10 reasons to visit El Salvador

Find out why El Salvador is one of my favourite destinations ever. Including 10 specatacular reasons to to visit El Salvador.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

Have you ever gone somewhere and for some inexplicable reason it just completely captures your heart and for years after you still find yourself thinking of and yearning for that place? Well, that place for me is El Salvador.

The ‘underdog’ of travel in Central America – the tiny country with the massive heart. I will admit that I was nervous to travel to El Salvador. After all, the newspapers and news channels tell us it’s a very dangerous place. And yes, sure, El Salvador has a very real gang problem. It has a very sad and harrowing civil war past. But there’s so much more to this gem of a country than what you have read in a newspaper. Imagine witnessing the best sunset of your life, imagine meeting the friendliest and warmest locals, imagine spending your days surfing some of the best surf in the world. Now imagine yourself in El Salvador.

Here’s 10 reasons to visit El Salvador. I’ve honestly spent days thinking about how I should write this blog post because I really want to do this beautiful country justice. It deserves a place on your bucket list more than anywhere I’ve ever been.

So, here we go 10 reasons to visit El Salvador (in no particular order) –

To witness the best sunset of your life

Honestly the best sunset you could ever imagine, beyond instagram-worthy. We witnessed this marvel in El Cuco while walking back to our hostel. The whole beach turned this magnificent burnt orange. I didn’t want it to end. Here’s a photo in all it’s unfiltered glory.

el cuco, el salvador, sunset

El Salvador is a cheap destination

Once you fork out the big bucks for the flights (honestly, from Europe it can be difficult to get a reasonable flight into San Salvador) it’s cheap as chips once you touch ground in El Salvador. A nights accommodation for two people in a small hotel will cost you approximately $20, a meal can be as little as $2 provided you eat where the locals eat and buses from one town to the next can cost less than $1.

el salvador beach, el tunco

El Salvador has excellent surf

Most tourists come to El Salvador to surf & most base themselves in the little surfing town of El Tunco about an hours drive from San Salvador, with its black sandy beach, quirky little hostels and juice bars. El Tunco has some of the best surfing conditions in the world. We spent hours sitting on the beach, a Pilsener in hand (the local beer) watching some very talented surfers vying for attention. Of course we had a go ourselves but we didn’t fare too well on our own. Luckily, if you’re a beginner like us there are lots of surfing schools along the beach.

surfing el salvador

surfing el salvador

Meet the friendly locals

Salvadorans were our favourite people of our entire 16 country trip and we met some amazingly cool locals so that’s saying a lot. Salvadorans are warm, real and incredibly grateful that tourists are still visiting their home. They’re even friendly enough to let you hold their fully-loaded pistol.

friendly locals, el salvador

To stay at the best hostel we’ve ever stayed at

In the rustic town of Santa Ana in the North of El Salvador is a hostel. A hostel by the name of Casa Verde, run by the super-friendly Carlos. Casa Verde is honestly the best hostel we ever stayed at. Spotlessly clean, with a swimming pool, a rooftop terrace, a big kitchen (with lots of free spices, freshly ground coffee etc.) and an air conditioned TV room loaded with every movie imaginable. And if you can’t be bothered going out to a restaurant, Carlos will order take-out for you and serve it to you while you’re enjoying  a movie on his massive TV.

This is how it should be done (hosteliers take note). Also, worth a mention is La Tortuga Verde in El Cuco a turtle sanctuary & hostel –  a double room here costs less than $25 and it’s right on the beach, with your own deck area complete with hammocks, an extra-comfy bed and a spacious bathroom with a view of the coconut trees.

la tortuga verde, el salvador

To climb an active volcano

Want to undertake a very difficult hike up a steep volcano with an armed guard? Then, head to the town of Santa Ana and just outside this town you will find three active volcanoes – Santa Ana, Izalco and Cerro Verde. This hike is still considered dangerous due to a spate of robberies on the climb and so all hikes are undertaken with a big group and an armed guard.

We climbed Izalco and it’s pretty tough – first you climb down 1,300 steps to get to the bottom of the volcano then it’s a tiring hour long hike up an almost vertical slope. But it’s all worth it once you get to the top. On the south-side of the summit you can still see lava flowing down into the Pacific Ocean and steam vents are still active up top (you have to be careful where you sit as some rocks are still deadly hot).

volcano, el salvador

volcano, el salvador

Because Pupusas = yum

A traditional salvadoran dish made of a thick handmade corn tortilla and usually filled with cheese, some meat & refried beans. It is served with curtido (a lightly fermented cabbage relish) – sounds horrible but I promise it isn’t. And it’s so cheap, usually 3oc for one. Our favourite place for pupusas was a little roadside stall in El Tunco that was run by nuns.


To night bike ride through the streets of San Salvador

This was one of the best things we did in El Salvador. No scrap that, this was one of the best things we did in Central America. Sure, a night bike ride through the streets of one of the most notoriously dangerous cities in the world sounds life-defying. The little local organisation who runs it –  Ciclistas Urbanos has been doing this for years, it’s more of a cycling group for locals than a tour, in fact I think we were the only tourists that night but they welcomed us with open arms regardless.

Ciclistas Urbanos meets every Thursday night, to cycle a different route through the city, and some rides can be as long as 30km. There was also a police presence for the whole ride, so you’re in safe hands. We met so many fantastic locals that night, one even cycled beside me the whole time because he could see I was struggling and he even drove us back to our hostel after because my ‘legs didn’t work like they used to before’:)

night bike ride, san salvador

To experience somewhere off the beaten track

Because don’t follow the crowd and only backpack through South East Asia. Literally, every travel blogger has been to South East Asia, many even live there now. I adore South East Asia because it is a truly beautiful slice of the world, but it’s starting to get overrun by backpackers. So, If you’re looking to experience somewhere that not many people have been to, that will garner a “wow you’ve been there” from most people you meet, then visit El Salvador. El Salvador has enough tourist infrastructure to make you feel comfortable but then at the same time it’s not at all ready for tourists and that’s kind of scary and fun and exhilarating.

volcano el salvador

To get a true local experience

Not too many tourists in a country is good in a lot of ways but mainly because it makes for a more local and unique experience. The less Hawaiian-shirt wearing tourists the better. Leisure travel through El Salvador is still very much uncommon, most tourists we met are either there on business or for a short surf holiday. This means that most of the time you have the palm-tree lined beaches to yourself. There’s no queues for that Lonely Planet recommended restaurant. There’s no Contiki tours. And you will usually always nab a room at that hotel you’ve been wanting to stay at.

surfing, el salvador, boys

And finally ‘no place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be’. Be careful, don’t wear lots of expensive jewellery or carry around a glaringly massive camera, don’t walk away from the main streets in San Salvador. But above all don’t be stupid, if you go looking for trouble it probably will find you. The truth is 99.9% of the people in El Salvador are brilliant and funny and incredibly welcoming of tourists. Please don’t let a minority and a distasteful news report turn you off visiting one of the most unique and exciting destinations I’ve ever visited.

Tell me – what did you think of my reasons to visit El Salvador? Have I managed to convince you to meet El Salvador yet? Of course I have! Now, when are you going to book your flights?

P.S. you can read more about our adventures through El Salvador here

27 thoughts on “10 reasons to visit El Salvador

  1. Travel Griz Reply

    I really enjoyed my time in El Salvador. Although it was too short to do everything on your list! Hiking Santa Ana Volcano was an experience I’ll never forget. Went up with 150 Salvadorans the day before Easter. Incredible views. Also people were insanely friendly and of course the pupusas…..

    Definitely on my list to go back and enjoy alot of the things you stated.

  2. Hunter Reply

    I love El Salvador. Incredible place, history, and current situation! The surf, food, and people are all top-notch. I Married a Salvadorena ex-pat and visit every year (almost 11 times now!)…Central America is incredible but El Salvador is my personal favorite because it is still so wild, raw and true.

  3. Mike Reply

    My friend bought a water front property about ten years ago now. Although a little nervous about visiting, mainly because of the constant bad press… We ventured out last year for about a one week stay. We were at Sandiego beach north of La libertad, a quiet sea side community. Very quiet sunny and beautiful, we loved the people the fish markets walking on the beach and so much more! It’s not touristy by any means and we liked that, people were very friendly. American currency was simple and food was cheap! We ate like kings on a beer budget…. Media blows all the negativity, total crap but hey I want this place to stay non touristy, so don’t visit, but I will be heading back to enjoy! Hidden jewel absolutely, of course if you want to hang with the 5th street gangs go ahead….

  4. Jan Turner Reply

    I arrived in El Salvador on May 28th via sailboat. It was intended as a 5 day stop. Oh right, that was May 28th 2000!! There is a lot more to this country than surfing and beaches, although I will admit they are first rate, . And there is a lot more than pupusas for the taste buds – fresh seafood wonderful fresh veggies & fruits. You are right about one thing for sure – the people have to be the friendliest most helpful I have ever encountered on my world travels. I am always assuring my family & friends that it is safe for them to visit me, almost 16 years driving around this country without incident. Next visitors, in April, want a bit more upscale so we are going to “spa’ it for a few days . $65/night includes kitchenette, private pool, spa facilities & breakfast.


  5. nehemias Reply

    Gracias Aimee & Paul x por tus exelentes comentarios sobre mi pais

  6. Charles McCool Reply

    Thank you for the nice list of things to do in El Salvador. I hope to visit in 2016 or 2017, and enjoy seeing curated suggestions.

  7. Jelisa Moné Reply

    The 1st reason is convincing enough for me! I love sunsets. And after almost 3 years in europe, I’m ready to be somewhere cheap!

    Great post, thanks for the advice

  8. Cynthia Reply

    I actually just tried a pupusa for the first time a few weeks ago in Toronto! Had no idea they were Salvadoran. I didn’t really like it but I’ll be sure to try a “real” one if I visit here!

  9. Kate Reply

    Planning a longer surf trip right now and El Salvador is definitely on my list!
    Will keep the hostel in mind 😉

  10. Brenda Reply

    Your arguments were totally convincing!

    I’ve been wanting to go to Central America for long, but the fear of traveling by myself to the region had always won. I won’t let fear win this year, and I would definitely hit El Salvador ASAP.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this story!

  11. Victoria Smith (@girltrieslife) Reply

    It’s funny, El Salvador was never on my list, but it is now! Bar the locals with machine guns of course… that would freak me out.

  12. Mary Leong Reply

    Gorgeous photos! A Central America overland trip is in the works soon, so I’ll definitely be referring to this post! Also pinned 🙂

  13. toni Reply

    Awesome piece! Makes me want to go there now! I love that you felt safe and had a police presence. That makes me feel better about going to places like this. But looks amazing!

  14. Natasha Reply

    Ok.. you have me convinced!

    Pupusas — wow YUM!!!

    The sunsets also look breathtaking.

    Thank you for sharing!!

  15. Laura @ Grassroots Nomad Reply

    WOW! That night bike ride sounds incredible!!! I’m living in Guatemala at the moment so hopefully I can find time to visit before I leave in July. Your photos are beautiful. Looking forward to your next post! 🙂

  16. kate Reply

    I think pupusas are probably the most compelling argument here. I’m convinced. Another place to add to my wanderlist.

  17. Alyssa | Adjust Your Focus™ Reply

    What a great adventure! I haven’t been to El Salvador yet, but would definitely love to experience it myself one day. Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing.

  18. Maya Reply

    Great post and I will save this one, we are heading to El Salvador this year. Yay! Good to hear there are lots of surfing schools in El Tunco. I can’t wait to learn to surf.

  19. Karla (Karla Around The World) Reply

    El Salvador is such a beautiful place. I really love your pictures , most especially the picture of the sunset.

  20. XX, Will Travel Reply

    These pics make me want to hop on a plane right now! Definitely need to make it to this corner of South America!

  21. Amy Reply

    Awesome! Looking for a place to go in Central America around April – will definitely add El Salvador to the potential list 🙂

  22. Vicki Garside Reply

    El Salvador looks incredible! Last time I was in South America I only got to Brazil & Chile (and only briefly for each) and I have been planning my return to the continent for some time now – but i’ll be honest that El Salvador was not on my radar until seeing you post! I was planning to spend a couple of months in central/south america on my next trip there and now I have another country to add to the itinerary! Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and somewhat unknown destination.
    Happy Travels 🙂


  23. Arso Travels Reply

    I love that pictures and ur arguments are pretty convincing to me (except the food argument as I am a veggie). So, I will consider it :))

    1. Jose Reply

      There is also a lot of vegetable pupusas options try ayote, chipilin or beans and if you don’t eat anything derived from milk you also can ask for without cheese

  24. Emma Hart | Paper Planes and Caramel Waffles Reply

    When I was travelling in Australia, one of my friends was from El Salvador. Although he lives in the USA now I remember him saying the surf was pretty awesome there. I have to admit, I would like to go one day but the safety of the place does put me a bit on edge but from the sounds of it, you seemed to be secure all the time you were there. And that sunset…wow!

  25. exploringkiwis Reply

    Wow!! We flew into El Salvador but it looks like we made a mistake by flying straight out again! Loved Guatemala and Belize and would love to go back to Central America one day – consider El Salvador added to the list 😉

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