So as you know, I recently moved to El Salvador and while I love this beautiful country, there are some things you should know before you visit. Prior to moving here, I had come to check it out a couple times, so below are some of the tips I’ve picked up while being here – keep reading!
If traveling from the US, the two major airlines I would suggest using are United Airlines & Avianca. United is my personal preference, but both will do the trick. Always double check the State Department website for COVID and travel requirements, but as of right now, if you are fully vaccinated (including the 14 days post-vaccination) you should be good to go. If you’re not vaccinated, they require a PCR test where you receive the results within 72 hours of travel. Also note that there is a $12 fee at customs, so it’s good to bring cash with you on your flight.
Thankfully if you’re traveling from the United States, you don’t need to worry about a currency exchange. The country of El Salvador takes USD and all major credit cards. However, it does help to carry cash with you as some places that are more remote might not accept cards. Things like labor & services, Uber, valet and food/drinks are fairly inexpensive here, so it’s nice if you throw the locals that are helping you a couple extra dollars as a tip – they appreciate it more than you know.
The locals here speak Spanish and not a lot of English, so it’s important to brush up on key words and phrases before visiting. People are very friendly here and will try their best to understand you, but it’s always smart to download Google Translate just in case. You’ll find more English-speakers towards the nicer hotels near the beach as El Salvador is a popular surf spot for tourists, however, in other parts of the city and more rural areas it can be a bit difficult. Traveling with someone that speaks Spanish or finding a good tour guide can really come in handy. My friend @tuncolife is a great recourse – tell him I sent you!
Safety is always the first thing people mention when I tell them I moved to El Salvador. From my experience, El Salvador is fairly safe and Salvadorans really enjoy meeting friendly foreigners. However, just like anywhere, it’s good to be aware of your surroundings and stay on the beaten path. As a precaution for women, I wouldn’t suggest walking around at night by yourself, especially if you aren’t exactly sure where you’re going. Other than that, I’ve had no uncomfortable circumstances and remind people to experience things for themselves and not listen to mainstream media. Sometimes the places people think are dangerous turn out to be the most beautiful and exciting to explore.
While I’m talking about safety, it’s probably a good time to mention, if you plan on going to the beach, ask your hotel or accommodations where the best areas are to swim as the waves here can be pretty intense. It’s a major spot for intermediate and professional surfers so the water can be a bit dangerous at times. A lot of beaches have life guards or locals that’ll tell you where the best spots to swim freely are. As always, its up to your discretion but proceed with caution.
When traveling to El Salvador, I recommend either getting a rental car or an organized driver. Uber does work here (and it’s really inexpensive!) but the country is pretty spread out so depending on what you want to do, it might be best to have your own form of transportation. Uber is great for short distances, but it can be a hassle if you don’t speak Spanish and are going on a long drive. If you decide to get a rental car, I always suggest getting a larger vehicle thats higher off the ground as the roads can be a bit bumpy & organizing it ahead of time if possible. The technology here isn’t as up-to-date as most places and it can take a while to set it up once you land. While I’m talking about rental cars, I should probably mention that the traffic here can be heavy during rush hour (if you’re from LA like me, picture the 405 freeway at 5pm) and it’s every man for himself. If you’re not comfortable with driving in traffic, it’s better to hire a local driver or take an Uber. A lot of the hotels can organize a car service as well so don’t be afraid to ask ahead.
If traveling with an international plan, know that there is only 3G here in El Salvador and the service can be a bit spotty. A lot of places here have wifi though, so if you can get on that, you’ll be good to go. If staying for an extended period of time, you can also get a temporary SIM card at a local TIGO store, but again, knowing Spanish will really come in handy. I also like to suggest once you’re on a local wifi network, downloading the area map of where you’re going because once you’re not on wifi, GPS might not work.
APPS TO DOWNLOAD
Some of the top apps that I’ve downloaded since being here that have been super helpful and why are listed below:
- Google Translate: pretty self-explanatory but extremely helpful.
- WhatsApp: that’s how everyone here communicates via text or call
- Skype: another app that people use for phone calls
- Hugo: like Uber Eats, but what the locals use
- Booking.com: didn’t plan ahead and make a hotel reservation? A lot of the best hotels here are on Booking.com
- Waze: believe it or not, Waze works a lot better here than Google Maps
WHAT TO WEAR
People here aren’t very flashy or fancy, so casual beachwear is preferred. If you’re a tourist, you don’t want to make yourself look like a target or someone that’s completely out of place, so save your jewels and upscale outfits for a different vacation destination. Shorts, a tank top & sandals are the way to go, unless you’re planning on hiking, then bring a pair of hiking shoes. Don’t forget your favorite bathing suit & cover up – the water feels like a bathtub and the pools are always heated to the perfect temperature. The weather here is tropical and always warm, but make sure to pack a lightweight jacket if you plan on traveling during the Summer as it’s their wet season. Most of the time it rains & thunderstorms at night, but for the occasional day time shower, it’s nice to have a windbreaker with a hood on it.
I always tell people that it’s smart to have a game plan when coming to visit. Try to organize everything ahead of time and know where exactly you are going. El Salvador is still a 3rd world country (2nd according to Canada), so knowing where you’re going is important. Ask around, or feel free to send me an e-mail or comment below if you have any questions or need suggestions where to stay (there will be a whole blog post about that coming soon!). Being spontaneous is fun, but this might not be the best place for it. I also will mention, don’t believe everything you see on social media. While this might seem obvious, there have been a lot of places I’ve gone to that look aesthetically pleasing on Instagram and look totally different in person. That’s not to say they aren’t great places, but they aren’t always the most accurate.