Ditching the usual Christmas crowds for a last-minute adventure, I found myself on a plane to El Salvador. It wasn’t exactly on my dream vacation list, but the direct flight from Boston and budget-friendly prices were too tempting to pass up. Plus, who wouldn’t want to escape the winter blues with some sunshine and sand?

Admittedly, I had some trepidation. “El Salvador and crime” seemed to go hand-in-hand in online searches. But I embraced the unknown, and landed at the Mizata Antiresort, a unique treehouse-style retreat overlooking a black volcanic sand beach. Pictures online were stunning, and while the reality was charmingly rustic, it wasn’t quite the polished paradise I’d envisioned (more on that later).

Day 1: Arriving past midnight, we navigated winding roads through the country with a driver from the hotel.  After a 90 minute ride and a bit of car sickness we were greeted and shown to our room by a rifle wearing security guard (a slightly unnerving introduction!)

Day 2: Morning brought sunshine and relief. The pool beckoned, and the included breakfast fueled our exploration. Local flavors like beans, cheese, and fresh-cut avocado painted a delicious picture of Salvadoran cuisine. In the afternoon we had ceviche by the beach, smoothies in coconut shells, and endless views. We weren’t the only ones enamored. Surfers dominated the scene, their boards adding a dynamic touch to the tranquil setting. After soaking it all in, we tackled the black sand – an interesting textural experience!

Ceviche

Day 3: Ready for an adventure, we embarked on a challenging hike to Tamanique waterfall. The guide’s joking offer of walking sticks turned out to be essential. My sneakers, less so. Turns out, rocky sand paths and sturdy footwear are a match made in heaven. Ropes and ladders added a dose of adrenaline, culminating in a refreshing reward at the falls. Bonus: sharing the experience with fellow hotel guests made it even more memorable. The open-air truck ride back and a local lunch of pupusas and fish rounded out the perfect day.

Day 4: Early mornings meant sunrise yoga and massages. The hotel frequently hosts yoga retreat groups so has the perfect set up for the experience. This zen vibe resonated throughout the day, culminating in a self-guided hike with a picnic basket and wine – a thoughtful touch from the hotel.

Overall Impressions: The Mizata Antiresort offered a unique experience. Treehouse living was cool, albeit rustic. Rolling power and water outages were unexpected and inconvenient, but somehow after a day of yoga, massage and sun we were able to overlook this. The open-air bathroom, while charming, tested my tolerance for humidity and bugs.

The hotel and guests ran on an early schedule.  The surfers and yogis started their day at sunrise and dinner service ended by 7 p.m.  If you were looking for a party, afternoons by the pool were the place to be with a live DJ and drinks flowing.  The bar stayed open until 10p for drinks but after sunset the crowd mostly dispersed.  

The hotel was in a remote area so there was not much opportunity to go out and see things outside the resort (although we talked to other guests who did hire a driver to take them to night clubs 30 minutes away and they had a great time). Some spanish skills (or a translation app) were definitely needed if you traveled outside the hotel. We felt very safe in the hotel, despite other things we had read online about lots of crime in the country. 

El Salvador was an unexpected gem. While the Mizata Antiresort had its quirks, it offered a unique taste of local life, stunning scenery, and a chance to disconnect and reconnect with nature. Who knows, maybe you’ll find your own Salvadoran surprise waiting just beyond the usual vacation destinations!