El Salvador’s Alternative View: A photo diary

Central American countries can have a reputation for being rough around the edges. The gringo trail often avoids areas considered to be too dangerous and difficult to travel in. El Salvador is possibly top of that list, but there is more to it than it’s bad boy reputation will suggest at first glance. 

I sat in a restaurant that lives on the side of El Salvador’s volcano Boquerón, sipping an iced diet coke. A middle class Salvadoran family talk loudly at a table nearby, giving occasional looks in my direction. Eventually they approach and ask me who I am and where I am from. They are delighted to see a young foreign woman in El Salvador and intrigued by why I would visit a place with so many problems.

Volcano restaurant, El Salvador
My spot in a restaurant on the side of El Boqueron volcano, San Salvador

The locals are the first to warn me to be careful travelling in El Salvador. They are also first to smile broadly in my direction and welcome me as I explore their homeland.

San Salvador sprawls out below the volcano with 300,000 people going about their day in the noisy smog of the capital city. It’s easy to forget the reality of life for some people here, when as a traveller I escape to a beautiful a peaceful place like this.

Back home now, I am always reminded of the difficulties this country faces when I read about it. Photo exhibitions focus on the war, or the current gang troubles. If the press cover the country it will include violent death. And it’s not uncommon for American TV dramas to have a bad-guy El Salvadoran.

It’s not that I don’t think it is important to report on this more negative side of the country. Travellers need to be aware that it essential to be safe and careful here. Today I just want to balance things a little and celebrate the beautiful side of El Salvador. It is not just the gangs and troubles, it is a country filled with natural wonders and places of extreme tranquility.

kayaking on a lake
Kayaking in Lago Coatepeque. This is just a short drive away from San Salvador and if you’re feeling really energetic, you can also climb the volcano in the background.

Here’s a little of why I’m glad I thought twice about crossing El Salvador off my Central American itinerary…

Trees of Central America. El Salvador.
Natural beauty. A peaceful tree, just up the volcano from San Salvador
colourful bird
El Salvador’s national bird, the Torogoz is one of the most colourful birds I saw in Central America. Their bright blue tails can be spotted from a long way away. No wonder the artists here paint with such vivacious bright colours

El Salvador national bird

Birds of El Salvador

El Zonte Beach sunset, El Salvador
El Zonte beach has the best sunsets I’ve seen on all my travels. This was taken in February – the optimum time of year to see the sunsets on this beach.
El Zonte, El Salvador
El Zonte is a chilled out surfing beach, which is a half an hour drive away from San Salvador. The surfers keep going until the sun goes all the way down.
Sunset el zonte, El salvador february
Another beautiful El Salvador sunset. I couldn’t get enough of these colours.
quiet beach in central america
El Zonte beach is nice during the day too! With so few people there, it is usually peaceful and as long as the surf is up, there will be plenty of them in the sea
El Sunzal beach El Salvador
El Sunzal, just up the coast from El Zonte is another stunning beach
El Zonte Beach, El Salvador
El Zonte at midday. Simple living.
Iguana El Salvador
The iguanas in El Salvador look meaner than those I saw in other countries such as Costa Rica – maybe because people still eat them here! This fella was safe in the botanical garden in San Salvador
Iguana eating in Central America
Iguana having his lunch in the botanical gardens in San Salvador
Suchitoto, El Salvador
Suchitoto is a beautiful little town in the mountains. You can study Spanish here, see local art, walk up to see views of Lago Suchitlan,  take a cerveza or coffee in one of the bars, or just relax in the towns peaceful atmosphere. It’s no wonder that the people of the capital city come here for their weekend breaks.
Church Suchitoto Iglesia
Exploring the colonial buildings of Suchitoto
Anti domestic violence sign, Suchitoto
As I walked up through the village to see the view of Lago Suchitlán in Suchitoto, these anti-domestic violence signs were painted on the sides of the houses. It is a sign of strength amongst the people.
Mayan temple, El Salvador
El Salvador is not without it’s Mayan ruins or history. San Andres can be visited easily from San Salvador and your likely to be visiting with only a couple of other people. It is surrounded by a tranquil forest, with butterflies fluttering by and an abundance of the colourful torogoz to see.
Mayan temple, El Salvador
It may not be as well looked after as a ruin, but I enjoyed wandering around a place with so much history and without so many tourists taking selfies.
Santa Tecla music
The people and the live music! In Santa Tecla the streets are filled with the sounds of live music. People in El Salvador are so friendly and they love to sing – so expect everyone to be joining in and dancing at any opportunity. This is me with my favourite band, La Rua in a bar in Santa Tecla.
Trees of Central America
Volcano side tranquil trees
Fresh lemons and limes
Fresh fruits and lush green forests
Beautiful views of El Salvador
Mountaintop views like this will blow you away in El Salvador. With far fewer tourists to distract you from the peace.
Pupusas Suchitoto, El Salvador
Pupusas! These are definitely one of my favourite things about El Salvador. Made of corn or rice flour and filled with whatever you want. I couldn’t resist having more than one in this Suchitoto cafe. Find out more about me going pupusa loca

I could continue. I’ve not even mentioned the artists markets, street performers, surf lessons, waterfalls, hiking…

What places have you visited that have surprised you in how much you fall for them?

14 Comments

  1. Wow <3 What a magical place!! Salvador is so underrated!! We recently went to Lisbon and fell heads over heels for the city. I don't know what is going to be of myself when I visit el Salvador! Thanks for linking up! #WanderfulWednesday

    1. I thought that too 🙂 It is underrated, but the people who live there are so proud of it’s beauty and I feel lucky to have seen it. I hope you get a chance to go one day! I would love to visit Lisbon!! Thanks for connecting through #WanderfulWednesday

  2. a friend of mine went to El Sal for a mission trip and reported back to me a lot of what you said! There is crime and it can be dangerous (but so can anywhere!) but he also said it was stunningly beautiful and had a lot to offer. It’s so sad to me when people skip out on a really great location just because of a false reputation of being “too dangerous”.

  3. I love that bird, Torogoz… what a unique tail it has, as if carting a feather behind its tail. Happy to have wandered through El Salvador through your post. #WanderfulWednesday

  4. In love with this post! It’s so important to look past reputations/stereotypes and realize that every place has something special and good to offer! I think many (especially people up north) have negative views of many places in Central and South America in general. They think it’s much more dangerous than it is and the media/movies only make it worse. Of course it’s important to be aware and be careful, but so many of these countries are simply misrepresented! El Salvador seems like a wonderful, beautiful place and you’ve exposed it in such a great light! 😀 Thanks for that and thanks for linking up!!

  5. Your photos are so beautiful and El Salvador certainly looks very peaceful here! Haven’t really heard much about what’s going on in the country but judging from your pictures, I’d definitely want to visit!

    1. Thank you so much 🙂 it’s mostly issues with gangs and violence in the capital city that you see in the press/ tv etc. But there are so many wonderful people and places too as you can see 🙂

  6. I always enjoy reading posts that remind me to keep an open mind about a lesser travelled to countries. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that some places just aren’t worth visiting, but whenever I reach an unknown destination, I’m reminded this isn’t true.

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