Photo by Mani.Rai/Flickr
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.
What to know before you 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
El Salvador’s Ministry of Tourism http://elsalvador.travel/impressive/en/
U.S. Department of State https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/el-salvador.html
http://www.elsalvador.com/ National newspaper. In Spanish.
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Julie Schwietert Collazo Local Expert
Julie Schwietert Collazo has been a bilingual freelance writer, editor, and translator for the past 10 years and loves (almost) every minute of it. She does, however, tell people that if she could have any other job, it would be a gig as a Mexico City evangelist. The Mexican capital is her former home and the first place she always wants to go when she gets on a plane. Read more at collazoprojects.com and Cuaderno Inedito.