Eating and biking our way through the Americas .... and beyond!

Chiquimulilla, Guatemala to La Union, El Salvador

Enjoying an ice cold coconut water!

I was a little anxious about cycling in El Salvador; it doesn’t have the safest reputation and we had heard from friends that it wasn’t the friendliest place to cycle through. Thankfully, our experience was quite the opposite! :)

We absolutely loved our short time in El Salvador and we found it to be ridiculously friendly (definitely, the friendliest country on our tour). We crossed El Salvador along the coast, which was generally flat, but incredibly hot and humid. Despite the heat, it was an easy country to cycle through as there was nearly always a wide shoulder and as most people get around on bikes, the traffic was used to cyclists, as were the dogs. That said, we did avoid the major cities, which are known to have gang related problems.

Saturday 2nd May: Chiquimulilla – near Acajutla, El Salvador

Chiquimulilla – near Acajutla Elevation to Acajutla

We would be crossing into El Salvador on this day and as it was SO crazily hot, we wanted to get an early start. We were at the little nearby café for a breakfast burger by 7am and on the road by 7.30am.

We had a much better day on the bikes, although David still broke one spoke, which was a worry. The first 20kms or so was mainly downhill and then it was undulating for the remainder of the ride.

Exiting Guatemala was super easy – we flashed our passports and got our exit stamp. Getting into El Salvador was equally simple. There was no luggage check or forms to fill out and the Salvadoran Border official seemed to have missed the memo about being unfriendly to tourists – he couldn’t have been lovelier if he tried – and was genuinely interested in our tour and where we were going. :)

We set off a little uneasily from the Salvadoran border, with the goal of reaching the cross roads near Acajutla, where there was apparently a nice hostel. I had been steeling myself for sullen stares and unfriendliness, but almost every person that we passed waved and smiled at us – some were even cheering! And, unlike usual, where I am normally the one initiating contact with the locals (waving, smiling etc), it was the Salvadoran locals who were, more often than not, initiating contact with us. I remember one family lined up outside their house, whistling to catch our attention, and waving at us as we went by. I was a little overwhelmed and very, VERY, relieved. I LOVE friendly people! For me, its the people who make a place and we felt so welcome from the minute we crossed into El Salvador. :)

For lunch we stopped at a Pupusaria and tried cheese pupusas for the first time. OMG! In addition to seriously friendly people, El Salvador has delicious pupusas – thick, handmade corn tortillas, filled with cheese. We were in cycling heaven and vowed to eat pupusas whenever possible (they are sold everywhere and are super cheap)! While we were having lunch, we watched the town prepare for a wedding – everyone was in their Sunday best and looked very excited. Unfortunately, we had to leave before the happy couple arrived at the church.

We arrived at the cross roads early afternoon and found the hostel (Hostel and Restaurant Kilo-5). We couldn’t have been happier with the place. It was squeaky clean, the staff were great and the room had air-conditioning – yeah!! The restaurant was excellent as well and very reasonably priced. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

After dinner, we went to buy some water at the nearby petrol station (you can’t drink the tap water in El Salvador) and I was amazed to see how friendly the locals were to us when we were dressed like regular tourists. Ordinarily, we find that the locals are friendlier to us when they know we are cycle tourers, but the Salvadorans seemed to welcome all tourists. It was a great start to our tour of El Salvador!

KMs travelled: 95kms
Elevation gain: 488m
Elevation loss: 672m
Highlight: Being welcomed so warmly by the Salvadoran locals!
Lowlight: The oppressive heat

Sunday 3rd May: Near Acajutla – El Tunco

Acajutla to El Tunco Elevation to El Tunco

Sunday 3rd May: Near Acajutla – El Tunco

This was a tough, but good day on the bike, with beautiful coastal scenery to distract us from the terrible heat and humidity. The first 30kms were flatish, but after we reached the coast it became very hilly.

Due to the heat, we were stopping every 10-15kms for cold drinks. Around 11am, we stumbled across a lovely restaurant perched on top of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. We decided to stop for an early lunch and some ice cold coconut water – always so refreshing on hot, humid days.

It was wonderful to see the coast again. We watched the waves roll in while devouring our lunch, without realizing that there would be tidal waves along the Salvadoran coast that afternoon.

We pulled into the tiny surf town of El Tunco around 3pm, checked into a cheapish hotel (USD 15) and went to explore the town, not realizing that it had just been hit by huge tidal waves. The main street (there are only 2!) was full of debris and was roped off. We had a quick post-ride pupusa snack and then went looking for a beach bar from which to observe the waves – perhaps not the best idea after a tidal wave ….!

We came across one closed beach bar, which had clearly been hit hard by the tidal waves. Thankfully, the bar next door, Monkey La La, still seemed to be open, so we walked over to the bar (getting soaked by the waves in the process) and found a vacant table from which to watch the surf and sunset. Amazingly, someone was trying to stand-up paddle board in the surf. Needless to say, they weren’t standing for long!

Monkey La La was great and definitely seemed to be the place to be at sunset in El Tunco. It has a fabulous view of the rock formation in front of El Tunco. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails and celebrated the fact that we hadn’t broken any more spokes on this day!

KMs travelled: 73kms
Elevation gain: 798m
Elevation loss: 834m
Highlight: Cocktails at Monkey La La
Lowlight: The energy sapping heat … 

Monday 4th May: Rest day in El Tunco

My ribs were hurting a bit and we needed a break from the heat, so we decided to have a rest day in El Tunco. We had a delicious brunch at Dale Dale Café, which has a lovely balcony / verandah with beach views, explored El Tunco’s ruined main street, and then enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort of our hotel room! We also made inquiries about a boat from La Union to Nicaragua, as we didn’t think we would have time to cycle through Honduras. In the evening, we had dinner at “Take a Wok”. It was so nice to have some Asian food for a change (even if it was full of MSG, which made David sick)!  

Tuesday 5th May: El Tunco – Usulutan

El Tunco – Usulutan Elevation to Usulutan

Tuesday 5th May: El Tunco – Usulutan

This was another hot and humid day on the bike, but much easier than the ride to El Tunco. The scenery was nice, with views of volcanos and farmland. We had a few incidents with livestock – cycling through El Salvador can be a bit like cycling through a farm at times – at times we had to dodge chickens and cows!

We climbed 714m, most of it before lunch and descended about the same amount. We stopped in Zacatecoluca for lunch at Subway, grateful for the air-conditioning and some healthy-ish food.

Our cycle touring guide book indicated that there were hotels in Usulutan, but we really struggled to find them. We had to cycle through the whole city and were on our way to Transito before we came across any. The first was a “love hotel”, which charged by the hour! We cycled a bit further hoping we would find something else. Eventually we came across Hotel Paradise, which did not live up to its name at all! But, not wanting to cycle any further that day, we took a room. It was a bit smelly, but at least it had air-conditioning. We are so looking forward to being able to camp again!!

KMs travelled: 119kms
Elevation gain: 714m
Elevation loss: 634m
Highlight: The beautiful countryside and friendly people
Lowlight: Our hotel room …

Wednesday 6th May: Usulutan – La Union

Usulutan – La Union

Elevation to La Union

Wednesday 6th May: Usulutan – La Union

This was our final day of cycling in El Salvador. There were two ways to get to La Union; either via San Miguel or via the coastal highway 2, which included a big climb. We opted for the big climb, as we prefer to avoid big cities.

The climb was very manageable itself, but the oppressive heat made it a bit of a struggle. Thankfully, before we started the climb, we stopped at a little roadside stall for some cold water and the kind locals filled our bottles with ice to try to keep it cool for us. It didn’t last. After 20min, we were drinking hot water again. :(

We stopped every 10kms or so to buy cold water, some of which we poured over us – anything to try to cool down. Unfortunately, somewhere along the climb, I must have lost my Australian flag, because by the time we were half way down the other side of the mountain, we realized that it was missing. We had no idea where I had lost it and whether it would still be there. We were hot and not in the mood for more climbing, so we left it. Until I can organize another Australian flag, I am currently cycling with David’s German flag on my bike!

We reached La Union by early afternoon. All of the bars were filled with cheering locals watching the Barcelona vs Bayern soccer match. When Barcelona won, they let off fireworks in the streets, which was a little unnerving when you’re cycling past – it sounds like gun shots.

I didn’t think it was possible, but it was even hotter in La Union. We were dripping with sweat and wanted to find a hotel and cold shower asap. One of the friendly locals recommended that we stay at Hotel San Francisco, which was close by and in a good part of town. It was a very nice hotel and we got a room for about USD30 with air-conditioning, but to our surprise, it didn’t have wifi. This was a little inconvenient for us, as we still needed to sort out how we were going to get from La Union to Nicaragua.

So, after we had settled into our room, we went in search of wifi and a tour agency. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any tour agencies in the town centre (La Union really doesn’t seem to be a major tourist destination!), so we walked over to the dock, thinking that we might be able to find someone to help us there. Getting to the dock required us to walk through some less savoury parts of town and when we couldn’t find anyone to help us, we quickly made our way back to the town centre.

We discovered that there were only three places in central La Union with air-conditioning and wifi. The ice-cream shop (but the wifi wasn’t working that day), Pollo Campestre (a fried chicken restaurant chain) and a seafood restaurant near the dock. We decided on Pollo Campestre and organized online for a boat to take us from La Union to Potosi, Nicaragua. Unfortunately, the next boat didn’t leave until Friday morning, so we had to spend an extra day in hot, humid La Union!

KMs travelled: 92kms
Elevation gain: 883m
Elevation loss: 949m
Highlight: The friendly locals
Lowlight: Losing my flag :(

Thursday 7th May: Rest day in La Union

We spent our forced rest day changing hotels and trying to stay cool. We changed hotels to one recommended by the boat operator, Ruta Del Golfo, which was cheaper than Hotel San Francisco and had air-conditioning (from 7pm-7am) and wifi. Unfortunately, this other room stank …oh well, it was only for one night!

As we couldn’t check in before 3pm, or turn the air-conditioner on before 7pm, we spent the day shuffling between air-conditioned Pollo Campestre and the seafood restaurant, trying to escape the stifling La Union heat!