You’ve seen all the hype online, now you’re probably wondering where is El Salvador and how to play your trip there!
Whether you’re looking for a luxury El Salvador vacation, or hoping to surf some of the famous El Salvador beaches, you’ll find it all in this guide!
Let’s also first acknowledge the elephant in the room. You’re probably wondering, is El Salvador safe? I was there for two weeks with a tour guide and felt very safe, but have written a whole post explaining the past issues with safety, and why El Salvador is safe now!
While I personally felt very safe, I will say that a big part of that was because I was with an awesome, experienced local guide, and a driver (who I’m pretty sure is also a body guard). Whether you’re coming to El Salvador solo, or with others, I’d highly recommend booking a tour with Tunco Life. The owner of it, Salva, is extremely knowledgeable and fun, and takes care of everything, from accommodation and transport, to even going to get your covid test!
Now let’s get to it!
Where is El Salvador?
If you’re wondering “where is El Salvador”, don’t worry, you’re not alone. And although Salvadorans would hate to hear that, it’s true that school geography in the U.S. isn’t exactly thorough.
So I will be! Exactly where is El Salvador? It’s in Central America on the west coast, and it’s bordered by Guatemala and Honduras.It may be a small country, but trust me, it has a lot to offer!
Basic El Salvador Facts
It’s always smart (and respectful) to learn a little bit about the country you’re traveling to! So here are some basic El Salvador facts that may come in handy!
- El Salvador Language: The primary language in El Salvador is Spanish, however many people also speak English! If your Spanish is rusty, I’d highly recommend using a language app like Rosetta Stone, Drops, or FluentU to brush up on some basic phrases!
- El Salvador Currency: This might surprise you, but the El Salvador currency is actually USD! So no need to worry about conversions or converting cash!
- El Salvador Culture: El Salvador culture comes from the history of Mayans, Spanish invaders, and now Salvadorans have molded their own unique El Salvador culture. The biggest exports are coffee, sugar cane, and cocao, and they’re some of the best in the world! Salvadorans are very kind, and very proud of their country.
- El Salvador President & Government: There is currently a new El Salvador President, who has been making big changes in the last two years. His name is Nayib Bukele and he’s a former marketing exec, which is apparent in his new efforts to promote tourism! He’s also making the country a safer place, which brings me to:
- El Salvador Crime: Since the new El Salvador President stepped in, crime levels have gone out substantially. He made gangs illegal, and anyone thought to be associated with one, goes to jail. For full information about this topic, please see my post: “Is El Salvador Safe? El Salvador Times are Changing”.
Current El Salvador Travel Advisory
Despite what the U.S. government website says about El Salvador, it is actually perfectly fine to go there. That website basically says NO WHERE besides the U.S. is safe to go to.
In regards to Rona, virus cases are low, and vaccine rates are high, especially since there is such a small population. You do need is a negative PCR test (printed out) or proof of your vaccine to enter though!
Regarding crime and violence; the US government travel website claims there are violent crimes such as murder, assault and rape. It also still says there’s heavy gang activity, which is no longer true under the new President’s rule that any gang member found — even if they’re not committing a crime, goes to jail. Please also note that the same crimes the website lists…are very common in the US.
El Salvador Visa Requirements for U.S. Citizens
There are no El Salvador visa requirements for U.S. citizens. All you need is a valid passport that doesn’t expire within 6 months.
Upon arrival, you will need to pay $12 either in USD or by credit card for the visa fees. You will also need to present your negative test or vaccine (printed), and they may ask to see your outbound flight, and hotel address.
How to Find Cheap Flights to El Salvador
Flights to El Salvador from the U.S. are extremely cheap right now! The average price for a round trip ticket in June is only about $200! Of course it depends on where you’re flying out of, but if you can be flexible, you can fly for cheaper!
Here’s how to find cheap flights to El Salvador:
- Go to Skyscanner.net (clear any cookies/cache first)
- Type in your state for departure, and San Salvador for destinatino
- If you can do flexible dates, choose the “Entire Month” option
- It will then show you the cheapest dates to fly! And the cheapest departure city!
For a tutorial on how I find the cheapest flights using the “flexible” trick, check out this post!
Best Places in El Salvador to Visit
Most tourists only go to about three areas of El Salvador. But I had the opportunity to go to so many more, and I was really impressed! So impressed actually, that I wrote separate posts for most of them, so be sure to click the links for more info!
Surf City / La Libertad / Tunco Beach
Surf City El Salvador is one of the most important up-and-coming areas of the entire country. It’s because the government is putting a lot of money into revamping it, and making it the ideal destination for visitors.
In fact, they’re working so hard to put Surf City on the map, that even the ISA World Surfing Games was held there while I was there, which had pro-surfers from around the world competing for a final spot in the Olympics!
Surf City is located in an area called La Libertad. And also in it is the most popular surf beach/town called Tunco Beach/El Tunco.
El Tunco / Tunco Beach is a very, very small surfer town, with only two main roads! They mostly consist of international and local restaurants, surf shops, and a couple of little marts. Other than that, there’s just the accommodations and beach!
The beach isn’t ideal for relaxing, since it’s mostly rocks. It’s more popular for surfing! But at sunset, it’s a really nice place to hang out!
There’s a limited amount of places to stay in El Tunco / La Libertad / Surf City, and not all of them are that cheap, so be sure to book in advance!
Ruta de las Flores
Another one of the most popular areas in El Salvador, is a place called Ruta de las Flores. It is comprised of six towns; Nahuizalco, Salcoatitan, Juayua, Apaneca, Ataco, and Achuachapan. I only went to Ataco and an adventure park called Albania in Apaneca, but I’d definitely at least highly recommend those!
Ataco is a small town with a lot of beautiful, vibrant wall murals! It has a lot of little shops, cute restaurants, and a really cute hacienda BnB to stay at called Casa Victoria! I’d definitely recommend eating at La Masero and Hotel 1800!
In Apaneca, the adventure park called Cafe Albania is a MUST if you like adrenaline! Aside from a massive labrynth, they also have a “pendulum” swing, ziplining, and my favorite; bicycle ziplining!
Santa Ana Volcano
In the northwestern area of El Salvador, you can find the largest active volcano in the country! It’s most notable for its stunning bright blueish green lake at the top! The hike takes about 2-3 hours round trip, and is about an intermediately difficult hike. Be sure to bring sunscreen!
There’s also the beautiful lake Coatepeque below where you can eat lunch while cruising around on a boat with a waterslide! And if you really love it, you can book a luxurious BnB at one of the many massive properties that surround it!
San Salvador is the biggest city and also the capital of El Salvador. Like most big cities and country capitals, San Salvador consists of big buildings, and lots of people! There’s a lot of important cultural buildings in San Salvador as well.
You can see the National Palace, San Salvador Cathedral, National Theater, El Rosario Church, and a really cool speak-easy style pool hall called La Dalia.
OH! And if you’re wondering where the epic viral rainbow slide is, it’s nearby at a place called Picnic Steakhouse (don’t let the name fool you, there’s plenty of food options). The slide is also near El Boqueron Volcano, which is an easy, tranquil 10-20 minute hike!
Not that many visitors go to the East side of the El Salvador coast! Which is a shame, because it’s very beautiful, tranquil, and lush!
It’s a bit of a long drive, but well worth it if you can stay for a few days or more! The beaches on the East coast are all sandy as opposed to the rocky shores of the west side. And there’s tons of tropical plants, trees, and animals to awe at!
The first one is:
Jiquilisco and Jiquilisco Bay are an enchanting area on a bay that is an absolute must visit! You can stay at Puerto Barillas Marina and Resort in either a “tree house” or two bedroom villa, both surrounded by towering palm trees.
Be sure to take a boat ride on Juiquilisco Bay during sunset; the view is spectacular! You can also see the small fisherman island, which has high importance as one of the largest nesting areas for endangered Hawksbill turtles.
Playa Las Flores
Playa Las Flores is a surfers’ hidden heaven! With huge waves, and a sandy beach, you’ll see them out there catching waves on what’s arguably one of the best of the El Salvador beaches!
There’s also a REALLY cute, and affordable, surf hotel called Hotel Martinez. Each room is a private thatch-roofed cabana (yes, there’s AC and wifi), and there’s a beautiful pool surrounded by palm trees in the middle!
Conchagua is definitely a place for those looking for a little affordable luxury! The hotel, Casa del Golfo is right on the ocean, and when the tide goes out, it has a private beach! The property consists of a manicured lawn dotted with swaying palm trees, and either hammocks or lounge chairs everywhere! The stand-alone villas are chic and luxurious, perfect for an El Salvador vacation!
You can also book an amazing island tour on a yacht from Casa Del Golfo. As you glide around the towering tropical islands, you can also see Honduras and Nicaragua in the distance! They also do catch and release fishing tours.
Something notable about Casa del Golfo, is that they are working extremely hard to make this area sustainable. They are also focused on helping the local fishermen opt for work that not only saves the fish and reefs, but makes them more money as well.