Aside from the fact that I pretty much want to go everywhere, El Salvador is one of those countries I’ve never given much thought to visiting. But guess what. It’s totally worthwhile! Costa Rica has beaches, Belize and Honduras have diving and Guatemala has ruins, but El Salvador has a charm all it’s own. Don’t skip it just because you’ve never heard of anyone traveling there, jump in and explore!
Target Audience –
El Salvador is somewhat popular with backpackers from Europe and Australia, but if you’re looking for the Ritz-Carlton, you won’t find it here. There isn’t a lot of tourist infrastructure and it’s quite far from any sort of well-traveled route. But if you like adventure, don’t mind a bit of “roughing it” and want to get away from hordes of people shoving you around, El Salvador definitely fits that bill. Don’t let it’s civil war past or rumors of gang violence put you off. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and we never felt unsafe.
Cost Analysis –
Yay! Finally I’ve managed to travel to a country I expected to be inexpensive, and it was! El Salvador is one of the cheapest destinations in Central America, and fortunately, my numbers reflect that, even with hiring a private car to drive us around.
Excluding airfare, my daily total is $63.38. Not too shabby at all! If we had taken the chicken buses instead of hiring the driver for our longer trips, we would have paid closer to $45/day. In all likelihood, we would have been fine on the buses, but I heard too many horror stories from people in the know to take the risk. See mom, I’m careful.
- Activities – $63.00
- Santa Ana volcano hike – $9 (not including transportation)
- Museo Regional de Occidente admission – $2
- Mayan ruins entrance fees – $3/site = $9
- 7 Waterfalls hike – $17
- Surfing lesson and board rental – $25
- Souvenirs – $35.10
- I bought a magnet, postcards and a few small gifts for friends and family back home, and a hand-painted flower pot for myself.
- Transportation – $220.70
- The cost was $400 for five days of driving, split between Emma and myself bringing my share to $200.
- Taxi from El Tunco to the airport – $35/2 = $17.50
- Chicken buses ranged from $.25-$.90 per ride
- Miscellaneous – $10
- El Salvador doesn’t require a visa, but you must purchase a tourist card upon arrival in the airport. Make sure you have cash on hand.
General Information –
- Learn Spanish. If there’s only one tip I can give, it’s this. As I’ve mentioned before, I speak enough to book a hotel room and order a meal, but listening to our tour guides on are various hikes made me realize how much I was missing by not knowing the language. English is not spoken much at all, so any Spanish you know will make your time here that much better.
- El Salvador uses the U.S. dollar as their currency, but ATM’s are hard to come by and credit cards are not accepted in most places. Bring more cash than you think you’ll need. The last thing you want is to have your trip ruined by not being able to pay for a place to sleep at night.
- It was recommended to me by a friend with family in El Salvador to not take the chicken buses. This is apparently where bad things can happen. Usually I don’t read too much in to these things and do what I want, safety be damned. But as I had someone else’s safety to think about and locals were warning against the buses, we hired a car. This was quite the luxury and I really liked not having to worry about where to find the bus or if anything bad was going to happen to me. If you can find room in your budget for this, it might be worth looking in to. It’s roughly the same cost as taking a taxi to each city as well.
- Head inland. The beach is fun, but not the kind of place to lay out and relax. There are many interesting cities to visit in the rest of the country that it’s worth planning to spend time in a few of them. We skipped San Salvador, though we drove through it a few times. It didn’t look very interesting. Other travelers we talked to who’d been there agreed it was worth giving a miss.
Links to everything I wrote on El Salvador below!
Wandering the Streets of Santa Ana
Hiking the Santa Ana Volcano
Ruinas Mayas in El Salvador
Meeting Santa Ana’s Locals
Who Are You-a, Juayua
Traveling the Ruta de las Flores
Hiking Through 7 Waterfalls
Sightseeing in Suchitoto
Playa El Tunco