El Salvador flies under the radar of tourists' attention relative to its neighbors. NY based El Salvadoran native, art world heavyweight, and El Salvador's Ambassador on Special Mission for Cultural Affairs, Carolina Alvarez-Mathies, shares why El Salvador should be on every world traveler's bucket list. And we lay out what to wear in its tropical climate including SOÜF cedar hand-carved clutches, designed by El Salvadoran designer Sofia Avila. Uncover it for yourself before the crowds descend en masse.
Why should El Salvador be on every traveler’s bucket list?
From city life with it’s hustle and bustle, dining, museums, and markets, to mountains and volcanoes to hike, plantations and rainforest terrain to explore, a lake inside a volcanic crater surrounded by majestic hills, archaeological sites (one of which is considered the Pompeii of the Americas), and beaches ranked amongst the top 5 in the world for surf, El Salvador has a lot to offer for a wide variety of interests. Plus, it’s small size, yet great diversity make it an ideal travel location. Many people speak English and our official currency is the US dollar.
Above all what makes us stand out is our people, Salvadorans are warm and extremely hospitable, so don't be surprised if you come back with lifelong friends.
(photo by Nicholas Prakas)
If you were to advise a friend traveling solo or with family where to go during a two week trip to El Salvador for varied, authentic experiences, where would you advise her to visit?
There is so much to see, but here are my top destinations
SAN SALVADORSan Salvador’s high energy is definitely the way to get started.
Arts: visit MARTE, the arts museum which has the most comprehensive collection of Salvadoran works from early days to modern and contemporary. After seeing it have lunch at the museum’s restaurant, Punto, it's a popular destination for locals. Then take a trip to the artisanal market nearby to look at local crafts and purchase souvenirs.
Tell us about the emerging art (painting, sculpture, drawing, music, literature, dance, theatre, etc) coming out of El Salvador.
There is a wealth of talent in El Salvador. Specifically I have been working with contemporary Salvadoran artists for a few years now. I sit on the Council of Y.ES Contemporary, El Salvador’s leading contemporary arts foundation. On our website you can find a nice roster of artists both living and working in El Salvador to ones in diaspora. The best way to view the work is to visit the exhibition I mentioned above at MARTE, it will give the best and most comprehensive view of the contemporary art scene.
Some names to watch are Gabriela Novoa, Crack Rodriguez, Orlando Villatoro, Abigail Reyes, Melissa Guevara, Guadalupe Maravilla (formally Irvin Morazan, NY based) and Nadie. Then there are of course our pioneers and more established contemporary artists like Ronald Moran, Mayra Barraza, and Walterio.
History & Architecture: Visit downtown for recently restored buildings. El Rosario Church is not to be missed, the National Theatre, the Municipal Palace, and Los Ilustres Cemetery.
El Rosario Church
Nature & a View: Visit El Boqueron Park, is located on top of the San Salvador Volcano at 5,905 feet. It's a 15min drive from the city center. Hike, explore and enjoy the views. Sunsets are gorgeous there. On your way down stop at La Pampa, for food and drinks. They have a stunning terrace with the best city views.
El Boqueron Park
WHAT TO WEAR
Nico Urban Hotel
When you are entering the city from the airport there is a place right on the road called Olocuilta, its dozens of pupuserias lined up next to each other. Try a pupusa made with rice flour, they’re delicious and unique to that post.
In the city there is a municipality called Antiguo Cuscatlan, they have so many pupuerias there too. Try pupusas with with salsa and curtido. My favorites aside from the classic cheese ones are: beans and cheese, revueltas (pork, beans, cheese), and ones with cheese and loroco (a vine native to El Salvador).
WHAT TO WEAR
"Traveling to undiscovered terrains has been to date some of my most rewarding experiences."
A must visit in El Salvador, nestled inside a volcanic crater, this lake is one of the countries most precious gems. On your way there make sure you stop by our country's most precious archaeological site, Joyas de Ceren.
Book at Cardedeu Residences. It’s located right on the lake and its boutique apart-hotel service make it the ideal place to stay. For sunset or dining out, visit Restaurante Solsticio.
WHAT TO WEAR
Black sand beaches ranked amongst the top 5 surf spots in the world...
Besides the obvious, I would highly recommend taking a day trip to a colonial town near the city!
It appears that despite El Salvador’s rich indigenous history, the traditions are dying out. Are there any efforts being made to preserve them? And if so where can visitors access them in country? Are there festivals, markets, concerts, etc visitors can attend to see them in action (without being disrespectful by being onlookers or participants)?
Most definitely, Nahuat, the language of the pre columbian inhabitants of El Salvador is in a quite precarious condition. It is estimated that only about 300 people speak it fluently to date. The national university is now offering courses in Nahuat as an aim to preserve it and there are a few entities working with the indigenous community in that same effort. Artists have been instrumental in this same space, a great example is the work of Mauricio Kabistan. Kabistan presented a piece on Nahuat titled 1932 at the Latin American Pavilion during the 2014 Venice Biennale.
To see pre-Columbian towns and the traditions that accompany them like clay working, weaving, artisanal candy making and such visit a number of towns like Panchimalco (nahuatl), Ilobasco, Suchitoto, Apaneca and Juayua.
Puro Surf is a brand new hotel meets surf academy that's probably my favorite spot in El Salvador right now. The amenities and rooms are ultra chic. Plus surf classes are available for all ages and groups. I also admire their social conscience and community programming.
Another great boutique hotel, probably better suited for adults is a beautiful cliff side locale called BBoqutique Hotel. The property has one of La Libertad's most popular eateries, La Hola Betos. It’s a must for ceviches and other seafood.