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Thursday,  June 13, 2024 3:29 AM 

5 things agents should know about El Salvador

5 things agents should know about El Salvador
Blake Wolfe

Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.

During a four-day FAM to San Salvador, El Salvador in November, the country's tourism board showed a small group of journalists from the U.S. and Canada what this Central American destination had to offer. Here are five things Canadian travel agents should know about selling El Salvador to clients:

The Undiscovered Country

While places like Costa Rica are well known to Canadians, for many, El Salvador remains off the beaten path. Guided by Alfredo Avalos of Explore El Salvador, we did a 30-minute hike up to viewing platforms atop of Cerro Verde, an extinct volcano now covered in a cloud forest sprinkled with yellow and purple flowers. We got amazing views of Santa Ana volcano and the stunning volcanic Lake Coatepeque. Our guide told us that during weekends and holidays the hikes and viewing platforms do get crowded with locals, but we were there on a weekday and had the place largely to ourselves.

Easy to get to get to

While direct flights from Canada to San Salvador are limited, they are available. Avianca flies direct from Toronto (just over four hours), and Air Transat starts direct flights from Montreal on Dec. 22 (a five to 5.5 hour flight). San Salvador is also a hub for Avianca for those wanting to country hop.

Easy to get around

Over the course of the FAM, El Salvador was referred to as "the 45-minute country" and the Minister of Tourism called it the country of "short distances."

"Everything is 45 minutes away from San Salvador, from Mayan ruins to volcanoes to surfing and beaches. Most people will use San Salvador as a home base, and do day trips from there," said PR representative Robert Einhorn. They do have their rush hour, "but it's not like Mexico City or L.A."

Eat (and drink) authentically

At the open air restaurant Jardin de Celeste, with a beautiful flower garden to match its name, we drank local beers (Suprema was our guide’s favourite) and fruit juices (I had the jocote fruit smoothie), while feasting on steak with “salsa de tenquiques,” a special mushroom sauce that’s a local delicacy. “The mushrooms grow in the coffee fields. Now’s the season for it,” said Alvalos. For dessert I ordered the “quesadilla,” which is nothing like in Mexico. It’s actually a cheesecake, but unlike what North Americans are used to. Instead of a creamy dessert, it’s a sponge cake with cheese in it. Our group’s favourite local food was the papusa, a thick tortilla (essentially a corn pancake) stuffed with cheese (possibly pork and beans as well). It’s served almost everywhere, including at our hotel, the Crowne Plaza, where they freshly grilled it at breakfast.

Never see coffee the same way again

According to our guide, coffee is the second biggest export from El Salvador, and any Canadian who drinks coffee has probably had some brewed from beans grown in this country. It was an eye-opening experience as we saw the coffee making process from beginning to end. We visited El Carmen State, which grows its own coffee, and processes the fruit from other growers — yes, coffee starts as a fruit, often referred to as cherries. Seeing the laborious process, from hand-picking to raking drying “beans” (they are actually seeds) in the sun, to men carrying hundred pound bags or women sitting at a conveyer belt to pick out impurities, we all gained a new respect for our morning java.

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