Unbearable Heat and Phenomenal Food (El Salvador)

From León, we had to decide if we wanted to cut across to the Caribbean once again or go straight north through El Salvador. While we had heard many great things about the Bay Islands in Honduras, we had already been to the San Blas Islands in Panama and the Corn Islands in Nicaragua. We made the decision to stay on the Pacific Coast until we reached Guatemala.

We still had to cross through Honduras but there really isn’t much to see west of Copan. Instead, we opted to spend a few days in El Salvador – a tiny country left out of most traveler’s itineraries (and originally, not one we planned on visiting). To get there we had to cross two borders (Nicaragua/Honduras and Honduras/El Salvador) and from other blogs, read the journey takes between 20 and 50 hours via multiple chicken buses and likely involved spending a night in some middle-of-nowhere border town: not appealing. We decided to bite the bullet and book an expensive shuttle. This turned out to be a great decision as we flew through Honduras covering more ground in our 9 hour journey than we had since South America; only reminding us how incredibly slow and inefficient the chicken-bus system of Central America really is.

El Salvador’s tourism industry has organized the country into routes – “Ruta de las Playas” (The Route of Beaches), “Ruta de las Flores” (The Route of Flowers), “Ruta de las Artesians” (The Route of Artisans), and “Ruta de la Paz” (The Route of Peace). In our short time we decided to check out the beaches and “Ruta de las Flores” simply because the town of Juayua has a food festival every weekend.

Our shuttle dropped us off at El Tunco beach. This little surf town unfortunately wasn’t as breezy as we had hoped and the heat was deathly. The hostel we had booked, “Sunzal Point Surfers Retreat Lodge,” was a bit of a walk from the small town along the highway. Normally, it would be accessible by a short walk on the black-sand beaches; however, a recent swell had taken all the sand out to sea and left the beach covered in rocks making it extremely difficult to walk along.

We went into town with the plan of grabbing lunch and buying groceries but the heat got the best of us – I felt too sick to do anything and could barely eat let alone contemplate cooking. There also wasn’t much of a grocery store. One thing we did notice was El Salvador is cheap, very cheap. We hopped on a bus back for 0.25$ which beat walking in the heat.

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Sunset at the rocky El Tunco beach

For the next day and a half we did pretty much the equivalent of nothing. We chilled in the hammocks during the day hiding from the heat of the sun and ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at a café across the road from where we were staying. We got extremely lucky with this place “Sharky’s” as it not only offered quality meals, it was dirt cheap and had a lovely sitting area upstairs with views of the ocean and WiFi.

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Our surfing hostel in El Tunco complete with plenty of boards and lots of hammocks

After two nights in El Tunco, we left early on a 6AM chicken bus and it only took four hours (two buses) to get to Juayua. This left us all day Saturday and Sunday to gorge out at the food festival. Thankfully, Juayua is situated at a higher altitude and thus was a bit cooler.

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Our relaxed and chilled out hostel in Juayua

We weren’t quite sure what to expect from the food festival but we were definitely impressed when we got there. We saw barely any tourists, save the few at the same hostel as us – the town was flooded with Salvadorans from all over the country visiting for the weekend. The food itself was incredible – every stall is competing against the next for customers. All the stalls have a similar selection of dishes although each one tries to add their own unique touch. In the past, iguana was served as a specialty but thankfully they now respect that iguanas are on the endangered species list.

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Tents, tables and chairs all set up for the weekend food festival – packed with Salvadorans from all over the country

After sampling steak, chicken and even rabbit from a dozen stalls we were starving and settled on a large plate of steak, corn patties, grilled green onions, skewers prawns, two pieces of chorizo sausage and rice. After we finished we had to resist getting more and instead agreed to returning the following day.

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In the afternoon, Dan got his hair cut at a local barber. Since we entered Central America, we’ve noticed it’s very clear that men care a lot about their hair. The average guy must get a hair cut once a week to keep it looking clean-cut at all times. This is affordable as it only costs $1 to $2 USD for a cut. To make the look extra defined, the hairdresser shaves along behind the ears and along the back of the neck creating dead-straight lines.

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Shaving behind Dan’s ear with a razor blade.

Other than the food festival, Juayua is known for its waterfalls. We had been forewarned that the main waterfall was a popular spot with locals on weekends so we left early in the morning to walk there. Our hostel gave us directions but failed to mention it was a steep gravel road (down-hill) and not a path. Our flip-flops didn’t do that great, but we made it after about 30 minutes. Upon arrival, we were pointed through a “do not enter” gate at a utility plant by some locals selling drinks.

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Entrance to the waterfalls in Juayua…

There were multiple waterfalls, all beautiful, and all crowded with people; however, the locals added to the ambiance in this case. The main feature was the first waterfall which included a beautiful infinity pool. A lot of the pool and waterfall looked like it was man-made from concrete quite a few years back. The whole complex is part of a hydro-electric plant and rumour has it that you can swim through intake pipes from waterfall to waterfall but should be careful as some lead back to turbines.

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On the way back we cheated and took a tuk-tuk taxi up the gravel road, excited to return to the food festival. After a quick shower, we gorged out once again at the food festival Sunday afternoon. Following our food plates we sipped on fresh Piña Coladas out of the pineapple our drink was made from!

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For more photos of El Tunco, check out our Flickr Album.

For more photos of Juyua, check out our Flickr Album.

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