- Has much of the beauty of Costa Rica with far fewer tourists
- Famous for its delicious, dirt-cheap pupusas
- Uses the U.S. dollar
- Twice the size of Los Angeles County
Population: 6.1 million (#110 in the world)
Area: 8,100 sq. miles (#153 in the world)
Largest city & capital: San Salvador (metro population: 1.8 million)
Central America’s smallest country was ravaged by civil war for two decades and still ranks as one of the most violent countries in the world, but tourism is surprisingly safe. Due to its reputation, El Salvador is one of the few places in which you may not spot another tourist during the entirety of your visit – a really cool experience. You can enjoy nature at its world-famous beaches or remote national parks and explore quaint cities and towns with colonial architecture and lots of art.
Photo: El Zonte Beach
Getting To El Salvador
There are direct flights from many airports in the U.S. to Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport near San Salvador. There is no visa required, but you’ll have to purchase a $10 tourist card when you arrive.
El Salvador Travel Tips
Is El Salvador safe to travel to? With common sense and some extra precautions, yes. Here are a few tips:
- Do not walk or even drive at night. When the sun goes down, stay inside.
- Do not travel or go anywhere alone (if possible)
- Only go to remote areas in the company of a local guide
- The obvious: stay alert, keep valuables hidden, and protect your passport (bring a photocopy of it just in case)
The U.S. Department of State regularly updates their recommendation for El Salvador travel – check here before you plan a trip. If you decide to go, you should enroll your trip with them so they have your information in the slight chance that something bad happens.
Where To Go in El Salvador
San Salvador: El Salvador’s densely populated largest city contains a full third of the country’s population.
- Apaneca Canopy Tour: This awesome ziplining area near El Boqueron Volcano just outside San Salvador lets you zip along several lines with great views of surrounding forest and the volcano. $25 per person – contact to confirm
- Hotel Recommendation: Rancho Steven in San Luis Talpa near the airport. Contact for prices
Ruta de las Flores: A peaceful highway winds through this area which contains several cute artsy towns and tons of natural beauty.
- Concepcion de Ataco: Filled with colorful murals, Ataco is a cute town with several galleries, shops, and great restaurants. Free
- Juayua: The most popular town in Ruta de las Flores, Juayua has cobblestone streets, tons of street vendors, and waterfalls and hot springs to explore. Free
- Parque Nacional El Impossible: It’s not safe to go to this remote park on your own, but you can book a tour through local guides. I recommend René Barbón‘s Waterfall Jumping tour in which you’ll take a thrilling hike through stunning rainforest and dive into pools of water next to waterfalls. Contact for prices
- Santa Teresa Hot Springs: You’ll find dozens of pools arranged in order from hottest to coolest in a peaceful, upscale setting. $10
- Hotel Recommendation: Raices Hostal in Concepcion de Ataco. Contact for prices
Suchitoto: Probably the country’s most architecturally appealing city, Suchitoto has beautiful colonial-style architecture and sits next to tranquil Cerrón Grande Reservoir.
- City Tour: I recommend René Barbón‘s City Tour in which he’ll show you around town, tell you about El Salvador’s history, and even show you how to make a cigar. Contact for prices
- Cerrón Grande Reservoir Boat Tour: René Barbón also does a boat tour of this large body of water right nexto Suchitoto. I recommend going at sunset. Contact for prices
- Hotel Recommendation: Hotel Posada Alta Vista. Contact for prices
La Libertad & El Zonte: El Salvador is famous for its beaches – La Libertad is a popular beach town close to San Salvador and El Zonte is known as one of the world’s premier surfing spots.
- Surfing Lessons: Surfing at El Zonte is the bucket list item you didn’t know you wanted! I recommend Esencia Nativa‘s instructors. Contact for prices
Lago de Coatepeque: One of the largest lakes in El Salvador, this lake formed similarly to Oregon’s Crater Lake in a crater created by an exploded volcano. Unfortunately, most of the lakeshore is covered with millionaires’ mansions, but there are some nice viewpoints. For about $5, you can get lake access from one of several hotels on the northern shore; for $20, you can rent a boat from one of them.