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7 Cool Things to Do in San Salvador

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San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador, and most likely where you will fly into if you are visiting this Central American country. Although the city is not our favorite part of the country, it definitely still deserves a visit for a day or two. Here are 7 things to do in San Salvador.

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Where is San Salvador?

San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador, and is located in the middle of the country. El Salvador is a small country in Central America, and is bordered by Guatemala to the west, and Honduras to the north. 

Where is San Salvador

San Salvador is in central El Salvador.

Getting to San Salvador

El Salvador is relatively easy to get to, and San Salvador is the most well connected city both domestically and internationally. Here are the different ways to visit San Salvador.

Flying Into San Salvador

The main airport is San Salvador, and it is located about 45 minutes from the city. Cities that fly direct to San Salvador include Alexandria, Atlanta, Belize City, BogotaCancun, Comayagua, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Guatemala City, Harlingen, Houston, Los Angeles, Managua, Mexico City, MiamiNew York, Ontario, Panama City, QuitoRoatan, San Francisco, San Jose, San Pedro Sula, Santo Domingo, Toronto, and Washington.

Flight Tip: Did you know you can fly from the US to San Salvador for as little as $35?! Using Skyscanner you can check the calendar to see which are the cheapest dates from an airport near you.

Search for a flight to San Salvador:

Driving Into El Salvador

We actually visited El Salvador on two separate occasions, and the first time we visited via the land border. Believe it or not, this is actually one of the most popular ways that people visit the country, because it is normally just a stop while driving through Central America.

If you are driving, you can cross the border from Honduras or Guatemala. (Keep in mind you may need a permit if you are renting a car though).

Crossing the Border into El Salvador

You can take buses either from Guatemala, Honduras, or Nicaragua into San Salvador. We took a bus from Leon, Nicaragua directly to San Salvador.

Want to book your bus to San Salvador? Here are a few routes that you can book in advance:

One important thing to note is that when traveling through Central America, many countries do require a yellow fever vaccine. El Salvador only requires it if you are coming from certain countries. However, we almost didn't make it through Honduras, as we only had digital proof, and they require the hard copy.

If you are traveling through Central America by bus or car, we highly suggest carrying the physical yellow fever vaccine on you at all times, as some officers can be very strict about this.

How to Get From San Salvador Airport to the City

The airport is located just 40 km from the city center. However, with traffic and road conditions it usually takes about 45 minutes to an hour in car. Here are the different ways you can make your way from the airport to the city,

Rent a Car

We absolutely loved exploring El Salvador by car. You can easily rent a car right inside the airport. We suggest booking in advance due to the limited availability.

Rent a car at San Salvador Airport:

Taxi or Uber

Next to a rental car, this is the next easiest option to get into the city. Ubers are about $20, and taxis start at $30, which you could then potentially bargain down to $20 (maybe a little lower than the Uber if you are lucky).

Public Bus

This is by far the cheapest option (although not the most comfortable). At 65 cents, you can go straight into the city center from the airport. All you need to do is cross the path through the parking lot of the airport. Here you will find a small shopping center. Go through the shopping center and there will be a bus stop behind the building.

The bus is 138, and you just need to ask the driver to take you to "el centro". Make sure to have change for the ride. Prepare to be packed into a bus with no AC, sitting on top of one another. The windows will be open, but when traffic hits you will definitely feel the heat.

Carry extra small bills on you, as there are plenty of people going on and around the buses selling drinks and snacks (which by this point you will be very thankful for).

Bus to San Salvador

The bus stop is located through the shopping plaza.

Requirements To Enter El Salvador

Once you arrive at the airport, it is very simple and quick to get through customs. Here is what you'll need:

Covid Requirements To Enter El Salvador

Travelers are no longer required to present anything extra due to Covid-19. Neither a test nor vaccine is necessary anymore for traveling to El Salvador.

Visa Requirements to Enter El Salvador

Tourist visas are required for several different countries, and can be purchased on arrival to the airport. You will find a booth to the left of the customs officers, where you can pay $12 USD (cash only), and receive your 30 day visa.

Wondering if you'll need one? Here is a list of the countries that need to purchase an immigration entrance card.

Yellow Fever Vaccine

One important thing to note is that when traveling through Central America, many countries do require a yellow fever vaccine. El Salvador only requires it if you are coming from certain countries. However, we almost didn't make it through Honduras (when we were traveling across the land border), as we only had digital proof, and they require the hard copy.

If you are traveling through Central America by bus or car, we highly suggest carrying the physical yellow fever vaccine on you at all times, as some officers can be very strict about this.

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Local Adjustments for San Salvador

Traveling to a new country, there are a few important things to know before you get there. Here are some things to keep in mind while traveling to El Salvador.

Currency Used in El Salvador

Despite being in Central America, the official currency of El Salvador is actually the US dollar. (The only other one in the Americas is Ecuador).

Language Spoken in San Salvador

The official language in San Salvador is Spanish. Some people will speak English, but learning some Spanish will definitely help a bunch for getting around the city.

Plug Types Used in San Salvador

The electrical outlets in El Salvador are the same as those of the US, which accommodate plug types A and B. The country runs on 115 V with a standard frequency of 60 Hz.

Can I Drink the Water in San Salvador?

Only 10% of the surface water in El Salvador is deemed suitable for drinking. Therefore, we recommend you not to drink the water in San Salvador, or throughout the country. Stick to bottled water to stay safe. We suggest buying larger jugs of water from the supermarket, and then refilling your own water bottle to reduce plastic waste.

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Things to Do in San Salvador

Now that you know the basics of visiting the country, let's check out the fun things to do in San Salvador.

Things to Do in San Salvador #1: Visit the Historical Center

Like many capital cities, San Salvador has a historical center where the most important buildings are located. Visiting the historical center is the number one for things to do in San Salvador. The center is pretty small, so it doesn't take long to see all the main sites. 

Start with Plaza Jose de San Martin to see the Metropolitan Cathedral. Here you'll see plenty of locals hanging out, local vendors, and far too many pigeons. Just one street over you will find the National Palace of El Salvador on one side. Walk the other way and you will find the theater and Morazan plaza.

San Salvador, things to do in San Salvador
things to do in San Salvador
Teatro, things to do in San Salvador

The historical center is the most picturesque part of San Salvador.

Finally you can walk just one more block behind the theater, and one block to the right to find Libertad Plaza, which is also where you will see the beginning of the outdoor market.

Want to get a tour of the center and other fun things in the area? Here are a few to choose from:

Things to Do in San Salvador #2: Walk Around the Local Market

One of the main things to do in San Salvador is to really soak in the chaos. The markets take over streets upon streets of the center, and they feel endless!

Chances are you won't drive anything that drives you crazy, but it is still a fun experience. You can find anything from fresh fruit to clothes to home goods sold. Of course this is where you will definitely need to carry some cash.

market, things to do in San Salvador

One of the best things to do in San Salvador is to browse the chaotic markets.

Everyone will be trying to sell to you, so it can be overwhelming, but if you don't want anything a simple "no gracias" will suffice.

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Things to Do in San Salvador #3: Have Coffee & Breakfast at Cafe Fulanos

We really struggled some days finding a good spot for breakfast or decent wifi, until we found Cafe Fulanos. This cafe is located right in the historical center, and has amazing food and drinks. It is clean, has two stories, and is cutely decorated. They have AC, wifi, and take credit card, making it as convenient and comfortable as it gets.

Tip: Order their signature sandwich the Montecristo. It's the perfect blend of sweet and savory.

Cafe Fulanos, San Salvador
Cafe Fulanos, things to do in San Salvador

Cafe Fulanos is the best spot for breakfast in San Salvador

Things to Do in San Salvador #4: Treat Yourself

This may seem like a strange thing to suggest, but one of the things to do in San Salvador that we loved the most was getting pedicures. This is because the city can be quite chaotic and hot, so relaxing and getting pampered feels that much better. Not to mention It is super cheap! 

Pedicures run for just $5, haircuts between $1-3, and waxing for just a few dollar as well. So if you're heading to El Salvador than save your salon visit for when you arrive!

Price list salons in San Salvador

Salon services in San Salvador are extremely cheap.

Things to Do in San Salvador #5: Cool Off With a Licuado

El Salvador is hot year round, so you will definitely be craving something to cool you off! Luckily, you can't walk 100 meters without seeing someone selling licuados. These are pretty much the Salvadorian version of a smoothie. They are served in plastic bags with straws, and cost only $1.

If you're from the US, you should know that they use a ton of milk and sugar, and not nearly as much ice. We simply asked them to tone is down on the milk and sugar, and add much more ice. So if you're anything like us, just specify before they start making yours.

licuados San Salvador

Milkshakes are one of the best things to find on the streets.

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Things to Do in San Salvador #6: Eat at Pipirisnais

We love this restaurant for several reasons. While we love eating street food, sometimes it's nice to just sit in a nice restaurant, which can be hard to come by in San Salvador.

Pipirisnais is located right in the heart of the historic center, and is located on the second story so that you can enjoy the outdoor seating with a view. The food is a modern fusion of Salvadorian and Mexican cuisine, and is super delicious! Additionally, it was one of the only places we went that accepts credit card and has wifi.

restaurant in San Salvador
restaurant pipirisnais, things to do in San Salvador

Tip: Get the dish called pipirisyuca!

Things to Do in San Salvador #7: Take a Day Trip

As we are lovers of nature, one of our favorite things to do in San Salvador is to ironically leave the city for a few hours.

Within just a one hour span from the city you can experience everything from beaches to waterfalls to volcanos. Want to know some good ideas for day trips from San Salvador? We've written a full article down below.

Want to book an excursion for a day trip from San Salvador? Here are a few that you can choose:

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Getting Around San Salvador

The center of San Salvador is quite small, so really the best way to explore is on foot. If you do want to go to the outskirts, or go across town, there are plenty of buses, as well as taxis that you can take. Getting around is super affordable, and is cash only.

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If you plan on doing day trips, we definitely suggest renting a car. Here is a site we often use for our rentals:

Food & Drink in El Salvador

El Salvador has some great food, and it's very similar to the surrounding countries, as well as Mexico. Some things you definitely need to try in San Salvador are the pupusas and the licuados. Our favorite places to eat include Pipirisnais and Cafe Fulanos, which are both situated in the heart of the city center.

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Where to Stay in San Salvador

When it comes to choosing a place to stay in San Salvador, we suggest staying in the heart of the historic center. This is definitely the nicest area of the city, and is where you'll find the best restaurants, bars, and things to do in San Salvador.

If you're looking for bigger hotels with more amenities, you'll have to go outside the center. We honestly would prefer to stay somewhere smaller with a better location, but that's our preference.

The nicest place that is still walking distance to the historic center is Hotel Villa Florencia Centro Historico. It's reasonably priced, and is the nicest place you'll find that is well-located.

Want to look at all the different options for places to stay in San Salvador? Browse the map below!

Is it Safe to Stay in San Salvador?

El Salvador has always had a bad reputation when it comes to safety. We're happy to say that it couldn't be further from the truth! It is actually an extremely safe country, with very welcoming people. So don't let the media let you think anything different. 

San Salvador definitely has its chaotic parts, making it look pretty rough around the edges. However, it is completely safe to stay in San Salvador as a tourist.

Other Things to Know For Visiting San Salvador

Now that you know the best things to do in San Salvador, how to get around, and where to eat, we have a few other details to share.

Weather in San Salvador

The weather in El Salvador is hot year-round, and gets very humid in the summer months. The dry season is from November to April, and the rainy season is from May to October.

The Best Time to Visit San Salvador

The best time to visit San Salvador is when the temperatures are a bit cooler and drier. We suggest going in the winter, from December to February for a hot getaway.

Packing for a Trip to San Salvador

If you're just planning on experiencing the city, you won't really need to pack anything special, other than light clothing. However, if you plan on going to the beach, or hopping on one of the great day trips from San Salvador, you should bring a swimsuit, sneakers, and a good sunscreen.

Here is an overview of our packing list for San Salvador:

If you happen to go on one of the day trips from San Salvador, here are some other things you may want to bring:

  • Flip Flops (we personally always get Havaiana flip flops, as they are comfy and long lasting)
  • Sneakers (for the hikes)
  • Bug Spray
  • Bathing Suits
  • Towel
  • Drone (We use the Mavic Mini Pro 3 because it's super light and doesn't sacrifice quality)
  • Action Camera (we use the Insta 360 X3 because it's small & waterproof)
  • Waterproof Phone Pouch (we use the Cafago Waterproof Phone Pouch)

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There may not be a ton of things to do in San Salvador, but it's a good home base for a few days before venturing off to one of the great beaches or the popular "Ruta de Las Flores".

We suggest spending at least one day here to experience the small city center. Don't plan to be here for too many days, as there is so much more to explore in El Salvador!

Looking to book your next trip? Let us help you explore more and pay less in the process! We're here to make sure you have the best trip possible, all while saving money in the process. Want the scoop? Take a look at some of our travel planning packages to get started. 

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