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In Tropics People Live Outside

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SUCHITOTO, El Salvador- Housing in the tropics is often designed very differently than in places that know the winds of winter and the sharp feeling of cold. In the tropics, houses are designed for living both inside and outside. It is common for a house to have an outdoor courtyard that is in the middle of the main living areas that has trees, flowers, hammocks, kitchens, sinks, or even in them. It is my impression that the optimum tropic home blends the inside with the outside.

It would take a good amount of effort to spend a day in the tropics without going outside.

I am a northern boy, I have lived and traveled through the tropics for many years, but I am still taken aback when I see a sink that is positioned outside of a house, I still find it interesting when I watch a meal being cooked in a permanent hearth that is in someone’s backyard. It is also common for sinks, toilets, kitchens, or other parts of the house that are thought by a northerner to be “inside” rooms to be positioned outside.

In my apartment in Suchitoto, my sink is outside, and my bathroom is bared to the sky, as it lacks the upper half of its walls. The apartment is small, but it has three doors and a large window that can be opened up to the outside world. Half of the apartment does not even have walls. The sun comes in, the wind blows by, insects fly, walk, and crawl freely through our home as they go about their days — our “inside” living place mingles smoothly with the outside elements. I do not feel barred off from the world beyond, my doors are for shutting only when I am not home, the dichotomy between being inside and outside has been scrambled.

In the home that I visited in Cinquera, the tooth brushing station, the kitchen, and laundry washing facilities were all placed outside in the courtyard, with only lightly constructed roofs built over them to keep off the rain. The people who live there are nearly as much under sky as they are under roof.

It makes sense, the weather is pretty standard here all year round — it is either hot or it is warm and raining. A simple roof is all a person needs to call a structure a home. Walls are a gross extravagance in the tropics. I can remember going for a walk in a little village in the Peruvian Amazon. I had befriended a guy who had self-appointed himself to the role of the villages liaison to the outside world. We were walking together at night behind his flashlight. I remember him clearly pointing the flashlight into one of his neighbor’s homes and laughing, “He doesn’t even have a door!” he wailed.

He was correct, there was not a door on the guy’s house — he, apparently, did not need one.

In the tropics, people live outside. It is too hot here to do otherwise.


Making tortillas in an outdoor kitchen in El Salvador.


Rural home in El Salvador with an outside courtyard.


Outside kitchen in El Salvador.


The sink in my apartment is outside.


Outside courtyard in a Central American home.


Table in an open air courtyard. The kitchen table of this house is set up permanently on the back porch. It is often too hot here to stay inside.

El Salvador Travel Guide — El Salvador Photos

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Filed under: Central America, Culture and Society, El Salvador, Geography, Weather

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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