In Part 1 I shared the kind of information that it’s useful to know before arriving in a new place. Now it’s on to the fun stuff! Here are some of our favourite things to do locally, and details about places to visit around El Salvador.
Exploring locally: These places often don’t have websites, but they’re all on Google maps:
1. Walk to La Puntilla, the estuary entrance, for food, drinks, and/or to watch boats crossing the bar. You can walk along the beach or along the road. There are places to eat and drink right on the beach and the views around the estuary entrance are lovely with boats whizzing around and pelicans flying over . Don’t be surprised when you arrive and get surrounded by guys trying to get you to take their boat trip or go to their restaurant – they do it to everyone and are pretty friendly, if a bit full on!
2. We love walking along the beach especially early morning and sunset when it’s not too hot. It’s often fairly empty except for men fishing and stray dogs. At weekend there are often snack vendors. Take a bag and pick up some trash while you’re there!
3.There are various restaurants within easy reach of the Bahía del Sol marina. Mar y Sol does good food and is just a couple of minutes in the dinghy or a short walk. There’s also a fun little streetside place on the main road, just opposite the Marinsa marine shop (turn right out of the hotel). They serve tasty, cheap breakfasts and lunches and have a shop for most basics too. (If you can’t see what you want, ask them and they’ll often have it.) Acajutla is another perfect place for a lunch outing – it’s a short dinghy ride and they serve tasty seafood and have a pool. Rosy Mar, by the entrance road to Paradise Marina, is another great place for lunch (access by bus or dinghy to Paradise marina, open Thurs – Sun) and is also the site of the Living English classes so we’re always happy to go there. Another popular spot is the group of ‘stilt restaurants’ where you can enjoy amazing fish and shrimp, sitting up above the water.
4. You can’t spend time in El Salvador without trying pupusas. Most Saturday evenings Bill and Jean host happy hour at their lovely home on Isla Cordoncillo (by the mooring field, a short dinghy ride from Bahía del Sol) then we all go for pupusas together. Soooo good. Don’t forget your bug spray. There are also pupusa stands on the main road not far from the hotel – before 8.30am in the morning and after 5pm is the time to go.
5. If you’re craving a banana split, a bus ride to the Costa del Sol Supermercado can be a fun little outing, or take a dinghy ride to Herradura where’s the also an icecream shop.
- Our most regular outings are to San Salvador and I’m going to write a separate post on that as there’s so much to do and see. We’ve loved the museums and historical buildings, as well as just sometimes heading to a mall for some air conditioning and a place to chill, drink coffee, or see a movie.
- You’ll probably make at least one visit to Zacatecoluca if you’re staying for a while, though if you have limited time this probably won’t be a priority. It’s a busy market town, with vendors all over the streets and lots of bustle. Upstairs at the indoor market there’s a food court where vendors try to sell you anything from tomatoes to skirts to knives while you eat. For somewhere a bit more peaceful Restaurante Gisela is good and has decent coffee, as does Café Gourmet. Zacatecoluca is also the place to go for dental work, Claro sim cards, a dollar store, well stocked grocery stores, and some engine maintenance stuff at the Auto supply stores.
Exploring El Salvador:
Some of our favourite times have been the random villages we stopped at on the way to somewhere else, where we ended up having great chats with other parents in the playground or eating tasty pupusas in places without names. It’s definitely worth renting a car and taking off without too much of a plan, but there are some cool places you should try not to miss:
- Santa Ana is a great place to stay and works well as a base for visiting nearby historical sites – the ash-covered village at Joya de Cerén, and Mayan ruins at San Andrés, Casa Blanca, and El Tazumal, all of which are highly recommended. There are two fantastic hostels – we really enjoyed our stay at Hostal Las Puertas and others love Casa Verde. The main square is nice and there are some cool old buildings. We enjoyed Simmer Down for dinner as a place to watch the world go by on the square below.
2. Suchitoto is gorgeous. Don’t miss it! There are lots of accommodation options – at the fancier end apparently Los Almendros is amazing. We opted for the simpler Hostal Los Sánchez and loved its friendly owners, quirky rooms, and rooftop terrace. Also it’s next door to Suchimex, a great restaurant with awesome views. There are various options, with cafés and restaurants all within easy walking distance of the town square.
There are a couple of museums and if you time it right you could be there for a film festival or other cultural activities. This is a centre of indigo and there are places to do workshops to learn the technique for dyeing clothes. Visit the lakeside where you can get a meal or drink, and don’t miss Cascada Los Tercios, a waterfall with cool rock formations.
3. Puerto La Libertad and El Tunco are popular surf spots, with lots of places to eat, drink, and enjoy the surfing vibes. I stayed at the AST Surf Hotel in La Libertad and had a great time there. Don’t miss a wander along the fish market on the pier. El Tunco is even more chilled out and a nice spot for wandering around. Then drive on a bit past El Tunco for a beer at Cadejo to try locally brewed beer!
4. Perquín – One of the most interesting places we’ve visited is Perquín and the nearby area, where you’ll find the Museo de la revolución, and the Ruta de la memoria. The museum and guerrilla camp are fascinating. It’s heavy stuff, but good to learn more about what happened during the Civil War. Mozote is an important memorial and well worth a visit while there. You can visit alone or take an organized tour. It’s a bit of a drive to get there, but for us, a real highlight. I wrote more about this experience here. We stayed in a gorgeous little cabin at Hotel y Restaurante Perquín Lenca.
5. Alegría – we did an overnight stop on the way to Perquín and adored it. A cute place to stay is and it’s a nice village to wander round, fun little bars and cafés to enjoy, and lovely views. There’s also a lake to check out. We stayed at Hostal y Café Entre Piedras and enjoyed drinks in Café Sonata, just round the corner.
There are, of course, more places that we haven’t been to yet – other cruisers have really enjoyed exploring the Ruta de Flores and the thermal baths for example – but hopefully these are some ideas to get started with plans. Many cruisers have also used this as a base for land travel around Central America. It’s a safe place to leave the boat to go inland, and the airport is a 45 minute taxi ride away (approx $35).
***** Getting around *****
Buses run along the Costa del Sol road from early morning (around 5am) and stop right outside the hotel entrance on the main road.193 goes to Zacatacoluca and 495 goes to the south bus terminal of San Salvador.
Both also go to Arcos where you can swap to a 138 to get to San Salvador centre. (That’s our preferred route to the city as you’ re downtown when you arrive.) At Arcos you can also swap on to another bus that goes to Zacatecoluca and gets there more quickly than the 193. Ask and people will show you which bus you need! You can get to La Libertad by bus though it takes a while.
Alternatively you can hire a rental car or book a taxi through the Bahía del Sol reception. Another option is to get in touch with one of the local drivers. Ernesto and Santos both speak English and will drive you around to do errands in San Salvador, to the airport, on a tour, or wherever else you want to go!
Check out Part 1 with information about arrival and practical stuff and there’s a Part 3 coming soon about San Salvador.
If you’re on Facebook, join these groups to connect with people who’ve been here: Mexico and Central America Cruising, El Salvador Cruisers, and Cruising Mexico and Central America. Follow Annual Salvador Rally to see cool photos of new arrivals and departures crossing the bar.
Feel free to ask questions in the comments or add other recommendations if you’ve been here and I’ve missed your favourite spot.