When people talk about vacationing in Central America, it’s not often that El Salvador comes up as a top pick on people’s mind at least not the way Costa Rica, Belize or Guatemala does but a lot of that is changing. I just returned from a 1-week solo trip to my parent’s home country and in the event you’ve been considering visiting, I wanted to answer some questions I’ve been receiving from both co-workers and fellow peeps on Instagram regarding things El Salvador.
El Salvador’s dry season runs between November and April, with a rainy season between May and October. The way Mother Nature has been lately, it’s become difficult to predict what weather could be like but for the most part as a family, we’ve always visited in June which is when the kids are out of school. Another determining factor as to when to go comes down to ticket cost.
On the low end it can run you $325 for round trip from New York or at the high end of $800 depending time of the year you opt to visit and which airline you choose. I really don’t care much about airline amenities since we always carry our own entertainment on the iPad and the same goes with snacks which is why I typically travel through Volaris. It’s inexpensive and it gets you from point A to B and the extra money that one would spend in air flight amenities I would rather conserve it and spend it in El Salvador.
The one thing I’ll say about car renting, especially when it comes to the majority of American car rental companies such as Alamo, Budget, etc is that like anything American it’s expensive and by the time you tack on all the insurance coverage the cost ends up being more than you anticipated regardless of which way you cut it.
Having done some research, I eventually opted to rent with the fine folks at Lucero Rent a Car who I came across via YouTube. Typically you would expect any rental company to charge a deposit on a major credit card just for security purposes but at Lucero Rent a Car they don’t do that at all. The owner clearly explains that doing so creates a mistrust between them and the client.
In order to reserve the car I was interested in, I reached out to the owner via the WhatsApp number on their website and all he required of me to guarantee that they’ll have the car I wanted waiting for me at the airport was a photo of my passport, my driver’s license and my flight itinerary.
The Ford Focus sedan I rented came up to $130 ($26/day) which I paid him in cash upon arrival at the airport. We inspected the car together, I signed the contract, he handed over the keys and off I went. It was literally that simple and hard to believe.
My only regret was that while the car functioned flawlessly, I should have opted for a 4x4 pickup or at least an all-wheel drive SUV because I spent more time off-road than on beautifully paved highways and there were instances where I feared getting stuck. Food for thought for your future visit and mine. Spend the extra money on a car with higher clearance for that extra piece of mine.
Nobody ever ask me if New York is safe and while I understand it’s not a comparison to El Salvador the point I’m attempting to make is that there’s no such thing as a *safe* place. It all comes down to you making the right decisions which applies to anywhere you might go. With that being said, there’s certainly parts of El Salvador I wouldn’t travel to at night such as Soyapango or Mexicanos but there’s also places like where I stayed in El Zonte or El Tunco where there’s a beautiful mixture of locals and foreigners living congenially.
All this is to say that having lived in El Salvador for 5 years and continuing to visit family on a yearly basis, we’ve never had a bad experience or have found ourselves in uncomfortable situations. What you see on the news about El Salvador is unfortunately all the bad stuff reported but I dare you to search through YouTube and you’ll discover vlogs from fellow travelers who have nothing but beautiful experiences to share about their visit.
Wow, where do I begin? For starters, let me refer you to the amazing folks at Tunco Life. They’ve been leading engaging, fun and informative tours from El Tunco beach to all over El Salvador such as the Santa Ana Volcano hike I did or to the amazing Tamanique Waterfalls. I had the pleasure of visiting their main offices in El Tunco and the experience was rather surreal because I have been admiring and following their journey for month via Instagram and to be there in person was a joy.
As a side note, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America so regardless of the itinerary you build for yourself, there will be time for you to accomplish the majority of it because it’s as easy as driving from point A to point B. This time around I focused more on the surfing culture which I was interested in exploring more of but honestly there’s sightseeing places such as Rutas de Las Flores which I also highly recommend.
This one is easy. It’s cheap and delicious. The cost reminded me a lot like being in Mexico where you’re likely to eat like a king or queen regardless of where you go. There’s always the option spending as little as $3 for breakfast or $10. One thing is for sure, you can’t leave El Salvador without eating a few pupusas which is our version of a taco in the sense that they’re ubiquitous.
A pupusa is essentially a flatbread made with cornmeal or rice flour and it’s usually stuff with one or more ingredients such as cheese, pork, beans or all of the above.
Very much like food, where you stay comes down to what your interest is. This time around I was specifically interested in exploring a part of El Salvador I wasn’t familiar with which is the popular and developing surfer village of El Zonte.
The hotel I stayed at during my visit was called Michanti which I highly recommend due to it’s chill vibe, hospitable staff, affordable price, and proximity to the beach. In spite of all that, I didn’t spend as much time in the hotel because I took advantage of the fact that you’re able to visit other nearby hotels via Day Passes which was amazing. There’s several to choose from some of which I visited and others that remained on my must-visit list.
In no particular order I suggest Puro Surf, Palo Verde, Mizata Point Resort or even Michanti. Day passes ranged from $20 - $25 for the day which gave you access to the pool all day. As a photographer, I’m always prone to want to move around a lot to explore so I loved the ability to hop around from hotel to hotel without committing to spending the night.
In the event you have any other questions, feel free to reach out to me and I’d be more than happy to provide any info or at least direct you towards someone in El Salvador that may know a lot more than me.
When adulthood or just life in general begins to happen, it becomes very easy to allow routines and responsibilities overshadow any shred of curiosity you may have about anything. Your sense of wonder begins to escape and those novel experiences you often daydream about are never given the opportunity to graduate into anything worth bragging about.
For the longest I’ve held on to the prospect of traveling to El Salvador on my own with the sole purpose of dedicating my time to photographing in the quant surfing town of El Zonte. I may not have had a clear vision for the logistics of certain things other than being cognizant that one’s curiosity will often develop into amazing discoveries and when you add a camera to the mix everything becomes that much more exciting.
As soon as I arrived, immediately dumped my luggage into the hotel room and walked endlessly with an open mind. As the sun was beginning to set and I was heading back to fuel up on dinner, I came across a group of women walking towards me on cloud nine singing as the gorgeous sun was in the process of turning in as much as I was.
The combination of being a photographer and working in retail is that you’re less likely to be self-conscious in starting a conversation with anyone because you know that your intentions are more about what you can give as oppose to what you can take away.
These are portraits I took of Nette (surf coach), Ligia (yoga instructor) and Genevieve as we talked about life El Salvador especially when it’s not your native country.
Josh Spector is a marketing and business consultant who’s work I initially came across via Medium and who’s newsletter I immediately subscribed to. He’s absolutely brilliant at delivering writing on topics that anyone who’s goal is to succeed in their creative career needs to read.
There was no way I would listed all 30 but if you’re like me who’s wanting to elevate their creative career, I highly suggest you check out his advice for creators because I guarantee more than 25 will resonated with you. I narrowed down my favorite to 6:
Prior to going on vacation to El Salvador, I met up with Krystal for a test shoot because while I've developed a lot more confidence in working with multiple lighting sources, implementing color continues to be an obsession of mine because. Next to my wife, I have to say that Krystal is one of the strongest Puerto Rican ladies I know, specifically in the gym which is why for this shoot I was adamant in offering her a different perspective on who she also is. While lifting requires a lot of focus and training, you'd be surprise how much out of characters Krystal gets when she takes a break from shooting or lifting heavy sh*t.
I recently finished listening to Cathy Heller's Don't Keep Your Day Job book via Audible which I have to say, it was absolutely filled with so many nuggets of "practical steps on making a living doing what lights you up" that I felt compelled to buy a physical copy to own, highlight like crazy and keep on the shelf as reference.
Since then, I've equally been hook on her podcast in which she holds honest conversations with successful creative entrepreneurs. On a recent episode, she had the one only Seth Godin and while I highly you recommend you give it a listen, I couldn't help share some of the key takeaways from this episode:
“Find your passion” has gotta be one of the most broken-record phrases ever repeated throughout someone’s life. It’s difficult to fathom anyone who hasn’t been told at one point and while it’s great that you might already be in a position where that “passion” represents your career or your job, I’m come to believe it’s equally important to have something you’re also passionate about but that you selfishly pursue outside of the confines of normal work hours.
It’s no surprise to anyone at work that I’m “passionate” about photography. In fact, I’m the guy most co-workers come to with anything related to the topic. Regardless of how good we may be at our profession, it’s up to us to establish /some/ form of parameters that reminds us that what we do for a living is not the only label that defines us. There’s more to us that just being a friend, a co-worker, a boss, a spouse, a partner, etc. The catch is that it’s up to you to discover and explore what the selfish pursuit is.
From experience, here’s a few reasons I believe you should place emphasis on having something you pursue outside of work for yourself even if it means being selfish at times:
It keeps you curious - what I often observe from people who lack in having an interest outside of work is that there’s limited scope about what they may know other than the task they perform day in and day out because there’s a deficiency in having a curiosity to seek out new information.
My kids assume that adults are inherently predisposed to know everything but obviously that’s not the case. Think about something you’ve always been interested in knowing more about and see where that curiosity leads you. It could involve pottery making, volunteer work, Jiu Jitsu, etc.
For me the way in which I gravitated towards photographing a lot of personal trainers in New York was because I selfishly wanted to learn more about living a healthier active lifestyle and what better way to glean knowledge than from professionals as an adjunct to the self-education I’ve been giving myself.
You’ll never be bored - I honestly can’t recall the last time I felt genuinely bored. My camera has truly been a license to meet people and discover new places without the need of having to board a plane. My mind is constantly churning on what I can do the moment any free time pops up. I have an ongoing list of books to read, topics to write about, Netflix documentaries to satisfy my curiosity, places to eat that it’s all a matter of plucking anything out from that bag to keep me occupied.
Being bored is the equivalent to not knowing what to write about in the sense that if you can’t come up with a topic then you’re more than likely are not being curious enough in anything.
You become comfortable with being on your own - Back when I was single, I cringed at the idea of doing anything social on my own because there’s always that fear of being perceived as a loser. It’s a normal feeling, especially when you’re still in the process of developing that confidence that will eventually make it crystal clear to you that there’s a difference between being lonely and being comfortable with being on your own. There’s the presence of confidence in the latter and not in the former.
It doesn’t bother me spending time on my own, especially on days when my wife is at work, the kids are at school and I happen to have a random day off in the middle of the week. If you’re a parent, you’re well aware that time for yourself is a rarity which you should learn to treasure when it comes along unexpectedly. It’s a healthy component to seek for your our own sanity. Heck, there’s been times when I’ve gone and have brunch or watched a movie on my own and it’s never bothered me.
You’ll become more understanding of what people have going on during their own time - I don’t convene with friends as much as I would like to especially between having parental responsibilities, work, and what mainly occupies the majority of my free time which is my photography.
I have a friend who’s an amazing painter, one who is equally elevating their photography game and another is who pursuing their transition into the personal training business. I can’t ever hold a grudge against them for any missed opportunities we may have for meeting because I’m understanding of their grind because I’m doing the same on my end.
Working is part of your life, but it does not have to consume your WHOLE life hence the my plea to find something that keeps your mind off of work when you’re not there.
I recently discovered Josh’s writing on Medium in which he’s written several thought provoking pieces on photography which have had very little to do with gear. In my opinion, these are the best kind because they never have an expiration date as to how much inspiration you can glean from them as oppose to gear which rapidly gets outdated.
In this piece entitled The 5 Mindset Shifts Of Becoming A Pro Photographer, he touches on a topic which resonated and has often haunted me in the past. As you begin envisioning your craft as something more than a hobby, there will always be that lack of confidence that will accompany you because you before you can wear proudly the title of introducing yourself as a photographer, you feel that you must know everything first and that’s certainly not the case.
Yes, there are still things to learn, this is true in any profession. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a professional. And the real truth is, all photographers still have things to learn — at every level. Your professionalism starts the minute you declare it, even if you are still learning things. As long as you have the ability to get hired for one thing, that’s being a professional.
Up until this point I classified myself within this list of people who every New Year considers it OK to declare that we’ll “do this and that” but what often lacks in the statement is the presence of any form of concrete steps for how we’re planning to accomplish any of these things we so easily announce. It’s borderline annoying because we’re aware that we do it but we do nothing practical to effect the potential outcome.
How often do we daydream of moments to happen in our lives? Regardless of how much we may fantasize about the perfect anything, it really comes down to holding ourselves more accountable to achieving those beautiful moments of bliss that we yearn for.
For example, I’ve visited El Salvador with my family in the past but for the longest I’ve yearned to return on my own or at least just with my wife for an entire week to focus entirely in staying in a well known surf town and carry out a photographic project as if I had been assigned by any of the travel magazines I admire.
I’ve lived in El Salvador, I’m well aware of the customs, the food, the setting but very often there’s been so many compromises between parental responsibilities and what I can do on my own by leaving family behind that I ultimately walk away with “I should’ve” moments which leave me wanting more. Well, I'm finally doing it. Flight and lodging has been booked! To satisfy that desire to explore El Salvador on my own, and to knock out this goal of mine this early in the year is big because as I had mentioned before, I was all talk and very little doing.
This year should be about doing important things that makes us happy. Invest in yourself, spend a good chunk of that time on you.
At this point I've equated vloging in public a lot to working out for the first time in the gym. You'll have initial insecurities about the prospect of it mainly because you're afraid of onlookers, you're afraid of being "that person", you're afraid of being judged all of which are valid hesitancies that normally arise out of lack of continuous practice. Do anything consistently enough and it'll become second nature where it becomes seamless to tune out variables around you and focus on your sole intentions.
Jeven Dovey has compiled some great tips to help you and I overcome that shyness that comes with filming ourselves in public whether it's for vlogging purposes themselves or IG Stories which at this point they're both the same.
I'm heading to El Salvador in January 2020 on a solo photographic adventure and perhaps the idea of being alone will make the process filming myself much easier because there's more time to focus and less compromising.
I don’t think I would have met as many people as I have in New York or anywhere had I not viewed my camera as a license or entry point into their lives. It makes a difference when you have something to offer or something for people to see about you prior to even meeting in person. Whether those are photos, writing, art, etc or anything that exist out there in the world where people can evaluate a bit as to whether they can even make the time to meet.
I had reached out to Elsa via Instagram with hopes of working together on a test shoot and in between her busy school schedule , dance practice and work, we literally managed to carve out a 2hr slot in the middle of the day to shoot.
During the Summer, Under Armour filmed a segment featuring Elsa in which they caught a “glimpse of the eight-hour-a-day training sessions that go into perfecting her craft” which was amazing to see. As Elsa says, “in dance, you can’t just wish your way into getting the steps right; you have to put in the time and energy to understand how your body and mind connect with one another.”
To view the rest of the photos from this look with Elsa, feel free to check out the gallery.