El Salvador

El Salvador is a Central American country bordered by Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Like all of these countries, El Salvador spent the latter part of the 20th century embroiled in a devastating civil war, the effects of which are still seen and felt today. Despite the proximity of the past and the reports of (mostly gang-related) violence, El Salvador offers many gifts to the intrepid traveler who’s motivated to challenge dominant perceptions. Among these gifts are stunning beach, mountain, and jungle landscapes, friendly people, delicious food, and numerous sites where you can learn about Salvadoran art, culture, and history.

San Salvador City / El Salvador - September 15, 2012: An aerial view of the city of San Salvador taken from a salvadoran aerial forces helicopter.

Photo by Guayo Fuentes/Shutterstock


When’s the best time to go to El Salvador?

There’s no bad time to go to El Salvador, but the best is largely determined by your interests. May to October tends to be the rainier part of the year, but it’s also great for surfing, as well as observing turtles nesting along the Pacific Coast. The winter months are perfectly pleasant, with drier weather between November and April. The temperature remains fairly consistent across the seasons, between 55 and 90 degrees F, depending upon elevation. Consider the main cultural celebrations, too. Holy Week (Semana Santa), the Festival of El Salvador (the first week of August), Independence Day (September 15), and Christmas are all celebrated widely throughout the country.

How to get around El Salvador

As is the case with many countries in Latin America, El Salvador’s towns and cities are connected by a bus system with budget-friendly prices. Many American school buses end up in El Salvador after they’ve been decommissioned in the U.S.; here, they’re painted and decorated to reflect the personalities of owners and drivers. The buses are the most convenient, reliable way to get around, but be sure to ask in advance about schedules, prices, and categories of service so you can plan your in-country travels accordingly.

Can’t miss things to do in El Salvador

Like most of its Central American neighbors, El Salvador spent part of the second half of the 20th century embroiled in civil conflict, the effects of which are still being dealt with today. Reminders and explanations of that conflict, in the form of memorials and museums, are found throughout the country. Despite the somber feelings they evoke, these important sites should not be overlooked, even by the leisure traveler who doesn’t have a particular interest in history.

Food and drink to try in El Salvador

Corn is central to El Salvador’s culinary repertoire, appearing in both its food and drink. Without a doubt, El Salvador’s most recognizable food at home and abroad is the pupusa, a thick corn tortilla that is stuffed with a variety of possible fillings, including cheese, beans, and meats, before being topped with a salsa and , curtido, a vinegary coleslaw. Wash it down with atol, a corn-based drink that can be paired with a number of complementary flavors, from pineapple to piñuela (the small fruit of a bromeliad).

Culture in El Salvador

El Salvador is a Central American country that was colonized by Spain in the 16th century. It therefore shares many cultural characteristics with other Latin American countries, despite declaring its independence in 1821. That means, among other things, that Spanish is the official language and Catholicism the predominant religion. As with other countries colonized by the Spanish, El Salvador had indigenous populations, and the contemporary reclamation of their traditions is a movement that is gaining momentum and meaning for many Salvadorans.

For Families

It’s not as well-known to American travelers as Costa Rica, but El Salvador has many of the same attributes to recommend it, including extensive coastline for surfing and beach-oriented vacations, as well as national parks and other landscapes that offer a variety of scenes and habitats, including volcanoes, mangroves, rainforests, and mountains. As a family-friendly culture, Salvadorans tend to be very accommodating of family travelers, with guides and outfitters adjusting both narrative and activity to age-appropriate levels.

Local travel tips for El Salvador

Locals know their country has a bad rap internationally: The civil conflict that spanned 1979 to 1992 may be more than 20 years in the past, but the violence of that period still contributes to a perception of instability and insecurity. And international news reports about current gang activity in the country don’t help ease travelers’ anxieties. But locals also know that the average Salvadoran is unfailingly hospitable, welcoming and warm, ready to show you all of the cultural and natural beauties of their country.

Read Before You Go
Canada opened to vaccinated Americans in August, and numerous European countries changed their entry requirements in September. Here’s the complete list.
Resources to help plan your trip
El Salvador is Central America’s only country without a Caribbean coastline, so head westward, where you’ll find miles and miles of Pacific shore. Don’t pine too much for the calm Caribbean, especially if you’re a surfer or water sports enthusiast: There are lots of breaks and wild water here. But if you’re not into the sportier sider of the ocean, no matter, you can still throw down a towel and relax on one of these beaches.
El Salvador has plenty to keep visitors busy for a long vacation, regardless of their interests. For a small country still recovering from a civil war, there’s a surprising number of good art galleries and museums, and a number of historic sites documenting the war. Most visitors will want to explore the country’s great outdoors, whether at its national parks, its volcanos, or its beaches—or all three.
Stop to think about it for a minute, and the fact that El Salvador has a robust museum and gallery scene is pretty amazing. For one thing, the country is still recovering—psychologically and financially—from a civil war that lasted more than a decade; art could easily be an afterthought in such a context. But it’s not, and it’s through the country’s contemporary art that you can learn and understand much more about El Salvador’s complex history.
Don’t expect spice in El Salvador; like its Central American neighbors, this country’s food isn’t spicy hot. It does, however, tend to the heavier side, with dishes like pupusas—thick corn tortillas stuffed with a variety of fillings—common on menus. Restaurants range from casual to formal to downright atmospheric, such as inside a volcano! As for drinks, look for homegrown coffee, locally brewed beer, and a traditional corn-based drink called atol.
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.