:
…and the trees of love:
After nearly 2 hours here, we then drove back down to the side of the volcano of Santa Ana where we devoured the numerous street stalls served on the side of the road:
It’s a vibe here too:
We then drove back to Lake Coatepeque proper for a quick dive and swim while watching the sunset:
Hard to beat these vanilla skies:
Returning back to the city at night, we dropped off Nina to see an old childhood friend from San Salvador while we dined at a local Salvadorean restaurant for our last dance with fresh pupusas, tamales, empanadas, elotes, …the works.
Then it was back to our rooftop batcave before our hotel closed at 10pm.
Back to dissecting each other’s personal legends and most hidden of secrets.
- At time of posting in Los Cerros National Park, it was 16 °C -
Humidity: 88% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy
After an early breakfast at 8am and disappointigly finding out that Joya de Ceren — the Pompeii of El Salvador — was temporarily closed for renovations, we instead set off for San Andres: a pre-Columbian site in El Salvador beginning in 900 BC and abandoned by 250 AD after the volcanic eruption of Lago Ilopango.
This site was occupied again in the 5th Century, along with many others in the valley of Zapotitán. Then between 600 and 900 AD, San Andrés became the capital of a Mayan district with control over the other regions of Valle de Zapotitán.
After paying the $5 USD admission fee and washing our hands with a quick vaccine card and temperature check, we were treated to a 45 minute guided tour of the site (Spanish speaking only).
From San Andres we then drove onto Lake Coatepeque for lunch. Created from a volcano, the lake is located 20 minutes south of the city of Santa Ana with an altitude of 745 meters above sea level and a depth of 115 meters. 20,000 people live around the lake.
A splendid scenery for an alfresco lunch by the water.
The lunch was so filling that everyone fell asleep. On my birthday of all days. Hmph!
Driving on for another 30 minutes we managed to reach Tazumal an hour before closing at 4pm. Like San Andres, Tazumal is a pre-Columbian Maya archeological site excavated in the 1940s.
But unlike San Andres, there is no guided tour; once you pay the $5 admission fee, wander and climb up to your heart’s content here.
The best part was when we sat on the grass and watched the world go by.
Leaving at 4pm right at closing, we drove back east 20 minutes to Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador.
Everyone comes to Santa Ana not only for a more authentic Salvadorian experience, but also for the Cathedral. Are we in Milan?
Right by the cathedral in the public square is the gloriously built Santa Ana Theater:
Don’t miss the other architecture in this area unique to Santa Ana; you can’t find this in San Salvador as readily.
Golden hour is the best hour:
After a light dinner and drinks at Simmer Down we then headed back to San Salvador while making a pit stop grabbing wine, beer, spirits, and snacks at a local gas station.
Returning to our hotel hour later at 7:30pm, we kicked it on our balcony rooftop back and went in deep the usual monsoon way when we’re in good company.
Happy birthday to me.
El Salvador: a country long elusive from my grasp. Despite multiple layovers here on my voyages to and from South America, I never really ventured far beyond the airport and THAT DOES NOT COUNT as a visit. Now I’m setting things right again and making it a proper trip.
Sadly, it had to be when we would find out that another coup would befall Sudan only 3 weeks ago, I figured it would be best to postpone a visit there and give a chance to El Salvador. Deciding 2 weeks ago thanks to the suggestion of longtime monsooner Mihaela and 7 signing up within 7 days, we made another impossible trip happen.
With the 4:40pm direct 4 hour Avianca flight for $220 roundtrip, this was the best flight price I’ve seen for El Salvador since 6 years of monitoring; the second lowest I’ve seen was $591 roundtrip. Although I had my negative COVID-19 test on a PCR that was performed within 72 hours of arrival, nobody ended up asking for a copy of my result at check in once they found out I was triply vaccinated for COVID-19.
Oh well, at least I know everyone else on my trip is with me is not only fully vaccinated but also negative for COVID-19.
Tony and I landed promptly at 8:35pm where we rendezvous’ed with Brandon and Kimmy after they had landed an hour earlier from Miami and were finishing up a power hour of drinks at the VIP lounge by Gate 5. We then headed to immigrations, paid the $12 tourist card at the counter in the left right corner, and then got stamped at the passports counter immediately to the right.
After a quick customs check we were picked up by a cab company our hotel arranged and taken to the serene accommodations of Hotel Oasis.
Taking it easy on the first day vibes, we got drinks outside my balcony terrace with these views of the mountains behind us:
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast at our hotel garden:
While waiting for Rajani to fly in later in the afternoon, we joined Chyne at a hotel down the street and took 2 Ubers into the city historical center.
Still recovering from the plenty of earthquakes and the civil war since the 1980s, the center is lined with abandoned office buildings and thousands of vendors and stalls that call these congested streets home.
We started at the National Palace:
Then we walked up to the Civic Square Captain General Gerardo Barrios:
Then up to the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador, replacing the previous cathedral that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 1800s.
A steady stream of local and international tourists visit daily to see the downstairs tomb of Oscar Romero, the fourth archbishop of San Salvador.
Morazán Plaza is right in the center of it all.
Don’t miss the various Chivo kiosks scattered here, the new evidence of El Salvador adding Bitcoin as one of its official currencies (with Chivo as its mobile wallet):
Finally, by Plaza Libertad…
…we walked to Iglesia Rosario. Built by sculptor Ruben Martinez in the 1970’s, this church is arguably one of the most unique and “radically beautiful” buildings in Central America.
To enter, you need to access a small side entrance around the corner:
It may appear as an airplane hangar from the outside . . .
. . . but inside a rainbow of colors dance across the floor and across the altar; natural night bounces off the metal and rock as the sun changes its course throughout the day. Although no photos are allowed inside, the guards kinda looked the other way after doing their job and saying it to us. We did our best to cover it up so nobody got in trouble.
Come here when the sun is setting during golden hour so you can maximize the different colors you can witness dancing along the walls of the church.
After half an hour at the historic center we turned around up and took an Uber for lunch at a local Pupuseria “La Oloculitense”.
FYI a pupusa: a thick tortilla dough based corn or rice stuffed with cheese, pork, squash, refried beans, or loroco (the Salvadorean national flower).
We had 3 “loca” pupusas (one with everything), 12 pupusas of 4 different varieties, 8 beers and 6 large bottles of water all for $32 USD:
It’s right next to the Monument to the Divine Savior of the World. The Saviour is San Salvador’s Patron Saint and is celebrated with massive festivities during the first full week of August every year
At night time it lights up pretty:
Finally we returned for an afternoon nap back at our hotels while waiting for Rajani to arrive.
After repeating the morning’s itinerary with her with our driver Loreta, we then stopped for a stroll under the rain along Plaza Futura: an open plan plaza at the base of a modern business tower and a popular expat hangout full of restaurants, cafes and bars.
The plaza offers some great views of the city, as well as where we dined at Senor Gaucho with a local San Salvadorian Adriana, who had reached out to me last night on Instagram about meeting up after seeing my stories.
Afterwards Adriana invited her sister Rose to join us for drinks and shisha at Vanilla Lounge:
The night is still going strong, so check back for more photos; especially with our new friends Adriana and Rose!
- At time of posting in San Salvador, it was 21 °C -
Humidity: 81% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: rain showers