El Salvador: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting

El Salvador: 10 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting


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El Salvador as a travel destination is quickly gaining momentum and it’s no surprise why. 

You’ve heard of those notorious chicken buses, the mouth-watering pupusas, and picture perfect volcanoes just waiting to be climbed? El Salvador has it all. 

We’ve covered all of the basics when it comes to things to know before visiting El Salvador in this guide, including:

  • How much to budget for your trip
  • The best foods and experiences in El Salvador
  • How safe it is
  • The main dos and don’ts for travelers in El Salvador

Want to start planning your trip? Here are the top 10 things you need to know before visiting El Salvador.

Blue and gold dome of the Cathedral in San Salvador, El Salvador's capital city

How Hard Is It on the Wallet?

Rating: 2 out of 5.

When it comes to costs, it’s a travel destination of extremes. You can easily snag a bed in a nice hostel for less than $20, but you can also splurge on a beachside property for a few hundred dollars a night. Street food is still available on the cheap, and sit-down meals at a modern cafe will set you back between $5-10 USD.

The main currency used in El Salvador is USD, which you can get from ATMs throughout the country. As for bitcoin? Well, it’s complicated

Here’s a breakdown of the costs to expect in El Salvador for your trip: 

Accommodation: According to Nomadlist, the average monthly cost to rent an AirBnB in El Salvador is $1,142 USD. Hotels are a little less at $1,131 per month

If you’re thinking of staying a while and want to rent a one bedroom apartment in one of the major cities (San Salvador, San Miguel, Santa Ana), expect to pay between $200-250. 

Want to spend a month chilling by the beach? Properties by the coast like in El Tunco tend to come at a higher cost, but we just checked on Booking and found some getaway deals on beach lodges and bungalows for less than $80 per night for two people. Not bad, huh?

Food: With so much street food available in El Salvador, this is a Central American destination where you can eat on the cheap. Expect to pay between .50 cents – $1 for some streetside snacks and drinks. Expect a mid-range dinner for two to cost about $30 USD (or more, depending). 

Transportation: Whether you opt for chicken buses or take private transport, you can still get around on a budget. On public transportation like El Salvador’s chicken buses, the kinds you’ll see across Central America, the rate is $1/hour traveled, so that’s pretty cheap. You can also snag private vans or taxis from city to city for around $30 USD. 

A sidewalk street vendor waits for a customer to sell one of his colorful hammocks to passersby on a busy street San Salvador.

How Friendly Are the Locals?

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

El Salvadorians are friendly and polite people. If you know some Spanish you’ll never feel like an outsider here, because you can easily just head down to your local market or cafe and chat it up with the locals.

In El Salvadorian culture it’s very important to be respectful and courteous, so expect to greet and be greeted in Spanish with a buenos dias when sitting next to someone on the bus or at the bank.

Salvadorian dancers perform during the Flower & Palm Festival in Panchimalco, El Salvador

Customs And Culture in El Salvador: Basic Etiquette

Any vacation to a new country and culture always comes with some dos and don’ts for international travelers. Here’s a quick etiquette checklist for your trip:

  • Don’t underdress: El Salvador is still pretty traditional and religious, so dressing more conservatively is expected. This means you don’t want to pop into a local shop shirtless or just in your bathing suit. Same goes for your up keep. Look presentable and groomed – that whole rugged look isn’t really appreciated by locals. 
  • DO NOT take photos at any local religious ceremonies in El Salvador. If you feel like you must, let’s say if you’re invited to a ceremony or something, always ask beforehand.
  • Be polite and courteous. Why rush your conversation? When addressing someone, always start with a simple buenos dias or buenas tardes. Also, don’t be afraid to offer a friendly greeting when sitting down next to someone. Make sure to give a formal greeting to anyone older or of a higher ranking (so Señora or Señor) and use the more formal usted rather than a simple vos.
Lago Coatepeque near Santa Ana, El Salvador, Central America

Top Trending Things to Do in El Salvador

Beaches with some of the best surf in the world, postcard-perfect lakes, mountains, volcanoes…there’s so much to see and do in El Salvador, especially when it comes to nature. Here’s a little breakdown of the best things to do in El Salvador on your next trip:

  • Surf: If you want to catch those waves, head straight down to the coast to La Libertad, the surfing haven of El Salvador. Here you’ll find all kinds of beach towns for some epic views and amazing waves.
  • Hike a volcano: Some of the top hikes in El Salvador are the Santa Ana Volcano, the Tamanique Waterfalls, and El Boqueron National Park.
  • Explore the Mayan Ruins: Mayan architecture isn’t just in the Yucatan! El Salvador has an impressive amount of historical ruins to explore.
latin tourists have fun on top of a mountain with the El Salvador Volcano at the background

How Safe Is It?

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Central America can be notorious when it comes to safety issues but in El Salvador, international tourists don’t bear the brink of it. Women and LGBTQ travelers however should exercise a higher degree of caution and is isn’t recommended to wander alone at night.

Be careful of petty crime, especially on the bus, at a bus station, or at a bustling market (so like, don’t leave your fancy phones or cameras out in the open for everyone to see). That being said, Nomadlist rates El Salvador low on safety.

Many travelers in El Salvador love to debate whether or not to take those notorious chicken buses. Basically, it’s up to you and your comfort level. But you will look out of place if you’re carrying a wheelie suitcase and a big DSLR camera. On these buses, the backpacking types tend to blend in much more. 

If you opt for renting a car, you’ll be much more of a target if you’re driving as a Westerner late at night. So, we recommend to not drive at night or at the very least stick to the main path to get from point A to point B. 

While we know it can be fun to venture off path (duh!) when in El Salvador, we recommend sticking to the tourist trail. A good thing though is that El Salvador isn’t overrun, so wherever you go, it will seem like a “hidden gem”. Take advantage of this and support local guesthouses and tours, so that you’ll come home with stories of the wonders of El Salvador, a land more untouched by tourism. 

Tourist Taking Selfie In Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Travel Insurance Tips for Your Trip:

Travel insurance is always a good idea when going on any type of trip. Get yourself covered (and, at a super low cost!) with the right health insurance just in case you get sick or if your travel stuff gets stolen or lost at some point during your trip to El Salvador.

Local Eats and Drink in El Salvador

Pupusas, tamales, sopa de pata, oh my. When visiting El Salvador, you’ll be in for a real treat.

El Salvador’s official national dish is pupusas (there’s even a national pupusa day!), so make sure you start with one of these on your foodie tour. Pupusas are corn-based tortillas that are typically stuffed with meat, beans, the local Loroca flower, cheese, or ayote (a local squash).  or a Dip it in some salsa, sit and chat with your buddies, and eat it as the locals do.  

Another popular dish is sopa de pata, which is basically a cow feet soup (hey, don’t knock it til you’ve tried it).

For breakfast, expect your basic Central American fare of fried eggs, plantains, tortillas, refried beans, and cheese (and of course, locally-sourced coffee from the mountains nearby). 

Make sure to wash all of this food down with some delicious horchata or fresco de cebada, a strawberry-flavored drink with lots of cinnamon and other spices.

Typical delicious flour tortillas with cheese and beans from El Salvador, pupuseria, pupusa.

What Are the Top Apps to Use in El Salvador?

Here are some of the top apps to download and use for a trip to El Salvador:

PedidosYa: The nation’s top food delivery app. You can also use it to get deliveries from the local pharmacy.

Hugo: Another food delivery app. This one is a little easier to use if you don’t speak Spanish and it also accepts international credit cards. There’s even a HugoFun section, which is a place to browse and book local tours straight from the app.

Busy Market Street In San Salvador, El Salvador

How’s the WiFi?

While it does depend on where you’re staying, El Salvador generally has slower internet, with an average speed of 2 Mbps.

Lots of hostels and hotels however will have reliable internet, and there’s some great co-working spaces in major cities if you want to get some work done. Get the SIM card from Digicel and you might have to rely on that for video calls (get a video chat app on your phone rather than using your laptop or tablet). 

What Are the Best Cultural Experiences?

One of the top cultural experiences in El Salvador would have to be the Ruta de las Flores. This route takes you through the most picturesque colonial towns in the country, including the top coffee-growing region of Apaneca. Along the way, you can join a craft workshop and visit the beautiful coffee farms.

Facade of a hostel building along El Salvador's Ruta de las Flores with decorative wall and plants

How Long Can I Stay?

Americans, Canadians, and lots of other tourists can get a visa-free stay in El Salvador for up to 90 days. The only catch is that you’ll have to purchase a tourist card for $12 USD upon arrival at the airport, which will also allow you access to visit the neighboring destinations Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

There’s no fee to exit or enter El Salvador by land. 

mountain in El Salvador

Filled with lots to see and do and amazing people along the way, there’s so much to love about this Central American country. Whatever you’re up for, adventure awaits you in El Salvador.

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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling.  Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories

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