BACKPACKING AROUND EL SALVADOR
The tiny country of El Salvador has suffered much tragedy in its past and, unfortunately, some people can't look past its history. If you do decide to visit El Salvador you will find incredibly welcoming people whose warmth and positivity will make you feel right at home. The beaches are beautiful and the surf is held in high regard by surfers the world over. El Salvador is just waiting to be explored and enjoyed and our guide can help you do exactly that.
UK citizens do not require a visa to visit El Salvador. So long as your passport is valid for 6 months you may stay for up to 90 days. Officially, you can be denied access to the country if you are unable to provide proof of onward travel, although the chances of this being enforced are incredibly slim. Under normal circumstances you would most likely be asked where you plan on going and how long for, but that's about it.
Entry fee: N/A
Exit fee: N/A
From Honduras (El Amatillo) - Without doubt the most straightforward and hassle-free border crossing we experienced in Central America. All buses drops you off super close to the immigration office. A simple stamp in the passport, no bag checks or questions. Next up cross over the bridge and pass through El Salvadorian immigration which will be on your righthand side. To find the buses from here you'll need to walk up the hill for 3 or 4 minutes and they're lined up on the side of the road.
From Guatemala (Valle Nuevo) - You have a little bit of walking to do for this crossing. The immigration office is right near where the buses drop you off. After doing the deed with the border agents you have a 10 minute walk down hill until you arrive at a bridge. As you're walking down hill there are market stalls on both sides of the road along the entire way. Some serious bargains to be had if you're after cheap clothes, hats and shoes etc. Again, after passing immigration in El Salvador, you have another 10 minute walk to reach the buses.
WHAT TO SEE & DO
El Cuco -
This small, 2 street town is popular with backpackers, surfers and locals escaping for the weekend. There's not a lot to do here except relax on the beach and sink a few beers. A perfect weekend spot.
San Salvador -
El Salvador's capital city. Probably one of the more interesting capital cities we visited in Central America. Check out the street art, head to markets and tour the museums. Also, be sure to eat as many pupusas as you possibly can. This traditional Salvadoran dish is made of soft corn tortillas stuffed with either meat or beans and topped with a chilli onion picante.
Mayan Ruins -
Tazumal is about an hour bus ride away from San Salvador and is one the best maintained and most impressive sites in El Salvador. The site is massive and if you want to learn more about the Mayan culture this is the perfect place to take a guided tour.
This scenic colonial town is the cultural heart of El Salvador. Set in the mountains, the cobblestone streets of Suchitoto are lined with beautiful buildings rich in Spanish architecture. Once you've covered the town (which won't take you long) you can head down to the lake for a evening paddle and admire the many types of birds there.
Los Chorros -
One of the most beautiful places in the entire country. Los Chorros is made up of a series of natural pools, lagoons and waterfalls eclipsed by volcanic cliffs covered in flowers and trees. A truly spectacular places and an absolute must see in El Salvador.
Ruta de los Flores -
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the cities and beaches ad get a real taste of country life, then this might be exactly what you're looking for. It's worth renting a car or a bike for a day or 2 and following the trail through the countryside. During the season the fields are full of beautiful flowers and, along the way, you'll pass small towns, waterfalls, churches, food markets (especially Santa Ana's) and some stunning scenery.
BUDGET & MONEY
We're sure you'll be please to hear that El Salvador is very friendly on the budget. On average, for 2 people, we were spending about $39 (£30) per day. That included accommodation, transport, activities, food and, of course, beers. El Salvador uses the USD as its currency. Prices are very similar to those in Nicaragua.
A private double room in a hostel or cheap hotel will set you back $18-20 (£13.85-15.40) and you can find dorm beds for as little as $7 (£5.40).
As with everywhere, you can spend as much or as little as you like on food. El Salvadorian cuisine mainly consists of grilled meat (chicken, beef or fish) with a side of rice and beans. You can get a decent and filling meal from a street vendor for as little as $2.50 (£1.90). If you're craving some western style home food then you may struggle to find something outside of the big cities. Aside from street food your main options will be fast food such as burgers and fried chicken. There are plenty of markets and supermarkets if you want to cook for yourself.
We'll get on to transport in more detail in the next section, but it's super cheap, very uncomfortable and highly entertaining.
If you aren't familiar with the infamous Central American "chicken bus" then just picture an old American school bus painted in bright colours, with loud music, crammed to the point of bursting with people (and sometimes livestock, hence the name) flying around at the speed of sound. It may not sound tempting, but it is the easiest way to get around El Salvador. They're cheap and plentiful and, although each bus doesn't go far (2 hours at most), you will never be far away from a connecting bus.
- Santa Rosa to San Miguel - 1 hr - $1.25 (£0.95)
- San Miguel to El Cuco - 1 hr - $1.20 (£0.95)
- San Miguel to San Salvador - 3 hrs - $3 (£2.30)
- San Salvador to Santa Ana - 2 hrs - $1.50 (£1.15)
In the past, El Salvador has been the holder of some unwanted records, including murder capital of the world and most dangerous place to live. These days many Salvadorans rely on tourism for their livelihood and they are very helpful and friendly towards tourists. None the less, we would recommend being a little more vigilant than usual although most places are perfectly safe if you keep your wits about you. As with any destination on the backpacker trail you need to keep a sharp eye on your belongings on buses and in and around stations, cities and major attractions as petty crime and bag theft is always a concern. It is not uncommon for tourists to be targeted in violent robberies at night so try to avoid being out alone after dark and only use registered taxis which staff in most bars, clubs and restaurants will call for you.
Final thing; make sure to have these numbers saved in your phone -
- Police: 911
- Ambulance/Fire: 132/913
- Tourist Police: +503 2298 9982
- Your Embassy (UK): +503 2511 5757