Why Cuba is my favorite travel destination

Cuba is one of my favorite destinations ever. Here’s my reasons why you must explore Cuba. Have you ever been somewhere and for some reason, you don’t understand why, but it just feels right? That place for me was Havana, Cuba. 

the streets of havana, travel to cuba
The streets of Havana

Havana has an indescribable magic

I’ve been a tad obsessed with Havana since I watched Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights about 15 years ago. And since then, I promised myself I’d celebrate a milestone event in Havana. So, in February I visited Havana for the first time to celebrate my 30th birthday. I struggled to get time off work, I was working in a hotel in Whistler and February is smack-bang in the middle of their busy season.

But, I was beyond determined. Before I knew it me and Paul were jetting off for two weeks to explore Cuba – my dream destination!

gritty streets of havana
A neighborhood outside Havana

Why I love Havana

Anyway, back to Havana’s magic. Havana’s not perfect, in fact its kind of dirty and gritty. The buildings are grand but crumbling and the light here is epic it’s honestly like walking through a very pretty Instagram feed. The Cubans leave their doors wide open. They sit on their front step chatting to their neighbours. Their kids run barefoot on the street.

The Malecon at dusk is the best place in the world. There’s a passion, a resilience about the city kind of like an eff you to the non-believers. Yes our buildings are crumbling our streets are dusty but we’re here and we’re dancing in the streets. I’ve thought about Havana every day since I’ve returned. I guess you’re beginning to understand better why you must explore Cuba. Especially before it changes forever!

Why not READ NEXT | 17 of our favourite places in the whole world

havana at night, havana street art
Havana at dusk

Cuba is a difficult country to travel around

In Cuba, nothing is easy. We were silly and landed in Varadero airport at 5am in the morning with no accomodation booked. We thought there would be touts selling hotels, or a public bus waiting to take us to the city. Or at least a taxi rank. There was none of that, so, we stood there like silly fools. Until, we found a taxi in the carpark with a sleeping driver and convinced him to take us to an all-inclusive resort which I had thankfully screen-shotted a photo of on my phone.

We arrived at the resort and the receptionist looked at us like we we had two heads when we told her we didn’t have a reservation. But thankfully they had one room left! We paid in cash and I honestly don’t think anyone other than her and the night porter knew we were staying there. See, nothing is easy here, but it works.

Public transport in Cuba – what to expect

We had a horrible bus experience from Vinales to Trinidad, which took 2 hours longer than we were told. It was basically an old prison truck with plastic deck chairs as seats. There were lots of older couples on the journey who clearly paid a lot more than we did. In these situations (like many others) during our time in Cuba you have to just laugh and get through it.

local cubans in havana
The streets of Havana

You will never fully understand Cuba

I think as tourists it’s easy ignore the struggles of being a Cuban, especially if you stay at an all-inclusive resort. On our last day of vacation, we spoke at length with a Cuban girl at a street stall in Varadero. She told us she can’t leave Cuba. Well not easily anyway, she has family in Miami and in order for her to visit them she has to apply for permission from the Cuban government. Her family then must support her application – through sending a letter to the government saying they will host her and ensure she returns to Cuba. She told us that Cubans are the most educated in the Caribbean and she is fluent in 7 languages. She is also studying a Masters in Marine Biology.

She told us that she works at the stall solely to send money home to her parents in rural Cuba who are looking after her children for her. She visits them once every 3 months because she works 7 days a week. She told us that she’s met an older Canadian man while working at the stall and is tempted to marry him as a way out.

In her hand was an old iPhone and when she saw me looking, she told us her family in Miami gifted it to her and it is the most important thing she owns. She told us in every election as long as she’s been alive there’s just been one candidate – Fidel Castro or more recently his brother Raul. 

cuban boxing club havana
Local Cuban boxers in Havana

There’s limited or no internet in Cuba

Cuba is probably one of the last remaining destinations you can trully ‘switch off’. To access the internet you queue at an Etecsa store (each town has at least one store). Show them your passport, pay the fee and they will issue you with an internet card. These cards can last from 30 minutes up to a few hours. 

FYI – in some large hotels they sell these cards at reception.

Next the fun begins, because you must find a WiFi spot. Which are nearly always NOT outside the Etecsa store in which you just bought the internet card. See, I told you nothing is easy in Cuba. I think we used the internet a whole two hours on our two week vacation. Which was honestly so refreshing.

artist painting on havana cuba street
A street artist in Trinidad

Okay okay enough about my deep love for Cuba and moving onto the cool things you can do here. Havana has in my opinion the best nightclub in the world, and the beaches in Cuba are honestly like something from a fancy travel brochure.

Below are my favorite activities to do in Cuba. PIN the below image for later if you don’t have time to read it now.

Visit Fabrica de Arte – the best night-club in the world

Its called Fabrica de Arte Cubano and it’s so much more than a night club. Contained within an old cooking oil factory. ‘Fabrica’ as it’s known to locals is an art gallery, a live music venue, a restaurant and a street food stall. It has a variety of music rooms playing different genres. The best thing is that you get a stamp card upon entry and when you buy a drink or even food your server simply stamps the card and you pay for what you consumed when you exit. Brilliant. No unnecessary queues at the bar.

When, we visited the Havana Orchestra played and I cried, it was magic. I can’t describe how amazing this place is, it is definitely my top recommendation for Havana. And another huge reason why you must explore Cuba!

colourful houses in havana

The beaches in Varadero are the prettiest I’ve ever seen

Just a photo here is enough explanation I think. The whitest sand, the bluest water and the beach in the town of Varadero itself is never busy. This is because most tourists tend to use the beaches at their all-inclusive resorts.

varadero beach cuba
Varadero Playa

Cuba is the home of Mojitos and Cuban cigars

If those two things aren’t enough to convince you I don’t know what else to say. If on your vacation you have time to visit a tobacco farm plantation in the town of Vinales, then I highly recommend you do so. We did a guided horse-backing tour to the plantations, organised by our Casa Particular.

cigar farm vinales cuba
Tobacco farm tour in Vinales

Don’t make your mind up on first impressions

I know a lot of the things I’ve written here may turn some people off. Yes, it’s a complicated country with a sad past that has obviously greatly affected the Cuban people. Sure, it’s a difficult country to get around with public transport options not being very reliable. Everything about Cuba is not easy. But that’s what makes it so fascinating!

There is nowhere in the world like Cuba

But there’s no place in the world like it, it’s like stepping back in time. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks. Damn you’d be hard-pressed to find a grocery store in the capital Havana. As I mentioned there’s either no or very slow internet. The transport system sucks. It’s a country of vast contrasts from the white sand and palm trees of Varadero to the steamy dusty colourful streets of Havana. Music is very important here, people dance in the streets in broad daylight. 

Here are 10 more persuasive reasons why you need to visit Cuba pronto!

The bars in Havana are not really bars at all. It’s like sitting in someones living room. Cuba is a confusing jigsaw puzzle but somehow all the pieces fit together perfectly. And that’s why for me Cuba is the most fascinating and memorable destination I’ve visited yet. And all the above reasons and more are why you need to explore Cuba!

*Tell Me? Have I convinced you to explore Cuba? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Cuba is one of my favourite destinations ever. I haven't stopped thing about Cuba since I've returned. Here's my reasons why you must travel to Cuba.
Cuba is one of my favourite destinations ever. I haven't stopped thing about Cuba since I've returned. Here's my reasons why you must travel to Cuba.

Strolling through Havana, Cuba

For my 30th birthday last month, I fulfilled a lifelong dream to visit Havana, Cuba. I’ve been fascinated (some may say obsessed) with this city ever since I watched ‘Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights’ 15 years ago. Without ever visiting the country, Cuba seemed to me to have an energy incomparable to anywhere else in the world. It seemed exotic, unexplored, complicated and frozen in time. Spending two weeks here did not disappoint, in fact, it left me wanting more.

   An Instagrammer’s dream: The famous Prado Street, Havana

“Lives lived out in the open” That’s what Cuba is. Walking down the street in Havana, you’ll notice everyone leaves their front door open. Peer inside and you’ll see anything from an old lady cooking over an open stove to teenagers sitting in the living room listening to latina rap. Neighbours sit on their front step chatting animatedly. Nobody seems to spend any time indoors, no TV’s really, definitely no internet. It’s a great way to live don’t you think? So unashamed and open and without modern day distractions.

A typical street scene in Havana Central

 

An old car and even older buildings. This is Havana.

Below is possibly my favourite photo of the trip. This is exactly what it looks like to walk down every street in Havana, Cuba – kind of a chaotic, colourful, beautiful mess. And I cannot stress how important it is to visit Cuba now before THIS changes forever.

Havana, Cuba

“Timeworn but magnificent, dilapidated but dignified, fun yet maddeningly frustrating – Cuba is a country of indefinable magic.” 

 

The simple life amidst the chaos of Havana

“For me, Cuba has always had the allure a forbidden fruit. I love it for its uniqueness, creativity and survivalist spirit; but, above all, I love it because, despite 60 years of setbacks, it remains an upbeat and open place.”

El Gimnasio Rafael Trejo                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The guy on the left boxed for Cuba n the Beijing Olympics

I’ve been back from Cuba over three weeks now and I’m starting to think that it may be one of my favourite countries in the world. The things that frustrated me while I was there, are now I realize, what makes it unique and unforgettable. There’s no place like it, it’s got an energy like no other. It’s like stepping into a time machine and being transported back to the 1950s. But change is simmering below the surface, Cuba will change, it may not be tomorrow, it may not even be next year, but it will happen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again  – visit Cuba NOW before it’s too late.

Sunset hour in Parque Central                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Exploring the streets of Havana at night                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

Have you ever visited Havana, Cuba? What did you think? Drop me a comment below.                                                                                                                                                                                            Psst: you can also read more about our trip to Cuba here

10 reasons to visit Guatemala



10 reasons to visit Guatemala, a cultural gem in Central America. With helpful tips to help you get the most out of your trip. Plus lots of pretty pictures. So, what are you waiting for – read on for your daily dose of travel inspiration!

1. To visit one of our favourite cities in the world

Antigua, is like something from a movie. It’s a small city less than an hour outside Guatemala City with breathtaking views of volcanoes in almost every direction. The town itself is Spanish-colonial style with cobble-stoned streets. Both quirky and rustic with a little hint of danger, because those stunning volcanoes you can see from almost every direction are notoriously active.

We stayed in Antigua for a week but could have stayed for much longer. But Antigua also attracts a hell of a lot of tourists so try to avoid travelling there in peak periods like spring break or the months of July and August. After all, Antigua is one of the main reasons tourists come to Guatemala.

10 reasons to visit Guatemala
Local ladies in Antigua

2. To stay in one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever stayed at

In a teeny-tiny village close to Tikal, we stayed at one of the most unique and memorable hotels we’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at. Posada del Cerro is designed like a treehouse, overlooking Lake Peten Itza. It looked like it had been constructed by Mother Nature herself. We stayed in a suite, which was essentially a massive balcony with a bed and the best view of the lake. There was no door to the suite, and the bed was simply covered by a massive mosquito net to keep the bugs away.

It was a 15 minute walk to the village, so we ate at the hotels restaurant every night. When I say restaurant –  it was essentially a local lady who came in and cooked you a meal from whatever local produce came in that day. It was to-die-for every time.

lake atitlan, guatemala
Lake Atitlan viewpoint

3. To explore the spectacular Tikal

Our trip to Central America, involved viewing A LOT of Mayan ruins. There’s tons of them. But none as spectacular and awe-inspiring as Tikal. The photo speaks for itself, I don’t think I need to harp on about how amazing it is. It’s as simple as this – if you’re in or near Guatemala MAKE SURE to visit Tikal.

Tikal Sunrise: Camping at Tikal Guatemala - Tales of a Backpacker
Photo: Getty Images

4. To feel ‘zen’ at Lake Atitlan

There’s a lot of hippies on Lake Atitlan, can I say that? Okay, Lake Atitlan attracts a lot of ‘individual’ individuals, particularly the lakeside towns of San Pedro and San Marco. There’s a lot of harem pants and friendship bracelets within sight. We really enjoyed our time here, the food was magnificent – in particular The Blue Parrot and  Idea Connection It’s also a fantastic place to learn Spanish, a lot of other backpackers we met were doing home-stays to brush up on their Spanish.

Please DON’T swim in the lake. Its pretty to look at, for sure, but admire it’s beauty from afar. Lake Atitlan alone is a great reason to visit Guatemala.

lake atitlan, guatemala
The view from our hotel in Lake Atitlan

5. To feel like Crocodile Dundee on the Rio Dulce

We stayed on the Rio Dulce, like right on the river, the only way in and out was by speedboat. The river itself is apparently infested with Crocodiles and the owner told us numerous stories of him waking up to a Crocodile sunbathing on the deck. The owner Gary is a true blue Australian and has brought a very distinctive Australian vibe to the hostel, he’s even named it Hotel Kangaroo. You can’t get much more Australian than that. He and his Mexican wife run a great show here and they are full of ideas of what to do and what not to do in Guatemala. It’s a do-not-miss, that’s for sure.

rio dulce, guatemala
Local wildlife in Tikal
lake peten itza, guatemala
Swinging into Lake Peten Itza

6. It’s cheap as chips!

Cheaper than chips in fact. Guatemala is well-known in the backpacker community for being an extremely reasonable destination. Budget travellers flock here in droves, generally during the Summer months of May to July. A hotel room can cost as little as $20 a night, especially in Lake Atitlan and Flores, it can be slightly more costly in Antigua, however, especially during any school or public holidays. A meal here averages $5. A bus journey varies from $1 to $15 depending on whether you’re willing to take a chicken bus or a luxury tour coach.

Cheap & cheerful – one of the better reasons to visit Guatemala!

volcano, antigua, guatemala
A view of one of the volcano’s in Guatemala

7. Indulge in a slice of the Carribean on Livingston island

An hour or so boat ride from Rio Dulce, is the Carribean island of Livingston. Truthfully, it’s still part of Guatemala, but an island off the mainland, and it couldn’t be more different to the distinctly Mayan culture of the rest of the country. Stepping of the boat is like stepping onto Jamaican soil. The locals are of African descent and speak creole. Seafood is served in abundance here. It’s definitely worth the boat journey to see this unique side to Guatemala.

livingstone, guatemala
Hammock-life in Livingston

8. Experience ‘true’ Guatemala at the Chichicastenango markets

Colour, colour, everywhere. ‘Chichi’ as it’s affectionately known by locals is for me what I imagined Guatemala to be before I even set foot in the country. Smells of fresh flowers, meats and fresh fruit waft through the air. It’s jam-packed with locals carrying textiles on their heads and tourists touting cameras. It’s exciting and stressful at the same time, as anyone who’s been to a market in Central America will attest to.

You can find yourself a great bargain too, we enjoyed bartering with the friendly locals who own the stalls. For most of them, this is a major source of their income, so be nice. We’re told they drive up from the neighboring villages the night before and sleep in their stalls, before getting up at dawn to prepare.

chichicastenango market, guatemala
Chichicastanengo markets

9. Live on the edge on a chicken bus

When I say ‘live on the edge’ I literally mean it, because you might be spending the entire journey on the edge of your seat. We have lots of funny stories from riding chicken buses in Guatemala, on one trip there was a bag full of alive squawking chickens at the back of the bus that kept attempting to fly at the window. The buses themselves are essentially old American school buses but the bus drivers customize their buses so they look like something from Pimp my Ride and the Latin music is always blaring. All this together with the very-chatty locals you definitely won’t be getting any sleep on one, that’s for sure.

chicken bus, guatemala
A typical chicken bus in Guatemala

10. To find your backpacking groove

The familiar backpacking stomping ground of Guatemala is the perfect destination to start your descent or ascent (however you want to look at it) into backpacking. Guatemala is westernized enough to still feel comfortable, there’s lots of transport options, lots of hotels and hostels in all the major towns and lots of other backpackers for you to socialize with. But go off the beaten track and you will find a side to Guatemala so unique and mesmerizing that you may not want to veer back onto the well-traveled backpacker trail again. Again, this is another one of the great reasons to visit Guatemala!

I feel that two weeks is the ideal amount of time to spend in Guatemala, this two week itinerary for Guatemala includes all the must-see places.

antigua, guatemala
Viewpoint over the town of Antigua

Tell me – what did you think of our 10 reasons to visit Guatemala?

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10 reasons to visit Guatemala, a cultural gem in Central America. With helpful tips to help you get the most out of your trip. Plus lots of pretty pictures.
10 reasons to visit Guatemala, a cultural gem in Central America. With helpful tips to help you get the most out of your trip. Plus lots of pretty pictures.

El Salvador: The Everything Guide



Introducing our in-depth El Salvador travel guide. With everything you need to know about where to eat, where to stay and what to do!

El Salvador, where do I begin? As most of my followers are already aware, I have fallen madly and deeply in love with this Central American gem. It’s got everything a backpacker wants and needs. From surfing some of the best surf in the world, exploring tropical beaches, stuffing your face with amazing food and getting lost in conversation with the friendliest locals we have ever met. Honestly, there’s nothing I dislike about El Salvador.

We started this leg of our trip in Mexico, from there we visited Guatemala. We came in to El Salvador from Lake Atitlan arriving in El Tunco about 5 hours later. Over the course of 3 weeks we worked our way through 5 destinations. Ending the trip in Juayua on the Ruta de los Flores. So, without further ado here is our ultimate El Salvador travel guide.

Read more: 10 reasons to visit Guatemala

El Salvador travel guide: Our top tips for backpacking here

If you’ve already done a bit of backpacking and are looking for something a bit ‘tougher’ than the typical tourist route of South East Asia. Then, I hugely recommend El Salvador. Sure, backpacking El Salvador can be a challenge. The only way to get from one town to the next is the local ‘chicken bus’. It’s very difficult to book any accommodation in advance. But you know what, it’s been our most rewarding trip to date.

Do you want a unique travelling experience in a tiny tropical gem of a country. Yes? Then read this El Salvador travel guide to find out how we packed 5 destinations into 3 weeks.

El Tunco, El Salvador (6 nights)

A tiny beach-side town about an hours drive from the capital San Salvador, and predominantly inhabited by surfers or yoga instructors. In my opinion this is one of the best beaches in Central America. Most of the towns hostels and restaurants line its black sandy beach. The main pathway through the town is a sandy trail, nobody wears shoes. In fact the town is so laid-back it’s horizontal. My kinda place! And obviously if you want to surf, this is the place for you. There are lots of surf schools for you to choose from, but the surf is so intense you have to be careful not to break your board. This disaster happened to a guy we met and he had to pay quite a lot of money to the surf school as a result. You’ve been warned.

El Tunco, el salvador
Sunset at El Tunco beach

What we did in El Tunco

We spent our days here pretty much lazing around, either sunbathing or surfing. Then before dinner we would watch the sunset with a beer in hand. Finally, ending our day eating at one of the really cheap but amazingly yummy little food huts. During the week El Tunco is very chilled out, in fact most of the surfers we met went teetotal during the week. How very professional! But at the weekend, El Tunco comes alive – San Salvador’s richest come to town to party. And boy do they know how to party. You are likely to come across couples salsa dancing in the street. 

Kids enjoying a sunset surf in El Tunco

El Tunco (our El Salvador travel guide):

How we got there: A bus from San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala (via Antigua) to El Tunco with Gekko Tours costing $40

Where we stayed: La Sombra Hostel

Restaurant recommendations: Take a Wok; Taco Guanaco

Overall rating: 8/10

El Cuco, El Salvador (5 nights)

El Cuco is simply a beach, no town, no shops (actually the little restaurant at the top of the beach had a stall selling cold drinks). There’s also a Pupusa stall, and well, that’s pretty much it. We stayed at perhaps the most unique accommodation of our entire trip – La Tortuga Verde. A hostel/ turtle sanctuary consistently ranked as one of the best hostels in the world by Lonely Planet. It has its own restaurant, a yoga studio, a vegetarian cafe, a swimming pool and you can rent surfboards for a minimal fee. La Tortuga Verde is right on the beach, and our private double room complete with patio area and two hammocks was $25 a night. It was super-comfortable, spotlessly clean, with a very strong shower. In any other country this room would be worth 4 times that.

The beach at El Cuco, El Salvador
The beach at El Cuco

What did we get up to in El Cuco

El Cuco is simply a beach, no town, no shops (actually the little restaurant at the top of the beach had a stall selling cold drinks), there’s also a Pupusa stall, and well, that’s pretty much it. We stayed at perhaps the most unique accommodation of our entire trip – La Tortuga Verde, a hostel/ turtle sanctuary consistently ranked as one of the best hostels in the world by Lonely Planet. La Tortuga Verde has its own restaurant, a yoga studio, a vegetarian cafe, a swimming pool and you can rent surfboards for a minimal fee. La Tortuga Verde is right on the beach, and our private double room complete with patio area and two hammocks was $25 a night. It was super-comfortable, spotlessly clean, with a very strong shower and in any other country this room would be worth 4 times that.

The most insane sunset at El Cuco
The most insane sunset at El Cuco

We surfed, sunbathed, swam in the pool, read a lot of books, ate a lot of tacos and drank a lot of fresh coconut juice. Basically, we recharged our batteries for 5 full days. Absolute bliss. And did I mention, the sunsets here are the best in the world! It’s worth visiting El Cuco simply to see this marvel.

Happy with his surfboard in El Cuco
Happy with his surfboard in El Cuco

El Cuco (our El Salvador travel guide):

How we got there: We got a minibus with Gecko Tours from El Tunco to El Cuco, which took about 2 hours and cost $20 .

Where we stayed: La Tortuga Verde

Restaurant recommendations: There aren’t any restaurants per se in El Cuco, so we ate at La Tortuga Verde every night and it was more than satisfying

Overall rating: 7.5/10

San Salvador, El Salvador (6 nights)

Consistently labelled as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but for us, we felt nothing but safe the entire time. However, I don’t recommend spending too much time in downtown San Salvador. There’s really nothing there plus it has an inherently ‘sketchy’ vibe. In fact I felt so uncomfortable there, that we never even got off the bus. We just continued on to the bus station and got on another bus back to our hostel.

BUT, the area we stayed in was a very safe residential neighbourhood about a 15 minute bus ride from downtown and next to the World Trade Center. About a 20 minute walk away is El Paseo a massive shopping centre filled with every store & restaurant you could imagine. Plus it has the most comfortable and well-equipped cinema I’ve ever been to. The weird thing about San Salvador is that literally every store or restaurant has an armed guard standing outside. It’s quite frightening witnessing the sheer amount of firearms – but it made me feel safer, I guess.

Our night bike ride experience with Ciclistas Urbanos

As you may already know, we completed a night bike ride in San Salvador. This was one of the best things we did in Central America. Sure, a night bike ride through the streets of one of the most notoriously dangerous cities in the world sounds life-defying. The little local organisation who runs it –  Ciclistas Urbanos has been doing this for years. Ciclistas Urbanos is more of a cycling group for locals than a tour. In fact I think we were the only tourists that night but they welcomed us with open arms regardless.

They meet every Thursday night, to cycle a different route through the city, and some rides can be as long as 30km. There was also a police presence for the whole ride, so you’re in safe hands. To join in this one-in-a-lifetime activity, message them on their Facebook page and let them know you will be coming along and if you need to rent a bike. The group meets at Parque Cuscatlan at dusk, you collect your bike here.

Enjoying the night-time bike ride through San Salvador
Enjoying the night-time bike ride through San Salvador

San Salvador (our El Salvador travel guide):

How we got there: A local bus from outside La Tortuga Verde brought us to San Miguel, from there we got a direct bus to San Salvador. The whole trip took 5 hours. It should take approx. 2 hours but two of our buses broke down. The total cost per person was $4.

Where we stayed: Hostal Cumbres del Volcan

Restaurant recommendations: Caminito Chocos; Rustico Bistro; Las Fajitas

Overall rating: 6.5/10

Santa Ana, El Salvador (4 nights)

Santa Ana is a rustic town in North Western El Salvador. Santa Ana is used by most backpackers as a base to explore the nearby volcanoes of Santa Ana & Izalco and Lago Coatepeque. To be completely honest, there’s not a whole lot to do in the town of Santa Ana itself. There’s a bustling local market selling everything from beauty products to traditional Salvadoran clothing and some great restaurants including Expresion Cultural.

Visiting Cerro Verde National Park

Just outside of town (and an hours bus-ride away) you will find three active volcanoes – Santa Ana, Izalco and Cerro Verde which together make up Cerro Verde National Park. Hiking up these trails is still considered dangerous due to a spate of robberies on the climb. And so, all hikes are undertaken with a big group and an armed guard. We climbed Volcan Izalco and it’s pretty tough. First you climb down 1,300 steps to get to the bottom of the volcano then it’s a tiring hour long hike up an almost vertical slope. But it’s all worth it once you get to the top. On the south-side of the summit you can still see lava flowing down into the Pacific Ocean and steam vents are still active up top. You have to be careful where you sit as some rocks are still deadly hot.

Paul at the summit of the Volcano
Paul at the summit of the Volcano

A day trip to Lago Coatepeque

We also ventured to Lago Coatepeque which lies just beneath Cerro Verde National Park. This lake is labelled as an up and coming Lake Atitlan by Lonely Planet and by many locals. But for me, it needs a lot of development before it can be considered in the same league as Lake Atitlan. A handful of cheap hotels dot the lake’s edge, but most accommodation is for the preserve of San Salvador’s elite. For around US$5 you can relax and enjoy lake access at one of the hotels on the northeast shore. US$20 and you can rent a boat for a couple of hours. One thing Coatepeque does have on Atitlan however, is that it’s safe to swim in its waters!

Enjoying dinner at R&R Restaurant
Enjoying dinner at R&R Restaurant

Santa Ana (our El Salvador travel guide):

How we got there: A local bus direct from San Salvador to Santa Ana costing $2.

Where we stayed: Hostal Casa Verde

Restaurant recommendations: Expresion Cultural; Buffalo Wings

Overall rating: 7/10

Juayua, El Salvador (4 nights)

A picturesque little town on the famed Ruta de Los Flores, full of cobbled streets, white-washed churches and Spanish-colonial looking buildings. Don’t be fooled by it’s size, Juayua is a bustling town during the day, filled with day-tripping tourists and visiting rural locals. Every Sunday, a unique and crowd-pleasing Food Festival is held in the town’s Parque Central. Serving everything from fried Iguana & Guinea Pig to the more traditional Pupusa’s. Live music fills the streets and the locals dance until the sun goes down.

We used Juayua as a base to visit the other villages on the Ruta de Los Flores including Ataco and Apaneca. Ataco in particular is worth a visit or even a night or two’s stay – excellent coffee shops (serving only local coffee beans) surround the towns square. Everywhere you look provides an epic panorama of the surrounding coffee fields. A local ‘chicken’ bus serves all the villages on the Ruta de Los Flores and a one-way trip costs as little as 50c.

The church in Juayua
The church in Juayua

Juayua (our El Salvador travel guide):

How we got there: A local bus from San Salvador to Sonsonate, then a direct bus from Sonsonate to Juayua. All-in approx. $2

Where we stayed: Hotel Anahuac

Restaurant recommendations: Restaurante R&R

Overall rating: 7/10

Here’s what’s not to be missed in El Salvador:


Best local beer: Pilsener (50c to $1.50 a bottle in a bar)

Best food: Pupusas (obviously)

The best thing to do: Night bike ride through San Salvador

The best place to stay: La Tortuga Verde at El Cuco or Casa Verde at Santa Ana

Our favourite restaurant: Restaurante R&R in Juayua


What to bring with you:


#1   Lonely Planet’s guide ‘Central America on a shoestring’

#2   Good walking shoes – I had the Skechers GoWalk walkers and they were so comfortable

#3   A GoPro or decent adventure camera – we had the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX50

#4   A lock for your backpack because you will be getting a lot of local buses

#5   A Spanish dictionary


On that note, I’ll leave you with a quote

“I urge you to travel, as far and as much as possible. Work ridiculous shifts to save your money. Go without the latest iPhone. Throw yourself out of your comfort zone. Find out how other people live and realize that the world is a much bigger place than the town you live in. And when you come home, home may still be the same, but something in your mind will have shifted. And trust me, that changes everything.”

Surfing in El Cuco, our el salvador travel guide
Surfing in El Cuco

In conclusion, what did you think of our El Salvador travel guide?

Whew that was a long one but I think I’ve covered everything. If there’s anything else you would like to know about El Salvador please post in the comments below and I will get back to you.

Continue reading: 10 reasons to visit El Salvador

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Introducing our in-depth El Salvador travel guide. With everything you need to know about where to eat, where to stay and what to do in El Salvador.

10 reasons to visit El Salvador



Find out why El Salvador is one of my favourite destinations ever. Including 10 specatacular reasons to to visit El Salvador.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

Have you ever gone somewhere and for some inexplicable reason it just completely captures your heart and for years after you still find yourself thinking of and yearning for that place? Well, that place for me is El Salvador.

The ‘underdog’ of travel in Central America – the tiny country with the massive heart. I will admit that I was nervous to travel to El Salvador. After all, the newspapers and news channels tell us it’s a very dangerous place. And yes, sure, El Salvador has a very real gang problem. It has a very sad and harrowing civil war past. But there’s so much more to this gem of a country than what you have read in a newspaper. Imagine witnessing the best sunset of your life, imagine meeting the friendliest and warmest locals, imagine spending your days surfing some of the best surf in the world. Now imagine yourself in El Salvador.

Here’s 10 reasons to visit El Salvador. I’ve honestly spent days thinking about how I should write this blog post because I really want to do this beautiful country justice. It deserves a place on your bucket list more than anywhere I’ve ever been.

So, here we go 10 reasons to visit El Salvador (in no particular order) –

To witness the best sunset of your life

Honestly the best sunset you could ever imagine, beyond instagram-worthy. We witnessed this marvel in El Cuco while walking back to our hostel. The whole beach turned this magnificent burnt orange. I didn’t want it to end. Here’s a photo in all it’s unfiltered glory.

el cuco, el salvador, sunset

El Salvador is a cheap destination

Once you fork out the big bucks for the flights (honestly, from Europe it can be difficult to get a reasonable flight into San Salvador) it’s cheap as chips once you touch ground in El Salvador. A nights accommodation for two people in a small hotel will cost you approximately $20, a meal can be as little as $2 provided you eat where the locals eat and buses from one town to the next can cost less than $1.

el salvador beach, el tunco

El Salvador has excellent surf

Most tourists come to El Salvador to surf & most base themselves in the little surfing town of El Tunco about an hours drive from San Salvador, with its black sandy beach, quirky little hostels and juice bars. El Tunco has some of the best surfing conditions in the world. We spent hours sitting on the beach, a Pilsener in hand (the local beer) watching some very talented surfers vying for attention. Of course we had a go ourselves but we didn’t fare too well on our own. Luckily, if you’re a beginner like us there are lots of surfing schools along the beach.

surfing el salvador

surfing el salvador

Meet the friendly locals

Salvadorans were our favourite people of our entire 16 country trip and we met some amazingly cool locals so that’s saying a lot. Salvadorans are warm, real and incredibly grateful that tourists are still visiting their home. They’re even friendly enough to let you hold their fully-loaded pistol.

friendly locals, el salvador

To stay at the best hostel we’ve ever stayed at

In the rustic town of Santa Ana in the North of El Salvador is a hostel. A hostel by the name of Casa Verde, run by the super-friendly Carlos. Casa Verde is honestly the best hostel we ever stayed at. Spotlessly clean, with a swimming pool, a rooftop terrace, a big kitchen (with lots of free spices, freshly ground coffee etc.) and an air conditioned TV room loaded with every movie imaginable. And if you can’t be bothered going out to a restaurant, Carlos will order take-out for you and serve it to you while you’re enjoying  a movie on his massive TV.

This is how it should be done (hosteliers take note). Also, worth a mention is La Tortuga Verde in El Cuco a turtle sanctuary & hostel –  a double room here costs less than $25 and it’s right on the beach, with your own deck area complete with hammocks, an extra-comfy bed and a spacious bathroom with a view of the coconut trees.

la tortuga verde, el salvador

To climb an active volcano

Want to undertake a very difficult hike up a steep volcano with an armed guard? Then, head to the town of Santa Ana and just outside this town you will find three active volcanoes – Santa Ana, Izalco and Cerro Verde. This hike is still considered dangerous due to a spate of robberies on the climb and so all hikes are undertaken with a big group and an armed guard.

We climbed Izalco and it’s pretty tough – first you climb down 1,300 steps to get to the bottom of the volcano then it’s a tiring hour long hike up an almost vertical slope. But it’s all worth it once you get to the top. On the south-side of the summit you can still see lava flowing down into the Pacific Ocean and steam vents are still active up top (you have to be careful where you sit as some rocks are still deadly hot).

volcano, el salvador

volcano, el salvador

Because Pupusas = yum

A traditional salvadoran dish made of a thick handmade corn tortilla and usually filled with cheese, some meat & refried beans. It is served with curtido (a lightly fermented cabbage relish) – sounds horrible but I promise it isn’t. And it’s so cheap, usually 3oc for one. Our favourite place for pupusas was a little roadside stall in El Tunco that was run by nuns.

pupusas

To night bike ride through the streets of San Salvador

This was one of the best things we did in El Salvador. No scrap that, this was one of the best things we did in Central America. Sure, a night bike ride through the streets of one of the most notoriously dangerous cities in the world sounds life-defying. The little local organisation who runs it –  Ciclistas Urbanos has been doing this for years, it’s more of a cycling group for locals than a tour, in fact I think we were the only tourists that night but they welcomed us with open arms regardless.

Ciclistas Urbanos meets every Thursday night, to cycle a different route through the city, and some rides can be as long as 30km. There was also a police presence for the whole ride, so you’re in safe hands. We met so many fantastic locals that night, one even cycled beside me the whole time because he could see I was struggling and he even drove us back to our hostel after because my ‘legs didn’t work like they used to before’:)

night bike ride, san salvador

To experience somewhere off the beaten track

Because don’t follow the crowd and only backpack through South East Asia. Literally, every travel blogger has been to South East Asia, many even live there now. I adore South East Asia because it is a truly beautiful slice of the world, but it’s starting to get overrun by backpackers. So, If you’re looking to experience somewhere that not many people have been to, that will garner a “wow you’ve been there” from most people you meet, then visit El Salvador. El Salvador has enough tourist infrastructure to make you feel comfortable but then at the same time it’s not at all ready for tourists and that’s kind of scary and fun and exhilarating.

volcano el salvador

To get a true local experience

Not too many tourists in a country is good in a lot of ways but mainly because it makes for a more local and unique experience. The less Hawaiian-shirt wearing tourists the better. Leisure travel through El Salvador is still very much uncommon, most tourists we met are either there on business or for a short surf holiday. This means that most of the time you have the palm-tree lined beaches to yourself. There’s no queues for that Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. There’s no Contiki tours. And you will usually always nab a room at that hotel you’ve been wanting to stay at.

surfing, el salvador, boys

And finally ‘no place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be’. Be careful, don’t wear lots of expensive jewellery or carry around a glaringly massive camera, don’t walk away from the main streets in San Salvador. But above all don’t be stupid, if you go looking for trouble it probably will find you. The truth is 99.9% of the people in El Salvador are brilliant and funny and incredibly welcoming of tourists. Please don’t let a minority and a distasteful news report turn you off visiting one of the most unique and exciting destinations I’ve ever visited.

Tell me – what did you think of my reasons to visit El Salvador? Have I managed to convince you to meet El Salvador yet? Of course I have! Now, when are you going to book your flights?

P.S. you can read more about our adventures through El Salvador here