Travel to El Salvador

El Salvador landscape

I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador in August 2017 on the way from Costa Rica to Cuba. However, it was a short trip and I passed through San Salvador and the surrounding area for just two days. Luckily I found Vladimir Gomez, my driver in San Salvador, via Trip Advisor. He now has his own company EVGP Transporte. And I can highly recommend him as a reliable, friendly, and helpful driver in San Salvador and surrounding areas! On this page, I share my experiences, tips and recommendations.

Joya de Ceren archaelogical site
Monument to Simon Bolivar
Local bus in San Salvador

Highlights

  • Joya de Ceren archaelogical site
  • San Andres archaelogical site
  • San Salvador Old town market- very interesting to see the local stalls including lots of US army clothing; however it is not very safe to walk around as a tourist. We drove through to look around
  • San Salvador Cathedral
  • National Theatre
  • National Palace
  • Libertad Plaza
  • Salvador Del Mundo plaza
  • Trying the local food, and being surprised by something different with names that sounded familiar (example: quesadillas)

Before you go

  • A visa is not required for stays under 90 days, but you may need to purchase a tourist card for 13 USD upon arrival if it is not included with your airfare.
  • Weather in the summer July/August is hot and also rainy so it can be humid
  • Some tourist sites close earlier than advertised so ask your driver or tour guide rather than relying on Google maps. However, also try not to be too disappointed if something is closed unexpectedly
  • Toilets at tourist sites may be basic so carry hand sanitiser and tissues
  • Locals will tell you it is not very safe in San Salvador for tourists so take care and find a trustworthy driver
San Salvador Cathedral
Salvador Del Mundo plaza
Christopher Columbus, National Palace San Salvador

Transport

  • The hotel provided a shuttle but I did not use it since I had hired a driver
  • I recommend finding a reliable driver such as Vladimir Gomez, who owns his own company EVGP Transporte

Accommodation

Currency

Although El Salvador has a local currency, the quetzal, the US dollar is the official currency.

I recommend to check the currency conversion just before you leave as this fluctuates

US Dollar is the currency in El Salvador
Tipicos Margoth Restaurant
Dinner at Tipicos Margoth
Not the quesadilla I was expecting- more like cornbread!
Tipicos Margoth with Vladimir
Frying pupusas at Tipicos Margoth
Dinner at Tipicos Margoth
Empanadas- plantains around a filling
Menu at Tipicos Margoth

Food

The Salvadoran food was definitely a highlight of my short trip. After sightseeing, Vladimir generously treated me to a traditional dinner at Tipicos Margoth. The place was absolutely packed with locals and finding parking was a challenge.

We tried a little bit of everything and I had horchata, a milky cinnamon drink.

Enchilada is like a tostada with shredded pork, pickled cabbage, cucumber, tomato and a slice of egg, topped with red sauce.

Pastelita are little pastry pies filled with vegetables and chicken 

Empanadas are plantains wrapped around a filling. We had one filled with refried beans and the other with thickened milk.

Fried yucca with pickled cabbage, red sauce, fried pork (chicharron)

Pupusa is like a tortilla pocket filled with beans, cheese and/or pork. These were made very quickly by women and then fried by men in the restaurant. You can try my recipe for pupusa at home!

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: Yes or at least a reliable driver. It is not very safe to travel on your own unless you are in the beach tourist areas.

Q: Do people speak English?

A: It was easy to find an English-speaking driver. The hotel staff spoke some English. Most shops and the post office spoke Spanish only.

Q: Can I travel solo?

A: I would not recommend it unless you are heading straight to the beach areas. San Salvador is not very safe and tourists stand out a lot. My driver told me that tourists are often robbed and it is best to stay in the car especially in busier areas.

Q: How easy is it to send postcards?

A: Very difficult! I had a difficult time to find postcards and then the post offices, when we could find an open one, did not seem to have any stamps for international post. They told us to try again next week, but unfortunately I did not have time to wait until the next week so no postcards sent from El Salvador. See Sending Postcards from Abroad for comparisons with other countries.

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