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In Tropics People Live Outside

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 [...]

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

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 88 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 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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4 comments… add one

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  • Krista April 20, 2010, 5:19 am

    There is something really lovely about this indoor/outdoor aesthetic. I currently am an apartment dweller on the corner of a busy street in Marrakech, and though there are windows of opportunity to be outside at a quiet moment, I don’t spend a lot of time on the balcony as a result. In contrast, my in-laws in the countryside do have a courtyard where the dishwashing is done, laundry, some eating on hot days, etc. They spend at least half or more of their time in the open air. Though someone could look at these indoor/outdoor setups with surprise and derision (“He doesn’t even have a door!”), I am jealous at this moment. Another reality is that, try as we might to keep Mother Nature outside, with our doors and windows and screens, the reality is that she gets inside anyways. Why not welcome her in, as the people in the tropics have done? Thanks for sharing this observation with us!

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com April 20, 2010, 12:55 pm

      Right on Krista,

      People are made to be outside, it just feels good to live blended with your landscape rather than fenced off from it. Even at night we sleep with the doors and windows open here, with only a mosquito net to keep us separated from anything that buzzes in the night. In the morning we all wake up feeling really good.

      Very correct about how doors and screens don’t fully keep the insects out anyway.

      I take it you married a Moroccan man? Good choice of country to move, I must say. We are thinking of going there soon, my wife is currently looking for teaching work (she has the degree and certification and experience) in a few different countries, and Morocco is one of them.

      Thanks for the comment,

      Wade

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  • Jan March 15, 2011, 10:28 am

    Love the pictures. Might sound an odd question but I noticed some nice wooden furniture there. Does that not get eaten by ants or other crawlies?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com March 15, 2011, 2:00 pm

      The woodwork in these photos is just bamboo. It needs to be replaced after a certain number of years. It can be treated though to keep insects from eating it, but it is my impression that natural wear and tear is more of a cause for needing to replace them.

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