We just spent a week in El Salvador and fell in love with this beautiful country. The landscapes are beautiful, everything is green, easily accessible, the people are very nice. We don’t really understand why a bad reputation sticks to it, because we onlyhave good things to say about El Salvador.
Why go to El Salvador?
Because you will be the only tourist in the village. Quite simply. The trip becomes much more interesting all of a sudden.
What about security in El Salvador?
Despite the highest rate of intentional homicide in the world, the crimes are mainly committed by gangs (or victims of gangs who refuse to pay a “protection tax”). Tourists, on the other hand, aren’t affected by this problem. Even less so in tourist areas. On the other hand, as everywhere in the world, tourists can attract pickpockets.
The capital San Salvador, very dangerous 2 years ago, has been transformed and has become pleasant. With many parks, well lit at night and with the presence of the police, it is quite safe to walk there during the day. In the evening, however, prefer cabs, Uber… We recommend our hotel: correct wifi, air conditioning, hot shower, parking spaces in a residential area: HotelArmonia(Booking link, 29€) or any other hotel in this quiet area.
In the small villages along the Route des Fleurs (named after the wild flowers along the way), the atmosphere is very relaxed. Even in Santa Ana, if you stay around the cathedral, you can even take a walk in the evening. Frankly, we expected to be more tense but we were pleasantly surprised. Only San Salvador has houses with fences & armed guards. The other cities seem to be much more relaxed.
If you ever have a big doubt, don’t hesitate to go to the tourist office and they will send a policeman to accompany you (to a waterfall, or to a watchtower – don’t hesitate to leave him a $1 tip).
How to get to El Salvador?
By plane: The international airport in San Salvador is small but has everything you need. Beware that flights to/from Central America are always expensive.
By international bus: you have international buses such as Tica Bus or Platinum which serve San Salvador and big cities such as Santa Ana, Ahuachapan. It’s better to buy the tickets in a travel agency, as they will be able to tell you where the pick-up is (sometimes it’s right in front of a gas station) and keep you informed about the progress of the buses (they are often late because they cross several countries from Mexico to Panama). We came to San Salvador from Leon in Nicaragua with the Platinum bus, here is the story of our trip
By shuttle: shuttles to/from El Salvador rather serve the beaches of El Salvador : Iximche agency : website or Gekko Trail explorer agency website
There are no fees to enter and leave El Salvador. If you enter/exit by land, there are no stamps on your passport either. SNIF.
Here is a suggested itinerary for El Salvador. It is intended for people who are more interested in small villages, towns and cities than the beach. You will find the local bus numbers to take to connect the cities in question :
- San Salvador (2 days) : visit of the old town & El Boqueron park (see travel diary)
- Santa Ana (1 day): Bus 201 from Terminal Occidente in San Salvador. Visit of the 2nd largest city of El Salvador, and its cathedral (see travel diary). We recommend Hostal Sole, very clean and economical(link Booking)
- Coatepeque Lake (1 day): Bus 242 from Terminal Francisco in Santa Ana. Relax in a hostel by the lake (16$, be careful this hostel has a very weak Internet connection, it’s mostly for relaxing).
- the Flower Route : 4 days
- Juayua (1.5 day): Return to Santa Ana by bus 242. Take bus 238 to Juayua (5 departures per day only). City tour & Los Chorros waterfalls (3$ tuk-tuk from downtown). It is better to come here on a Saturday or Sunday because a gastronomic festival is held every weekend.
- Salcoatitan (0.5 day): mini-bus from Juayua. Visit of the city center.
- Apaneca (0.5 days): minibus from Salcotitan. Visit of the city center and its magnificent labyrinth.
- Concepcion de Ataco (1 day): minibus from Apaneca. Visit of the city center and its many viewpoints. Short raclette/fondue break at the restaurant La Raclette (see travel journal )
- Santa Teresa Hot Springs (0.5 day): mini-bus from Concepcion de Ataco to Ahuachapan. Then tuk-tuk (3$) to the hot springs ( see travel journal)
From Ahuachapan you can take a Ticabus or Platinum bus to Guatemala City.
Transportation within El Salvador
The advantage of local buses in El Salvador is that they always have a number. Thus, you just have to ask the locals for the number of the bus (55B, 202, 204…) and the terminal from which they depart.
Chicken bus: in the style of American school buses. These buses serve both short and long distances. For short distances, they do not cost more than $0.35. For long distances, they cost no more than $2.5. There are no places for large luggage, if you occupy a seat for your luggage, you have to pay the ticket for that seat. You can pick it up and stop it anywhere. The name of the destination is clearly indicated on the front
Normal buses: long distance. They are called special buses or exclusivo buses, these buses have a hold reserved for luggage. You don’t have to pay anything extra for your luggage and the bus is air-conditioned. The difference with the chicken bus is minimal (maybe 10 cents more). For the same trip, you can have different comforts ordinario means “chicken bus”. If the option especial or exclusivo exists, take it, it will be faster (it doesn’t stop on the way) and more comfortable (air conditioning).
Mini-bus: serve small distances, the ticket costs no more than 1$. You can take it and stop it anywhere. The name of the destination is clearly indicated on the front.
Tuk-tuk: only to move around the city. Don’t pay more than $0.5/person unless you are going out of town. Negotiate well because they tend to exaggerate. The price is per person and it isn’t uncommon for the driver to pick up other travellers on the way.
Uber : yes Uber exists in San Salvador but the area is a little limited. For example, we couldn’t order Uber at the terminal of the Tica Bus San Benito. Whereas it is enough to move away from a few streets to do it. Uber isn’t too expensive, and very convenient (count $2.5 for 15 minutes). But if you can, take the local buses instead ($0.25)
Cab : cabs do not have meters, each trip is negotiated. In general, they will announce a price equivalent to 3 times x Uber. It’s up to you to negotiate.
To know the number of the buses leaving from Sonsarate, Santa Ana or Ahuchapan, consult this siteTo
know the number, routes and schedules of the buses leaving from the Occidente Terminal in San Salvador, consult this site
Food in El Salvador
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of food in El Salvador. Certainly, it is more varied in the small villages where the central square is transformed on weekends into a “gastronomy festival”: Juayua is very well known for just that.
The comedors are very economical and good (within 2,5$ / person drink included) and the pupusas (filled corn cakes) are the most economical dish, while remaining very good (count 0,5$ / pupusa).
Payment & ATM in El Salvador
The official currency in El Salvador is the U.S. dollar. There are coins, to be used only in El Salvador: 5 centavos (centimes), 1 dime (10 centavos), 20, 25, 50 and 1 dollar. Be careful, Salvadorians use the word “cora” to designate $0.25 and “dollar” to designate $1.
Like most ATMs in Central America, most ATMs charge a 1.5% fee to VISA cards but no fee to Mastercard cards. I was able to make free withdrawals with my international VISA card at the Banco Industrial.
In small villages, ATMs give very small bills ($5) so you can’ t ask for more than $100. It is better to withdraw several times if you need a lot of cash. Some villages don’t even have ATMs and bank cards aren’t widely accepted outside the big cities, so think about stocking up before you come.
Internet & speedtests
JB wrote a long article about SIM cards in El Salvador here
Quite fast in the big cities (10Mbps in Santa Ana, 20Mbps in San Salvador), the connection is slow in the small villages, either in Wifi or 4G (1.8Mbps). So you have to go where there seems to be more antennas, it varies a lot from one street to another. If you stay a long time in a small village, it is better to come to the place, test the connection before signing up for a month.
In any case, the connection was found to be more unstable than in Nicaragua. And that there were more power outages than in Nicaragua.
- In San Salvador, we can recommend thehotel Armonia (20Mbps), with a small table in the room + tables near the reception (where there is never anybody) link Booking
- In Santa Ana, we can recommend you theHostal Sole with 2 work tables in the room & in the kitchen (10Mbps), the hotel is often empty (linkBooking)
I hope that this little guide has made you want to visit this beautiful country. Unfortunately, we couldn’t visit everything because of our limited time but it made us want to come back.
To read all our articles on El Salvador, click here