Before they get here, visitors might not know quite what to think about El Salvador. The country named “The Savior” by the conquistador who ruled it has been saving itself ever since—from intense poverty, indigenous massacre, a brutal civil war, and the arrival of gang violence.
What El Salvador offers travelers now—aside from its inherent beauty, including Pacific coastline and hulking volcanoes—are lessons on transformation, vibrancy, art, and politics.
Visitors cannot help but be impacted by a nation that has repeatedly resurrected itself. My own romance with El Salvador begins with a key that will open a door to my own personal sanctuary at Sal y Luz, a boutique hotel in the capital of San Salvador.
San Salvador: Harmony at the Sal y Luz boutique hotel
One of the first cultural differences an intense New Yorker notes upon arrival in this Central American nation about the geographic size of the state of New Jersey is that time—like the climate—is a little bit fluid. Fifteen minutes turns into two hours, with detours here and there, just as hot and sunny shifts abruptly to steamy rain. I am just learning to “go with it” when I reach the Sal y Luz (“Salt and Light,” in English).
Staying at the Sal y Luz, with its handful of rooms (none of which are numbered) feels like a retreat at the home of a well-off friend. There is no New York-esque impersonal check-in here. Rather, the manager invites my group to sit for refreshments in the living-room like lobby before she presents us with wooden boxes containing real keys to our quarters, not plastic swipes.
I am assigned the Armonia room. The box is imprinted with a proverb that translates to, “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.” Wise words.
After getting a bit hot and sweaty traipsing about the capital, I already feel more blissful, and I have not even experienced the on-site spa or its restaurant yet. A big dose of tranquility, combined with attentive service (the manager escorts us to our rooms; the chef, informed one evening that I want neither a full-blown entrée nor anything with meat in it, prepares a mushroom-and-herbs dish just for me), make this stay a very positive experience, especially after busy days exploring San Salvador.
Suchitoto: An artistic retreat at Los Almendros de San Lorenzo
El Salvador’s tourism slogan at one time was “the country with a heart.” It also a country with art. After learning how indigo dye is made in the colonial town of Suchitoto, my group is ready to relax for the evening at the aptly named Los Almendros de San Lorenzo, which loosely translates as ‘the almonds of San Lorenzo.’
The 200-year old restored building sits in what was once known as the valley of almonds, and Saint Lorenzo, prior to his martyrdom in the year 258, was known as the keeper of the church’s treasures.
Artistic treasures abound at this boutique hotel, and the owners’ good taste—and the peacefulness generated by the water fountain in the hotel’s lushly planted courtyard—make this visitor wish for a much longer stay. An onsite restaurant and an in-ground pool tempt one to linger even more. Suchitoto is a pedestrian-friendly town filled with charming shops and a vibrant town square.
Concepción de Ataco: Seeing angels at Hotel Misión de Angeles
The brightly colored walls and flowers at Hotel Misión de Angeles in Concepción de Ataco should boost the spirits of any visitor, and if that does not work, the angels will. It should be no surprise that the winged creatures abound at a place named “mission of angels.”
If all else fails, just sit in the courtyard restaurant and bask in the views of the volcano named Chingo, which El Salvador shares with neighboring Guatemala. Savor, too, the sight of coffee farms. Low-hanging morning clouds and crowing roosters make a visit to Hotel Mision de Angeles especially memorable. Angels, volcanoes, earth, and nature make an irresistible combination at this boutique hotel. The colorful murals in the town of Ataco make this an even more worthwhile destination.
IF YOU GO
Tips for Travelers:
- There is so much to see and do in El Salvador that overscheduling is an easy habit to fall into. Try to schedule some downtime. Each of these boutique luxury hotels in El Salvador offers a peaceful sanctuary from the occasionally stressful business of sightseeing.
- Be prepared to enjoy breakfast ‘typico’—some version of eggs, tomato sauce, toast, beans, plantains, and sour cream or white cheese. I had the ‘typico’ at each of these boutique hotels—and each one was slightly different! Other choices are available if this sort of hearty breakfast is not to your liking.
- Coffee lovers, rejoice—unlike some other countries, where all the quality coffee seems to be exported, good beans are available here.
**All photo credits: Lori Tripoli
The author’s trip was sponsored by the government of El Salvador and Avianca airlines.
On GettingOnTravel – Escape to Authentic El Salvador