Destination Guide to El Salvador

El Salvador: No tourists, friendly people, and great surfing

By Donald T. Lee

WHY GO?

El Salvador offers top notch surfing and empty beaches.
El Salvador offers top-notch surfing and empty beaches.

Twenty-five volcanoes, one, Izalco — which can be viewed from nearby Cerro Verde Park — is still smoking!

A cloud forest with a stunning view of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras from the Summit; Museum of the Revolution and El Mazote-Arambala Civil War Memorial Massacre sites. More than 200 miles of unspoiled and uncrowded Pacific Coast beaches, coves and bays.

The best surfing in Central America; Colonial and indigenous villages where time has stood still.   And humungous arts and crafts, visit several towns dedicated over to the making of these native crafts, such as La Palma in the North and Ilobasco in the East of the country.

You will find throughout all of El Salvador friendly and industrious people, always ready to assist you and to practice their English (almost 60% of El Salvadorians have relatives living and working abroad). Most importantly, El Salvador is an uncrowded, exotic and surprise destination: no tourist hordes here!

WHEN TO GO

Banana vendors in El Centro, San Salvador
Banana vendors in El Centro, San Salvador

Best time of year is the dry season from November through March. The weather is very hot and humid in April and May. Rainy season is late May through October, usually raining during the evenings. The sun shines 350 days a year in El Salvador! Don’t go Easter Holy Week(Semana Santa), the first week of August(religious holidays) or mid-December through early January.(Christmas-New Years) unless you have family to stay with or prior reservations.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND

By Plane

Flights are available from gateway cities in US: NY, DC, Atlanta, Miami, NO, Houston, Denver, LA and SF on TACA, Continental, Delta, American or United Airlines. Get a “Coupon Ticket” for Central & South America on TACA www.taca.com and stop over in El Salvador from Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico or South America at no extra charge.

El Salvador has the most modern and efficient Airport in all Central America and therefore is the Hub of TACA Central American airlines.

Getting Around

The country is small, about the size of Maryland in the USA, and most attractions within the country can be visited within 3 to 4 days with a rental car or on a Tour. El Salvador is not kind to “low budget” backpackers or independent travelers. Local transport is cheap but crowded and there are no luggage racks.

Local guide services, such as El Sal Biz Tours, can provide a minivan and driver for small groups at moderate prices. Otherwise, if planning on taking local transport, base yourself in the centrally
located capital city of San Salvador and find a place to leave your luggage.

BEST ATTRACTIONS

Montecristo Cloud Forest in Triunfo International Park, with views from the summit of El Salvador,
Guatemala and Honduras. Cerro Monte Cristo National Park, with its view of the smoking cone of Izalco Volcano.

BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTION

Museum of the Revolution in Perquin, the former “Rebel Capital” during the Civil Conflict 1980-92.

Cine El Centro San Salvador
Cine El Centro San Salvador. Gary Singh photo

BEST ACTIVITY AND GUIDE

For the Eco Traveler, we recommend El Imposible National Park with Visitors Center-Camping Areas-Nature Trails and Crystal Clear Rivers in a protected environment with guides on site.

The guides do not charge fees but work on a basis of tipping from the client. Reservations and permit for each visitor required in advance. Contact Central America Language tours for more information. Recommended for physically fit, some trails are steep and involve strenuous activity.

For those who prefer cultural, historical and walking tours Central America Language Tours will provide you with a bi-lingual guide if required to such marvelous destinations as Indigenous village of Panchimalco the restored colonial city of Suchitoto, the Mayan Ruins of Joya de Ceren (The “Pompeii of the Americas”), the Pyramids of San Andres and Tazumal and the newly renovated Ruins of Cihuatán Archaeological park all within a short drive of San Salvador.

Donald Lee, Director of Central America Language Tours offers visitors to San Salvador a Free half day welcome tour including the Archaeological Museum, Botanical Gardens and Arts and Crafts Market(Mercado de Artesinias) – guide service only – client provides admission fees and transport – the three locations are all located within 3 km. (2 miles) of one another. Reserve in advance info@centralamericalanguagetours.com

BEST ALTERNATIVE

Contact Wilfredo Mejia to visit his village and other local villages destroyed and now reconstructing from the earthquakes of January and February 2001. View Wilfredo’s “laminated shack.” For contact information, see elsalbiztours.com

BEST LODGINGS

  • For backpackers, try Ximenas Guest House in San Salvador.For moderate travelers, there are dozens of charming Guest Houses and small family run B & B’s in residential neighborhoods of San Salvador, the capital city.
  • For business and luxury travelers, The Radisson Plaza Hotel 4 Star with a discount from El Sal Biz Tours and Zona Azul Tourist Guide Newspaper

BEST EATS

  • The Salvadorian “Pupusa” is a must try.
  • There are lots of fast food spots in San Salvador, but try the Bohemian Zone near the National University for best specialty restaurants such as La Ventana, the most popular in town. Open late night on weekends to 3 AM.

BEST CULTURAL ENTERTAINMENT

La Luna Casa de Arte, La Ventana Art Exhibitions and many, many cultural, artistic and musical endeavors. Stop by La Luna any night but Sunday to get oriented or check the Arts, Culture and Entertainment section of the papers and visit elsalbiztours.com

BEST LOCAL HAUNT

La Ventana near the National University. With a European cafe atmosphere, they do not mind if you sit and chat, nursing a beer.

BEST SHOPPING

There are two great arts and crafts markets in San Salvador and dozens of arts and crafts towns, knock
yourself out!

There are several large modern Shopping Malls, such as MetroCentro, MetroSur and Gallerias located in San Salvador. There are also Malls in the cities of Santa Ana and San Miguel.

MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS

US Dollar, including change, is now legal tender and circulating in El Salvador since January 2001. All Credit Card transactions are in USD. No need to change money to/from US Cash. ATM Machines give dollars on Cash Advances. The local currency, the Colon, is pegged at 8.75 to 1US$ Fixed Rate and interchangeable in stores, buses etc.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

El Salvador is the most densely populated nation in the Western Hemisphere and, as a result, 97% of the country has been deforested in the last 30 years. Litter and garbage abound on highways, roads and in slum areas. Salvadorians are hard working and aggressive people, but cases of rudeness have been reported.

Take caution when driving a rental vehicle here, as there are many cases of hit and run in minor accidents (fender benders). Most motorists drive uninsured and you have a $1000 deductible, which means you pay for the damage to the vehicle when you report it to the rental car company.

It is often better to form a group and take a tour on an insured vehicle with driver. Contact El Sal Biz Tours

BEST RESOURCES

elsalbiztours.com

Local guide service whose web site has many links and lots of information

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