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If you’ve been following me for a while, you know my cousin is one of my favorite people to travel with. After both of us took trips to Costa Rica earlier in the year, we decided to book a trip to El Salvador for Labor Day weekend. I’ve always been interested in visiting and after seeing how affordable direct flights were from NYC, I was sold.
El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. The country has something for every type of traveler whether you enjoy a beach escape, adventure, or nature all while being affordable. If you’re looking to travel to El Salvador, here’s my quick guide sharing where to stay, things to do, and how we spent an extended weekend in El Salvador.
Things to Know Before Traveling to El Salvador
Best Time to Visit El Salvador
As with all countries within Central America, El Salvador has a rainy season and dry season. El Salvador’s dry season is between November and April, while the rainy season is between May and October. Even though it rained a lot during our stay, we still were able to do all the activities as planned.
A visa is not required if you’re staying in El Salvador for under 90 days, but visitors need a tourist card. A tourist card can be purchased for $12 USD upon arrival at the airport with cash or a credit card (no American Express). If your passport shows you were born in El Salvador, you do not need to purchase one. For the most accurate entry requirements for El Salvador, visit their tourism board website here.
The official currency in El Salvador is Bitcoin and the USD is widely accepted throughout the country. We mostly used cash, but there were a few restaurants that accepted Master Card and American Express as payment.
Getting Around El Salvador
There are several ways for getting around El Salvador no matter your budget. Below are the best ways to get around El Salvador depending on your preference.
Bus or Tuk Tuk
Buses are the primary way to get around El Salvador’s cities and are the most cost-effective. Expect to pay around $0.25 to $0.35 cents a trip around the city. Traveling between San Salvador and La Libertad is about $2. For smaller towns, expect TukTuks which are a bit cheaper than the bus.
Uber or Taxi
Uber is another cost-effective method of traveling in major cities like San Salvador. We stayed in San Salvador and took Uber for most of our trips in the city and paid between $3-5 each trip. Sometimes taxi drivers use uber to pick up passengers and arrange a price. If you decide to use your uber driver for taxi services, make sure to negotiate your price before getting in since there is no meter.
Rent a Car
Taking a taxi may add up depending on your length of stay so if you want to explore El Salvador on your own, rent a car. Driving is on the right side of the road in El Salvador and renting a car is very affordable. Rentals start at around $20 USD per day and you need to be at least 21 to rent a car.
Hire a Driver
If you don’t want to rent a car, hire a driver. It is a great way to get around the country while getting a local’s suggestions on activities as well as safety insights. We hired a driver on our last day to take us to Santa Teresa Hot Springs and for buying souvenirs.
Where to Stay in El Salvador
We considered two areas to stay in while in El Salvador: San Salvador or La Libertad. San Salvador is the city and La Libertad is the coastal area where you can find popular beach resorts and restaurants. It was tough to choose, but we stayed at the Real Intercontinental San Salvador, a 4 1/2-star hotel in the heart of the city, close to the highways, shopping, and restaurants.
Due to rainy weather, our flight was delayed so we also stayed at the Crowne Plaza San Salvador. Travelers we met gave great reviews about Hotel Barcelo, Sheraton Presidente San Salvador, Los Farrallones in La Libertad, and Puro Surf in El Zonte.
Below is a map of hotels in El Salvador from budget to luxury options.
How we Spent our Weekend in El Salvador
Since we didn’t have much time to spend in the country, and my cousin recently had surgery, we chose activities that were low impact, but still kept an open mind to taking suggestions from locals. Here’s how we spent our extended weekend in El Salvador along with other suggestions of what to do in the country.
Day Pass at Nawi Beach House
Our first full day in El Salvador was spent using the day pass at Nawi Beach house. The drive to Nawi Beach House is about an hour 1/2 from San Salvador and we paid $100 roundtrip via taxi. We purchased a day pass at Nawi Beach house for $20 each and it included a welcome drink, access to the pool, beach, and the option for horseback riding.
Enjoy the Nightlife in El Tunco
We didn’t get to spend much time in El Tunco, but we passed through driving back to San Salvador from Nawi Beach house. The area was full of street art, restaurants, and bars. Our taxi driver told us this is the area to be at night.
Go Down the Imagine Slide at Picnic Steak House
After getting tested at the ProFamilia Hospital, we took an Uber to Picnic Steak House. Picnic Steak House is an outdoor restaurant and home of the Imagine Slide (aka the Rainbow Slide). For $5, guests 12 years and older can go down. We had lunch here, but you do not have to eat at the restaurant to go on the slide.
Spa Day at Santa Teresa Hot Springs
Our last full day in El Salvador was spent getting rest and relaxation at Santa Teresa Hot Springs (Termales de Santa Teresa). The drive from San Salvador was about 2 hours so we hired a driver for $110, making stops in between for food and gifts for friends and family.
The cost to enter the site was $10 and it was an extra $10 to do the mud treatment. We also got a full body massage that cost $35 for both of us. Keep in mind that visiting here is cash only.
Take a Trip to Ataco
Heading back to San Salvador from the hot springs, we made a stop in Ataco. Ataco is a Salvadoran town well known for its coffee. We bought a few bags of coffee for friends and family and walked around the area for some unique gifts. We also stopped here for some tacos and beer.
Have Food and Drinks at Cerveceria Chatos
The weekend we went was also a big weekend for soccer so we decided to grab food and watch the match at Cerveceria Chatos. The food was good and all the drinks on the menu were $1.50. Attached to the bar was a club called The Rooftop. Since it was a Monday, it was closed, but we were told it is a great place for nightlife.
Other Things to do in El Salvador
Spending a weekend in El Salvador was great for getting our feet wet in the country, but there’s so much to do beyond San Salvador and La Libertad. I’m hoping to visit El Salvador again for a group trip and include more activities. Here are some of the best things to do in El Salvador to add to your itinerary. You can also search for more things to do in El Salvador via TripAdvisor.
Take a Free Walking Tour of San Salvador
We didn’t have time in our schedule, but on my next visit to El Salvador, I plan on taking a tour of San Salvador with EC Tours. EC Tours has a free walking tour in San Salvador and operates on tips only. The San Salvador walking tour is about 2 1/2 hours long and operates Monday-Friday at 9 AM and 2 PM and Saturday at 9 AM. EC Tours also offers half-day and full-day trips to popular sites in the country.
Go Shopping at Mercado Hula Hula
If you’re looking for unique travel gifts for friends and family at an affordable price, visit Mercado Hula Hula which is the best marketplace for shopping in San Salvador.
Visit El Boquerón National Park
Parque Nacional El Boqueron (or El Boquerón National Park) is located on top of the San Salvador Volcano. Historians claim that the inside of the main crater of this volcano used to be a lake. There is also a museum at the entrance of the park that provides more information about the park and the volcano.
Santa Ana Volcano
One of the most famous hikes in El Salvador is to Santa Ana Volcano. Santa Ana is El Salvador’s highest and most active volcano and the hike is around 4 hours total going up and down. As with any hike, make sure to wear good shoes, bring water and wear your sunscreen.
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