Welcome to a brand new edition of Reader’s Q & A!
I am very fortunate and grateful to receive many messages on a daily basis from my readers from around the world via Direct Message either on Twitter, Facebook or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This has been going on for the past 4 years and all I can say is THANK YOU, keep the mail coming 🙂 I sincerely love reading from you and it really surprises me to find out how far my blog posts are read which totally motivates me to keep going!
Now just a few days ago I received one that made me smile and flattered me since it is something I believe it deserves an answer that is much more than 140 characters or a few paragraphs in a separate email.
You know me, I just LOVE writing. The blog is just the tip of the iceberg, I could write on and on but since attention span on the net is short, so I just decided to be as brief as possible.
Here is the Reader’s Question (Actual email and published with permission).
I came across your blog while doing travel research on El Salvador. I’m currently traveling in Mexico with the hopes to venture south through Central America. I’m also Salvadoran, my father was born and raised there but has lived in the United States for the past 35+ years. I very much want to visit the country and learn about my roots and the culture.
My concern is the safety, as there are many mixed messages in the media. I am traveling with another female and a small dog in a truck camper. I am also fluent in Spanish.
I see that you have traveled quite a bit in El Salvador and wanted to get your opinion on its safety, particularly driving through the country. Any advice is greatly appreciated!
I would like to say gracias, thank you so much for taking the time to write me from the road and I am honored to be considered as a valuable source of information 🙂
First of all I wanted to give you a virtual *high 5* for being bold and travel around Mexico! You are very courageous and I am sure you must have experienced awesome Mexican hospitality and admired the beauty of the Aztec country!
It makes me very happy to learn that you also have some Salvadoran roots! I understand your concerns about safety, especially as a young woman. Worry not. Let me share with you why I would still advise you to go to the smallest country in Central America.
As you are very well aware, there are so many insecure places around the world. Particularly where you are right now, Mexico and Central America. Necessity makes people do the unthinkable and unfortunately that makes the rest of the population live in fear or be on their guard, all the time! It is pretty sad but this is reality. This however does not stop the world from turning and you simply have to keep pressing forward and live life because there is only one and you must live it to the max. Trust me on that.
I traveled to El Salvador for the first time, all by myself when I was 15 and I worked very hard for it (as well as for any other trip I’ve ever taken since then!).
To be honest with you, that was one of the best things I’ve EVER done! Being disciplined and fearless is something I am now quite grateful.
I always knew that being a young female would be a bit more difficult but before leaving I did get in touch with immediate family members who offered to show me around which they did.
Now being the restless and curious individual I am, I did not stay still for long. I asked them to rent a van so that my cousins and I could get to different places I always wanted to visit such as San Andrés Ruins, Beaches on La Costa del Sol, Volcán de Izalco, pristine Coatepeque Lake etc.
The natural beauty, friendly locals at destination, the FOOD, music and just that sense of freedom have kept me going back for more, much more!
In fact I have been back at least 6 times since then and the past 2 have been quite memorable since I got to explore more of the country with my parents (they know that I am the rebel child, the adventurous soul of the family and discovering some corners of their native country for the first time was just priceless. Yes I am a bad kid 😉
Here are some tips for your next trip
- In spite of all the negative news you see on TV and people talking negatively about it, take the necessary precautions before you go. Again, I may sound like a broken record (and highly recommend it to travelers) here when I say, BUY INSURANCE, whether personal or material. It immediately covers you from anything that you may need for the time you will be in the country. Don’t take any chances, it’s better to have a policy than not having one and need it.
- You are going to explore the country and you will face all different kinds of people on the road. It can be quite a wild ride but if you go with the flow you should be fine. Make sure you travel on main roads, highways and don’t venture out in small roads. If possible don’t carry anything that has a lot of value. It is better if you leave it where you will be staying and if there is closed parking or a guard on duty, even better. I traveled for a month with family, friends and a private driver. Fortunately nothing happened as the vehicle was insured and there was nothing to take anyway. I always go with a strong conviction that we are protected and everything goes very well. A positive mindset is very important. What you think you attract on to you, or so is my belief!
- Create a plan or trace an itinerary of all the places you would like to visit. If you say you are entering the country from the Guatemalan border, then you can go from East to West, but there is so much to see and do that it’d be helpful to pin point all the places according to their location.
- My strategy is the following: I take a map and I look for the town that is the furthest away from my home base (which is normally the capital, San Salvador). Then I look up for accommodations as you want to stay overnight and not be out on the road late at night (again for security reasons)
- Go and explore!
The Ministry of Tourism has created several routes across the country depending of your interests. Here are some I have visited and are totally worth exploring:
In case you want to learn more about Mayan culture, this is one of most stunning sacred sites I’ve visited. There are others nearby, including Joya de Cerén which is a Unesco World Heritage site.
If you want to visit the art center of the country, then you must visit the colorful and vibrant town of La Palma which is very close to the Honduran border. It is such a delight for the eyes, heart and soul. Want to paint your own souvenirs to bring back home? Stop by a taller or workshop where you will be able to do so 🙂
El Salvador is blessed with the Pacific Coast and you will find incredible black sand, golden sand and even white sand beaches!
If you are a beach lover and love surfing, you will have plenty of options. Who doesn’t love a day of rest and relaxation under the sun 🙂
Once you arrive in this quaint town, you are transported back in time. Walk through its cobble stone streets and learn all about the history and the role it played.
Watch skilled workers weave bright, colorful textiles right before your eyes and the best part? They use traditional tools and not industrial machinery. It is a lesson you soon won’t forget!
As you can see there is so much to do that you will need to plan everything so that you can maximize your time.
As a photographer it was pure joy to be able to capture so many magical moments and was fascinated by all that I learned (especially the stories I was told).
What I loved the most is hearing it straight from the people who do it with so much passion. Which leads to the next point.
- Talk to the locals
Let me tell you something. In all of my adventures around the globe, I learned a very valuable and important lesson.
Whenever I am somewhere, I always ask tons of questions. Yes I am THAT inquisitive person who wants to know A LOT so I am not afraid to ask the waiter at the restaurant, the taxi driver, the owner of a bakery, the person preparing my coffee, an artist at work, the clerk at the tourist information center or guides (at a sacred site for instance). It helps me get information you will never find in any guide-book!
If you don’t ask you’ll never know right? Well ask away! Locals will be more than happy to answer your questions and if they don’t know they have no problem in saying “I don’t know but let me find out for you”. As a writer I love to gather as much info as possible because that helps me write better stories after I return home and it adds up. I always carry a notepad or make mental notes as I go along!
I’ve met some of the most incredible people on my journeys and believe it or not, I’m still in contact with many of them after all these years. How? They looked for me on Facebook. See I must have been so bad that they did take the time to search until they found me!
You will leave with unforgettable memories that you will associate with your visit to the country!
- Last but not least, enjoy your stay to the max!
There’s no need for me to say this but instead of looking over your shoulder and constantly think of what can happen, just LIVE THE MOMENT!
We only have one life to live and life is a one-time show. Do not worry about what can happen in the next minute, hour, day, tomorrow, next week.
As they say, life is not measured by the breaths you take but by moments that take your breath away!
Say if you stand at the edge of the crater of a volcano
Watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean
Any special moment you will create (and I am sure you will and many of them).
Overall I just say go with an open mind, trust that everything will go great, smile to Salvadorans, they have been through so much and still are but they are kind-hearted, welcoming and they will help you in any way they possibly can. I have seen it first hand and helped me be more humble and not complain about my life.
It will be an important and life-changing experience that will make you appreciate your family history and maybe, just maybe, you will want to go back on more than one occasion!
As for me, well I have already started planning my next adventure and there is still so much that I want to see and do (coffee tour, volunteering, going to Barra de Santiago, hiking at Walter Deninger National Park, surfing in La Unión etc.) Only time will tell!
I hope my tips will encourage you or anyone reading this to visit the heart of Central America.
If you still have questions, do not be afraid to ask them and if you do end up going, please update me and send pics!
Te deseo felices viajes, many happy travels.
Tashi Delek, all the best