2022 New Year’s Eve and a Week Staying in San Salvador, El Salvador

Well New Year’s Eve is upon us once again. And once again, I decided that I’ve had enough of the cold weather, rain, snow and restrictions in Germany – not to mention also that constant rent-free space it has on my mind. This time around, we chose El Salvador, being one of the very few countries out there with a good mix of fairly open rules, good weather, good prices, and the Bitcoin adoption was also a point of interest. It seems that many people that are tech inclined are flocking over to El Salvador, so why not?

Flight to El Salvador

For our flight to El Salvador, we chose Madrid and Mexico City as the stopover, flying with Aeromexico. The Ciudad Juárez International Airport in Madrid was super-packed at that time. Getting used to the different rules was something – where we went from 2G only in Germany (G stands for Geimpft or Geniesen) to … basically nothing. Boarding was chaotic but we boarded early. A couple in front of us was really annoyed because the Aeromexico employees checking in IDs and boarding passes could not allocate them in the same seat (which is.. maddening since you would do that upon ticket purchase and check-in). But we boarded and survived a 12 hour flight with the extra seating space to Mexico City!

Since the layover was nearly 5 hours, we spent most of the time in the Aeromexico Premier lounge. The lounge had a simple “breakfast buffet” and a couple of hot options that was snack size, but otherwise kitchen service was not available. Most of the interesting restaurants were situated outside the security lanes anyway.

Arriving in San Salvador

Arrival was fairly smooth, but you have to pay $12 for a visa to get in. You can choose to pay via cash, card or even Bitcoin. We asked to pay in Bitcoin at first but the officer said that she would need to get someone else to help, which could indicate that she was not used to it. Anyway, before immigration/customs, I spotted a Chivo ATM which you can use to withdraw cash via your Bitcoin wallet or buy Bitcoin.

Uber service is available in San Salvador, but one thing to note is that there is no big place as a pick up point when you arrive. We ended up spending a good 10 or so minutes walking around to try to find where the Uber driver was parked.

With the trip to San Salvador, you go through some poorer neighbourhoods. A lot of people on the side or middle of the roads selling food and perhaps other items. I spotted a group of police with guns monitoring entryway of a neighbourhood place. One thing that strikes out to you from Europe – one is the heat/sun, the other is all the armed policemen!

Staying in Barceló, San Salvador

I mean, San Benito is hands down the better, and safer, places to stay in San Salvador and a good initial choice to get bearings. There are various options for restaurants, shops, cafes, breweries, hotels, clubs, bars, a couple of malls there.

Regarding COVID19 rules, it is masked indoors (surgical generally), hand sanitizer (usually attached to some device which takes your temperature). Enforcing the same types of rules in Europe (in terms of being vaccinated/recovered/boostered) in a country like El Salvador would be bad for the businesses there, and it would be hard to enforce country wide.

We asked one of the locals as to what the place is to be for New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be along the beach. Not really having a penchant for big crowds, plus we would be spending most of the time at the coast, we decided to opt to stay in San Salvador. Not only that, but having to fight off jetlag for the first few days, we decided to do it in style in a comfy place, which in this case was at a hotel in San Benito, one of the more prestigious areas in San Salvador, at the Barceló hotel.

Things that I like about Barceló hotel:

  • Fairly decent price for a 4 star hotel compared to others in the same region and hotel series.
  • Breakfast is quiet thorough and include the El Salvadoran usuals of refried beans, plantain, eggs with salsa, tamales, frijoles, local bread and cheeses, plus the usual hotel stuff of sausages, hashbrowns, French toast, yogurt, cereal etc.
  • Has a bar and café with decent coffee.
  • Opposite the Bambu mall, within the San Benito area
  • Nicely kitted out gym including treadmill with HIIT workouts that I made use of each day
  • Laundrette ($1 coin operated)
  • Pool to dip into
  • Good view over the mountains and city centre – great sunrise/sunsets and also see fireworks from the room

Things that I don’t like about Barceló hotel

  • Pool was quiet small, you can do multiple laps but it is mainly to dip around
  • Difficult to just ask to put services (ie meals, drinks at the bar, etc) in your room
  • They ran out of clean towels! And failed to tell us…
  • Fitness centre was just a closed in space, not making use of the fact that it is up high so no windows overlooking city centre.
  • No rooftop terrace bar/restaurant at all, so not utilising the space that they could have…

An alternative is the La Zona Rosa Hostel, which we stayed in since Barceló was occupied beyond the date extension.

New Year’s Eve in Barceló

Since we opted for the more “quiet” we ended up just having a dinner at the restaurant in the hotel.

Unexpectedly, the dinner ended up being an actual New Year’s Eve buffet! We were pretty surprised about it, but it ended up being nice actually. The food was … unexpected for me, like sweet potato with burnt marshmallows on top or the sliced turkey breast with cranberry sauce. There was also a party there and a lot of very well dressed people in high heels, sequins, suits etc. Spotted outside was what seemed like a party for someone.

The party went on until after midnight, we stopped sometime before that to have a nightcap at the bar, then jetlag took over a bit and watched the fireworks from the hotel room instead.

Bambu Mall, San Benito

Opposite the Barceló hotel was the Bambu mall. It had some dining options, mainly in the lower and upper levels. In between levels were some shops, a salon (for hair, nails and spa), pharmacy. The unfortunate thing about the mall is that it did not have a supermarket and we ended up going to some fancy “bio” place to get some overpriced toothpaste when the “pharmacy” was closed at the time.

I ended up getting my hair and nails done at the V salon, all speaking in Spanish so had to wrangle some way to set up a couple of appointments…

Other places to check out in San Benito

Here are the other places to check out in San Benito that we enjoyed…

  • Roots Food Artisans on Calle La Forma which has a bakery for sourdough etc bread, an amazing selection for brunch or lunch, can pick up a bottle of wine to go, or even some coffee beans.
  • Cadejo Brewing Company on Calle La Forma for beers on tap and finger food to go with the beers
  • The Greenhouse on Calle Circunvalacion for a big selection of smoothies and various food options for lunch, including what looked like keto-friendly options like cauliflower rice.
  • Café La Casona on Avenida la Capilla for their iced/frozen coffees, in particular check out the horchata and cebada drinks for something local.
  • Puerto Marisco on Bulevar Del Hipodromo for the seafood.
  • The area where Shaw’s is on Avenida Las Magnolias has various food options from burgers to vegan/plant-based food!
  • If you want to stay in, Super Selecto’s on Av. Las Magnolias is a good-sized supermarket to check out and there is also a small, 24-hour grocery store Road market (even on New Year’s Eve!) on Blvr. del Hippódromo.
  • As I was poorly packed for the weather and needed to get a local SIM, I went to the Multiplaza Mall which had a lot of clothing shops and options to choose from.