Church in Santa Ana El Salvador - Guide to El Salvador

Guide to El Salvador

El Salvador Flag - Guide to El Salvador
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If you’ve never thought about El Salvador as a place to visit, you wouldn’t be alone. It has had a repuation for being one of the most dangerous countries to go. With violence, crime, rampant gangs, and a high murder rate, El Salvador has not been a big tourist destination. Things have changed recently. What used to be 105 murders for every 100,000 people, that has dropped down to just 18. Much less than it’s neighbors, including Mexico. Hopefully this Guide to El Salvador will help convince you to give this country a chance. 

Guide to El Salvador - Quick info about El Salvador's captial, language, voltage, population, currency and international dialing code

About El Salvador

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, is also called “the Land of Volcanos“. There are 170 Volcanos in this tiny country but only 23 are active, including one that you can actually climb! El Salvador is located on the Western side of Central America along the Pacific Ocean. Besides Volcanos, this country has beaches, waterfalls, Mayan Ruins, National Parks, forests, and more. El Salvador has some of the best surfing conditions in the world. Read more about El Salvador in our Guide to El Salvador.

Guide to El Salvador: El Salvador’s History

Before the arrival of the Spanish in the early 16th century, present-day El Salvador was inhabited by various indigneous peoples including the Maya. These ancient civilizations had complex societies with advanced agriculture and trade networks. Spanish explorers arrived in 1524 and the indigenous inhabitants tried to push back but were eventually conquered. The Spanish imposed their culture, language, and religion on the population which led to significant changes in Salvadorian society.

In 1821 El Salvador, along with other Central American colonies, gained independence from Spain. They first became part of the Federal Republic of Central America but by 1838 El Salvador became an independent nation. Political instability and conflict continued through the 19th and 20th centuries with frequent coups, dictatorships, and civil unrest. In the late 1900’s
El Salvador had a brutal civil war between the government and guerrilla groups and significant life was lost.

El Salvador has gone through several challenges and developments in recent times. The country was plagued by gangs and had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous countries on earth. El Salvador elected a new President in 2019 and he made it his mission to clean up the crime in his country and it appears to be working. Today, El Salvador is no longer considered dangerous. Of course anytime you travel to a foreign destination you should always be aware of your surroundings and research the goings on of the country. I hope this Guide to El Salvador changes your mind and inspires you to travel there!

Best time to visit El Salvador

El Salvador has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Being located close to the equator, you can expect it to be hot most of the year. The dry season runs from November to April and is considered the best time to visit. It will still be very hot during this time and it might occasionally rain but you will mostly have dry and sunny days with lower humidity. It’s an ideal time for hiking, exploring archaeological sites, and heading to the beach.

There is a monsoon season in El Salvador and you should avoid going during this time, unless you love rain. The monsoon season in El Salvador runs from May to October. During this time you can expect more frequent rainfall and high humidity. However, if you’re into surfing it’s a fantastic time to visit because surfing conditions along the coast are at their best.

Areas of interest in El Salvador

  1. San Salvador: San Salvador is the capital city of El Salvador and where you will likely fly into. The city has numerous museums, galleries, and historical sites to explore. Surrounding by beautiful natural landscapes, San Salvador sits within a valley surrounded by mountains including El Boqueron Nationa Park where you can hike and take in views of the city.
  2. Santa Ana: Located a few hours north of San Salvador, Santa Ana has a wealth of historical architecture, including colonial-era buildings and the Santa Ana Cathedral. One of the most popular things to do in the area is to hike the Santa Ana Volcano. This active volcano (yes, active!) rewards hikers with panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and a beautiful glimpse into the turquoise water in the crater.
  3. El Tunco: This popular beach town on the Pacific coast is renowned for its surfing and has some of the best in the world. El Tunco is very laid back and is a great place to enjoy water sports and relaxing at the beach.
  4. Joya de Ceren: This archaeological site is referred to as the “Pompeii of the Americas” and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This pre-Columbian Maya village is preserved under volcanic ash and gives visitors a glimpse into the daily life of Mayans.

Visa requirements for El Salvador

Most people who travel to El Salvador will not need a Visa, including Americans. However, you will be required to purchase a Tourist Card when you arrive at the San Salvador airport. This tourist card will cost $12 and you’ll need to pay for it in cash. This is not required for all citizens of foreign countries but you should check the El Salvador Visa requirements before traveling there.

Getting to El Salvador

Most people traveling to El Salvador will fly into the San Salvador International Airport. This airport is located about 40 minutes outside of San Salvador. Most major airlines have flights to El Salvador including Avianca Airlines, the most popular airline that flies there. You can find direct flights from major US cities such as Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York City as well as major cities in other countries such as Madrid, Toronto, and Mexico City.

Guide to El Salvador: Budget

Traveling in El Salvador is very affordable as well as accomodations and food. The cheapest time of year to fly to El Salvador is January which is great because it’s also one of the best months for weather there.

Accomodations in El Salvador

El Salvador has hotels, hostals, and everything in between. We stayed at a nice hotel in San Salvador that was very inexpensive, a cute hostal in Santa Ana, and a more expensive eco friendly hotel in La Libertad that was a splurge. The beach areas are going to be more pricey and small towns will be cheaper.

Food & Drink in El Salvador

Food and drinks in El Salvador are very inexpensive. El Salvador’s national food is the Pupusa, a thinck torilla filled with meats, cheese, and other items and you can buy those for about $1. Beer and other drinks are also inexpensive too at around $2-5.

Guide to El Salvador: Getting Around

San Salvador is a pretty big city but we were still able to get around by walking. We did take a taxi a few times when we were traveling up into the mountains and back again and it was very inexpensive. El Salvador also has Uber and that was how we got from one city to another. Our Uber took 4 of us 1.5 hours away for $40. You can rent a vehicle (and it’s so much more convenient), but expect to pay much more than you’re used to in other countries.

El Salvador also has a bus system known as the Chicken Bus that is super cheap (about $1) as long as you don’t mind all the stops along the way.

How Long do you need to visit El Salvador

El Salvador is such a small country that you could drive from one end to the other in just 5 hours. So how long you stay depends on what you plan on seeing. El Salvador might be small but there is a lot to do there! I would say a minimum of 5 days but 8 is better if you want to full experience. Spend 1-2 days in San Salvador, 2 days outside of the city hiking a volcano, seeing Mayan Ruins, and swimming in waterfalls/hotsprings, then another 3-4 days at the coastal towns.

Safety in El Salvador

El Salvador used to be a dangerous country but with the new president police and military forces have been deployed to high-crime areas. Most gang members have been jailed and social programs implemented to try and cut down crime and rehabilitate criminals.

While crime does still exist in El Salvador, like any country in the world, most people don’t experience any issues. Popular destinations such as beach resorts will have enhanced security in place to ensure the safety of visitors.

Like many less developed countries, drinking the local water is not advised. Bring a water filter bottle or buy bottled water to keep from getting sick.

El Salvador does have active volcanos so you should check to see if there is any volcanic activity before you leave for El Salvador.

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