El Salvador

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Introduction to El Salvador

El Salvador's name still evokes images of the brutal civil war fought throughout the 1980s in its tangle of mountains and farmlands. The war, however, is over and the most turbulent aspect of El Salvador today is thankfully just its volcanic landscape.

El Salvador offers a whole new experience - watching a country strive to redefine itself. International organizations are helping to rebuild El Salvador, and participating in these developments and talking to the locals about their experiences and hopes are perhaps the most productive ways to visit.

Most travellers tend to skip El Salvador, owing to its reputation for crime and a lack of headline sites. Yet crime against tourists is no worse than in other countries in the region and, because it's still relatively unknown, travellers to El Salvador have the place virtually to themselves. Nowadays, the landscape is the country's most turbulent feature - volcanoes arise from flat valleys and lakes fill ancient craters - and the country's people are surely its richest resource.


Petty theft is a problem in El Salvador. Maintain a sensible level of personal security awareness, travel in daylight hours, avoid solo travel, ostantatious displays of wealth and travelling in poor neighbourhoods and downtown San Salvador.

Full country name: Republic of El Salvador

Area: 21,040 sq km

Population: 6.5 million

Capital City: San Salvador

People: 94% mestizo, 1% indigenous

Language: English, Spanish

Religion: Roman Catholic (75%), Protestant (20%)

Government: republic

Head of State: Supreme Chief of State (President) Elías Antonio Saca Gonzalez

GDP: US$29.4 billion

GDP per capita: US$4,800

Inflation: 3.8%

Major Industries: Textiles, coffee, sugar, beverages, petroleum, chemicals, fertilizer, textiles, furniture, light metals, cotton

Major Trading Partners: USA, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Germany

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Traveler Facts

Visas: US and Canadian citizens do not require a visa but must buy a tourist card upon arrival. The card is valid for 90 days. Citizens of Australia and New Zealand need a visa; citizens of most western European countries do not require a visa or tourist card.

Health risks: cholera, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, typhoid

Time Zone: GMT/UTC -6

Dialling Code: 503

Electricity: 115V ,60Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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The festival day of El Salvador del Mundo, patron saint of El Salvador, is on 6 August. Celebrations in San Salvador begin several days in advance and include a fair and big parade. Other celebrations are held during Semana Santa (the week preceding Easter) and on 12 December, the day of the Virgen de Guadalupe. Each town also has an annual festival to honor its patron saint.

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Best time to Visit

The dry season (November-April) is the easiest time to visit: roads are in better condition, you won't get drenched every evening and more cultural festivals take place. The biggest holiday periods are from Christmas through mid-January; during Semana Santa, a week-long festival before Easter; and during the first week of August when San Salvador holds its annual festival. Many services shut down during these periods and hotel prices can rise up to 50%. In the rainy season (May-October), prices are lower, beaches less crowded and the evenings slightly cooler after the rainstorms.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: US Dollar


Budget: US$3-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-20

Deluxe: US$20+


Budget: US$5-10

Mid-range: US$10-20

High: US$20-35

Deluxe: US$35+

You'll pay more for accommodation and food in El Salvador than in neighboring countries, but at least bus transportation is cheap. Budget travelers willing to be resourceful should be able to live on US$15-US$25 a day; travelers wanting more comfortable accommodation and a few sit-down meals should expect to spend US$20 to US$25 a day; and anyone in search of the finer things in El Salvador should budget at least US$30 a day.

In January 2001, the US dollar became the legal currency. It's best to bring US dollars, as it's the only currency that you can be sure of exchanging. Few banks change travelers' checks readily and easily, and the policy seems to differ not only between banks but between branches as well.

A value-added tax (IVA) of 10% is applied to all goods and services in El Salvador; make sure you know whether it's already included in the listed price.

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San Salvador

El Salvador's capital lies in a valley at the foot of the San Salvador volcano. Since the valley is a pollution trap that captures the city's horrendous traffic effluvium, it's not the most picturesque place. Shanty towns abound and the streets are lined with people selling just about anything.

The red-velvet opulence of the Teatro Nacional dates from 1917, its sensuous ceiling mural is continued into the nearby Teatro Cafe. The city has five markets; the most interesting are the Mercado Ex-Cuartel for handicrafts, hand-woven textiles and ceramics, and the Mercado Central for daily needs.

La Libertad

This is a 'been there done that' surfer destination with some of the best waves rolled out by the Pacific Ocean. If you don't surf, there's not much else to do in this small seaside town full of dried, diced and just plain dead fish - all emitting a pungent, salty smell.

The closest beach to the capital, La Libertad swells with city folk on weekends. If the crowds get to be too much, head to one of the many beaches along La Costa del Bálsamo, 75km (46mi) of surfable coast stretching west from La Libertad to Acajutla.

Montecristo Cloud Forest

The borders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala converge in an area that receives 200cm (80in) of annual precipitation, experiences 100% humidity and rises to an elevation of 2400m (7900ft) - ideal conditions for the Montecristo cloud forest.

Oak and laurel trees grow to 30m (98ft), and their leaves form a canopy impenetrable to sunlight. Ferns, orchids, mushrooms and mosses coat the forest floor, and the local wildlife includes rare and protected spider monkeys, two-fingered anteaters, pumas, agoutis, toucans and striped owls.

Ruinas de Tazumal

The Mayan ruins of Tazumal, considered the most important and best preserved in El Salvador, are in the town of Chalchuapa. In the Quiché language the name Tazumal means 'pyramid where the victims were burned'. The excavated ruins on display here are only one part of a zone covering 10 sq km (4 sq mi), much of it buried under the town.

Archaeologists estimate that the first settlements in the area were around 5000 BC. The excavated structures date from a period spanning over 1000 years. The artefacts found at Tazumal provide evidence of ancient and active trade between Tazumal and places as far away as Panama and Mexico.

Chalchuapa is 76km (47mi) northwest of San Salvador, about a two hour ride by bus, usually via the town of Santa Ana.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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