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El Salvador Hotels

Hotel Tip of The Week: La Barranca Hostel, Suchitoto, El Salvador

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Villa Balanza Sign

We had arrived to Suchitoto, El Salvador during a music festival, and while this guaranteed us an eventful time while in town, our only accommodation option the first night was a room at a well-known but sub-par American-owned place. While strolling around town, we came across Villa Balanza restaurant, and as they had received a glowing review in our Footprint guidebook, we decided to sit down here for a bite to eat and ended up booking a room at the hostel for the next night at the same time we paid our restaurant bill.

This is not your typical backpacker hostel with restaurant (read: bar) attached. La Barranca is a peaceful hostel set at the bottom of a rather long, steep hill, a five minute walk from the restaurant with views of the major tourist draw, the famous Lake Suchitlan. The way down the hill with luggage is a challenge, even harder is the slog back up after check out, but for those who are reasonably fit (or have a car) the serene setting of the accommodation is more than worth it.

Lago de Suchitatlan

La Barranca is made up of a two story main house with five bedrooms upstairs over a very homey kitchen and living room downstairs. A second building just behind it houses another five rooms with doors opening out onto a peaceful courtyard with tables and chairs. Staying here feels more like staying in a suburban home, with all the appropriate comforts. The clean, well-decorated rooms have double beds, plenty of space and en-suite bathrooms. (The bathroom is built into the room, has a saloon-door entrance and is open on top, so we recommend staying at La Barranca with someone you know fairly well, as you will be sharing your bathroom noises with everyone in the room.)

The kitchen has beautiful mahogany cabinets, a squeaky clean fridge, all the necessary appliances and is roomy enough to fit a decent sized kitchen table with space to host dinner for a few friends.  The living room is equally spacious, with a couch, chairs, a TV, and a computer with internet for those who do not travel with their own laptop. For those who do, including us digital nomads, La Barranca offers free, hi-speed Wi-Fi, which works perfectly everywhere in the main house, fairly well outside in the courtyard, but unfortunately did not reach to the rooms in the second building.

Stand Out Feature: The restaurant – Villa Balanza

As we mentioned, our meal at Villa Balanza hugely influenced our decision to stay at La Barranca, run by the same family.  Set just off of a quiet park five minutes from the Suchitoto’s central plaza, this restaurant serves up stylish versions of typical Salvadorian food for just pennies more than the street food vendors in town, while the quality of the food would rival any Latin American restaurant in any major city.  The food itself is just one aspect of what Villa Balanza is really setting out to do, which is to define through food, art and history, what it means, and what it has always meant, to be Salvadorian. Hanging over the entryway to Villa Balanza is a large scale (‘Balanza’ means ‘balance’ in Spanish). On one side sits a 750 pound weapon from the armed forces during the fairly recent civil war, on the other, a stack of tortillas. The scale is meant to symbolize the counterbalance of the town’s history in the war with the country’s deeply rooted traditional ‘culture of corn’. Inside the restaurant, the walls are lined with a mix of contemporary oil paintings, centuries’ old photographs and some of the most delicious food in town.

Sculpture

Room for improvement: In-room wi-fi

This is often a frustrating, if not downright picky, request as so often hotels in countries like the USA and Germany rarely offer free wi-fi at all. However, for those who spend time travelling in Central America, free wi-fi is a given in almost all hotels, especially those in the budget category. Plus, La Barranca offers free-wi to guests. With a second router, the hostel would have gotten perfect marks from us, as we often work late into the night after a day of sightseeing, and would have preferred working from our room rather than out in the living room until after midnight.

Location: Barrio San José N° 7 Next to the San Martin Park, Suchitoto, Cuscatlan, El Salvador
Price:
$25 per room per night
LGBT Friendly:
Yes
Amenities:
Kitchen, wi-fi, lounge, yard
Website:
www.villabalanzarestaurante.com (ignore the prices on the website as they are completely unrelated to international travelers, and also, the images on this very basic site do the hotel no justice at all!!).

Suchitoto Tree-lined street

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: La Estancia in San Salvador

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Set along a winding road in a quiet side street, there is no sign marking La Estancia, but almost every cab driver in the city knows the place. If arriving on foot, look out for a purple gate. Popular among Peace Corp volunteers and budget travelers from around the world, La Estancia’s chintzy wood paneling and decades-old furniture feel like a well-worn pair of shoes – the ones that look ugly but are your go-to, reliable pair.

The hotel has two dorms and four $30 double rooms. Our room, Room #5, is apparently the best. It had two double  beds, a large, clean private bathroom with hot water (real hot water, not an electric shower head), a TV with a DVD player and DVDs, and even a private (small) outdoor patio with a plastic table and chairs.

The dorm rooms have six beds and appeared safe and secure for $12, and dorm guests can also enjoy a range of DVDs on the 42-inch flat screen in the living room. Here there are two comfortable couches and a reclining chair, a DVD library and a small library as well with a good selection of books thanks to the many longer-term volunteers who pass through the hotel. A second living room has a TV (no DVD player), two couches and opens up onto a tiny patio space with a fountain. The wi-fi works well in all shared spaces and we were able to get some good work done in between all the DVD watching (oh, and sightseeing, of course). The fully-equipped kitchen, open to guests, is split into two parts – a cramped cooking/washing up space, and an open space with a very clean fridge, 8-seat round table, and plenty of dishes and silverware.

Breakfast is served out here, although it leaves much to be desired (see Room for Improvement below). Free coffee is available all day though, and cooking for yourself is no issue at all, thanks to the two mega-supermarkets located at the Metrocentro just five minutes’ walking distance from the hotel.  In fact, it is the hotel’s location that we found to be the best aspect of our stay at La Estancia.

Stand Out Feature: Location, Location, Location

La Estancia is five minutes from the Metrocentro Mall on Boulevard de Heroes, which is a North American style mega mall with supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, a 12 theater Cineplex and a healthy range of shopping options from high fashion to basic needs. Depending on how long you have been on the road, even those who like to avoid such mall monstrosities can appreciate the chance to run every conceivable errand around the corner from their hotel.

The Metrocentro is also a major transportation hub. Almost every city bus line and taxis pass by here, which makes getting home from a day of exploring the city that much easier.

Room for improvement

Breakfast is included in the price, but it is prepared grudgingly by a member of the cleaning staff. It just did not taste good. A toaster oven and a loaf of white bread is made available for anyone to prepare their own toast – certainly a wiser option.

Overall

El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador, more specifically the swanky Zona Rosa district, has attracted several four and five star international hotel chains which jut enthusiastically out of an otherwise muted city skyline. Far from this glitz and glamour, visitors on a budget might have a hard time finding affordable, yet comfortable accommodation in the capital. La Estancia may not sparkle, but in terms of practicality, this budget hotel is hard to beat.

Location: Av Cortés 216, Centro, San Salvador
Price:
US$12 for a dorm, $15 per person in a private room
LGBT Friendly:
Unknown to us
Amenities:
Wi-fi, kitchen, free coffee, DVDs, hot showers
Contact: +
503 2275 3381

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Hotel Tip of the Week: Entre Piedras in Alegria, El Salvador

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This is our first article in a new weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We’ll be posting one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Entre Piedras hostel is set in a small mountain town of Alegria in El Salvador. Like most budget hotels in Alegria, Entre Piedras is a converted family house. What makes the hotel stand out is the way it brings guests the perfect balance of an at-home feeling with all the hotel amenities and services to feel like a valued guest. You won’t find Entre Piedras in any guidebooks yet either, as this near-new hostel opened only at the end of 2009.

Unlike many hostels, Entre Piedras is similar to a cozy bed and breakfast in size and feel. There are only three rooms available – one dorm of 6 beds, one room with a bunk bed for two (both with shared bath), and one master suite with a sprawling double bed and private bathroom.

Roberto, who manages the day-to-day business at Entre Piedras, goes above and beyond for his guests. Up early writing one morning, I had yet to have breakfast, and Roberto brought me a new fruit to try – a zapote, something I would never have tried but am sure glad I did. He also told us about a hike around the Laguna de Alegria, and even joined the guide and us on our hike, teaching us about local coffee history and coffee along the way.

The restaurant has an excellent, if small, menu of international food. Breakfasts for US$3 hit the spot, and this is the only restaurant in town which offers an alternative to comida tipica, or typical food. The public rooms inside are decorated as though you are simply staying in someone’s house, but the knick knacks, antique technology gadgets, stack of 50s magazines and very antique black and white photos are so well curated that this is clearly a subtly constructed living museum of sorts.

In fact, Roberto’s family run the La Casa Mia Hostel & Restaurante in the small nearby town Berlin, which contains such a large collection of artifacts, trinkets and family photos that the space is also officially a museum of both family and local history. This same style spills over into Entre Piedras, and makes for some fascinating snooping around, which is encouraged. (If you visit Berlin but don’t overnight, at least stop in to La Casa Mia for a piece of delicious cake and have a peek around the living room and family room which double as the museum space.)

Stand Out Features: Entre Piedras

At this hotel there are two features that bring Entre Piedras a head above the rest.  The first one is the excellent coffee. Roberto is a true coffee lover himself and has a top of the line coffee bar machine. Indulge in the best americanos, cappuccinos and lattes in El Salvador.

The second absolute stand out feature is the entire family’s engagement in quality tourism development in El Salvador and Central America. In addition to owning the two hostels Entre Piedras and La Casa Mia, the family are a part of ‘Red de Posadas Rurales’ a network of rural hostels and hotels through Central America that are of high quality, eco-friendly and engaged in their community. Roberto himself clearly has good relationships with hostel owners throughout El Salvador and is working together with Alex, the owner of the (also excellent) hostel Escencia Nativa in El Zonte, on a website called El Salvador By Bus. This website will map out the best and easiest routes for getting around the country by local ‘chicken’ bus and will include prices, schedules and journey times. Tourism infrastructure in El Salvador is rough at best and such assistance is sorely needed and much appreciated.

For the digital nomads & travel bloggers out there Entre Piedras offers free fast reliable wi-fi, and the hostel is peaceful enough to get work done. Working at one of the living room or dining room tables inside also feels like working from home, which after spending days in cafes and restaurants, is a really comfortable experience. At the time of our visit at the end of 2010, Entre Piedras was the only hostel with free wi-fi in Alegria.

Room for improvement: The Bathroom Situation

The shared bathrooms are clean and well-maintained, but are located in the back of the property. Guests of the hotel have to walk through the back end of the outdoor restaurant with wet hair and shower products in hand, which breaks up the enjoyable outdoor atmosphere of the restaurant and is a tad bit uncomfortable for guests. This shouldn’t affect your decision whether or not to stay at Entre Piedras, which we can whole-heartedly recommend should you find yourself in Alegria.

Location: Northeast corner of central park in Alegria, Usulutan, El Salvador.
Price: US$20.00 double room with shared bathroom / US$30.00 double room with private bathroom / dorms US$8.00
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Amenities: Restaurant, Wi-Fi, Payment with Cards possible, Hikes
Website: www.hostalentrepiedras.com

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