We made it to El Salvador.

For months, almost since we'd come to Guatemala, my husband always said, "I want to check out El Salvador. I want to go to El Salvador." El Salvador was always on his mind.

We'd tried once to visit, and they wouldn't let us in.

Now we were finally here, with the intention to find a house to rent for one month, two months, or more... who knows, maybe we'll have a baby here.

So when we woke up the next morning (after staying at the 'roach motel' in the border town), we were anxious to get started on the day, and to find our new home.

Heading southwest toward the coast, the scenery was beautiful and the roads were great -- smooth and straight. Greg was so excited that there were no speed bumps, even passing through the small towns! After Guatemala's never-ending tumulos (their word for speed bumps), it was a nice break.

Driving along with our playlist on the speakers, the sun was shining and we were feeling good, the kids singing along to the music. All of a sudden I caught a glimpse of it. Reaching a rise I could see over the trees a glimmer of sunshine on a gigantic body of water.

"The ocean!" I exclaimed. "I can see it." Goosebumps went up my arms and big smile crossed my face. Everyone started yelling and getting excited. Ever since our last trip to the beach in Guatemala we'd been aching to go back (in fact Atlas would wake up in the mornings and say, "I want a beach house.")

Finally there it was, stretching out before us. The energy and exhilaration were palpable.

And then Greg screamed out and the truck swerved just a bit.

"What happened???!!!"

"I just got stung by a bee on my arm! Quick, give me some oils, it hurts!"

"While we're driving, with the wind blowing?" Laughing and shaking my head at the oddity, I pass him some peppermint essential oil for the pain.

The road wound along the top of cliffs, and passes through several tunnels. Every so often, beautiful ocean vistas came into view. It is a gorgeous and pleasant drive.


Before we knew it, we came to the first town that we had considered looking at to live -- El Zonte. All of a sudden, there it was around the bend... and then it was gone, that quickly.

"Wow, that's small," I thought. "Where would we buy groceries? Do they even have internet? Plus the beach was way down at the bottom of those cliffs."

"Should I go back and we can check it out?" Greg asked.

The mama in me replied, "We better find out where we can buy groceries first." (Our family eats a lot, living closer to food is a good thing, I say.)

So we kept going. We passed through Palmercito, Sunzal, and El Tunco. Either the beaches were too rocky, or the towns were too small. Lunch time was approaching, and the kids were aching to swim, so we started looking for a place where we could relax and use the internet. A nice hotel maybe, or restaurant. (I needed to check in with a client who's website I was designing.)

Nothing. Nobody. A nice fancy hotel with a pool on the beach. Do you have internet? Nope. Not us.

Hotel after hotel and not a one offered wireless to their guests. How could this be?

As we were driving through El Tunco (for the second time), I saw a sign for El Pupa Hotel and remembered that they'd been recommended by our friends from Retire Early Lifestyle. They had internet! Stop the truck! We asked how much to use the pool and internet for an hour. Five dollars? Okay, we'll do it. (But after we unloaded and got into the pool, they charged us $10... because we had so many kids 🙁 )


I got some work done while the kids swam, and Greg grabbed some pupusas for lunch. Yum! (Only three for a $1). My gregarious husband also made friends with a surfer and asked him about this town, and about Nicaragua, where he had been living previously. He told us about this great place he loved called Las Penitas. We'll have to check it out, when we finally go to Nicaragua.

But for now, was El Tunco someplace we could live? We walked down to the beach to see what it was like.


It was rocky and rough, definitely not a place for kids. I guess we'll keep moving on.

We drove to San Blas and saw some beautiful homes, so we decided to see what rental prices might be. Our challenge was that we couldn't call on any rental signs, because we didn't have an El Salvador phone. And we didn't want to buy one until we knew IF we were staying for sure. So we had stop at stores and 'rent' a phone, or borrow phones from caretakers (if they were living at the property.) Kind of a slow and annoying process.

The first nice place we were able to call on wanted $1000 a month. Woah. That seems a little high. Maybe it's a fluke. So we called on another, and another. They were decent places, not really nice, but livable. A little old, a little 'rusty'. But they could work.

Two-thousand a month. Three-thousand a month... are you kidding me????

For this rusted out, old place, you want $3000 a month?? We paid $3000 a month to live in a $2.5million dollar, 6500 sq ft. mansion in the Central Valley of Costa Rica... and that was five years ago. Are you crazy people??

We couldn't believe it. Discouraged and disheartened, we found a camp spot right on the beach, then drove into La Libertad to buy some groceries. But shopping didn't help our mood. All the prices were 10-15% higher than what we were paying in Guatemala. I thought El Salvador was supposed to be cheap?

Back at our camp site, we analyzed what to do. Maybe we'll have more luck tomorrow? Maybe we'll check out the market in Libertad and find better prices on food? For now, we'll enjoy the waves and the sand and our roasted chicken bean burritos.

In the morning, there was a gorgeous sunrise on a a gorgeous beach.


I like this area, if only we can find some place affordable to stay.

Getting creative, my husband checks out next door to where we are camped, which is an unfinished house, kind of open-air/outdoor living style. It's on the beach. There's a bachelor living there. We get a little tour. There's some tables, a kitchen area (no water, stove, fridge, etc.). There's no beds. We'd have to sleep in our tents. There's a toilet that you flush with a bucket of water, no shower. But there is a pool. Maybe we could stay here... we did camp for seven weeks in Mexico at Laguna Bacalar, at a campground/hostel with access to kitchen and bathroom. It was nice.

This place was less nice, they couldn't charge much. So we asked. If we stayed for a month, how much would it cost?

el salvador

The sunrise is nice, but I'm not going to pay that for an unfinished house!

Twenty dollars a night! Twenty dollars a night???!! That's $600 a month! That's a really nice place in Panajachel, Guatemala. There's not even a bathroom that works, and there's no running water in the house! Across the street was no better. Greg looked at a place and he thought it was bad (which means it must have been really bad)... peeling paint, scary looking, dirty. It wasn't even on the beach, but it did have a pool... $50 a night.

Give me a break. I don't mind 'roughing it', but I'm not going to pay premium prices to do it. I think it's time to move on.

So we did. We packed up and headed south.

We stopped in La Libertad again on the way, and visited the market. The people were super friendly. Almost everyone passing by wanted to talk to me about the kids, the baby in my belly, where we were traveling from, and on and on. It was a little uncomfortable for me, since I'm not a very talkative person... but they were so nice.

But the market? We've visited a lot of markets, and this was the dirtiest, SMELLIEST market we'd ever encountered (except for maybe the markets in India.) And the prices weren't that much better than the store.

 Yes, I still have more to tell... I'm sorry to bore you with all the never-ending details.

Before leaving town we visited the boardwalk (malecon), and that was really nice. But a nice boardwalk didn't help solve our problems of where to live.

So, you guessed it, we moved on. Now the main road diverged from the coast. The next likely beach town was much further south. We drove through the cities of El Carmen and Zacatecoluca. The day was waning, and my husband was feeling ill.

"I can't go any further," he told me. "I have to stop for the day."

We pulled into the first place we found, a gas station, and parked with the truckers. "I don't really want to stay here," I thought. But where else would we go when he's too sick to drive?

The sun was setting and we got attacked by mosquitoes. My husband crawled into the roof top tent, sick to his stomach (a little later he emptied all it's contents.) The kids were hungry, so I gave them snacks instead of dinner.

Then I cried. Maybe we shouldn't have left the comforts of home. Maybe I can't do this 'travel thing' anymore. I just wanted to find a nice place to rent. When were we going to find it?

I couldn't sleep that night (I blame the big pregnant belly) and instead sat in a camp chair in a gas station parking lot, looking out across the neighboring field as the moon set, pondering life.

Here we are in the middle of... who knows where, not knowing where home will be next? Did we make the right choice to take off and leave the Homestead? Are we doing the right thing? Where will we end up? Where will we have this baby? All the uncertainties, inconveniences and precariousness of travel... can I still handle it? Why is the very nature of travel so 'uncontrollable'? 

You do the research, you try to prepare, you have expectations of what you'll find, of what it will be like, but then it throws you for a loop, makes you uncomfortable and annoyed and pushes all your sensitive buttons. Why?? Maybe I need to go back to being a tourist instead of a traveler.

Continued in Part 2...

Have you had similar experiences while traveling? Tell us about them.




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42 Responses

  1. MaryBright1

    Sounds exciting. I kept trying to imagine my family on that kind of “adventure”. I don’t think it would have brought out the best in us. I can’t wait to see what you ended up doing.

  2. Samara Keller

    Love your writing Rachel! We’ve had similar experiences traveling- but you have have such a knack for putting it into words. Happy adventuring- I’m hanging on every word!

    • Rachel Denning

      Thanks Sam! Sometimes I wonder if I ramble too much. Helps me to feel better, I guess. 😉

  3. FivesOnthefly

    It really is pretty miserable when hours of research and planning really pan out to nothing. We set up a month-long rental this past October outside of Glacier National Park in Montana. Upon arriving on October 1st, we puzzled at the “Park Closed” signs at the main gate and later that day brought ourselves up to speed on current events and the government shutdown.  Weeks passed as we watched Glacier from afar, though finally the park reopened with still two weeks left in our rental. Hurray! However…after two days in the park, we returned to our rental to find a “temporary” internet problem would take weeks to fix. My wife and I both work online, so that was a deal-breaker. Our silver lining came after more hours of research to find a weekly rental outside of Yellowstone. Through a lot of long discussions with the owner we were able to get a refund for the remaining two weeks on the Glacier rental and head to Yellowstone for a truly amazing time. We hope you find your silver-lining soon!

    • Rachel Denning

      You got it exactly right… but it turns out in the end. 🙂

  4. catherineforest

    Oh Rachel, I feel you! I know that feeling so very well. It must be much harder since you are pregnant too. You guys are brave and things will all work out, I am sure. Trust and try to take it with a grain of salt. You left the homestead because you were feeling it was the right thing. Trust that instinct. Life is serving you lots of adventure right now, maybe more than you were looking for, but it simply means that El Salvador was not the right place to have the baby and settle down for a few months. The signs are clear. They are just not the signs you were looking for… Courage!

  5. MV

    Your blog popped up on my newsfeed, and I have a few tips for you as you travel through Central America. First of all most Central Americans get a new Sim card for their phones when they travel to another country. Its the easiest way to have communication while in the country. I’d suggest Tigo or Claro while in El Salvador. El Salvador like Guatemala, has limited internet throughout and as a result people rely on USB hot spots to use the internet. Again, try Tigo or Claro for buying these. The rates are pretty reasonable, and you can refill these just about anywhere. 

    The region of La Libertad is one of the most expensive areas because that’s where the tourists go. Its become a big surfing destination. As far as the beach towns and markets are concerned, people often go to the larger cities to go to the markets for food. Hence the need for the small stores.As for the really sandy beaches, unfortunately these only appear in the rainy season. This time of year the beaches are really rocky. 

    And whatever you do, do not eat the curtido or the pupusas with chicharron (pork). They will make you very sick. I personally only eat the ones with  ayote (squash). 
    Good luck

  6. Tobie Spears

    You guys are awesome! I’m constantly amazed at your families willingness to work together and travel together. There are many comforts of home. But, you are experiencing life in the world. After our near death experience in Guatemala our family decided it was time to come home;) Now that we’ve been home for a while I am itching to leave again. Maybe back to Guate:)Keep your head up! Xoxo

  7. Carol Kaatz

    The closest I have come to that is trying to find a house to rent in MD that would allow our FIVE children!! It was difficult to find anyone willing to rent to such a large family! But we had friends and family to stay with in the interim to keep us safe…I can only imagine how lonely you felt, especially with Greg feeling sick! You amaze me with your strength! ( a few tears is to be expected! You are pregnant, after all!)

    • Rachel Denning

      I remember trying to find a house. 🙂 Thanks mom, love you!

  8. Enid Mercado

    Me gusta tu relato tan honesto… Todo va a estar bien…!!! Pronto encontraràn un hermoso lugar donde estar con tu familia y esperar a su bebé. 😉

  9. Kierston Ashworth Jarvis

    We went to panama a couple yrs ago. Two kids 3 and 1 and I was 5 mo pregnant. Panama was lovely, clean, wonderful roads. The people were so nice and the culture there seemed to be very agreeable but we spent sooooo much money! We would go to a restaurant and order rice and beans and fruit and spend out the wazoo for it. Then one day we drove along the coast all day thinking we could find a decent place to stay. My budget was $50-75 a night. That should get us something decent. When we arrived to our destination with no more daylight left and carsick puking kids in the back, the ONLY, albeit fairly nice, accommodations? $130/night. For that I’m thinking all inclusive resort, not a sort of nice big house owned by a parrot head expat with a rundown pool. We were happy staying in a quaint cleanish place with a kitchenette but places like that weren’t even there. No groceries there… Just order from the chef and they bill u at the end. After driving all day we had no choice. So we ended up staying two nights so as to not blow the whole vacation on searching. I could have bought groceries for a month back home for what they charged us for food alone for two days. We came home after 10 days never having stayed in very nice places but having spent enough for an all inclusive luxury vacation. I dont mind spending a little extra if we get something really great… I also don’t mind stuff a little adventurous and rough around the edges but I also don’t want to pay top dollar for it! I will have a hard time going back to panama bc it’s so hard to enjoy a place when u have a lump in your throat about laying down such a large chunk of cash for every little thing!

  10. WagonersAbroad

    Wow, what a time.  We had similar problems on our European road trip over the summer, but on a smaller scale.  It is frustrating, but it all works out eventually.  Can’t wait to read more.

    • Rachel Denning

      You’re right, it does eventually work out. (Important to remember!!)

  11. MegB

    Oh man, wish I could help! I’m dying for the rest of the story! When you’re living in the middle of the story, it’s hard to see where God is leading you (or you even wonder IF He’s leading you!), but you will soon realize why it’s unfolding this way. It’s all part of His Plan!

    • Rachel Denning

      Shhh… I am actually ‘back posting’, so we’re through it now and it worked out great (enjoying the beach in Nicaragua right now!) But when we were in the middle of it, it was a different story 🙂

  12. Guategirl

    Did you read about El Salvador before you headed there? It can be a very dangerous place, and not one I would plan to settle with a family. I visited for about 10 days last summer and was shocked by the high prices (they use the USD and, maybe it’s my imagination, but things seemed very expensive).

    Everywhere I went, locals warned me about the gangs (Las Maras – the guys with tattooed face), the crime and the violence. I stayed in a terrible, dirty hotel on the beach for $65/night because it was the only place I could find. And even that place smelled like sewage (and worse). It was a room that I would expect to pay $5-$10/night for in GT.

    Also, you drove through some high crime areas. La Libertad is not a safe area. I’ve heard it’s a big narco area.

    El Tunco is a “party” enclave as it attracts backpackers and surfers. There are some towns north of San Sal that are lovely (Suchitoto, Sta Ana, etc). I don’t mean to “diss” ES. I only saw a small part of it but was happy to get home to GT. It made me appreciate my life here even more.

    Your best bet is probably Nicaragua. I haven’t been yet but am planning to soon. My guess is that you’ll like Granada and Leon. There are lots of beach communities, but I think San Juan del Sur is getting expensive. Good luck.

    Also, check out this blog about a mom in Nica: http://momsthewordblog.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/happy-anniversary/

    • Rachel Denning

      We actually did a lot of research before heading to El Sal. We’d had several friends recently visit there and LOVED it. And we have friends who live there and own property, but we were surprised by the prices that were higher than we’d heard/expected.

      We did love our time in Guatemala (1 1/2 years) and we are in Nicaragua now — Las Penitas (near León) — and loving it!

  13. swtucker

    Bummer, we spent a few weeks in Guatemala last year and really loved it.  We are planning on going down somewhere in Central America this coming July so looking forward to more of your reports.

    • Rachel Denning

      Guatemala was great! We lived there for a year and a half. We’re enjoying Nicaragua now, spending time on the beach 🙂

  14. Guategirl

    RachelDenningGuategirl Happy to hear that you’re enjoying Nica.  Based on my limited experience in El Sal I would never, ever recommend it for a long-term stop. Esp not a family. I’m looking forward to hearing more reports from Nica! Friends from Antigua recently spent long periods of time in Nica and Panama, and loved both. Have you considered EC? More specifically, Cuenca? Buena Suerte!

    • Rachel Denning

      We have friends with young kids who bought property in El Salvador, they absolutely love it there. We love Nica so far, haven’t spent much time in Panama yet (except for Bocas), and haven’t made it to South America yet either!!

  15. Michel

    don’t be so rough on El Salvador… we just spent 3 weeks in El Salvador and loved it! We also found it pretty cheap, at least cheaper than shitty Nicaragua!
    We don’t have kids (only 2 dogs) but our friends http://marinafelder.blogspot.mx/ are right now there with their 2 kids and also LOVE it!
    We also loved Guatemala (I would say my favorite of CA!) but El Salvador was really cool! The only country we really didn’t like (not all, but most of it, especially the people and their attitude!!!) of Central America was Nicaragua! Granada is by far not as nice as Antigua and the be prepared to get pulled over ALL the time by crooked cops! We had many very heated fights with them! (I don’t pay any bribes!) Especially in Leon and around Managua…

    Safety… we even spent 1 week in San Salvador that I felt was MUCH safer than Guatemala City… we in general felt safer in El Salvador than in Guatemala, but that’s for everyone different I guess!

    Anyway… I guess it always depends what you want… good luck with your travels in Nicaragua and hopefully you like it better than we did!

    • Rachel Denning

      We have no ‘hard feelings’ for El Salvador… I really wish we could have explored it more. We have friends who own property there and love it (they have small children). Just wasn’t the right time and place for us I guess 🙂

      It’s interesting everyone’s take/experience in different countries. Some people LOVE Nica and hate El Salvador, for others it’s the opposite. Some people choose Nica because it’s ‘safer’ than El Sal or Guatemala. I guess everyone has their own interpretations and opinions… always fascinating to observe.

  16. windsorD

    sorry to hear about El Salvador and you r correct other that Costa Rica is very expensive because they use american dollar since the 90’s.  You know was a volcano eruption around Dec .27? . I discover your videos a week ago and want to said thank you very much for share but please stay away from central america is too risky driving around this countries especially El Salvador . I bore in El Salvador not visit family because to many gangs. In the city you can find everything but again in the country side you need to bring the food and water from the city where you can find many markets american style  gracias.

    • Rachel Denning

      Costa Rica’s currency is actually the Colon — 500 colones are equal to US$1

      Glad you are enjoying the videos. We are loving Central America, and have been exploring it (for the second time) for 2 years now. We have found plenty of food and water in the country.

      • Rachel Denning

        It’s actually El Salvador that uses the US dollar as their currency, maybe that’s what you were thinking of.

  17. Bjorn

    El Salvador operates in it’s own way and it takes some time to figure it out. The prices on houses are a bit expensive and the standard is not always the best, but they have no problem renting it out, especially in the weekends and holidays. Try out Costa del Sol next time in El Sal, sandy beach, some restaurants and a supermarket. The sandy beaches are mostly south of La libertad

  18. Marc-Étienne Paradis

    Reading that made me believe you were looking for an all included relaxing vacations. Not a backpacking trip to El Salvador. You can’t really judge a country by this perspective. No wireless connections? Not the same standards of cleanliness than your home country? Who cares lol…. That made me cringe a little. Sorry. When you are traveling, you should WANT to see different ways of living than yours. That’s the part that you might have missed out. My point of view.

    • Rachel Denning

      These are good points, but ironically we were comparing it to where we’d been living for the last year and a half — Guatemala — not to our home country (the U.S.). Wireless is essential because we work online, and we were able to find it at most hotels in Guatemala. Cleanliness of hotels and houses for rent were worse than Guatemala, with price tags that were 3-4 times as much. And although not backpacking, we ended up camping, which was a great experience, but still cost a lot more than it should have. I’m sure El Salvador is a great place, but it was a ‘culture shock’ after Guatemala, and didn’t provide the affordability we needed to stay long term (which had been the plan). So we went to Nicaragua instead. 🙂


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