On Thursday, President Donald Trump questioned why the U.S. was allowing immigrants from “shithole countries” such as El Salvador and Haiti, and not places like Norway. I’ve traveled quite a bit in El Salvador over the years (not so much Haiti or Africa, though this could easily about those places too), and I just wanted to point out how incredible and overlooked this tiny Central American country is.
Just as every country has its problems, El Salvador isn’t all rainbows and rainforests. More than a decade of civil war, instability, and gang violence, much of it caused by poor U.S. policy in the country, has taken a toll and many problems continue to linger. Despite of all of those things, you would be pressed to find a country with friendlier people, with more unspoiled beaches and rainforests, or with such surprising food. Here’s what I mean:
Pupusas, thick corn tortillas, are El Salvador’s most famous street food and can be found everywhere. Usually handmade just before being cooked, pupusas are stuffed with savory fillings like chicharrón, beans, vegetables, or loroco (even pork belly) and then grilled on a comal griddle just before serving. They are usually accompanied by curtido, a spicy cabbage slaw.
El Salvador’s barely touched 200-mile coastline is a short hop from San Salvador and the airport. On a long layover you could make a quick trip to surf spots like Playa El Tunco, Playa Sunzal, or Playa El Zonte. To get more off the beaten path, there’s the fishing village of Los Cóbanos, which is lined with seafood shacks, and Bahía de Jiquilisco, Central America’s largest remaining mangrove forest and coastal estuary. For sprawling modern resorts head to the Costa del Sol, arguably the country’s best beach.
While you could always find great surf bungalows and beach resorts, the brand new Puro Surf Hotel is setting a new bar in El Salvador. Located near El Zonte’s best waves, the clifftop, 13-room hotel designed by the team at Hemisferios, which is lead by Javier Cristiani, with interiors from Harry and Claudia Washington, hosts an elite surf school, yoga classes, skate park, and eclectic restaurant Covana Kitchen.
With traditional foods like pacalla (breaded and fried palm flowers), various types of tamales, and semita (coffee cake with guava jam), the cuisine of El Salvador holds much to be discovered. While fast food and international chains were once seen as a sign of progress within El Salvador’s culinary scene, a new wave of young chefs is helping create true contemporary Salvadoran cuisine. Pop-up restaurant Raíz, eclectic Merkato, and soulful Boca Boca in San Salvador, as well as Covana Kitchen in El Zonte on the Pacific Coast, have been actively exploring the country’s native ingredients to create some of Central America’s most interesting food.
Coffee has been one of El Salvador’s major exports for more than a century, but in recent years the quality has risen dramatically. Beans grown on the hillsides of the Santa Ana Volcano or from regions like El Balsamo Quezaltepec, Tecapa Chinameca, and Apaneca Ilamatepec. Varietals like Bourbon, Pacas, Pacamara, Caturra, Catuai, and Catisic grown in El Salvador are often sought after by top roasters like Stumptown. Additionally, San Salvador has a thriving cafe culture with specialty coffee shops and roasters like 4 Monkeys, Aureola Coffee, Biscuit Factory, and Café La Casona.