What you need to know BEFORE you visit El Salvador

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El Salvador, is a beautiful country with a stunning landscape…but you won’t find it on many people’s bucket lists.

The one question people have is

Is El Salvador SAFE To Travel To???

We asked this question A LOT before we visited there.  It seems like everything we heard on the news or read online about El Salvador was SCARY!  So why on earth would we take our 5 little kids there?
It all came down to asking someone who was actually THERE.  A friend of mine from high school was actually living down there at the time, so I reached out to him and asked him his opinion.  He works as a journalist and has traveled to a lot of war areas, and in El Salvador, covers the gang scene for several US publications.  Here’s what he told us: “As long as you stay in the touristy areas you’ll be fine.  There is so little money coming into El Salvador, that the gangs actually PROTECT these areas, just so we can get some money into the system.”

For us that was enough!

Obviously, small crime like pickpocketing is always higher in tourist areas (not that we had any problems), but overall, we felt very safe and never had any sense that we were in danger at all.


Getting To El Salvador By Land

Since we had previously been in Guatemala and were traveling overland to get to El Salvador.  Because we had a tourist visa in Guatemala, because of the Central America-4 Border Policy, our visa was also good in El Salvador (we could stay a total of 90 days in the 4 countries participating).

When we were on the Guatemalan side of the border, the culture was bright and vibrant, just like the clothes that all the locals wore.  As soon as we passed through to El Salvador, the atmosphere changed.  Instead of bright cultural clothes, most people wore worn hand me downs and the mood was instantly different.  But once we got past that outward appearance, we realized that the Salvadorians were just as friendly and welcoming as everyone else we met in Central America.

Guess what?  El Salvador turned out to be one of our FAVORITE travel destinations we visited last year (which says a lot since we lived in 17 different countries that year!).

 

Why we loved El Salvador SO MUCH

The first thing that you’ll notice when you’re driving through El Salvador is that it’s beautiful.  And not just any beautiful – we’re talking, pick your jaw up off the floor beautiful!  Stunning cliffs, lush vegetation, beautiful mountains…all nestled up against the Pacific Ocean!

We stayed in the Atami complex just south of Playa Palmarcito, a few miles north of El Tunco.  While El Tunco is the main surfing destination of El Salvador, we chose to be a bit farther away to get a slower pace of life and relax more.

We felt VERY safe in Atami since it was gated and guarded all the time.  The Atami resort is in the same complex so there are some great amenities, but we chose to just stay at an Airbnb rental.  We could walk to the beach in 5 minutes, there were amazing paths along the cliffs and they had the best wave filled pools that we’ve ever seen!  Oh, and we could get to great surfing and $10 lessons all within a 10 minute walk, so we were basically in heaven.

To stay in the Atami area, there are several options available on Booking.com (below), or if you want more choices, check out Airbnb  – click here for $40 off your first Airbnb rental.
Booking.com

What you won’t find in El Salvador

The thing that was the most difficult for us in El Salvador was transportation.  The chicken busses there were infrequent and always incredibly crowded so we chose not to use those (waiting for a bus for an hour with 5 kids is always a recipe for disaster).  Unlike a lot of other countries we’ve visited, there was no Uber or taxi group that we could call into.  That made transportation a bit tricky.  Luckily, our host was about to connect us with a local driver to take us the few places we needed to go, but if we returned again, we would absolutely rent a car to give us more flexibility.

How Much Do Things Cost In El Salvador

As I wrote in this article, surf lessons start at $10/hour.  The main traditional dish that you’ll find everywhere are pupusas.  Thankfully all of our kids loved them, because we could feed the whole family for about $5 at the local pupusa stand.  That being said, grocery stores were quite expensive.  I found food there to be quite a bit higher than we had paid at grocery stores in Mexico and the US (obviously shopping at local street markets is the cheapest way to go!).  Taxi rides cost us about $12 for a 10 minute ride, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but after paying $2 for the same thing in Mexico and Guatemala, it felt astronomical!

What Parts of El Salvador Are The Safest?

As I mentioned earlier, the tourist areas are generally regarded as safe in El Salvador.  The main areas are El Tunco, and the Rute de las Flores.  During our stay, we were only in the El Tunco area, though we have friends who visited the Rute de las Flores around the same time we were there and they felt safe and absolutely loved it!  When in doubt, ask a local for advice.

Safety Precautions in El Salvador

While I don’t consider El Salvador a dangerous country, it is definitely a place where you need to be aware of your surroundings.  Don’t carry around large amounts of money, and secure your valuables at your hotel.  When using the ATM, use them within shopping centers instead of on the streets (credit card fraud is common).  Try and be back in before dark, and don’t ever go into unknown areas alone (hopefully that’s common sense…).

Is El Salvador on your list of places to visit??

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