Mini Travel Guide: El Salvador

Traveling to El Salvador? This mini travel guide to El Salvador will help you get the most out of your travels! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which locals and expats share their favorite eats/activities/secrets with us. 

mini travel guide to El Salvador
Hello! I’m Rebeca. I left the blog-writing world a while ago but I’m a fan of Yes and Yes. I’m a born and raised Salvadoran, currently working on getting into grad school.

Must go in El Salvador

El Tunco Beach 

All about amazing surf, friendly people, cheap hotels, great food, and fun in the sun. The name comes from the huge rock in the middle of the beach that looks somewhat like a boar.

Ruta de las Flores

Take time to get to know El Salvador’s colonial roots. Ruta de las Flores is composed of three little villages: food festivals every weekend on Juayua, awesome artisan-made souvenirs and candy in Apaneca, and walking the plaza in Ataco, if you choose you can stay the night and have fun in the local bars, there’s usually live music.

El Imposible

It’s the biggest park in El Salvador with beautiful nature trails and camping, you might even get lucky and spot a jaguar or a deer.

Centro Historico

The center of the capital (San Salvador) is home to the Cathedral, the National Theater, Gerardo Barrios Town Square and the Cemetery of the Illustrious. All these places carry the city’s rich history along with breathtaking architecture.
Must see while in El Salvador

Must do in El Salvador

Take surf lessons

Salvadoran surfers have made a name for themselves in the last couple of years; you can go the beach and spot a number of places that offer lessons.

Martyrs of UCA Museum

The University of Central America is a great place to learn about the Salvadoran civil war because it played an important role during those troubling times. This tiny museum lets you in on the history of the University’s Jesuit priests that where killed by the death squads and on the social ups and downs of the war.

Bar-hop at Paseo del Carmen

Located in Santa Tecla, about 10 minutes away from San Salvador, this small street is filled with all kinds of restaurants where you can find anything from Brazilian cuisine to Sushi and Pupusas. There’s also a great selection of bars and pubs, you choose how much you want to spend, since the prices also vary a lot from place to place. There’s usually some live music on site, weekends are the best time to go.

Turtle release

Turtles are protected on the beaches of El Salvador, some people have the terrible habit of hunting for their eggs and selling them because they are considered a traditional meal. The ecology and tourism ministry has gone through great pains to avoid this and one way of promoting their turtle-saving campaign is through turtle releasing. Who doesn’t want to hold a tiny turtle?
Must eat while in El Salvador

Must eat in El Salvador

Pupusas

THE ultimate Salvadoran dish. Pupusas are basically a corn or rice tortilla filled with cheese, beans and/or pork (you can even go try the gourmet variations I’m talking carrot, spinach and even shrimp). They are served with tomato sauce and pickled cabbage (curtido). You can find them just about anywhere and you can have them at any time of day. Also, have this with some hot chocolate or with a “Tropical” soda.

Ceviche

There’s a variety of ceviches you can have, most include a combination of fish, shrimp and oysters (some people even add octopus and calamari) along chopped tomatoes, onions and cilantro.

Yuca Frita

Either fried or steamed yucca is served with tomato sauce, curtido and pork. Have it for dinner or as a snack.
Cultural Tips for Traveling in El Salvador

Cultural tips for Traveling in El Salvador

Salvadoran people are a little nosy, but overall friendly. Use public transportation with caution, it’s a really cheap way to move around, and you can go just about anywhere with it, but bus drivers aren’t known for their driving skills, don’t bring valuables with you when getting on a bus, if you prefer to have piece of mind splurge on cabs or rent a car.
El Salvador is known for one thing: violence. But we are a lot more than that, we have a rich culture so take the time to better understand our history. And use common sense, don’t go down roads you don’t know or walk the streets alone at night, ask the people at your hotel for references on where you are going and keep the police’s number on hand.
Cheap travel in El Salvador

Travel on the cheap in El Salvador

The Ministry of Tourism and El Salvador Turismo, offer a huge variety of cheap one-day tours on the weekends, you can look them up on Facebook. If you’re going to local businesses like souvenir shops or small clothing stores you can usually bargain for a better price. Most tourist attractions aren’t that expensive, and you can find a wide range of decent hotels, you don’t have to pay for a big name hotel.

Thanks so much for sharing, Rebeca!  Do you guys have any El Salvador travel tips to share?

photo 1 by david stanley // photo 2 by the jonathan galleries, for sale here // photo 3 by morrissey // photo 4 by sjb5 // photo 5 by mario pleitez

12 Comments

Sue @ SimonsSistaSaw

Perfect timing! I'm off to Central America in just a few days. El Salvador is left of many group tour itineraries but I'm really looking forward to it and will be sure to try the reccomended food.

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Racheal

Salvador is a great place of holidays. It has lot to offer its visitors. Abiove you have mentioned some great tips for holidays in salvador.

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mayailana

For the traveler looking to get off the tourist track, eat tasty food, meet welcoming people, and visit historical and natural sites El Salvador is a must visit. I spent 6 wonderful weeks there and was very happy with all my experience.
The small mountain town of Cinquera was a particular treat. Close to the tourist destination Suchitoto, Cinquera is a small, tranquilo (calm) community perfect for a tourist looking to rest and rejuvenate in a beautiful place. The local community organizing and development organization, the ARDM, has a variety of tourist ventures that make visiting Cinquera comfortable and interesting. Their hostel is affordable, cool, and quiet with hammocks on lovely shaded porches. Attached to the hostel is a delicious restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to locals and travelers alike. Over the week that I spent there the food never failed to satisfy.
Cinquera is also home to a beautiful Ecological Park. The tour of the park is well worth its $10 price tag. Over the course of a couple of hours knowledgeable local guides take you to see beautiful vistas, historic sites, and explain various ecological features. With extensive focus on the history of the civil war in this community I left this tour with an increased appreciation for the human and natural history of this place.
Other tourist attractions include an iguana farm, butterfly exhibit, and historic museum. There are also several local artists that make beautiful artisan crafts, including a woman named Ivette who makes incredible (and super affordable!) jewelry. All and all Cinquera has a wide variety of things to do and ways to stay entertained. It’s also incredibly safe in a country known for not always being the safest place to visit. I spent many nights sitting in the town square and wasn’t ever bothered at all. If you take time to visit Cinquera you’ll be sure to enjoy it!
The ARDM’s website has lots of helpful information and is: http://ardm.org/

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Ethan Nuss

After visiting the more popular tourist hub of Suchitoto, El Salvador I was looking for somewhere I could chill for a while and experience the flavor of rural life. I found the nearby community of Cinquera to be an ideal fit. The town is a municipal seat so it offers numerous tourist activities while also preserving a taste of the more quiet rural life. The community is located an easy bus ride from Suchitoto and has many treats for the slower moving traveler. The hostel is clean and lovely, and attached to a restaurant with tasty, affordable meals. I particularly enjoyed hanging out in the hammock just outside my room under the cool, sleepy shade of the mango trees.
As a history buff it’s invigorating to visit a place where it’s history is so alive and present. The town square boasts the relic of a helicopter fuselage shot down by FMLN guerillas during its bloody civil war in the 80’s. After the war the only thing left standing in the town was a wall of the church which has since been rebuilt and adorned with colorful murals. The two old bomb shells that stand out front serve as makeshift church bells.
My favorite part of Cinquera is the nearby Ecologicial Park (More info here: ardm.org). A short walk from the town center and you’re in a beautiful forest with a well maintained path. During my stay I frequented the waterfall and swimming hole in the forest for a refreshing dip during the hottest part of the day. Aside from some local school kids, I generally had this little slice of paradise all to myself! I also highly recommend the guided tour that takes you up further into the mountains and through historic sites like the “Vietnamese Kitchen”, modeled after the Vietcong, which the guerrillas used during the war. And if you’re lucky you’ll run into Don Rafael, the park’s main curator, who will happily bend your ear about the biological diversity of the park and share war stories from his time as a guerrilla. Cinquera is full of many welcoming characters who are happy to share their history and how “The Bosque” (forest) protected them during the war and so now they are protecting the forest.
It’s also important to note that Cinquera, unlike some parts of El Salvador, is really safe. During my stay I felt fully safe walking around during the evenings, talking to locals in the pupusarias, and hanging out in the town square where local youth practice their dance routines.
Overall, I would highly recommend this community to any more adventurous traveler interested in true ecotourism, history, and connecting to an authentic cultural experience.

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