Backpacking El Salvador

Hello to all seasoned and aspiring backpackers!

Compared to countries like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, El Salvador is usually not on people’s radar as a tourist destination. However, this small country on the Pacific Ocean has many hidden treasures just waiting to be discovered by backpackers like you.

El Salvador offers the perfect mix of options for indecisive backpackers. Do you want action or to kick back and relax with a book? Do both! Learn how to surf, climb volcanoes, and visit Mayan ruins all in one day – and the next day, recover and rest your sore muscles on a beautiful beach.


A first-timer to Central America may not notice many differences between countries, but the longer you travel and the more you get involved with each country, the more you’ll notice each one’s uniqueness – from the language (even if you speak some Spanish, you’ll be overwhelmed by different dialects) to the distinctive cuisines. While ingredients such as rice, beans, and plátanos are eaten almost everywhere in Latin America, pupusas are only found in some places and were declared El Salvador’s national dish. These thick tortillas are filled with bean purée, cheese, and meat, and are so delicious, they should exist all over the world!


Unfortunately, El Salvador has a bad reputation as the crime rate is quite high for such a small country. But as a backpacker, you shouldn’t have to worry too much if you pay attention to a few things. In both cities and seaside resorts, only take the bare essentials – leave credit cards and watches in the hostel. Avoid staying on the beach after sunset and walking the streets alone. Better to be safe than sorry!

Travelling through the country is easy on public transport, but don't forget that you’re in Central America and everything might take a bit longer – after all, clocks run on hora Latina here. In general, the locals are always very helpful and interested in backpackers, and if you speak a few words of Spanish that’s even better! You’ll quickly make friends, making it easier to get from place to place since many people outside the tourist areas speak little or no English.

So, let's jet off to undiscovered forests, beaches, and volcanoes and start your Salvadorean adventure!

See below for the perfect El Salvador itinerary for an unforgettable trip:


Important Basics

Official Language: Spanish
EnglishSpanish
HelloHola
Goodbye Adiós
Thank youGracias
Yes
NoNo
Capital city

San Salvador

Form of government

Presidential Republic

Best time to travel

December to March

Currency

United States dollar (USD)

Telephone area code

+503

Climate

Dry season: November to April

Rainy season: May to October

Due to its location on the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Ring of Fire, El Salvador is subject to heavy rainstorms, earthquakes, volcanic activities and severe droughts.

Fun Facts
  • Although it’s the smallest country in Central America, El Salvador has the densest population with almost 7 million inhabitants.
  • There are more than 100 volcanoes in El Salvador. That’s why it gained the nickname “Land of Volcanoes.”

Cities

El Tunco

Time to start your adventure! Land in San Salvador and take the public bus directly to El Tunco. This beach town is every backpacker’s dream. So, what can you do here? Nothing! And that’s exactly what makes it so special. El Tunco consists of only two streets with hostels, shops, and restaurants, and it’s this simplicity that makes it a magnet for backpackers. Put your cell phone aside with a clear conscience and just relax and let go.

El Tunco is the perfect place for surfers or for those who want to give it a try. You’re sure to catch a few waves as they’re big all year round. Make sure to visit the caves at the end of the beach during low tide – it’s the perfect spot for a holiday picture. At sunset, people meet here to have a beer together at one of the hostels nearby. Don't forget: the sun sets very early (around 6 p.m.) since the country is very close to the equator.

Stay at a hostel in El Tunco, where a night in a four-bed dorm costs €14.

Mizata

After a few relaxing days adjusting to the Latin American way of life, head north along the coast. An hour-long bus ride will take you to Mizata. If you were “busy” in El Tunco, Mizata is exactly what you need. Passionate surfers mix with backpackers looking for nature, peace, and quiet. Just a heads up to you surfers: there are both beach and reef breaks, so the waves can get a scary size when there’s a strong swell. If you’re new to surfing, make sure you get a surf instructor.

Had enough of the water? Then use the time for long walks along the palm-lined beach or go on a hike to explore the surrounding forests.

In Mizata, sleep with a view of the beach and sound of the waves for only €31 a night in a four-bed dorm.

El Imposible National Park

During the next part of your trip, you’ll get to know a completely different side of El Salvador as you continue northwest into the interior. You’re headed to El Imposible National Park – the largest in the country.

The park, whose name comes from the region’s gorges and impossibly steep rock faces, is also home to eight rivers winding their way through the Apaneca-llamatepec mountain range. Here you’ll find unique hiking opportunities with different degrees of difficulty that lead through dense mangrove forests or past rivers and waterfalls. You don't necessarily need a guide to hiking here, but do not leave the marked paths under any circumstances.

Enjoy a single room all to yourself for only €19 a night. After all, it’s important to treat yourself from time to time.

Santa Ana

Take a break from sports and make some time to experience the culture of El Salvador. Santa Ana, the second-largest city in the country with 250,000 inhabitants, offers beautiful colonial-style buildings typical for Central and South American cities. Its inviting historic centre, complete with a cathedral and plaza, is the perfect place to take a stroll. The city is surprisingly modern, meaning that traditional markets are few and far between.

Explore some archaeological sites outside the city like Tazumal, Trapiche, or the Santa Ana volcano, which is only a short bus ride away. From the volcano, you’ll have an incredible view of the city.

Stay in a four-bed dorm in the city centre for €7 per night.

Now (unfortunately) your trip is coming to an end, so take a taxi to the airport in San Salvador. It’s time to fly back home – or maybe hop on a plane and fly to some spontaneous destination to carry on with the adventure…


El Tunco

El Tunco

Time to start your adventure! Land in San Salvador and take the public bus directly to El Tunco. This beach town is every backpacker’s dream. So, what can you do here? Nothing! And that’s exactly what makes it so special. El Tunco consists of only two streets with hostels, shops, and restaurants, and it’s this simplicity that makes it a magnet for backpackers. Put your cell phone aside with a clear conscience and just relax and let go.

El Tunco is the perfect place for surfers or for those who want to give it a try. You’re sure to catch a few waves as they’re big all year round. Make sure to visit the caves at the end of the beach during low tide – it’s the perfect spot for a holiday picture. At sunset, people meet here to have a beer together at one of the hostels nearby. Don't forget: the sun sets very early (around 6 p.m.) since the country is very close to the equator.

Stay at a hostel in El Tunco, where a night in a four-bed dorm costs €14.

Mizata

Mizata

After a few relaxing days adjusting to the Latin American way of life, head north along the coast. An hour-long bus ride will take you to Mizata. If you were “busy” in El Tunco, Mizata is exactly what you need. Passionate surfers mix with backpackers looking for nature, peace, and quiet. Just a heads up to you surfers: there are both beach and reef breaks, so the waves can get a scary size when there’s a strong swell. If you’re new to surfing, make sure you get a surf instructor.

Had enough of the water? Then use the time for long walks along the palm-lined beach or go on a hike to explore the surrounding forests.

In Mizata, sleep with a view of the beach and sound of the waves for only €31 a night in a four-bed dorm.

El Imposible National Park

El Imposible National Park

During the next part of your trip, you’ll get to know a completely different side of El Salvador as you continue northwest into the interior. You’re headed to El Imposible National Park – the largest in the country.

The park, whose name comes from the region’s gorges and impossibly steep rock faces, is also home to eight rivers winding their way through the Apaneca-llamatepec mountain range. Here you’ll find unique hiking opportunities with different degrees of difficulty that lead through dense mangrove forests or past rivers and waterfalls. You don't necessarily need a guide to hiking here, but do not leave the marked paths under any circumstances.

Enjoy a single room all to yourself for only €19 a night. After all, it’s important to treat yourself from time to time.

Santa Ana

Santa Ana

Take a break from sports and make some time to experience the culture of El Salvador. Santa Ana, the second-largest city in the country with 250,000 inhabitants, offers beautiful colonial-style buildings typical for Central and South American cities. Its inviting historic centre, complete with a cathedral and plaza, is the perfect place to take a stroll. The city is surprisingly modern, meaning that traditional markets are few and far between.

Explore some archaeological sites outside the city like Tazumal, Trapiche, or the Santa Ana volcano, which is only a short bus ride away. From the volcano, you’ll have an incredible view of the city.

Stay in a four-bed dorm in the city centre for €7 per night.

Now (unfortunately) your trip is coming to an end, so take a taxi to the airport in San Salvador. It’s time to fly back home – or maybe hop on a plane and fly to some spontaneous destination to carry on with the adventure…

El Salvador Route Map

Itinerary and Stops.

Tag
Route/Station
Transport
Unterkunft
1. Home – San Salvador -El Tunco
Home – San Salvador -El Tunco
Flight+Bus
252
Night(four-bed dorm)
13
2. El Tunco
El Tunco
-
Night(four-bed dorm)
13
3. El Tunco
El Tunco
-
Night(four-bed dorm)
13
4. El Tunco - Mizata
El Tunco - Mizata
Bus
4
Night(four-bed dorm)
31
5. Mizata
Mizata
-
Night(four-bed dorm)
31
6. Mizata
Mizata
-
Night(four-bed dorm)
31
7. Mizata - El Imposible NP
Mizata - El Imposible NP
Bus
2
Night (single room)
19
8. El Imposible NP
El Imposible NP
-
Night (single room)
19
9. El Imposible NP
El Imposible NP
-
Night (single room)
19
10. El Imposible NP - Santa Ana
El Imposible NP - Santa Ana
Bus
2
Night (four-bed dorm)
7
11. Santa Ana
Santa Ana
-
Night (four-bed dorm)
7
12. Santa Ana
Santa Ana
-
Night (four-bed dorm)
7
13. Santa Ana - El Tunco
Santa Ana - El Tunco
Bus
4
Night (four-bed dorm)
13
14. El Tunco - San Salvado – Home
El Tunco - San Salvado – Home
Flight +Taxi
260

Total price.

Flights 500,00
Transportation 24,00
Tours 0,00
Accommodation 223,00
Total747,00

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Dos and Donts, Food & Drinks, Costs.

Breakfast

Huevos Picados: A delicious dish of eggs and vegetables served with beans or fried plantains.

Fruit: Tropical fruit is part of every breakfast – ¡Qué rico!

Soup

Sopa de Frijoles: This thick soup is made from various beans and is often seasoned with chili pepper.

Main courses

Pupusas: These thick tortillas are filled with all kinds of ingredients, ranging from cheese and fish to meat and vegetables. You can also choose between different sauces. Delicious!

Empanadas Salvadoreñas: A popular dessert, these cream-filled plantain empanadas are yummy at any time.

Tamales: This typical dish is composed of white corn dough with meat and vegetables, wrapped and steamed in a banana leaf.

Drinks

Kolashampan: This carbonated beverage is made from sugar cane and is great on hot days.

Fresco de ensalada: This juice is made from a mix of fruits, like pineapple and orange, and chopped lettuce, and is often sold on the beach.

El Salvador

As El Salvador’s currency is the USD, the information below is in USD. The current exchange rate of 1 USD is around 0.93 euros (as of February 2020). See prices for certain products and the cost of living below:

Cost of living 

Food

Free time

Personal hygiene

Dos

Try the street food: It’s one of the true treasures of El Salvador, so give it a try.

Talk to the locals: Don't be shy, the locals love to be approached by backpackers and will be happy to talk to you!

Use public transport: It’s getting better and more reliable in El Salvador.

Don'ts

Don't walk around the big cities at night: It's best to stay in your hostel, where you'll be safe. Don’t put yourself in unnecessary danger!

Don't just stick to the tourist centres: Dare to go off the beaten path. The country has a lot to offer!

Don’t be reckless with your valuables: Always keep an eye on them. Pickpockets are faster than you think – especially in cities.

Visa, Visa, Passport & Vaccinations

Passport

Yes

Temporary passport

Yes

National ID

No

Temporary national ID

No

Child’s pass

Yes

Visa

Not necessary

Vaccine

Yes

Additional Remarks.

If you travel to El Salvador, you should consult a health care provider before your departure to discuss vaccination requirements. We also recommend researching the visa requirements for your country before your departure. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into El Salvador. The following vaccines are recommended for your trip to El Salvador: Chickenpox, Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis, Flu (influenza), Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), Polio, Rabies, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, and Hepatitis B.

The team at Backpacker Trail wishes you lots of fun and an unforgettable trip!

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