Your Essential Pre-Travel Guide to 8 Key Insights in El Salvador

El Salvador boasts 200 miles of coastline, over 170 volcanoes, Mayan ruins, and a thriving coffee and cacao tradition, making it a paradise for surfing, adventure, and relaxation. Despite its once-dubious reputation for safety due to past conflicts and gang violence, the country has made remarkable strides in tourism. It now offers improved safety measures, better infrastructure, new hotels, and flight options. El Salvador provides a less crowded alternative to neighboring destinations like Costa Rica and Panama, with friendlier locals and lower prices, making it an attractive choice for travelers. 

8 Insider Tips for the Ultimate El Salvador Experience

Where to go?

The bustling capital, San Salvador, has recently undergone a revitalization, drawing more travelers. It serves as a central hub for exploring El Salvador’s attractions, including beaches and the San Salvador volcano. 

Nearby, Santa Ana, surrounded by coffee plantations, offers a glimpse into Mayan history at Tazumal ruins. Two hours north, La Palma provides cool weather and scenic views. El Salvador’s compact size ensures easy access to its Pacific beaches, favored by surfers, with options like La Libertad and Las Flores. Non-surfers can enjoy serene beaches like Costa del Sol and San Juan del Gozo. Further north, Montecristo and El Imposible National Parks offer stunning natural beauty, with the latter providing vistas of smoldering volcanoes atop Cerro Leon. 

Plan outdoor adventures beforehand.

Before landing in El Salvador, plan the fun things you want to do in Salvador. Many tourists who desire to visit the Galapagos Islands use El Salvador as a gateway. It is beneficial for travelers who do not get direct flights to Ecuador. While planning your holidays in the Galapagos islands and El Salvador, make sure you know the fun activities available at these locations. Let’s discuss some top outdoor adventures in El Salvador.

One of the most popular activities in El Salvador is hiking the Santa Ana Volcano, also known as Ilamatepec. Situated in the Santa Ana department, this colossal volcano stands at 2,381 meters above sea level, making it the country’s highest peak. While its last eruptions date back to 2005, today, it’s a hotspot for adventurers.

The hike typically takes 2-3 hours, offering a glimpse of the region’s diverse flora and fauna. At the summit, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Izalco volcano and Lake Coatepeque.

The hike is moderately challenging, so ensure you pack essentials like water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and sturdy footwear for rocky terrain. Starting early in the day is wise to avoid crowds and midday heat. The entry fee for foreigners is $3, though expect some waiting time due to its popularity.

Lake Coatepeque, a volcanic crater lake, offers various outdoor activities. Jet skiing is a favorite, but you can also enjoy bird-watching, fishing, diving, kayaking, and boat rides. 

For a day trip, consider Captain Morgan Hostel for a $5 pass, including a beer and access to pools. They also rent boats and jet skis, offering a day of fun on the tranquil lake.

If you prefer a waterfall adventure, head to Taminique Waterfalls, just a short drive from La Libertad’s beaches or 45 minutes from San Salvador

Overall, these El Salvadoran destinations promise thrilling experiences for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

Do not exchange Dollars.

If your base currency is USD, do not swap it, as El Salvador’s formal cash is USD. However, keep small bills handy, as $20s are widely accepted. On the other hand, $50s and $100s can be challenging to use. ATMs in commercial areas are accessible with English language options. El Salvador introduced Bitcoin as a second currency in 2021, but only 20% of businesses accept it, so expect to use dollars. 

Get a driver for visiting different cities.

While hotels offer local transfers, hiring a driver or tour operator for city-to-city travel in San Salvador is advisable due to the challenging roads. Find recommended tour operators on the tourism ministry’s website.

Know the accommodation cost.

Hostel dorm beds cost $10-$15 during peak season, with free Wi-Fi and breakfast. Private rooms with ensuite bathrooms are $25, consistent year-round. Budget 2-star hotel rooms start at $40, while beach or pool accommodations cost around $60. Airbnb offers private rooms from $15-20 USD, but the average is higher. Entire homes or apartments begin at $30 but usually range from $75-$100.

Find out the cost of food.

El Salvador’s cuisine blends indigenous traditions with Spanish influences. Staples like pork, seafood, and corn dominate meals, with pupusa as the national dish – a thick flatbread stuffed with cheese, pork, and beans. Dining here is affordable; rice and beans or eggs and plantains cost $3-$5. Pupusas are a steal at under $1 each. Mid-range options like pizza or fried fish are $8-$10, and a burger with fries is $10. High-end dining exists but is less common. Overall, El Salvador offers budget-friendly dining, so enjoy the local fare rather than cooking, costing $25-$35 per week, depending on your diet. 

Take safety precautions.

El Salvador faces a significant issue with gang violence, primarily centered in San Salvador. Tourists should steer clear of areas like Soyapango, Apopoa, and Mejicanos, as well as the vicinity of the Tica bus station, which occasionally witnesses attacks on tourists. While most touristy spots are well-patrolled, places like La Libertad, Soyapango, and Usulutan also see some gang activity. Avoid venturing out alone after dark, as nighttime hijackings and muggings occur. Be cautious about petty crimes like theft, especially on public transport, and refrain from displaying valuables. Female solo travelers should follow standard safety precautions. Dial 911 for emergencies and consider obtaining travel insurance for comprehensive protection against various risks during your trip. 

Knowing the past is crucial.

Nestled amidst popular tourist destinations in Central America, El Salvador remains refreshingly unspoiled by tourism. It’s often considered the region’s least touristy country, resulting in underdeveloped tourist infrastructure. It offers a golden opportunity to embrace authentic local experiences and immerse yourself in its rich culture. The country has a turbulent history, marked by colonization and a civil war that lasted until 1992. However, recent years have witnessed positive changes, with reduced crime rates and improved safety. Many returning American and Canadian Salvadorans now visit, but the scars of the past still shape society. Research Salvadoran migration for a comprehensive trip. Excitement awaits your journey to El Salvador!