How we ended up staying in El Salvador for a few months


After covering a lot of nautical miles since leaving Vancouver at the end of September 2017, we stopped moving for a bit! And not just because our engine broke…

Engine drama again!

The passage from Chiapas, Mexico to Bahía del Sol, El Salvador, was probably one of our least enjoyable to date. Bad fuel messed up our engine, the wind was all over the place, endlessly changing speed and direction so we had to be really on it with the sails, the sea was choppy, there was thunder and lightning… I could go on, but you get the idea. As we got closer we spotted a boat on our AIS that was behaving about as strangely as us – its speed and direction constantly changing. We were already thinking it must be having engine troubles too when we started hearing calls for help. We couldn’t get to them, but we did manage to get in touch with people in the bay and relay messages – our VHF radio was more active on that final day of the passage than it’s been for a long time!

Bahía del sol

To get into Bahía del Sol there’s a bar crossing (where the movement of sand and sediment forms a bar at an entrance to an estuary, bay, etc.) so the weather and tides have to be just right to enter safely. It’s always changing too so local knowledge is essential. We anchored outside the bar for a rolly 24 hours to wait for the pilot to assist us: after catching up on a bit of sleep, Doug got to work on the engine, we kept in contact as much as we could with SV Raven, the other boat, and were there ready to assist them if needed on their arrival. The local mechanics came out and got them sorted – yay! It was pretty nice after a few days drifting around out there to be back in contact with the world – thanks to SV Salt and SV Untangled for their kind and enthusiastic welcome! Going in, over the bar, is quite the adventure and knowing that the engine might not be fully functioning was an added concern, but it worked fine, Doug held that wheel tight, and we got great instructions from Bill and Joel, the pilot, so one long fast surf and we were in.

The hotel’s parrots welcomed us

Arriving in El Salvador we had every intention of staying two weeks (to enjoy the second half of the Annual Salvador Rally) then heading south to Costa Rica and Panama. Then we heard about the great deal at the marina and figured we might as well pay for a month. First we were met at the dock by the lovely Bill and Jean from Annual Salvador Rally, then immigration and check-in was really easy and friendly, then it was happy hour in the pool, then we enjoyed a Sunday afternoon at Linda and Lou’s beautiful home and swimming pool, then pupusas on the island, and the next thing we knew we were discussing maybe staying for the hurricane season. Three months later Illusion is still there, being prepared by Doug, as I type, to be left for a couple of months so we can all spend time with family and friends in the UK.

Marina/hotel pool

It’s been just what we needed. A chance to slow down a bit and stop moving all the time, get to know locals and other boaters, have a place start to feel familiar, do some inland travel, get some boat jobs done (Doug), write (me), learn to swim (Toby), do some volunteering (at the local school), play music, etc. etc.   Originally we’d thought we might skip El Salvador altogether, and now … well, we love it and are excited to spend a bit more time there when we get back from England. It’s a country that has experienced, and still does, some real trauma – it’s also beautiful, fascinating, varied, and complex. I wrote about our experience learning about the El Salvador civil war on a visit up into the northern mountains here.

Annual Salvador rally final party

There’s a great group of other boats who have also settled in for the season and we’ve met some lovely, kind, fun people who I hope we’ll be able to keep in contact with as we continue sailing south. It’s weird for us to have been at a dock for this long and I was definitely craving isolated anchorages at times (there’s only so many times you can listen to a 90s rock soundtrack before you start to plan your escape…), but overall we’re really pleased we decided to stop rushing south and give ourselves time to start to settle in a bit.

I’m sure I’ll be writing in more detail about some of our experiences, but here are a few highlights for now:

Stilt restaurant in the estuary – only accessible by boat
Lunch at stilt-restaurant
Boat trip home from stilt-restaurant
Boat race in full swing
Susy from SV Octopus Garden tests out Eric’s boat
Music at Linda and Lou’s gorgeous place – they invite us all on Sundays to enjoy their pool and bbq. Amazing!
Picking mangoes at Linda & Lou’s place
Saturday afternoon drinks at Bill and Jean’s lovely home on the island. Always fun.
Bill & Jean’s dock and mooring field
Our very first pupusas – so tasty. (In Alegría)
Street murals in Alegría
Visiting the Museo de la revolución in Perquín
Reconstruction of guerrilla camp in Perquín
View from our wood cabin in Perquín – watched the most amazing storm from this porch
Cabin in Perquín (Hotel y restaurante Perquín Lenca)
Countryside near Perquín
Memorial garden in El Mozote
Incredible ruins at Joya de Cerén archaeological site (a village buried under volcano ash)
Playgrounds everywhere – this one was at San Ildefonso where we stopped for breakfast on our roadtrip
Mayan ruins at Tazumal
Evidence of new swimming skills!
Mural of El Salvador history at the Dr David J Guzmán National Museum of Anthropology in San Salvador – well worth a visit
Rainy season gets going in El Salvador

Thank you to everyone who has made our time there so special! Special mention to Bill and Jean, Linda and Lou, the hotel and marina staff,  Jaime and family, and… everyone who’s shared pool time, meals, drinks, explorations, bus & dinghy grocery trips, dinghy trips up the estuary, etc etc! ¡Gracias amigos y hasta pronto!

4 thoughts on “How we ended up staying in El Salvador for a few months”

    1. Yes! Perfect combination! And like we’ve said before, it’s amazing how much more writing and research you can get done when you’re not on the move! So glad we stopped for a bit. xx

  1. I LOVE Salvadorean food! Papusa’s….YUM times 100000000. Yuka frita! (Yucca Fries)…delish! So great that Toby is learning to swim 🙂

  2. Wow!! I’m thrilled for each of you that you have this opportunity!
    Slowing down, inland adventures! So good!!

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