We are both in our 30’s and have traveled to several Central American countries both independently and on packages.
Decameron Salinitas is situated in the district of Sonsonate on the Pacific coast of El Salvador. This part of the country is nearby to a lot of the major attractions of El Salvador and the hotel tour service, Decameron Explorer, or a local taxi will take you to most of these, more about this later.
We stayed at the hotel for a week from Jan 18th-25th; previously we visited just before the rainy season in April of 2006. The weather both times we visited was very hot (30’s oC) with more humidity during the April visit.
Travel by Air Transat from Toronto was very good, we paid the extra $100 each way per person for Club Transat upgrades which were well worth the money with extra legroom, a choice of hot food from a menu, free drink service, priority check in and larger luggage allowances (15kg hand baggage, 40 kg checked baggage).
At the airport in El Salvador things run very smoothly and passage through customs and immigration is very easy provided you correctly fill in the forms that you are given on the aircraft. San Salvador airport is air conditioned so don’t worry about the “sauna effect” that some destination airports have. Once outside though it is a different matter, it’s a cauldron, and I strongly recommend that you have some summer clothes to change into on the aircraft for arrival (zip-off pants are a good idea). We have several very, very small criticisms of the vacation but they are really only very minor, the first being that in the two trips to this resort that we have taken, the 2h bus trip from San Salvador airport to the hotel have been on buses that have had less than stellar air conditioning. The return trip has always been on modern, very comfortable, well air conditioned buses though. I suggest taking a portable battery operated fan for the outward trip. All the tours take place on modern, well air conditioned micro buses or large coaches. The trip to the airport is very interesting and you will have commentary from guides on the bus together with check in information (make sure you put the tags that the Nolitours reps give you at San Salvador airport on your checked baggage, this is for porter delivery of the baggage to your room). The trip passes fairly quickly and there are plenty of things to see on the way such as the large factories that a lot of North American clothing products come from and the volcanoes that you see on the way. Your bus may or may not stop on route to the hotel, I’m sure that if you request a stop for the bathroom the guides will accommodate your request (most of the buses have bathrooms onboard though).
Check-in is a simple affair, both times we visited we were directed to the disco area to receive our all-inclusive bracelets and door keys (proper keys, not cards) together with towel vouchers. The disco is to the left after you leave the hotel lobby area from the bus. Your bags will be delivered to your room in a short while so it might be a good idea to pack your swimwear in your hand baggage in case your bags are at the back of the bunch so you can have a quick dip meanwhile. Locks for the hotel safe can be rented at the disco during check-in for $2 a day and an extra key for the room can be arranged at the lobby later for a $15 deposit.
The hotel has expanded quite a bit since our last visit in April, with the addition of two extra towers and a new restaurant) and we were concerned at first that the “personal” feel of the hotel might have disappeared due to more tourists staying there but happily the hotel still feels very uncrowded and there are plenty of beach chairs, palapas, pool space and minimal lineups for bar service, etc. It has the look and feel of a luxury hotel and the staff are very attentive and accommodating to you, this is why we returned to this hotel.
Rooms are large and have great views from any floor. Ground floors have a small seating terrace area and upper floors have a balcony which is too small to sit on. In terms of noise we only had a few problems and we were in room 2114 on the ground floor of block 2. Quieter rooms in the same block would have had higher numbers such as 2120 etc (2nd block, 1st floor, room 20 etc). Block 1’s quieter rooms would have the lower numbers (to the right of block 1 when facing the beach). Noise is not a significant problem anywhere really though as most noise from the bars stops at 11pm when the disco starts (and the disco is not near the accommodation blocks). The only problem that you might have is the one night of the weekend when there may be a beach party that has a disco for a more local crowd that goes on until late.
The food at the hotel is very good, it’s not 5* gourmet, but for a mass market all-inclusive hotel catering to both Latin Americans and North Americans it’s just fine. I will say that the spinach filled beef medallions I had at the Pastafari restaurant were truly excellent though and would have been very happy with this meal at an expensive Ontario restaurant. There is recycling of food but it is creative and there’s enough variety that for a one week stay you shouldn’t become bored with the food unless you’re a picky eater. My wife is a vegetarian that also eats fish and always had a fair choice of items to eat at every meal. The ceviche (mixed seafood cooked in lime juice) is always very good though. Tiny criticism # 2….there’s not much fruit available for dinner….stock up at breakfast and lunch!! We tried 3 of the a-la-carte restaurants (you can book as many as you like for every night of the week if you wish and you can book 3 at once I think). We tried the Pastafari (Jamaican/Italian (?) fusion) restaurant, Bambu (Thai) and Fusion (Seafood) restaurant. Pastafari was definitely the best for the both of us and the crispy shrimp at the Fusion restaurant were also very good. Bambu was so-so but it really depends on what you order from the menu and your personal taste. We didn’t try the Grill restaurant but reports were positive on the whole.
The main buffet has theme food nights most nights. We especially enjoyed the El Salvadoran night and you must try the pupusas here. Bambu restaurant serves pizza during the day together with burgers, fries, salad etc. The Grill restaurant also doubles as a snackbar serving burgers and fries during the day and also late at night after the buffet closes and after the Grill changes from the a-la-carte restaurant. You won’t go hungry at anytime of the day! There’s also coffee, tea and pastries available at the main beach bar by the saltwater pool from 5.30am – 7am for the earlybirds.
The beach at the hotel is very picturesque with nice golden sand. It is mostly rocky in the water however and the best sea swimming is at the hotels beach club which is accessed by reserving a place the day before at the lobby for either a 9am or an 11am departure returning at either 2.30pm or 4pm the same day. The trip to the beach club takes about 30 mins in an old school bus which is fairly airy with all the windows open. The beach at the hotel is great for lounging and there is a swimming section that is roped off that is fine at high tide. There’s also a salt water pool which is a very neat feature and is available at all times except perhaps at very high tides when the rollers come over the natural volcanic rock breakwater. At low tide the beach is full of great rock pools to explore. Watch your feet though, I found a 5” puffer fish in one of the deeper pools a little further out (tip: volcanic rocks are not usually orange-don’t step on orange things!!). Surf shoes or sandals are a good idea in the rock pools as the volcanic rocks are sharp in places.
The massages at the hotel are very good and very reasonably priced from $30ish to $50ish (all prices US$) for 50 mins (you can pay more for 80 mins) from a choice of Swedish massage at the lower end to aromatherapy, hot rock or deep tissue massage at the higher end. The massage huts are by the well equipped (and air conditioned) gym, facing the sea, and the Temascal ceremonial sauna hut (the big white “igloo”). You book massages and other treatments (chocotherapy…yes..with chocolate, and sea salt exfoliation etc) at the gym and then pay at the lobby. Bring your receipt back to the gym before your reservation time. You can pay for anything at the hotel with a credit card. Outside of the hotel you can occasionally use credit cards but you will sometimes be asked for id so be prepared. The Temascal is highly recommended. It’s free and you book it in the gym for one of the three daily sessions. A nice little old native lady will take you through a 30 minute cleansing ritual in the steamy “igloo”.
Tours: Decameron Explorer is the hotel’s tour company and admirably does not fleece a captive audience. All tours are reasonably priced for their content and quality unlike some other resorts. All the guides are top notch, speak good English or French and are permanently happy. All tours within El Salvador will be accompanied by tourist police (a little about safety later). The tours ending at 2pm such as the flower route or waterfall tours (both highly recommended) run from $35 to $40. Full day tours or some of the evening tours can be more expensive. The Guatemala tour is a very long day but is also very good and the trip there passes by some active volcanoes on the Guatemala side (you also get a nice new stamp in your passport). The route of flowers (or Arts and Crafts as it’s called in the brochure) and the Guatemala trips are great for cheap souvenirs.
You can also book a taxi for your own trip although your Nolitours rep will probably not recommend this to you. Francisco (or some of the other lobby staff) at the front desk in the lobby will be able to recommend a taxi driver and you can use him to help you negotiate a price and time with the cab driver as the drivers generally do not speak English. We spent nearly 11 hours with our excellent cab driver, Julio, in a comfortable Nissan cab and drove 2.5 hours north to a charming colonial town called Suchitoto, the scene of a lot of fighting during the civil war. Around this town there are plenty of things to see including a beautiful lake, el Lago de Suchitlan, where you can take boat tours to islands in the lake. The town itself is really pretty and you’ll be lucky if you see more than a handful of other tourists. There are souvenir stalls with great prices (4 T-shirts for $15 etc) depending on your haggling skills etc at the side of the lovely white church. The lake is a 5-10 minute cab ride out of town but you can also see it at the end of some of the town’s streets. Included in our 11h trip was a stop outside San Salvador in the mountains for lunch and a great view over the city followed by a visit to a shopping mall (the multiplex) where prices were actually not that good, they were the same or higher than in Canada. You can arrange your own itinerary with your cab driver though, we used the Lonely Planet Guide to Nicaragua and El Salvador for our itinerary. The beauty of stepping out on your own is that your itinerary is free and flexible and you don’t have to rush from one stop to another like you do in some tours. Incidentally, for the whole day in the taxi we paid $130 and the taxi would comfortably fit three tourists and we had four in a taxi in our last visit. This is a cheap way to see a lot more of the country. Decameron Explorer will also rent you a car and driver for the whole day but they charge $175. I have no hesitation recommending a taxi booked through the front desk though. Both times have been great experiences and you are helping local people. A little rudimentary Spanish goes a long way though.
Your departure tax is included in your vacation price if you booked through Nolitours.
Security: A lot of tourists wonder about security in this part of the world and the hotel certainly takes security of its guests seriously, so seriously in fact that leaving hotel property on your own such as when booking a taxi is quite a process involving filling in a form or two and sometimes leaving an itinerary at the desk before your departure. However, we found in our two extended taxi tours of the country that there were no real security problems as long as you took some small precautions such as not flaunting your cash, keeping your jewelry at home, taking cabs at night and being smart when you use your camera. Your cab driver will accompany you where necessary but most of the time you will be fine on your own. El Salvador is only really dangerous in certain areas of the larger cities (San Salvador, Sonsonate, La Libertad) where there’s not much for tourists to see or do anyway. Nearly all of the towns and areas in cities that tourists visit are perfectly safe with a little common sense.
In summary this hotel is excellent value. There were many other repeat visitors including ourselves and that speaks volumes to the popularity and quality of this reasonably new hotel.