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El Salvador

EL SALVADOR TRAVEL GUIDE

El Salvador, officially the Republic of El Salvador, is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. Plagued with years of internal strife, El Salvador has a long and bloody history. In recent years, El Salvador is slowly but surely tottering back to its feet. The stark cultural differences characteristic of most Central American countries is sadly lacking here.

 

The natural beauty of the country, however, is astounding – majestic hills, lush green terrain and meandering rivers. Sadly, El Salvador has the highest level of environmental damage in Central America, and nature's bounty is under serious threat of destruction. Its rivers are clouded with pollution and there is large-scale deforestation.

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Capital: San Salvador

Currency: United States Dollar (USD)

Area: 21,040 km²

Population: 6,421 million (2018)

Language: Spanish, English and Nawat (less than 1% of the people, Amerindians)

Electricity:120-240V, 60Hz (US plug)

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BEST TIME TO VISIT EL SALVADOR

The climate of El Salvador is tropical with pronounced rainy and dry seasons but with moderated temperature which changes mainly by elevation in the interior. Rainy season is from May to October and the dry season November to April.

 

  • December to January - The landscape is lush and green after the rainy season and the weather is perfect. Travelers from further north escape the winter and locals are on holidays.
  • May to August - The surf gets heavy during this time. Early August brings a week-long celebration of El Salvador's patron saint.
  • July to November - It's turtle-nesting season right along the 300km Pacific Ocean coastline. Barra de Santiago and Playa El Cuco are recommended places to see the magic.
Best Time To Go

EL SALVADOR WEATHER SYNOPSIS

The climate of El Salvador is tropical with pronounced rainy and dry seasons but with moderated temperature which changes mainly by elevation in the interior. Rainy Season (May To October); Dry Season (November To April); Tropical On Coast; Temperate In Uplands

El Salvador

SEASONS AT A GLANCE

Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists. 

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Peak Season

Shoulder Season

Off Peak Season

JANUARY

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FEBRUARY

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MARCH

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APRIL

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MAY

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JUNE

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JULY

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AUGUST

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SEPTEMBER

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OCTOBER

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NOVEMBER

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SNOW SPORT IN EL SALVADOR

HIKING & CYCLING IN EL SALVADOR

The best time for outdoor activities in El Salvador is during the dry season, from November to April. During this time explore the tropical mountain forests of Parque Nacional El Imposible.

BEACH OPTIONS IN EL SALVADOR

The beaches in El Salvador are particularly beautiful from November to April when there is little to no rain, and the weather is just right. The peak tourist months are December, January, March & April.

SURFING IN EL SALVADOR

The most consistent and bigger swells in El Salvador come over the very wet months of May to October. March and April are considered to be the best months for both great waves and dry weather. November to December has smaller waves perfect for learning.

KITESURF IN EL SALVADOR

The only suitable spot for enjoying the wind in El Salvador is on Lago de Guija. Here you can wind and kitesurf from January to April, but it's not the best place for beginners!

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TRAVEL SAFETY IN EL SALVADOR

Always consider the current safety risk of each destination and do not travel without travel / medical insurance. For the latest travel health notices and recommended precautions click

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Travel Safety

HEALTH RISKS IN EL SALVADOR

Be aware of possible health risks in 

El Salvador

Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.

Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.

Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.

Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.

EL SALVADOR TRAVEL COSTS

El Salvador really supports the budget traveller. Food and accommodations are great value, while the bus network is cheap and reliable.

 

La Tortuga Verde is a fabulous creative community where you can stay for free if you volunteer for a month. Shuchitoto is a charming, culture-filled town, with the excellent, affordable Pajaro Flor Spanish School and great volunteer opportunities at the Centro Arte Para la Paz.

Cost & Spending

EL SALVADOR TRAVEL TIPS

GETTING AROUND

El Salvador is the last country to embrace Uber in Central America, launching in May 2017. Embrace might be putting it too strongly though as like everywhere else, everyone loves Uber unless they’re a taxi driver. In the post-launch months of 2017, the government asked its citizens to stop using Uber and threatened to seize drivers’ cars. As expected most people love the service as it's cheap, convenient and safe - government thankfully stopped stopped short of criminalizing the service. You can get around San Salvador for less than $5 and out to the beach for less than $20. Uber in El Salvador is available in San Miguel, San Salvador and Santa Ana.

 

El Salvador is small and pretty easy to get around by bus, car and taxi. Mostly due to it's size, flying within El Salvador is neither cost effective nor easily accessible. Colourful 'American school buses' run frequently to points throughout the country and are very cheap (US$0.25 to US$5). Some weekend fares increase by up to 25%. Routes to some eastern destinations have different categories: ordinario, especial and super especial. The last two options cost more, but they are faster and more comfortable. In San Salvador, the most popular long-distance buses arrive in fashionable Zona Rosa (Tica Bus Terminal - map). From here, taxis can take you anywhere in the capital for US$10 or so.

 

Arriving via the airport, Aeropuerto Internacional Comalapa, San Salvador Buses run to the city center every 60 minutes, but it can be a challenge to the location, especially if you have a lot of luggage. Taxis cost about US$30 to US$35 (and takes 45 minutes) and are plentiful, but negotiate beforehand. Taxis Acacya (US$5) run a smart shuttle service to downtown, but you'll most likely need a second cab as they terminate in a dodgy area. As alternative contact your hotels to arrange pick-ups.

Tica Bus Terminal, San Salvador

Travel Tips

SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF EL SALVADOR

  • Ruta de las Flores - Track your gourmet coffee from plantation to cup, swim in natural springs and hangout at weekend food fairs.
  • La Costa del Bálsamo - Kick back at Playa El Tunco: surf, party, repeat.
  • Parque Nacional los Volcanes - Get steamy hiking the park's active peaks.
  • San Salvador - Gallery-hop and rub shoulders with the young party set in flash Zona Rosa.
  • Playa Esteronb - Tackle the wild east, starting in the poorly kept secret of Playa Esteron, before venturing by boat to the deserted islands near Nicaragua.
  • Tazumal - Enjoy Maya ruins all to yourself, then gaze at the finest architecture in the country at nearby Santa Ana.

 

RECOMMENDED ITINERARIES

ONE WEEK

El Salvador is compact and with this itinerary you can easily get across the whole country in a week. Assuming you enter from Guatemala, head straight along the Costa del Bálsamo, staying over in either Playa El Tunco or Playa El Zonte. Head north to Ruta de las Flores to sample coffee and culture in small artisanal towns. Stay over in Juayúa. Spend a day hiking nearby Cerro Verde or visit the Maya pyramids at Tazumal. Sleep in San Salvador, then explore the capital’s galleries and museums.

 

TWO WEEKS

Head for the mountains and visit La Palma and Suchitoto then return to San Salvador. If you are bound for Nicaragua, head east along the highway. Alternatively, Playa El Cuco is a relaxing base to explore the islands in Golfo de Fonseca, the volcanoes around San Miguel and even further north to the ex-guerrilla stronghold of Morozán. From here you can exit the country via La Unión.

 

SAN SALVADOR & SURROUNDS

Surrounded by green-tipped volcanoes, San Salvador is handsome compared to some other Central American capital cities. Its leafy suburbs are pleasant to explore on foot, while its galleries and museums stand out for such a small city. San Salvador’s huge wealth gap does mean that violent crime is a reality, and there are a few neighbourhoods east of town that are no-go zones. Head instead to the hip nightspots of Zona Rosa and the shopping and café scene of Colonia Escalon, or dive into the teeming centro markets, where travellers are very welcome and often greeted with infectious guanaco hospitality. The area around San Salvador is awash with historic ruins and grand miradors such as Joya de Cerén (the Pompeii of America) and the modest ruins of Cihuatán.

 

Perhaps San Salvador’s greatest asset, though, is its location within easy reach of the ocean and the mountains. It makes an excellent base for day trips to Volcan El Boquerón, the arts village of Panchimalco, and the eerie hillside district called Los Planes de Renderos, or for longer forays to La Costa del Bálsamo and the Ruta de las Flores.

 

Download map waypoints for El Salvador here: KML / GPX

Highlights
What To See & Do
Travel Map

More location information and points of interest are available in the above map

 

WESTERN EL SALVADOR

Western El Salvador is a small region that somehow contains the majority of the country's attractions. The cloud forest and conical splendour of Parque Nacional Los Volcanes, the mysterious and at times unvisited Mayan ruins at Tazumal, the Ruta de las Flores and a volcanic lake are all within a 90-minute drive of Santa Ana, the charming provincial capital with the finest plaza in El Salvador and a good alternative base to the capital for exploring.

With three major volcanoes in hiking distance – one prehistoric, one impossibly steep and one recently exhausted – the burning heart of El Salvador is justifiably a highlight for many travellers to the country. The volcanic peaks of Izalco or Santa Ana can be tackled in a day – not the same day – or you can take a short stroll on a nature loop in the forested area of Parque Nacional Los Volcanes.

From the wilds of Parque Nacional El Imposible near the Guatemalan border – where you can find pumas, boars and tigrillos – traverse waterfalls until you pick up the famed Flower Route, a pin-up region of hot springs, food fairs and artisan villages. Indeed, if you fly into San Salvador, you can reach it all in a day and end at the far western tip at Barrio de Santiago, a wind-swept beach with massive surf where turtles lay eggs by moonlight.

 

EASTERN EL SALVADOR

Most travellers race down the Carretera Interamericana in search of El Salvador's western attractions or, if heading east, the Nicaraguan border. However, the east of the El Salvador is a diverse geographical region that warrants greater consideration.

The quaint village of Alegría, the visceral war history around Morazán, and the long, sandy surf beaches near El Cuco and Las Flores will give even the most worldly traveller something to savour. They see only fleeting traffic from nearby cities such as San Miguel, the working-class capital with a distinctly cavalier attitude. Real off-the-beaten-track coastal adventure is found at Bahía de Jiquilisco, where birdlife soars, and in tiny fishing villages with little contact with the outside world.

There are two ways to travel east – along the Carretera Interamericana or along the Carretera del Litoral (CA2); the latter accesses the beaches, and the former the northern reaches. The Ruta de La Paz (peace route; CA7) runs north from San Miguel.

 

NORTHERN EL SALVADOR

The small province of Chalatenango constitutes the northern region of El Salvador, where mountains run to the Honduran border. It's a very pretty, peaceful area, easily accessible from San Salvador and, the more so since the construction of a new freeway, the Honduran border too. Suchitoto – everyone's favourite Salvadoran colonial town – is deservedly the area's most well-known attraction. On some weekends it can feel like the cultural centre of Central America, and it makes a fabulous base for a visit to the country.

La Palma is a unique artists' hangout, famous for art which continues to capture the world’s imagination, while hiking trips from San Ignacio and Miramundo are world class. The commercial hub of Chalatenango – the center of what is now El Salvador’s safest province – is a proud farming town with a strong community spirit, as seen in an ongoing dispute with international mining companies.

The countryside around Chalatenango climbs into dry forest studded with toothy peaks and rugged tawny hills. The small villages in this remote area have stunning landscapes and interesting histories. La Montañona is a pine-forest reserve at 1600m with prime views and pre-Columbian rock carvings. The civil war left several tatús (cave hideouts), including one used by clandestine guerrilla radio station Radio Farabundo, as well as an underground guerrilla hospital. Beyond the Río Sumpul, Arcatao is a beautiful village in the mountains bordering Honduras. Northwest of Chalate, Concepción Quezaltepeque is a hammock-making centre.

El Salvador
What To Eat

WHAT TO EAT IN EL SALVADOR

WHAT TO EAT IN EL SALVADOR

A typical breakfast in EL Salvador includes eggs, beans or casamiento (rice and beans mixed together), fried plantains, cheese, tortillas and coffee or juice. Panaderías (bakeries) usually offer a selection of morning cakes and coffee.

 

El Salvador's most famous food by far is the pupusa - round cornmeal dough stuffed with a combination of cheese, refried beans, wild vegetables such as ayote and mora, chicharrón (pork rinds), or revuelta (mixed filling), then grilled. Curtido, a mixture of pickled cabbage and vegetables, provides the final topping.

 

Licuados (fruit drinks made with water or milk) are perfectly suited to El Salvador's climate. Horchata (rice milk and cinnamon) and chilate (roasted corn drink with other natural ingredients) are popular alternatives found at street stalls and most restaurants. A refresco de ensalada is not coleslaw puree, but a mixed fruit juice served with a spoon for the fruit salad floating on top, sangria style.

LGBTQ IN EL SALVADOR

Gay people in EL Salvador receive little tolerance. Previous attacks on members of the gay community have gone unpunished. Some hotels refuse to rent a room with one bed to two men; women will encounter less scrutiny. In San Salvador, the area around Blvd de los Héroes has cultural centres and clubs that more are gay friendly.

El Salvador

WHERE TO STAY IN EL SALVADOR

When visiting El Salvador for the first time, choosing the right area or region to base yourself can greatly enhance your experience. Here are some recommendations along with specific accommodation options across different budgets:


Where to stay in San Salvador:

As the capital city, San Salvador offers a mix of cultural attractions, historical sites, and vibrant nightlife.

  • Budget: Hotel Villa Serena San Benito: This budget hotel is located in the San Benito neighborhood, close to shopping centers and restaurants. Hotel Villa Serena San Benito offers comfortable accommodations with a relaxed atmosphere. Guests appreciate its peaceful surroundings and helpful staff.

  • Mid-range: Hotel Real Intercontinental San Salvador: Located in the upscale neighborhood of Santa Elena, Hotel Real Intercontinental San Salvador offers mid-range accommodations with luxurious amenities. Guests can enjoy spacious rooms, multiple swimming pools, a fitness center, and several dining options.

  • Luxury: Sheraton Presidente San Salvador Hotel: Situated in the upscale neighborhood of San Benito, Sheraton Presidente San Salvador Hotel offers luxurious accommodations with elegant decor and upscale amenities. Guests can enjoy spacious rooms, a swimming pool, fitness center, and multiple dining options.


Where to stay in Suchitoto:

This colonial town boasts cobblestone streets, art galleries, and scenic views of Lake Suchitlán. While the accommodation options in Suchitoto may be more limited compared to larger cities, there are still some highly-rated choices across different budget ranges.

  • Budget: Posada de Suchitlán: Located a short drive from Suchitoto's town center, Posada de Suchitlán offers affordable rooms with views of Lake Suchitlán. Guests can enjoy a peaceful atmosphere, beautiful surroundings, and simple yet comfortable accommodations.

  • Mid-range: Los Almendros de San Lorenzo: Set in a restored colonial mansion, Los Almendros de San Lorenzo offers mid-range accommodations with a touch of elegance. Guests can stay in tastefully decorated rooms, enjoy delicious meals at the on-site restaurant, and relax in the courtyard garden.

  • Luxury: Los Lagos Spa & Resort: Located a short drive from Suchitoto, Los Lagos Spa & Resort offers upscale accommodations surrounded by lush tropical gardens. Guests can indulge in luxurious amenities such as hot springs pools, spa treatments, gourmet dining, and outdoor activities.


Where to stay in El Tunco:

El Tunco is a popular beach destination known for its surf breaks, relaxed vibe, and vibrant beach bars.

  • Budget: Stay at Papaya Lodge for affordable accommodations just steps away from the beach and surf spots.

  • Mid-range: Hotel Mopelia provides comfortable rooms and a central location near the beach and nightlife.

  • Luxury: If you're seeking luxury, Azul Surf Club offers upscale beachfront accommodations with personalized service and amenities.


Tips for Finding Best Value Accommodation in El Salvador:
  • Book in Advance: Especially during peak tourist seasons, booking in advance can secure better rates and availability.

  • Consider Weekdays: Accommodation prices tend to be lower during weekdays compared to weekends.

  • Look for Package Deals: Some hotels offer package deals or discounts for booking accommodation along with activities or tours.

  • Use Travel Apps: Utilize travel apps and websites to compare prices and find the best deals on accommodations.


For hassle-free bookings, use platforms like Booking.com for competitive rates or Holiday Swap for unique homes worldwide. Ensure to book in advance, especially during peak seasons, and align your preferences with nearby activities such as surfing, snorkeling, or cultural exploration.

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