Situated in Central America, El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in the region. Somewhat bypassed on the tourist trail, many people miss out on immense expanses of natural beauty, forests, beaches, and even the opportunity to view some archaeological sites. El Salvador is the perfect place to experience the great outdoors without the crowds as you make your way around Central America. I highly recommend a visit here. Everyone is super friendly and generally happy to have visitors.
Accommodation – Dorm rooms can be found for 5-10 USD per night, while private rooms start around 12 USD. Free WiFi is generally standard and a few hostels also include free breakfast. Most hostels do not have a kitchen, so be sure to check in advance if you need your own self-catering facilities. For those traveling with a tent, many hostels and guesthouses also allow camping on the premises, usually for a few dollars cheaper than a dorm. Nice hotels start around 30 USD, though you can find budget hotels for as little as 20 USD for a double. That will get you air conditioning, a very comfortable bed, and breakfast. If you want a hotel with a pool. expect to pay closer to 40 USD per night. Airbnb is available in the country. For a private room, expect prices to start around 18 USD per night and an entire home or apartment, prices begin around 40 USD per night.
Food – Simple meals cost under 5 USD, especially at the street stalls. For European food or fast food, up your budget to about 6 USD. For a multi-course meal at a more upscale restaurant, expect to pay around 14 USD. Beer at the bar will be less than 2 USD. Overall food is very cheap here so take advantage of it when you can! If you do plan on cooking your own meals expect to spend around 20-35 USD per week, depending on your diet.
Transportation – City buses around the country generally cost under 1 USD. A taxi ride is usually around 5 USD. Country-wide buses cost less than 10 USD for a single journey. There is no train service in El Salvador. To visit neighboring countries, a bus into Guatemala will cost around 15 USD. For a bus from San Salvador into Honduras, expect to spend around 35 USD. Hitchhiking is rather common, and many people are keen to pick up foreigners so you won’t have a hard time finding rides outside of the cities.
Activities – Diving is likely to be your most expensive outing if you choose to do it, which will be around 75 USD for two dives. Other than that most of the parks cost only a few dollars.
Suggested daily budget – $25-35 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Snack on fruit – Fruit in Central America costs just pennies. You can pick up a bag of mangos for around 0.50 USD. Eat healthily and save money!
- Go camping – While hostels are pretty cheap, you can camp at many of them for half the cost. Bring your gear and sleep under the stars!
- Hitchhike – Hitchhiking is a very popular method of getting around here. The buses can be late or sporadic and sometimes extremely full. Many people simply can’t afford the bus and you’ll find hitchhiking widespread and relatively safe. Just always make sure to use common sense.
Top Things to See and Do in El Salvador
- Montecristo Cloud Forest – Scaling an altitude of 7,000 feet, Montecristo Cloud Forest is the perfect location for an exploration. With a wide diversity of flora and fauna including ferns, orchids, mosses, spider monkeys, and anteaters, there is plenty to enchant you here. Camping is the only form of accommodation here, so make sure you have proper gear if you plan on staying the night.
- Los Planes de Renderos – For some spectacular views of the city of San Salvador, go to Los Planes de Renderos. Stop by one of the ‘pupuserias,’ or small restaurants that make pupusas — a typical part of the Salvadorian menu — and then afterward head to the Casa de la Cultura or Los Historiantes to view some traditional folk dances.
- Go fishing – El Salvador has many resorts for fishing. Like the somewhat well-kept secret of El Salvador itself, fishing here is also underrated. In El Salvador blue waters you can find tuna, blue marlin, and mackerel, amongst others. snappers, blue crevally, and scribbled filefish can also be found when bottom fishing. Prices will vary depending on how long you go for and whether or not you book a private boat. Expect to spend a couple hundred dollars for a nicer trip.
- Hike the volcanoes – There are numerous volcanoes in El Salvador for you to explore. Take your pick from Ilamatepec, Tehutepec, Izalco, and Quetzaltepec, or even visit Cerro Verde National Park where you can see the volcanoes from viewpoints around the trails. Here you also have the chance to get up close and personal with a walk around the Cerro Verde crater. If you head south, go to Ruta de las Flores where there are a series of volcanoes.
- Enjoy the culture – Joya de Cerén is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that tells a story about the everyday lives of the Mayans. The site includes a Temezcal, or Sauna, and shows the agricultural tools which were used on a daily basis. In San Salvador itself, there is the Salvador del Mundo, the symbol of the city, the historic downtown area, and the Metropolitan Cathedral. If you’re eager for more to see, then there is also the National Palace, the National Theater, and the National Handicrafts market.
- Go diving – Diving enthusiasts and first-time divers alike will find plenty of stunning sites in El Salvador. The warm waters of Los Cóbanos can host an exciting experience for divers as contains reefs, underwater rock formations, and even shipwrecks. You can also go diving in crater lakes like Coatepeque and Ilopango which also offer nighttime diving tours! Expect to pay around 75 USD for a two-dive trip, and around 350 USD for an Open Water certification course.
- La Libertad – A visit to La Libertad, a fantastic beach resort, could be just what the doctor ordered. Although not as widely known on the tourist trail, La Libertad provides a more authentic beach experience when compared to other more popular resorts. As well as that, it also boasts some of the best surf in Central America with surfers coming from all over the world to ride some serious waves!
- Cihuatán Ruins – The largest of ruins discovered in El Salvador, the Cihuatán is host to many artifacts and a lot of history. Cihuatan came about after the collapse of the Mayans around the year 900 C.E., and it quickly became a regional capital. There is an on-site museum open most of the week, and admission is a mere 3 USD per person.
- Puerta del Diablo – Also known as the Devil’s Door, this lookout point is a rocky formation that formed as a result of heavy rain during the 1700s. If you’re an adventurous traveler, you can rappel down the cliff. The view through the ‘doorway’ is just spectacular. You can take a bus here from San Salvador for under 1 USD.
- El Imposible – Considered one of the last remaining natural areas of biodiversity, El Imposible National Park is home to more than 500 species of birds, as well as a dry, tropical forest. Currently, under protection, El Imposible is a stunning area that is just waiting to be explored. Entry is 6 USD.
- Los Chorros – Los Chorros offers a relaxing break. Composed of a series of natural pools that cascade from overhanging volcanic cliffs, and surrounded by ferns, flowers, and moss, this place offers a piece of paradise and is perfect for a day trip.
- La Gran Via – Located in the city of San Salvador, this is a shopping center filled with restaurants, movie theaters, music, games, bars, live shows, and more. This is a nice place for an afternoon out and it is a very popular place for nightlife activities.
- Museum of Popular Art – The slogan for this museum is ‘The Greatness of Miniature.’ There is a huge showcase of miniature pottery here, as well as, native wood carvings, weaving, and jewelry. Admission is only 1.50 USD, and you can make something out of clay during your visit.
- Enjoy the backpacker scene in El Tunco – One hour outside of San Salvador lies this backpacker’s paradise. Cheap hostels and food, a great party scene, and great surfing. What more can you ask for?
- Wander through colonial Suchitoto – A small colonial town, Suchitoto is located on Lake Suchitlan. It’s a small, walkable town that caters to tourists with a great selection of hotels. Explore the nearby lake and hiking trails or just enjoy the atmosphere of the town.