When I told people I was planning on traveling to El Salvador for the weekend, reactions ranged from “What the hell is there to do in El Salvador?” to “ARE YOU CRAZY?! El Salvador is so dangerous! What about the drug cartels!” After visiting, I can confidently say that there is A LOT to do in El Salvador and I felt safe taking reasonable precautions.
I am not an expert on safety and you should always do your research and/or consult with knowledgable people before planning a trip. I can speak for my own experience traveling to El Salvador, and say that I felt safe taking reasonable precautions. I traveled with a man and another woman, and I felt safer having a man there. We did rent a car and drove, but we mostly stuck to busy roads and didn’t drive at night. We didn’t go on any long hikes (because of my ankle injury), but would have hired a guide if we had. We did end up getting lost on a bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and we paid a local boy $4 to show us the way back to the main road. I didn’t feel unsafe during this experience, but I was very glad it happened around midday, and we had plenty of time to get ourselves out before dark.
In general, before I travel somewhere I may be concerned about, I search the location on Google and check out the “News” tab for recent information on what’s been going on there. I also always check the State Department travel advisories and Wikitravel.
Things to Know
- Language: Not many people in El Salvador speak English fluently. It is helpful to have at least basic Spanish skills, and use a cell phone app or Google Translate when necessary.
- Cell phone service: I always like to get local SIM cards when I travel. I paid about $10 for 10 gigabytes of data from Claro at the Multiplaza in El Salvador. The service was reliable and I had service at most of the places we visited.
- Car rental: If you want to see a lot of places, it’s helpful to have a car. I highly recommend a high clearance vehicle. We rented a low clearance car and almost got stuck a few times. A few of the towns have tuk tuks available to take you to and from waterfalls and other attractions where the roads might be too bumpy to drive. We took them twice and thought it was a fun experience, but relatively expensive for El Salvador (usually $6-$10 per person round trip).
- Roads: Roads seem to close without warning. We found that we could be following the directions from our GPS, and all of a sudden see a huge pile of rocks from construction sitting in the middle of the road, blocking passage. I’m not sure there’s any way to check for these issues, but be prepared to need to try a different route, so give yourself extra time.
Places to Go
- San Salvador: San Salvador is a great place to start your roadtrip and is a busy city with good amenities so you can get ready.
- Lago de Coatepeque: This is a gorgeous lake that is on the way to Salto de Malacatiupan. Head to one of the lakefront bars, have a drink, and do some Watersport activities if you have time!
- Salto de Malacatiupan: A hotspring waterfall located between Ataca and Santa Ana is a must-see in El Salvador. The water is pleasantly warm and the waterfalls are gorgeous. This place gets crowded, but it’s mostly locals (we actually didn’t see any other tourists).
- Chorros De La Calera: Located outside of Juayúa, these cascading falls lead to crystal-clear pools. The water is cold but refreshing. Just make sure you check the hours before you go in! On the day we went, the waterfalls closed at 3 and when we came up at 3:15, we were locked in. Someone came up and let us out within 15 minutes, but I was temporarily worried that we would be stuck.
- La Libertad: This black sand beach is located about an hour from the San Salvador airport and is a great place to surf or catch some sun on your way back.
Thank you so much to @knot_kristin for sharing her itinerary with me. I found a couple of the stops above thanks to her!
Where to Stay
- San Salvador: Sheraton Presidente San Salvador Hotel – $100/night for a standard room with two double beds. The hotel hosts a lot of events and gets quite loud, but it is clean and has a nice pool.
- Ataco: Hotel & Restaurant Fleur de Lis – $150/night for a large room with two double beds, a twin bed, and two bathrooms. There is a cute garden.
- La Libertad: Boca Olas Resort & Villas – $160/night for a large room with two double beds, a loft with a twin bed, and a kitchen area. This hotel has nice pools and is a five minute walk to the black sand beach.
Where to Eat
If you’re in San Salvador check out Soy-green and Soya Nutribar. Both have healthy and vegan options! Food from Soya Nutribar below: