Tue, Jan 29, 2013
Buy a ticket. Board a plane. Hit the beach before sunset. Here's El Salvador for beginners.
El Salvador, once devastated by civil war and years of upheaval, has its travel mojo working. Tourism is about to become the country’s rainmaker.
While El Salvador is perhaps a decade away from reaching the hospitality infrastructure of Costa Rica, its natural gifts will sustain growth until then. And so will those who look at the nonstop flights from D.C. to San Salvador and quickly realize they can find themselves riding waves or exploring forest sanctuaries inside of five hours.
When winter pesters your face and leaves you craving some sun-drenched vitamin D, think of these lures.
Make waves. More than 190 miles of coastline and a tepid Pacific should make novice and grizzled surfers alike think twice before booking a week at another Central American surf haunt—the beaches here compete superbly. Even if your wave-riding chops are more Kelly Clarkson than Kelly Slater, the Punta Roca area of coastal La Libertad, only 30 minutes from San Salvador, will make you look like a semi-skilled longboarder. The water here delivers some of the best point breaks—longer waves that are uniform and easier to ride—in the Americas. The open-air bars and one-buck cervezas don’t hurt either. Other beaches to strike: El Zonte, El Sunzal and El Tunco.
Rest from the Pacific waves. Hostels and glorified huts dot the hills near some of the beaches, but there are some excellent choices for those who want a little luxury with their point breaks. One of the best is Casa De Mar (casademarhotel.com), a beachside spot (villas, suites, thatched roofs) with active clientele. Best package—three guided surf trips to hidden spots, two yoga or Pilates sessions and two deep-tissue massages ($310).
Seek peace in the woods. El Salvador’s civil war imprints the country, even in the Cinquera Rain Forest Park that rises above the hamlet of Cinquera, a ghost town during the war. Since the 1992 peace treaty, the residents have trickled back and now proudly show off their backyard. Eco-tourists will savor the orchids, ferns and trails that climb to 1,148 feet above sea level.
Venture to an archaeological hot spot. You’re thinking, “A dusty dig, really?”
Really. UNESCO World Heritage site Joya de Céren is a remarkably preserved snapshot of a Mesoamerican Mayan community from the 6th century A.D.—like Pompeii, it was buried in a volcanic eruption. It’s compact, a little eerie and