In Spanish, “El Salvador” means “the savior;” in tourist English it means “tourist danger” and that’s exactly why you want to go and why you want to avoid thinking like a tourist.
Instead, think like a traveler, pack a compass and liftoff from the banal into a world of Mayan-soaked culture, rainforest-laced hikes and cabana-friendly coastline.
If countries waxed and waned like moons, El Salvador would be reaching a two-decade full moon. In 20 years, war ended, the Pope visited, a democracy and currency stabilized, a UNESCO World Heritage Site was named, the 2002 Central American & Caribbean Sports Games were hosted and El Salvador beat Mexico in the World Cup qualifiers. Viva El Salvador!
And all of this without a tourism ministry, infrastructure or e-brochure! Feeling anxious? Don’t. The raw state of this democracy is exactly what makes the appeal so rich. Ten years from now, tourists will flock to another bland Costa Rica. But now, the flavors, sights and experiences in El Salvador are pure and vibrant. Taste the nectar.
El Salvador is the smallest but most densely populated country in Central America. A tropical climate prevails, but most of the interior is covered by volcanic mountains and a fertile central plateau. Located between Guatemala and Honduras, it boasts 200 miles of striking Pacific coastline.
Surfers have been coming for years. Breaks dot the western coastline facing the Southern swell which wraps around lush point breaks in dreamy sets. Most stay in small villages like Sunzal and El Tunco which host bungalows overlooking the serenity for less than $20 a night.
Adventure lovers seek out rain forest treks beneath lush canopy, alive with fragrant smells and vivid colors. Volcanic mountain areas offer inspiring vistas and geology. Culture is close at hand (including fertile coffee plantations) with notable architectural and Mayan ruins.
As for cities, the capitol city of San Salvador isn’t the most appealing – it’s stricken with poverty and gridlock. Nearby Santa Ana is more attractive, surrounded by coffee plantations and sugarcane fields—travel to the Mayan ruin of Tazumal, erstwhile setting of human sacrifice! A couple hours north, La Palma offers cool weather and beautiful views.
Reputation for crime and violence deters most from El Salvador, but travelers who explore this country are enthralled by the beauty and soothed by the warm and intelligent people. Be one of them.
When to go: El Salvador’s rainy season is between May and November and its dry season is between December and April. Even in rainy season, sunny days are the norm.
Getting around: El Salvador is tiny, but not so easy to get around. The public bus system is inexpensive, but crowded – not ideal for luxury travelers. Renting a car is a popular choice (especially travelers with surf boards), or hiring a driver with a minivan.
Money: Prices in El Salvador are extremely low—no more than $3 USD for your average meal. The US dollar is used as legal tender, which makes things quite easy.
Safety: Most travelers leave without incident, however street crime is a problem in El Salvador. Resist wearing your best jewelry and walk in a group at night in cities to avoid incident.