Discover the Undiscovered Central America – Local El Salvador Destination Mini Guide
25 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
200 miles of unspoiled and uncrowded Pacific Coast beaches, coves and bays.
The best surfing in Central America.
Colonial and indigenous villages where time has stood still.
Humongous arts and crafts – visit several towns dedicated over to the making of these 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 surprise destination: no tourist hordes here!
When to Go
Best time of year is the dry season from November through March. The weather is very hot and humid in April and May. 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 Years) unless you have family to stay with or prior reservations.
Flights are available from gateway cities in US: NY, DC, Atlanta, Miami, NO, Houston, Denver, LA and SF on TACA, Continental, Delta, American or United Airlines. Get a “Coupon Ticket” for Central & South America on TACA and stop over in El Salvador from Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico or South America at no extra charge. El Salvador has the most modern and efficent airport in all Central America and therefore is the Hub of TACA Central American airlines. A good consolidater to all Latin America is Exito Travel (if flying from or via the US).
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 rental car or on
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 tour operators 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.
Montecristo Cloud Forest in Triunfo International Park, with spectacular views from the summit of El Salvador Guatemala and Honduras (22 km. north of city of Metapan in northwestern El Salvador, dirt road, best dry season November – April, 4WD or pickup truck recommended).
Cerro Monte Cristo National Park, with its view of the smoking cone of Izalco Volacano (Permit Required).
Best Unusual Attraction
Museum of the Revolution in Perquin, the former “Rebel Capital” during the Civil Conflict 1980-92.
Best Activity and Guide
For the Eco Traveler we recommend El Imposible National Park with Visitors Center-Camping & Hostel Areas for overnight stays – Nature trails and crystal clear rivers in a protected enviroment with guides on site. The guides are salaried so do not charge fees but work on a basis of tipping from the clients. Reservations and permit for each visitor required in advance from the FundaSalva offices in San Salvador. Contact Central America Language tours for more information. Recommended for physically fit, some trails are steep and involve strenuous activity.
For those who prefer cultural, historical and walking tours, Central America Language Tours will provide you with a native bi-lingual eco guides if required to such marvelous destinations as Indingenous 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 Cihuatï¿½n Archaeological park all within a short drive of San Salvador. For volcano climbing and visits to Cerro Verde and Walter Deninger National Parks, a permit is now required from ISTU (Salvadorian Institute of Tourism), who shall also provide a guide and two uniformed National Police Officers for Group Excursions. The guides and officers are salaried and groups so there is no charge, groups should tip at the end of the excursion as a courtesy.
For backpackers, try Ximenas Guest House in San Salvador. Located on Calle San Salvador in a residential area not far from Metrocentro. Rooms from $4 in dorm to $23 double private. If taking the “TICA BUS” from Guatemala/Mexico or south from Costa Rica and Nicaragua the terminal is located in hotel San Carlos downtown, dangerous area, so if wishing to visit El Salvador for a short time, contact me. Other International Buses arrive in Terminal Puerto Bus, where there are several nice budget hotels within walking distance For more information on San Salvador lodgings and eateries view http://www.revuemag.com.
For moderate travelers, there are dozens of charming guest houses and small family run B & Bs in residential neighborhoods of San Salvador, the capital city. Rates from $25-60 double, depending on services.
For business and luxury travelers, The Radisson Plaza Hotel four-star, The El Presidente Marriot, and other great three-star bed and breakfast/guest house establishments all over town. Discount rates from $89 double.
The Salvadorian “Pupusa” is a must try.
There are lots of fast food spots in San Salvador, but try the Bohemian Zone near the National University for best specialty restaurants such as La Ventana, the most popular in town. Open late night on weekends to 3 a.m.
Best Cultural Entertainment
La Luna Casa de Arte, La Ventana Art Exhibitions and many, many cultural, artistic and musical endeavors. Stop by La Luna any night but Sunday to get oriented or check the Arts, Culture and Entertainment section of the papers or visit the “El Salvador” section online of “Revue Magazine”
Best Local Haunt
La Ventana near the National University. With a European cafe atmosphere, they do not mind if you sit and chat, nursing a beer. There is also a vibrant nightlife boasting a Bohemian flair in this area located on or near the Calle San Antonio Abad take Bus 30B from Metrocentro – approx. 8 minutes.
There are two great arts and crafts markets in San Salvador and dozens of arts and crafts towns, such as La Palma(woodcrafts and native art), Ilobasco(ceramics), San Sebastian (hammocks) and Nahualizalco(wooden furniture), knock yourself out!
There are several large modern shopping malls, such as MetroCentro, MetroSur and Gallerias located in San Salvador. There are also malls in the cities of Santa
Ana and San Miguel. The Centro (Downtown) of San Salvador not recommended, crowded, dirty and a bit dangerous if you do not know your way around.
Money and Communications
US dollar, including change, is now legal tender and circulating in El Salvador since January 2001. All credit card transactions are in USD. No need to change money to/from US cash. ATM machines, located in major cities and large towns as well as the new Shell and Texaco 24 Hour Gas Stations along the highways, give dollars on cash advances, all major credit and debit cards. Visa is most common. The local currency, the Colon, is pegged at 8.75 to 1US$ fixed rate and interchangeable in stores, buses etc. Cybercafes charging from 80 cents to $1 USD an hour proliferate in every city and town of any size (the same throughout Central America). For long distance calls, purchase a $3 or $5 Telecom “Ladatel” Card in stores or kiosks used in their public phones, rates to US and Canada 12 cents a minute on Saturdays and 7 p.m.-7 a.m. local time other days.
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 on report to the rental car company. It is often better to form a group and take a tour on an insured vehicle with driver.
Amerispan El Salvador
Great links from a company that offers volunteer and learning vacations in El Salvador and Central America.
4 El Salvador
This fabulous site, designed by a Salvadorian-American travel agent based in Los Angeles, USA offers 6 amazing virtual tours of El Salvador as well as in depth information on travel in the country in both English and Spanish.
A linguist’s paradise, site in 12 languages including English and Spanish, whose Latin American operations are based in El Salvador. Free intensive Spanish Ccourse for English
Speaking members online as well as other bi-and multi-lingual services including Latin American Business and Travel Directory. Visitors are welcome to download free the introduction and first three lessons of the Spanish Course..Coming soon, a special section on El Salvadorian and Central American Travel, Business, Language Schools and Volunteer Opportunities.
At present holders of US, Canadian, UK, Australia, NZ, European Union, Israel, Japan, Taiwan and South Korean passports do not require visas to enter the country. Most travelers are given 30 days, if planning to stay longer request 90 days on on your entrance stamp. At present no fees to enter or exit the country traveling overland. Airport Exit Taxes $28 USD (a $10 tourist tax is soon planned however for all visitors on exiting country).
About the Author
Donald Lee, Director of Central America Language Tours offers visitors to San Salvador a free half-day welcome tour including the Archaeological Musuem, Botanical Gardens and Arts and Crafts Market(Mercado de Artesinias), guide service only. Client provides admission fees and transport – the three locations are all located within 3 km. (2 miles) of one another. Contact Donald Lee to arrange to visit off the beaten path towns and villages in the countryside. If traveling by local bus, leave luggage in San Salvador. Many excellent local tour operators run budget excursions in minivans all over the country, especially on weekends and also to neighboring Guatemala, especially Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Take a bilingual friend or guide to interpret if you don’t understand Spanish, though. For more information, contact Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org.