El Salvador definitely gets the award for Biggest Pleasant Surprise of any country we’ve traveled through so far on our Trans-Americas Journey, delivering great food, the warmest people since Mexico and one of the best boutique hotel finds in the region. Here are some El Salvador travel tips which we picked up during our travels throughout El Salvador including volcanoes, beaches (for surfing or not), coffee plantations, hot springs, and more. Did we mention that El Salvador has a national park named El Imposible? Oh, and a growing craft beer scene (thanks Brew Revolution)?
El Salvador travel tips
Unlike every other country we’ve visited (so far) on our Trans-Americas Journey, there are no entry fees, not even any vehicle importation fees, when entering El Salvador. Yep, totally free.
You do have to be careful about the tricky CA-4 visa regulations to which El Salvador adheres. We got tripped up by the rules and were denied entry into El Salvador the first time we tried to cross the border.
A division of the Salvadoran police force, creepily called Politur (short for Policia de Turismo), provides free escort services to tourists. It reminds us of the ProAtur (formerly Asistur) program that the tourism department of Guatemala offers. After being warned more than once not to visit the Los Tercios waterfall near Suchitoto on our own, we got a lift with the local officers. One of them hiked down to the falls with us and then they drove us back to town. For free. With smiles on their faces. Yes, it would be better to be able to ensure that all locations are completely free of thieves, but if you know you can’t accomplish that this is a great way to keep destinations open to tourists. A free Politur escort is also mandatory when you hike up the Santa Ana Volcano.
Christy Turlington is part Salvadoran. Yes, that Christy Turlington…
We were very surprised by the number of really good hotels in El Salvador, lead by Casa ILB in San Salvador.
Since 2001 the official currency of El Salvador is the US dollar. It is slightly weird making purchases in Spanish but paying in US money. The Salvadoran colón is allegedly still in circulation but we never saw it.
El Salvador is the only country we know of in which the people eat their national flower, the izote which blooms out of a yucca plant.
The national bird of El Salvador is the long-tailed mot mot also called a torogoz. They don’t eat it.
Wi Fi is spotty in most of the country. Sigh.
The 2011 winner of the World Barista Championship, Alejandro Mendez, is from El Salvador. Last we heard he was plying his craft at Viva Espresso in San Salvador.
El Salvador is the first place we ate loroco, a flower that’s harvested before it blooms. The green buds taste like asparagus and are delicious along with fresh cheese in pupusas, the scrumptious national dish of El Salvador.
In El Salvador a quesadilla is a dense white cake with grated dry cheese mixed into the batter (delicious)—NOT tortillas folded over with melted cheese inside.
October is usually the coolest month with the clearest skies thanks to the something everyone calls “October winds.” Though October brought Tropical Storm 12E when we were in El Salvador, dumping up to five feet (1,500mm) of rain over nine days, just one foot (300mm) shy of the country’s average annual rainfall. The President of El Salvador called it the worst storm in the country’s history (even worse than Hurricane Mitch) but you’ve probably never heard of it. Because the storm was never classified as a hurricane it never made it on international TV or on aid organization radar.
Salvadorans really, really like Worcheshire sauce which is called Salsa Inglesa and is found on nearly every table.
Salvadorans also love cream soda. Who knew they still made that stuff?
Most ATMs don’t charge a withdrawal fee and they dispense reasonably sized bills ($10s and $20s mostly).
El Salvador is, generally speaking, about 30% more expensive than Guatemala but far cheaper than Costa Rica.
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, roughly the size of Massachusetts. This, coupled with the fact that it has one of the best road networks in the region, makes it very easy to explore the whole place.
Lonely Planet no longer publishes a guide book for El Salvador. El Sal info is now just crammed into their Central America on a Shoestring guide. Pity.
Eating at beloved regional chicken chain Pollo Campero in El Salvador is about 50% more expensive than it is in Guatemala and they do NOT refill your soda. You have been warned.
For a cheap thrill, take the bus in San Salvador. The drivers are insane and the fare is only $0.25.
El Salvador is home to the only falconer licensed to take tourists along on his hikes with hunting birds of prey. His name is Roy Beers and he runs Cadejo Adventures. Eric’s stop-action photos of us enjoying an afternoon of falconry with Roy and his harris hawk are really cool.