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Travel in El Salvador: Everything You Need to Know

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El Salvador is one of our favorite countries, and one we've been back to several times no now. If you're looking to travel in El Salvador, then you've come to the right place!

In this guide we're going to share everything you need to know to travel in El Salvador, from the best places to visit to the logistics of getting around and where to stay.

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Where is El Salvador?

Many people have no idea where El Salvador is because it's one of those lesser known destinations in Central America. It's pretty small, and kind of gets overshadowed by the bigger countries in the area. 

El Salvador borders the Pacific Ocean, and is bordered by Guatemala to its north, and Honduras to the east. Nicaragua is another country that is just south of El Salvador. Below you can see the map from El Salvador, and the countries surrounding it.

map from El Salvador

El Salvador is one of the smallest countries in the area.

How Can I Go to El Salvador? Getting There

Despite being tucked away from the more popular destinations, El Salvador is relatively easy to get to! Here are the different options.

Flying Into El Salvador

Flying may seem like the easiest part, but it wasn't for us! It actually took us three days to get to San Salvador from New York, and every step of the way was a nightmare. Don't worry though, we won't let the same happen to you. Our main suggestion here is to avoid booking tickets to El Salvador with United at all costs.

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Unfortunately many people have been facing issues with flights through United in the past few years. So as crazy as this may sound, we suggest choosing Spirit over United for tickets to El Salvador.

Where Do You Fly Into For El Salvador?

The main airport is San Salvador, so this is where you'll commonly find most flights. Cities that fly direct in San Salvador include Alexandria, Atlanta, Belize City, Bogota, Cancun, Comayagua, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Guatemala City, Harlingen, Houston, Los Angeles, Managua, Mexico City, Miami, New York, Ontario, Panama City, Quito, Roatan, San Francisco, San Jose, San Pedro Sula, Santo Domingo, Toronto, and Washington.

Flight Tip: Did you know there are flights from the US to El Salvador for as low as $35?! Using Skyscanner you can put from "United States" to "El Salvador". This way you can see which is the cheapest airport in your area to fly from. Also, you can check the calendar to see which are the cheapest dates for flying to El Salvador from your home airport.

Search for a flight to El Salvador:

Flying into San Salvador

The view flying into El Salvador

Driving Into El Salvador

We actually visited El Salvador on two separate occasions, and the first time we visited by land. Believe it or not, this is actually one of the most popular ways that people visit the country.

This is because unfortunately this small country tends to get overlooked, so it's visited more-so while visitors are 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).

Rent a car to visit El Salvador:

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Crossing the Border into El Salvador: Buses to El Salvador

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

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

One important thing to note is that when traveling through Central America, many countries 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 Fede only had his digital proof.

If you are traveling through Central America, we highly suggest carrying the physical yellow fever vaccine on you at all times, as some officers are stricter than others.

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Taking the Bus vs. Driving to El Salvador

There are a couple of things to keep in mind for this. The bus will inevitably take much longer, as you will be with a group, and they won't drive as fast. However, if you are going with a rental car, you will need to pay for special permission to bring the car into different countries.

We suggest inquiring beforehand, so you don't get stuck at the border, or end up paying a fortune to cross into or out of El Salvador.

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Requirements To Enter and Travel in El Salvador

Customs El Salvador

Customs at the San Salvador Airport

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 and Travel in El Salvador

In order to travel in El Salvador you need to present a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arriving, or proof that you are fully vaccinated. (We did both to be safe- as things are always changing).

Travelers are no longer required to present anything extra due to Covid. Neither a test nor vaccine is necessary for travel in El Salvador.

Visas to Travel to El Salvador

Tourist visas are required for many countries, and can be purchased on arrival. You will find the 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 need one? Here is a list of the countries that need an immigration entrance card.

Chart for visa for El Salvador

This is the list of countries that need to purchase a visa on arrival to El Salvador.

Yellow Fever Vaccine

If you are coming from Panama, South America, or Africa, you will need a yellow fever vaccine. It must be taken at least 15 days before entering El Salvador, and the physical card must be presented.

How Do I 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 this usually takes 45 minutes to an hour in car. Here are the different ways you can make your way from the airport to the city,

Bus to San Salvador

The bus stop outside of the Centro Comercial

Rental Cars For Travel in El Salvador

This is the easiest option, as renting from the airport will allow you to have freedom as soon as you are handed the keys. This is a little costlier than renting from the city though, as there is a 15% airport tax on rental cars, on top of the 13% tax. 

Plan on traveling to one of the neighboring countries? A permit is needed and most companies will charge $150. The permit needs to be done in advance, and depends on the company. For example: Alamo needs 72 hours of notice beforehand, so make sure to email them a few days before arrival.

Rent a car from the San Salvador Airport:

Take a Taxi or Uber

Next to a rental car, this is the easiest option. Ubers are about $20, and taxis will start with $30 and you can bargain down to $20. (Maybe a little lower than the Uber if you are lucky).

How to Get from the San Salvador Airport to the City with the 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. Here you will find a small shopping center. Go through the shopping center and there will be a bus stop behind the building.

Centro Comercial San Salvador Airport

To get the bus from the airport you will need to pass through the shopping center.

The bus is 138. Just ask the driver to take you to "el centro". Of course you will need change for this. 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).

Bu8s 138 airport to San Salvador

The bus to San Salvador is the 138.

Local Adjustments to Travel in El 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.

What is the Main Currency in El Salvador?

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

What Language Do They Speak in El Salvador?

The official language in El Salvador is Spanish. Some people will speak English, but learning some Spanish will definitely help getting around much easier.

What Plugs are Used in El Salvador?

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

How Clean is the Water in El Salvador?

Only 10% of the surface water in El Salvador is deemed potable. Therefore, we recommend not drinking the tap water throughout the country, and sticking it bottled water.

Tipping in El Salvador

Just like most countries, tipping is not mandatory in El Salvador, but it is customary to leave an average of 10% extra as a tip.

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Things to Do in El Salvador

El Salvador is a truly underrated country! It is full of a wide variety of landscapes, and plenty of things to do. We have special articles dedicated to all that El Salvador has to offer. 

Some of our favorite things to do include exploring La Ruta de Las Flores, visiting the black sand beaches, hiking the volcanoes, and chasing waterfalls. Let us share more details in the links below:

Conchagua Volcano, things to do in El Salvador
Santa Ana El Salvador Volcano view
Siete Cascadas, best things to do in El Salvador
Best Beaches in El Salvador

El Salvador is full of incredible landscapes.

Getting Around El Salvador

The good thing is that El Salvador is a small country, so it is pretty easy to explore. The bad thing is that public transportation is not the most comfortable in the world. 

Renting A Car to Travel In El Salvador

We have gone to travel in El Salvador twice- once by public transportation, and once by car. We have to say that the second time we felt so relieved that we had the $30/day and the insurance was included. Just one very important thing to keep in mind is that if you plan on going off the beaten path you MUST get a 4x4!

We rented a small car and we wish we had upgraded to something bigger. We ended up tearing apart the underpart of our rental and needed to pay an extra $300.

Rent a car in El Salvador:

Want to know more about renting a car in El Salvador? Make sure to read out full article below!

Chicken Buses

These are the typical buses you will find in Central America. They are old school buses brought down from the US, and then colorfully painted and decorated. Keep in mind that the buses are meant for children, so it can get a little cramped, and there isn't any AC.

Chicken buses Santa Ana

Many of the buses in El Salvador are refxurbished American school buses.

Local Foods of El Salvador

El Salvador doesn't have a huge amount of national dishes, but it is known for its number one food- the pupusa. This is like a thicker version of a tortilla, that is mixed with any type of ingredient from cheese to seafood.

Pupusas are cooked on a griddle until golden brown, and are served with a vinegar based slaw a red sauce to put on top. They are super cheap (sometimes as low as 50 cents), delicious, and great for on the go!

making pupusas in El Salvador

Learning how to make pupusas with the locals

Another thing that El Salvador excels as is their coffee. Head to La Ruta de Las Flores for some of the best coffee in the country!

You can also take a coffee tour by clicking on one of the links below:

Is it Safe to Travel to El Salvador as a Tourist?

El Salvador has a bad rep when it comes to safety, and it couldn't be further from the truth! It is actually an extremely safe country, with very friendly people. So don't let the media let you think otherwise. If you are traveling to Honduras on the other hand, we suggest being very careful.

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Other Things To Know For Travel in El Salvador

Now that we've covered the basics, here are a few other things that we learned while traveling through El Salvador:

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The Weather Is Very Tropical

There are only two seasons in El Salvador- rainy and dry, It is hot all year. The only difference is that in the wet season (May- October) there are a lot of thunderstorms. Don't stress about the weather though, as when it storms it doesn't last long at all.

The odd thing is that for us it seemed like at 7 pm everyday a thunderstorm began (a lot of times no rain involved at all), and it happened like clockwork. The storms are super fascinating, so make sure to enjoy the show!

lightning storm

In the summer El Salvador has nightly thunder storms.

Carry Plenty Of Cash

Most places in El Salvador run on cash only. You will find tons of markets, small shops, and even restaurants that will not accept credit card, so be sure to keep dollars on you at all times.

Packing to Travel to El Salvador

El Salvador is full of adventure! Here are some of the things that we suggest bringing with you:

  • Sunscreen (the sun is super strong)
  • Bug Spray
  • Reusable Water Bottle (we use this water bottle from Cafago because it holds the temperature)
  • Umbrella or Poncho (If you visit in the rainy season)
  • Flip Flops (we personally always get Havaiana flip flops, as they are comfy and long lasting)
  • Sneakers (for the hikes)
  • Zippered Bag or Backpack - take a look at these backpacks for travelers!
  • Power Bank (we use Anker power banks, as they are super long lasting and sturdy)
  • Bathing Suits
  • Light, comfortable clothing
  • 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 for the beach (we use the Cafago Waterproof Phone Pouch)
  • Travel Adapter if you are not from North America (we use Tessan travel adapters as they are affordable and reliable)

Ps: You can ditch the straightener for your hair. Bring products to tame it from the humidity instead!

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We hope this has helped answering some of your questions you may have had about your travels in El Salvador!

Now make sure to check out all of the amazing things to do in this super underrated country by reading our other El Salvador travel guides. Planning on visiting other nearby countries? You can take a look at the other Centra America travel guides that we have.

Looking to book a trip but don't know where to start? Well, lucky for you we are offering our Travel Planning Services! Not only will we help you explore more, but we will make sure that you spend less. Want to know how? Take a look at the different travel planning services that we have.

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