10 Things to Know Before Visiting El Salvador

Bus sign in El Salvador
Bus sign in El Salvador | © Alex Schwab / Flickr
El Salvador might be a small country that doesn’t get as many visitors as others in Central America, but there is plenty to see and do. Here are some important things to know before you plan your trip.
Surfing mecca El Tunco in El Salvador © Destinos Nauticos / Flickr

The surfing is great

Head to El Tunco in the north of the country to catch some waves. There is a strong local scene and plenty of weekenders from San Salvador, too. There are small breaks for beginners and more challenging waves for experienced surfers.

The remaining forests are amazing

Experts say that huge swathes of forest have been destroyed in recent decades, but there are some left in national parks such as Imposible and Montecristo. The latter sits on the tri-border with Honduras and Guatemala, and it’s well worth a visit.

Ataco, one of the villages on the Ruta de las Flores, El Salvador © David Stanley / Flickr

The Flower Route is beautiful

A short drive outside San Salvador is the iconic Ruta de las Flores (Flower Route) which winds through the mountains and takes in some incredibly pretty towns and villages. Make sure to visit Juayua, Apaneca and Ataco.

Try the pupusas

Central American food might be lacking a world famous dish such as tacos that have made Mexican cuisine a global favourite, but there are local delicacies that should be savoured. In El Salvador that means pupusas, thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans or pork.

The dollar is legal currency

You’ll have no problems with money in El Salvador thanks to the fact that the US dollar is the official currency. It’s easy to calculate costs, but it pays to be careful with the notes as they all look very similar.

Getting around can be a challenge

Transport infrastructure is poor in El Salvador, and local buses can be something of an ordeal for heavily-laden backpackers. Use tourist shuttles where possible or consider hiring a car if you are traveling in a small group.

National Palace, San Salvador, El Salvador © David Stanley / Flickr

Recent history is very complicated

While no one is expecting you to study a degree in Salvadoran history before you go, you’ll appreciate the country more if you have a basic understanding of events. For example, the rifts in society caused by the 1979-1992 civil war are still very relevant today, and it’s also worth looking into Salvadoran migration to and from the United States.

Keep your wits about you but don’t be obsessive

El Salvador has a crime problem, but tourists don’t tend to be targeted. If you can, book taxis to get around in San Salvador and use tourist shuttles to other parts of the country, but by no means should you obsess over safety. Take normal precautions and you should be just fine.

Travel is very affordable

You can have a great time on a limited budget in El Salvador. Couples sharing private rooms or groups in dorms will get the best deals thanks to shared costs in taxis and group discounts. You can have a lot of fun on $35 (€29) per day.

Don’t prioritize San Salvador

The capital of El Salvador may be a necessary staging post for those arriving by plane, but there is little to make you stick around. If you only have a limited amount of time to spend in the country, head off to Ruta de las Flores or the Pacific coast as soon as you arrive.