Donald Trump, the current President of the USA and world’s most influential racist, has this week reportedly described African nations, Haiti and El Salvador as ‘shitholes’, in an inflammatory statement that is openly bigoted and plainly wrong.
As Trump himself might say: believe me, this is fake news.
Although, like Mr Trump, I have never visited Haiti (which is still recovering from the calamitous earthquake of 2010), I have, unlike him, travelled extensively through 19 countries in Africa and most recently (October 2017) toured through large parts of El Salvador.
In complete contradiction to Trump’s mindless description, El Salvador is a fabulous, stunning country. Punching well above its weight, and offering a disproportionate number of thrilling locations, activities and experiences, it will surely soon become one of Central America’s ‘must see’ destinations.
It offers a glut of natural attractions including dramatic volcanic scenery, thick jungle, surfers’-paradise beaches, fertile coffee country and glassy lake scenery. Ecologically it is exceptional, with an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. Home to over 400 species of orchid, 500 species of birds, 800 species of trees and 1,000 species of butterfly, it also abounds with turtles, with six of the eight species living up and down the El Salvadorian coastline.
Historical locations range from conquistador to pre-Columbian, with over 2,000 known archaeological sites. Maya and Olmec cultural sites particularly stand out with the Pyramids of San Andres, Cihuatan, Tazumal and Tehuacan viewed as some of the flagship destinations. Furthermore, Joya de Ceren is regarded as Central America’s equivalent to Pompeii.
Travel is quick and easy in El Salvador too. It is known as the ‘Forty Minute Country’, on the basis that you can visit anywhere from the capital San Salvador, in just forty minutes.
I found it constantly full of pleasant surprises: terrific food, friendly people, rich artistic culture and an outlandish scenery dominated by lush rainforest, fairy-tale lakes, mist-covered volcanoes and rolling mountain scenery. Where else in the world can you drive along a sealed road on the top of a volcano rim, with 500m vertical drops on either side? Or sip the continent’s best coffee to a dawn accompanied by birdsong and rainbows?
I highly recommend a visit, allowing as much time as you can spare. Trust me – you won’t be disappointed.
Side-stepping the issue of what exactly Mr Trump thinks constitutes a ‘shithole’, having personally travelled to over 90 countries worldwide, I can unreservedly state that at a time when so many of the world’s annual 1.34 billion international tourists are looking to put another tick against their bucket list, El Salvador is one of the most exciting ‘new’ destinations. It’s away from the better-known Latin American destinations, relatively undiscovered and off most people’s radar.
Mr Trump has obviously never stepped foot in El Salvador. Indeed, since becoming President, he has neither visited Haiti or touched the soil of Africa either. Pre-president days I can only assume the closest he’s got to travelling is between his golf courses, hotels and business meetings.
The first lesson a true traveller learns is how to balance humility with understanding.