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El Salvador travel guide - Travel S helper

El Salvador

travel guide

El Salvador, formally the Republic of El Salvador (Spanish: Repblica de El Salvador, meaning “Republic of the Savior”), is Central America’s smallest and most populous nation. San Salvador is El Salvador’s capital and biggest city. As of 2015, the nation was home to about 6.38 million people, the majority of whom are Mestizos of European and Indigenous American ancestry.

For millennia, El Salvador was inhabited by a variety of Mesoamerican peoples, most notably the Cuzcatlecs, as well as the Lenca and Maya. The Spanish Empire acquired the area in the early 16th century, integrating it into the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was headquartered in Mexico City. In 1821, as part of the First Mexican Empire, the nation gained independence from Spain, only to secede again in 1823 as part of the Federal Republic of Central America. El Salvador became independent in 1841, after the collapse of the republic, until establishing a brief union with Honduras and Nicaragua known as the Greater Republic of Central America, which lasted from 1895 to 1898.

El Salvador experienced chronic political and economic instability from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, marked by coups, revolts, and a series of authoritarian regimes. Persistent socioeconomic disparity and political discontent culminated in the Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which pitted the military-led government against a coalition of leftist guerrilla organizations. The dispute was resolved via a negotiated solution that created a multiparty constitutional republic that still exists today.

El Salvador’s economy has traditionally been dominated by agriculture, starting with the indigo plant (ail in Spanish), which was the most significant crop during the colonial era, and then by coffee, which accounted for 90 percent of export profits by the early twentieth century. El Salvador has subsequently decreased its reliance on coffee and begun diversifying its economy via the establishment of trade and financial connections and the expansion of the industrial sector. The colón, El Salvador’s national currency from 1892, was replaced in 2001 by the US dollar.

As of 2010, El Salvador was ranked 12th in Latin America and fourth in Central America on the Human Development Index (after Panama, Costa Rica, and Belize), owing in part to the country’s continuing fast industrialisation. The nation, however, continues to face high rates of poverty, inequality, and violence.

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El Salvador - Info Card




Salvadoran colón, United States dollar (USD)

Time zone



21,041 km2 (8,124 sq mi)

Calling code


Official language


El Salvador | Introduction

Tourism in El Salvador

An estimated 1,394,000 international tourists visited El Salvador in 2014. Tourism contributed US$ 855.5 million to El Salvador’s GDP in 2013. This corresponded to 3.5 % of the total GDP.

Tourism directly supported 80,500 jobs in 2013. This corresponded to 3.1 % of total employment in El Salvador. In 2013, tourism indirectly supported 210,000 jobs, equivalent to 8.1 % of total employment in El Salvador.

The airport for international flights in El Salvador is Comalapa International Airport. This airport is located about 40 km (25 mi) southeast of San Salvador.

Most North American and European tourists seek out El Salvador’s beaches and nightlife. Apart from these two attractions, El Salvador’s tourist landscape is somewhat different from that of other Central American countries. Due to its geographical size and urbanisation, there are not many nature-related tourist destinations, such as eco-tours or archaeological sites, open to the public. Surfing is an area of nature tourism that has gained popularity in recent years, with Salvadoran beaches becoming increasingly popular.

Surfers visit many of the beaches on the coast of La Libertad and eastern El Salvador to find surf spots that are not yet crowded. The use of the US dollar as the Salvadoran currency and direct 4-6 hour flights from most US cities are factors that attract American tourists. The urbanisation and Americanisation of Salvadoran culture has also led to an abundance of American-style shopping malls, shops and restaurants in the three major urban areas, especially in Greater San Salvador.

According to the Salvadoran newspaper El Diario De Hoy, the top 10 attractions are: the coastal beaches, La Libertad, Ruta Las Flores, Suchitoto, Playa Las Flores in San Miguel, La Palma, Santa Ana (site of the country’s highest volcano), Nahuizalco, Apaneca, Juayua and San Ignacio.

Geography Of El Salvador

El Salvador is located in the Central American isthmus, between latitudes 13° and 15°N and longitudes 87° and 91°W. It extends 270 km (168 mi) from west-northwest to east-southeast and 142 km (88 mi) from north to south, with a total area of 21,041 km2 (8,124 sq mi). As the smallest country in the Americas, El Salvador is affectionately known as Pulgarcito de America (the “Thumb of America”). The highest point in El Salvador is Cerro El Pital at 2,730 metres on the border with Honduras.

El Salvador has a long history of destructive earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The capital San Salvador was destroyed in 1756 and 1854 and suffered severe damage in the earthquakes of 1919, 1982 and 1986. El Salvador has more than twenty volcanoes, two of which, San Miguel and Izalco, have been active in recent years. From the early 19th century until the mid-1950s, Izalco erupted with a regularity that earned it the name “Lighthouse of the Pacific”. Its fulminant eruptions were visible from afar at sea, and at night its glowing lava transformed it into a radiant cone of light.

El Salvador has over 300 rivers, of which the Rio Lempa is the most important. The Rio Lempa rises in Guatemala and flows through the northern mountain range, along much of the central plateau and through the southern volcanic chain to the Pacific Ocean. It is the only navigable river in El Salvador. It and its tributaries drain about half of the country’s area. The other rivers are generally short and drain the Pacific lowlands or flow from the central plateau through gaps in the southern mountain range to the Pacific. These include the Goascorán, Jiboa, Torola, Paz and Río Grande de San Miguel.

There are several lakes surrounded by volcanic craters in El Salvador, the most important being Lake Ilopango (70 km²) and Lake Coatepeque (26 km²). Lake Güija is the largest natural lake in El Salvador (44 km²). Several artificial lakes were created by the Lempa Dam, the largest of which is Embalse Cerrón Grande (135 km²). In total, there are 320 km2 (123.6 sq mi) of water within El Salvador’s borders.

El Salvador shares borders with Guatemala and Honduras. The total length of the state border is 546 km: 203 km with Guatemala and 343 km with Honduras. It is the only country in Central America without a Caribbean coast. The Pacific coast is 307 km (191 mi) long.

Two parallel mountain ranges cross El Salvador in the west with a central plateau in between and a narrow coastal plain running along the Pacific Ocean. These physical features divide the country into two physiographic regions. The mountain ranges and the central plateau, which cover 85% of the country, form the interior highlands. The remaining coastal plains are called the Pacific lowlands.

Demographics Of El Salvador

The population of El Salvador in 2015 was 6,377,195, up from 2,200,000 in 1950. In 2010, the population under 15 years of age was 32.1%, 61% were between 15 and 65 years of age, while 6.9% were 65 or older.

The capital San Salvador has about 2.1 million inhabitants. An estimated 42% of El Salvador’s population lives in rural areas. Urbanisation has increased rapidly in El Salvador since the 1960s, with millions of people moving to the cities and creating associated problems for urban planning and supply.

Ethnic groups

El Salvador’s population is composed of mestizos, whites and indigenous peoples. Eighty-six per cent of Salvadorans are of mestizo origin, meaning they have both indigenous and European ancestry. Within the mestizo population, both Salvadorans of European, especially Mediterranean, race and Afro-Salvadorans and indigenous Salvadorans who do not speak indigenous languages or have an indigenous culture identify as culturally mestizo.

12.7 % of Salvadorans are white. The population is mainly made up of people of Spanish origin, but there are also Salvadorans of French, German, Swiss, English, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch and Danish origin. Most Central European immigrants to El Salvador came as refugees from the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Switzerland during the Second World War. There is also a small community of Jews, Palestinian Christians and Arab Muslims (mainly Palestinians).

There are up to 100,000 Nicaraguans living in El Salvador.

0.23% of the population is fully indigenous, the ethnic groups are Kakawira, who represent 0.07% of the total population of the country, then (Pipil) 0.06%, (Lenca) 0.04% and other smaller groups 0.06%. Very few Amerindians have preserved their customs and traditions as they have adapted over time to the dominant Mestizo/Hispanic culture.

There is a small Afro-Salvadorian population, which makes up 0.13% of the total population, as black people have traditionally been prevented from immigrating by government policy.

Among the immigrant groups in El Salvador, Palestinian Christians stand out. Although their numbers are small, their descendants have gained great economic and political power in the country, as evidenced by the election of former President Antonio Saca, whose opponent in the 2004 elections, Shafik Handal, was also of Palestinian origin, and the flourishing commercial, industrial and construction enterprises owned by this ethnic group.

In 2004, there were about 3.2 million Salvadorans living outside El Salvador, with the United States traditionally the preferred destination for Salvadoran economic migrants. In 2012, there were about 2.0 million Salvadoran immigrants and Salvadoran Americans in the United States, making them the sixth largest immigrant group in the country. The second largest destination of Salvadorans living abroad is Guatemala, with more than 111,000 people, mostly in Guatemala City. Salvadorans also live in other neighbouring countries such as Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. Other countries with significant Salvadoran communities are Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom (including the Cayman Islands), Sweden, Brazil, Italy, Colombia and Australia.


The majority of El Salvador’s population is Christian. Roman Catholics (47 percent) and Protestants (33 percent) are the two main denominations in the country. People who do not belong to any religious group make up 17 percent of the population. The remaining 3 % of the population is made up of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hare Krishnas, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Latter-day Saints and people adhering to indigenous religious beliefs. The number of evangelicals in the country is growing rapidly.

Economy Of El Salvador

El Salvador’s economy has been hampered at times by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, by government policies imposing large economic subsidies, and by official corruption. The subsidies have become such a problem that the International Monetary Fund suspended a $750 million loan to the central government in April 2012. President Funes’ chief of staff, Alex Segovia, admitted that the economy was at the “point of collapse”.

Antiguo Cuscatlán has the highest per capita income of all cities in the country and is an international investment centre.

GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) was estimated at USD 25.895 billion in 2008. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 64.1%, followed by the industrial sector at 24.7% (2008 est.). Agriculture accounts for only 11.2% of GDP (2010 est.)

After 1996, GDP grew at an average annual rate of 3.2 % real growth. The government launched free market initiatives and the real GDP growth rate was 4.7 % in 2007.

In December 1999, net foreign exchange reserves amounted to US$ 1.8 billion, roughly equivalent to five months of imports. With this reserve of hard currency, the Salvadoran government began a monetary integration plan on 1 January 2001, whereby the US dollar became legal tender alongside the Salvadoran colón and all official accounting was done in US dollars. This formally limited the government’s implementation of open market monetary policy to influence the short-term variables of the economy. In September 2007, net foreign exchange reserves amounted to $2.42 billion.

El Salvador has long faced the challenge of developing new growth sectors for a more diversified economy. In the past, the country produced gold and silver, but recent attempts to reopen the mining sector, which was expected to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy, failed after President Saca closed the Pacific Rim Mining Corporation.

Like other former colonies, El Salvador has been considered a single-export economy (an economy heavily dependent on one type of export) for many years. In colonial times, El Salvador was a thriving exporter of indigo, but after the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, the new modern state turned to coffee as its main export.

San Miguel is an important economic centre of El Salvador and hosts the “Carnaval de San Miguel”, one of the largest entertainment and food festivals in Central America.

The government has sought to improve the collection of current revenues, with a focus on indirect taxes. A 10% value-added tax (IVA in Spanish), introduced in September 1992, was increased to 13% in July 1995.

Inflation is constant and among the lowest in the region. Since 1997, inflation has averaged 3 per cent, with an increase of almost 5 per cent in recent years. As a result of the FTAs, total exports increased by 19 per cent from 2000 to 2006, from $2.94 billion to $3.51 billion, and total imports increased by 54 per cent, from $4.95 billion to $7.63 billion. This led to a 102 per cent increase in the trade deficit, from $2.01 billion to $4.12 billion.

El Salvador has created an open environment for trade and investment and has embarked on a wave of privatisation that extends to telecommunications, electricity distribution, banking and pension funds. In late 2006, the government and the Millennium Challenge Corporation signed a five-year, $461 million agreement to spur economic growth and reduce poverty in the country’s northern region, the main conflict zone during the civil war, by investing in education, public services, business development and transport infrastructure. With the introduction of the US dollar as its currency in 2001, El Salvador lost control over its monetary policy. Any counter-cyclical policy response to the recession must be through fiscal policy, which is constrained by the legal requirements for a two-thirds majority to approve any international financing.

Entry Requirements For El Salvador

Visa & Passport for El Salvador

Immigration authorities require visitors to carry their passport and one of the following documents when entering El Salvador: a visa or tourist card. Visas are issued by the consulate of El Salvador, which is accredited in countries where there are such diplomatic missions. The tourist card is usually issued for 90 days and can be purchased for US$10 at the port of entry. Passports from some countries may require a visa before entering El Salvador, e.g. Malaysia. The visa for US citizens is free of charge. Some countries pay a fee for issuing the visa.

How To Travel To El Salvador

Get In - By air

Visitors arriving by plane usually land at El Salvador’s international airport in Comalapa (IATA: SAL), which is 50 km or a 45-minute drive south of the capital.

  • Avianca is the national airline of El Salvador. Taca officially merged with Avianca Holdings in May 2013 and uses the Avianca brand for all its operations, expanding its services to other parts of South America and Spain. Avianca inherited from Taca a fleet of new A319, A320 and A321 aircraft, as well as the Embraer 190 series, which still operate in North, Central and South America. However, they have a larger monopoly with the highest ticket prices, especially for travel to Central America, and savvy buyers would do well to compare options using an online service like
  • Veca, a newcomer to the Central American aviation industry owned by Sociedad Hasgar S.A. de C.V., is competing with Avianca to become El Salvador’s “national airline” at lower fares. It currently offers flights from Guatemala City, Bogota, Lima and San Jose and plans to expand to Central, North and South America.

An exit tax of 32 USD must be paid upon departure. Depending on the airline, the tax may already be fully or partially included in your ticket price and the amount you have to pay varies between 0 and 32 USD.

Other airlines that fly to El Salvador are:

  • Aeromexico Connect (Mexico City).
  • American Airlines (Miami and Dallas)
  • Copa Airlines (Panama City)
  • Delta (Atlanta and Los Angeles)
  • Iberia (Madrid)
  • Spirit Airlines (from Fort Lauderdale)
  • United (Houston and Newark)

Get In - By car

The Pan-American Highway runs through El Salvador and is a safe route to enter the country and travel between San Miguel in the east and San Salvador in the west.

Get In - By bus

The following bus companies offer luxury (and safer) bus tours between El Salvador and other Central American destinations:

  • Pullmantur, Sheraton Presidente San Salvador @ Ave De La Revolucion, Col. San Beneito, +503 2526-9900. They serve San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua and San Jose.
  • TransGalgosInter, 7a Avenida 19-44 Zona 1, Guatemala City, +502 2331-4279, +502 2361-1773. Departs at 1pm. Runs once daily to Tapachula via Retaluleau and Coatepeque (up to $43 per trip) on one route and to Guatemala City ($13 per trip) on another. Passengers are transferred in Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango/Xela.
  • PlatinumCentroamerica (King Quality), (Centro) 19 Avenida Norte y 3era. Calle Poniente; (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo, Pasaje 1, Local 415, +503 2281-1996, +503 2241-8704, +503 2241-8787. They serve San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua and San Jose.
  • Comfort Lines, (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo Pasaje No. 1, 415; (Centro) 19 Ave. Norte y 3ra. Calle Poniente Esquina (former Shell gas station), +503 22418713/14, +503 2281-1996. Only between Guatemala City and San Salvador. 25 $ o.w. or 50 $ rt.
  • Ticabus (Transportes Internationales Centromaericanos), (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo Local 301; (Hotel San Carlos) Calle Conception 121, +503 2243-1188. The next stops from San Salvador are in Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and Managua. They call at the main cities of all Central American countries except Belize.
  • Transportesdel Sol (Av La Revolución No 159-A, San Benito), +503 2133-7800.
  • Arsotur, +502 5705 6393, email: Direct shuttle service from Antigua, Guatemala, to Hostal El Roble, Playa San Diego and other beaches in El Salvador.

How To Travel Around El Salvador

If you are travelling by car, there are car rental companies such as Alamo and Hertz. Buses and taxis are also a good way to get around. The distances between tourist attractions make walking an unpopular option, as does the layout of the city’s streets; San Salvador is not a square city, but has long avenues that are straight and streets that are not. In some neighbourhoods, however, walking is a good option, such as in the Zona Rosa.

El Salvador now has a well-developed GPS navigation system called QFind [www] to help you find your way around urban or rural areas. It is a fully functional system with thousands of points of interest and a turn-by-turn route to your destination.

Another option for luxury transport is Linea Ejecutiva [www], they offer private transfers. If you wish, you can contact the Convention Bureau of El Salvador to visit the country.

Get Around - By train

All rail transport in El Salvador ceased in October 2002.

In 2006, a pilot project was launched to revitalise the rail network and in 2007, a service between San Salvador and Apopa was relaunched with two return trips in the morning and evening for commuters. Although this service is of little use to passengers, it is hopefully a sign for the future reopening of other parts of the extensive rail network.

Get Around - By bus

There are many buses that run on the country’s highways. National bus routes are generally very cheap (no more than two or three dollars for the longest routes) and difficult to understand, except that they are numbered consistently. The one- and two-digit numbers indicate local, inner-city routes, while the three-digit buses run between towns and villages. The buses themselves are often beautifully painted and adorned with all sorts of posters and trinkets, from religious to pop culture. Chaotic as it may sound, they run regularly and frequently. Longer journeys may include a stop in a town where many mujeres and sometimes their children get on to sell mangoes, nuts, water and sometimes even fried chicken in a box. There is no central office that coordinates bus routes and schedules. You can only check to get an idea of which bus to take to get to your destination and from where. The site also has a map showing where the bus stops are. The best thing to do is to ask the cobrador or anyone at the bus station where and when the bus leaves. Most are very friendly and helpful, but beware of bus scammers.

Notice. Anyone travelling by bus (visitors or locals) must beware of the buses and microbuses that can be seen all over the country. Buses are often overcrowded and it is very easy to get robbed. Buses are cheap and a good way to get around, but remember that as a visitor you are at a higher risk of being robbed. If you have to travel by bus, be very careful with yourself and your belongings.

Destinations in El Salvador

Cities in El Salvador

  • San Salvador – national capital; department of San Salvador
  • Acajutla
  • La Libertad
  • Puerto Cutuco (La Union)
  • San Francisco Gotera, Morazán Department
  • Santa Ana
  • San Miguel, Department of San Miguel
  • Santa Tecla
  • Suchitoto

Other destinations in El Salvador

  • El Pital (the highest mountain in El Salvador) and its rural life.
  • Parque Nacional Cerro Verde (also known as Parque Nacional Los Volcanes)
  • El Imposible National Park
  • San Miguel beaches: Playa Las Flores, Playa El Esteron, Intipuca Beach and El Cuco.

Things To See in El Salvador

El Salvador’s landscape is breathtaking, with volcanoes and mountains offering “green” adventurers just what they are looking for. Many environmentally-oriented community organizations promote ecotourism, and a number of beautiful and secluded beaches and forests are scattered throughout the country.

A well-maintained and almost deserted national park lies to the west, at Bosque El Imposible. There is also the cloud forest of Montecristo and a picturesque fishing village with incredible local hospitality and remote coconut islands at La Isla de Méndez. Isla de Olomega in the department of San Miguel is an excellent ecotourism destination, as is the beautiful Isla El Cajete in Sonsonate, Isla San Sebastian, Conchagua, Conchaguita, Isla Conejo, Isla Teopan and Isla Meanguera.

Also worth visiting are the colonial towns of Apaneca, Juayua, Panchimalco and Suchitoto, as well as the Mayan sites of San Andrés, Joya de Cerén (the Pompeii of Central America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Tazumal, whose main pyramid rises some 75 feet in the air. The on-site museum displays artefacts from the Pipil culture (the builders of Tazumal) and paintings depicting life in pre-Hispanic El Salvador. Souvenir lovers will find some of the best artisans in San Juan el Espino and La Palma (the arts and crafts capital of El Salvador).

The capital San Salvador is a cosmopolitan city with good restaurants serving the country’s fresh seafood, as well as plenty of shopping, entertainment and nightlife.

San Miguel, to the east, offers tourists a more authentic way to see El Salvador, getting off the beaten track and discovering the countryside, the coast and the lakes.

Things To Do in El Salvador

  • El Salvador has a reputation for having some of the best surfers in the world. Tourists from all over Central America are discovering the surf hotspots of La Libertad (near San Salvador), El Sunzal, El Zonte and El Cuco (near San Miguel), making El Salvador the fastest growing surf tourism hotspot in Central America.
  • Stand Up Paddleboarding at the famous Intipuca Beach
  • Water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, para sailing, jet skiing at Playa El Esteron, one of the most beautiful beaches in El Salvador.
  • Volcano hike in Chaparrastique – One of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador
  • Nature walks and lake visits in Isla de Olomega on Lake Olomega
  • Waterfalls and hot springs
  • Drink up! You’ll love spending the whole night in the Zona Rosa.

Food & Drinks in El Salvador

Food in El Salvador

The restaurant scene in El Salvador is influenced by many different cultures. You can choose from Italian, Korean, Japanese, French, Chilean, American, Peruvian, Mexican, Spanish, Middle Eastern, German, Chinese, Argentinian and more. American fast food chains such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Subway, Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s and Domino’s are also easy to find in the country’s largest cities such as San Salvador, Merliot / Santa Tecla and Santa Ana. Other franchises include Tony Romas’, Bennigans and others. Some of the best restaurants are in the Zona Rosa (Paradise, Alo Nuestro, 503).

The typical Salvadoran diet includes lots of rice and beans, seafood (especially for those living on the coast) and the most common Salvadoran dish, the famous pupusa, a round corn tortilla filled with cheese and other elements, usually chicharon (shredded pork). The best pupusas in the country are found in Olocuilta, which you can reach by taking the motorway to Comalapa airport. There you will find more than 50 pupusas stands competing for business.

Salvadorans also eat sliced fried plantains (platanos), usually with beans, sour cream, cheese and sometimes eggs, yuca con chicharron, pastelitos de carne, panes con pavo (turkey sandwiches), handmade tortillas, among other very tasty Salvadoran dishes.

If you are on the coast, be sure to try the cóctel de conchas. It’s a mixture of black mussels, lime juice, onions, tomatoes, coriander and chillies in a spicy black sauce. You can find it for around $3/bol, with freshly harvested mussels. There is also a wide range of other seafood dishes.

Many large, modern supermarkets are scattered around the capital and larger towns, such as La Despensa de Don Juan and Super Selectos, which offer local produce and a wide range of international products. Like everywhere else in the world, these supermarkets are a cheaper alternative to eating out every night.

Drinks in El Salvador

Typical drinks and fruits

Try the more delicious horchata (made from rice and “morro” seeds) and cebada (a sweet and mild refreshment made from pink barley). If you prefer (at your own risk), drink natural juices such as: Guava, JocoteArrayanChirimoyaGranadilla de “moco” and Marañon. Also, try to enjoy local fruits such as: jocotes, marañon japones, green mango (with salt, lime, alhuaiste (ground pumpkin seeds), manzana pedorra (orig.from Los Planes de Renderos), “nance”, “almendras red or yellow” salvadorenias, “hicaco”, “paterna” (also try the paterna seeds, cooked with lime and hot pepper, and don’t miss the sweet and luscious aroma of “carao”.


In San Salvador, the hippest nightlife district is called La Zona Rosa. Although it does not cover a large area, it is home to many exclusive and high-class bars and nightclubs, as well as the best restaurants in the city. One famous place is a shopping centre called Multiplaza, where there are several clubs and bars. Paseo del Carmen is also located there.

In San Miguel, the famous Av. Roosevelt, which hosts one of the biggest festivals in Central America in November, you will find many bars and clubs for a sexy nightlife.

Money & Shopping in El Salvador

The official currency of El Salvador is the US dollar (since 2001). Carry only 1, 5, 10 or 20 dollar notes. Most shops, supermarkets and department stores do not accept $50 or $100 notes. If you need to change your notes into smaller denominations, you can go to any bank.

El Salvador has the largest shopping centres in the region (MetroCentro – MetroSur), especially in San Salvador, with many high-quality international shops. Goods can also be purchased in markets, including national and international supermarkets.

San Salvador has a number of large, modern shopping centres offering the latest in fashion, accessories and international cuisine. They are mostly found in the upscale suburbs of the city, such as Escalón, Santa Elena and their surrounding areas. These shopping centres include:

For lovers of fair trade handicrafts and organic products, a local alternative market is held every second Saturday in San José Park, in the San Luis neighbourhood, just west of the national university.

Expect to pay $30 to $60 for a hotel room, $3 to $5 for a simple meal, $0.25 to $0.35 for a bus ride from San Salvador, $1 per hour to use the internet and $0.25 for a bag of sliced mangoes. The only downside is that large notes ($50 and $100) are virtually unsellable. Change wherever you can – petrol stations are always a good choice. A good idea is to go to a bank and ask for small notes, but no more than $20. Pay attention to the prices at which street vendors sell their goods, because sometimes they take advantage of people who look or sound like strangers by raising their prices considerably.

If you are carrying money from other Central American countries, the banks in those countries are usually your best bet, as they almost always exchange their own currency into dollars at fairly decent rates. You can also get dollars at many ATMs in countries like Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Festivals & Holidays in El Salvador

Date Name Comments
March/April Easter Celebrated by the large Catholic population in carnival-like events in various cities.
1 May Labour Day International Labour Day
10 May Mother’s Day
From 1 to 7 August August Carnival A week-long festival in honour of El Salvador del Mundo, the patron saint of El Salvador.
September 15 Independence Day Celebration of independence from Spain, achieved in 1821.
12 October Columbus Day This day commemorates the arrival of Europeans in the Americas.
2 November Day of the Dead A day when people usually visit the graves of their deceased loved ones.
November (last week) San Miguel Carnival A week of carnival in San Miguel
25 December Christmas Day Salvadorans stay up until midnight on 24 December to welcome Christmas with a huge “arsenal” of fireworks.
31 December New Year’s Eve Salvadorans stay awake until midnight on 31 December to welcome the New Year in the same way they do Christmas (you can hear the deafening sound of fireworks throughout the country on both days).

Culture Of El Salvador

The mestizo culture dominates the country, shaped by the influences of indigenous North Americans and Spaniards from Europe. Intermarriage between the indigenous Mesoamerican population of Cuzcatlan and European settlers created a new mixed population. The Catholic Church plays an important role in Salvadoran culture. Archbishop Óscar Romero is a national hero for his role in resisting the human rights abuses that took place in the run-up to the Salvadoran civil war. Important foreign figures in El Salvador include Jesuit priests and professors Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baró and Segundo Montes, who were assassinated by the Salvadoran army in 1989 at the height of the civil war.

Painting, ceramics and textiles are the most important manual artistic media. The writers Francisco Gavidia (1863-1955), Salarrué (Salvador Salazar Arrué) (1899-1975), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino, Pedro Geoffroy Rivas, Manlio Argueta, José Roberto Cea and the poet Roque Dalton are among the most important writers of El Salvador. Notable personalities of the 20th century are the filmmaker Baltasar Polio, the director Patricia Chica, the artist Fernando Llort and the cartoonist Toño Salazar.

Among the most famous representatives of the graphic arts are the painters Augusto Crespin, Noe Canjura, Carlos Cañas, Julia Díaz, Mauricio Mejia, Maria Elena Palomo de Mejia, Camilo Minero, Ricardo Carbonell, Roberto Huezo, Miguel Angel Cerna (painter and writer, better known as MACLo), Esael Araujo, and many others. For more information on prominent citizens of El Salvador, see the list of Salvadorans.


One of the most famous dishes in El Salvador is the pupusaPupusas are handmade corn tortillas (made from masa de maíz or masa de arroz, a corn or rice-based dough used in Latin American cuisine) filled with one or more of the following ingredients: Cheese (usually a Salvadoran soft cheese like quesillo, similar to mozzarella), chicharrón or refried beans. Sometimes the filling is queso con loroco (cheese combined with loroco, a vine flower bud native to Central America).

Pupusas revueltas are pupusas filled with beans, cheese and pork. There are also vegetarian options. Some adventurous restaurants even offer pupusas stuffed with prawns or spinach. The name pupusa comes from the Pipil-Nahuatl word pupushahua. The exact origins of pupusa are disputed, but it is known to have existed in El Salvador before the arrival of the Spanish.

Two other typical Salvadoran dishes are yuca frita and panes con polloFried yuca is a fried cassava root served with curtido (a filling of pickled cabbage, onions and carrots) and panes con pollo with pescaditas (small fried sardines). Yuca is sometimes served boiled instead of fried. Pan con pollo/pavo (chicken/turkey sandwiches) are hot turkey or chicken sandwiches. The bird is marinated, then fried with pipil spices and cut by hand. This sandwich is traditionally served with tomato and watercress as well as cucumber, onion, lettuce, mayonnaise and mustard.

One of the typical breakfasts in El Salvador is fried plantains, usually served with cream. It is common in Salvadoran restaurants and households, including those of immigrants to the United States.

Alguashte, a spice made from dried and ground pepitas, is often used in Salvadoran sweet and savoury dishes.

Maria Luisa” is a dessert that is widely eaten in El Salvador. It is a layered cake dipped in orange marmalade and sprinkled with icing sugar.

A popular drink enjoyed by Salvadorans is horchata, a drink that originated in the Valencian community in Spain. Horchata is usually made from powdered morro seeds, which are mixed with milk or water and sugar. Horchata is drunk all year round and can be consumed at any time of the day. It is usually accompanied by a plate of pupusas or fried yuca. Horchata from El Salvador has a very distinct taste and should not be confused with Mexican horchata, which is made with rice. Coffee is also a common morning drink.

Other popular drinks in El Salvador are ensalada, a drink made from sliced fruit swimming in fruit juice, and kolachampan, a sugarcane-flavoured soft drink.

One of the most popular desserts is the pastel de tres leches (three-milk cake), which is made with three types of milk: Evaporated milk, condensed milk and cream.


Salvadoran music is a mixture of indigenous pipil and Spanish influences. The music includes religious songs (mainly to celebrate Christmas and other holidays, including the days of the saints). Satirical and rural lyrical themes are common. Cuban, Colombian and Mexican music has infiltrated the country, including salsa and cumbia. El Salvador’s popular music uses marimbatehpe’ch, flutes, drums, scrapers and calabashes, as well as guitars and other instruments imported more recently. The best known folk dance of El Salvador is the Xuc, which originated in Cojutepeque, Cuscatlan. The musical repertoire also includes danza, pasillo, marcha and canciones.


Football is the most popular sport in El Salvador. The national football team of El Salvador qualified for the FIFA World Cup in 1970 and 1982. Qualification for the 1970 tournament was marred by the football war against Honduras, whose team had defeated El Salvador.

The national football team plays in the Estadio Cuscatlán in San Salvador. It was inaugurated in 1976 and has 53,400 seats, making it the largest stadium in Central America and the Caribbean.

Stay Safe & Healthy in El Salvador

Stay Safe in El Salvador

El Salvador has a bad reputation because of the civil war in the 1980s. According to the U.S. State Department, El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Crime is a problem largely attributed to street gangs, although statistics from official sources do not support this claim. You should use common sense and avoid entering an area that does not seem safe, as you would in any country in the world. Avoid wearing luxury items such as jewellery, expensive cameras and watches when travelling on public roads. Women should avoid travelling alone as they can occasionally be insulted and groped on crowded buses. As a foreigner, the kind of answer you may get from the police is “take it or leave it”. If you have been the victim of pickpocketing or any other kind of theft without anything happening to you, a visit to the police station will almost certainly be an exercise in frustration. Police officers have also been known to harass or behave inappropriately towards female travellers.

Many Salvadorans are armed and shootings are not uncommon. However, foreigners are not allowed to carry weapons, even for their own protection, without first obtaining a permit to carry from the Salvadoran government. Extortion tactics include indiscriminate grenade attacks on buses, shops and restaurants, which have killed or injured dozens of people, including children. These types of attacks are unpredictable, and the US Embassy advises its staff to remain aware of their surroundings and minimise the risk to themselves.

Anyone visiting El Salvador is advised to carry only the necessary identification, such as a driver’s licence, when exploring the city or tourist areas. If you need to carry your passport with you at all times, a travel bag will allow you to carry it safely. Police officers regularly ask tourists to show their passports. Most police officers are likely to be convinced that a copy of your passport and another piece of identification will suffice. Others will insist that you return to your hotel to collect your actual document. Most tourists prefer to stay in safe areas of El Salvador, such as the Zona Rosa, where crime is relatively low. If you are not staying in one of the country’s five-star hotels, be sure to check if the town or village you are visiting has a high level of gang activity.

In 1996, San Salvador was considered the second most dangerous city in the western hemisphere according to statistics. Since the end of the civil war in 1992, the crime rate in El Salvador has not decreased. Today San Salvador, and El Salvador in general, has one of the highest murder rates in the world, it is also considered the epicentre of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. In 2006, 3,906 homicides were reported; in 2005, there were 3,779, which equates to 57.2 violent deaths per 100,000 people. The crime rate in general has risen steadily over the years, increasing by 7.5% from 2005 to 2006.El Salvador is the most dangerous and violent country in Central America. The government has tried to control the gangs with a tactic called “Super Mano Dura”, which means “Super Strong Hand”, but this has not been successful and the crime rate has continued to rise.

Stay Healthy in El Salvador

If you are not used to the food sold by street vendors, it is best to stay away from it until you get used to it. If you want to try a pupusa, try to find a restaurant to try this popular dish instead of buying it from street vendors. That is, street food that you see cooked can sometimes be safer than restaurant food that you don’t see cooked.

Agua en bolsa” (water in a plastic bag) is very often sold on the street and in local shops in El Salvador.

Pharmacies are available throughout the country. Make sure you have a first aid kit with you when travelling in the countryside and to archaeological sites. Mosquito repellents are very useful.



South America


North America

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