Destination Guide to El Salvador

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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.

Time Stands Still

The best surfing in Central America; Colonial and indigenous villages where time has stood still. And humungous arts and crafts, visit several towns dedicated to the making of 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 surprising destination: no tourist hordes here!

When to Go to El Salvador

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

The best time of year is the dry season from November through March. The weather is very hot and humid in April and May.

The 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 Year) unless you have a family to stay with or prior reservations.

Getting There By Plane

Airlines Operating at El Salvador Intl. Airport
  • Avianca.
  • Copa.
  • American Airlines.
  • United.
  • Delta.
  • Air Canada.
  • Volaris.
  • Spirit Airlines.

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

Getting Around El Salvador

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 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.

Most 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 permits for each visitor are required in advance.

Recommended for the physically fit, some trails are steep and involve strenuous activity.

For those who prefer cultural and historical,  the 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.

Best Lodgings

For backpackers, try Ximena’s 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.
+503 2260 2481

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

Pupusas
Salvadorian Pupusas

Best Eats: Pupusas

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 the best specialty restaurants such as La Ventana, the most popular in town. Open late night on weekends to 3 AM.

Best Cultural Entertainment

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

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. Read reviews of La Ventana and other local restaurants on Tripadvisor.

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 Communicating

US Dollar, including change, is now legal tender and circulating in El Salvador. 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 was called the Colon, is pegged at 8.75 to 1US$ Fixed Rate and interchangeable in stores, buses, etc. but it’s rarely seen anymore.

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 a driver.