About El Salvador
El Salvador is a tiny Central American nation known for its Pacific Ocean beaches, surfing and mountainous landscape. Its Ruta de Las Flores is a winding journey past flowering coffee farms, rainforest zip-line sites and towns like Juayúa, with its weekend food festival, and Ataco, home to vivid murals. The capital, San Salvador, with a dramatic backdrop of volcanoes, has vibrant nightlife and arts scenes.
El Salvador has long remained one of the least-visited countries of Central America. Reasons can include the fact that it is the smallest country of the continent, the only nation without a Caribbean shoreline, or much publicized political upheavals from the past. Today El Salvador is a fantastic destination, appealing to a new class of eco-sensitive tourists, adventure travelers in search of an unbeaten path, or those truly looking for peace and quiet.
Thrill seeking surfers already know that El Salvador has some of the best waves in the world. The countryside lets adventures explore desolate volcanoes craters, lush green mountains, and secluded beaches. Numerous Mayans ruins, such as Joya de Ceren and the Tazumal pyramid, can be visited. The capital, San Salvador, is a cosmopolitan city with delicious seafood restaurants, shopping, and lively entertainment.
San Salvador Currency : US dollar Driver's License : International driver's license required. Electricity : 110 V, 60Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 6 months beyond intended stay, a tourist card ($10 US) and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -6 hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Republic Land size : 21,040 km2 Language : Spanish, some indigenous Nahuatl National Airlines : LACSA, also serves as a hub for TACA Population : 7,185,218 approx. Religion : Roman Catholic 83%, other 17% (including Protestant) Required Vaccines : Vaccination against malaria highly recommended if travelling to rural areas. Tourist Season : November through March
Rice and beans are definite staples in the Salvadoran diet, as is delicious seafood for coastal areas. The traditional Salvadoran dish is the pupusa, a round corn tortilla filled with beans, cheese, meats or other ingredients. Plantains are also often found on the menu, usually served with beans, sour cream and cheese. Other common dishes include pastelitos de carne (meat pies), yuca con chicharron (Fried yuca with pork cracklings), and panes con pavo (bread rolls filled with turkey).
Dessert usually consists of Dulce de Leche, a caramel candy with milk. Fruits are often served, favourites being mangoes, papayas and bananas. Coconuts and coconut milk are common too.
Culture Salvadorans owe their ancestry to the Mayans, the Pipils and the Spanish. The ethnical background of the population divided as follow: mestizo 90%, white 9%, Amerindian 1%. They are a very religious people, as the Roman Catholic religion plays an important role in the Salvadoran culture. Salvadorans are known for their being a happy people and for great hospitality.
The Salvadorans are very artistic and creative. Means of expression have come through in painting, ceramics and textile. Pipil and Maya music relied on instruments such as drums, rattles, marimba, and flutes. Today's most popular music is the cumbia, as well as salsa, chanchona, hip hop, reggae, and reggaeton.
Geography Welcome to Central America's smallest country. Ironically, it is also the most densely populated one as well. El Salvador is bordered by Guatemala, Honduras, and the Pacific Ocean. It is politically split up into 14 departments and the capital is San Salvador.
There are two parallel mountain ranges crossing El Salvador, forming a central plateau between them, covering 85 percent of the land. The rest of it terrain is made up of a narrow coastal plain, referred to as the lowlands. The mountain ranges are also home to 25 volcanoes. Several of the volcanic craters enclose large lakes, such as Lake Ilopango and Lake Coatepeque. The country's highest point is Hill El Pital, rising 2,730m above sea level.
History The civilization of El Salvador dates from the pre-Columbian time, around 1500 B.C., with the Pipils, a tribe of nomadic Nahua people. The Spanish disembarked on Salvadorian territory in 1522 and took hold on the land, following wars with the natives, in 1525.
The first attempts to gain independence from Spain came in 1811, when a movement grew amongst the middle class and mestizo classes. They failed with the first try but in 1821, El Salvador and the other Central American provinces declared their independence from Spain and signed the Acta de Independencia. For the next hundred years, the country was ruled by the elite landowners and its history was marked by several revolts by the common people.
On December, 1931, government was overthrown by General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez who assumed the presidency. This authoritarian regime caused much social outbreak. The peasants revolted, the military answered by murdering, imprisoning or exiling opponents. During the 1970s, the political situation began to unravel. Several protests and an attempted coup were crushed. By 1979, leftist guerrilla warfare had broken out in the cities and the countryside, launching what became a 12-year civil war. After years of negotiations, the Chapultepec Peace Accords was signed in 1992 and a 9-month cease-fire took effect with success. Today, El Salvador is stabilizing and with a growing economy, leaving behind its painful history.
Nature With such a high population density and extensive farming practice, very little of El Salvador's land remains in it natural state. Here you will find fewer species of plants than any other Central American country. But what is there is absolutely luxuriant and colourful. No less then 200 different species of orchids can be found, as well as tropical fruit and medicinal plants. The mountains are covered with temperate grasslands, oak and pine.
The Salvadoran government has established natural reserves and national parks to preserve what is left, offering breathtaking sceneries with volcanoes and mountains, beautiful and secluded beaches and forests. The most important ones are at Montecristo National Park, El Imposible National Park, Cerro Verde, Deininger Park, and El Jocotal Lagoon.
The animal life has suffered greatly as well, with some species having completely vanished, such as the crested eagle and the jaguar. But there are still plenty for visitors to observe, like monkeys, coyotes, pumas, iguanas and boa constrictors. There are 420 different bird species, including several varieties of hummingbirds.
Sports El Salvador is quickly gaining world-wide reputation as having some of the best waves for surfing. Areas to check out are the beaches at La Libertad and the wild El Este. There are plenty of guided surfing tours to join. Visitors can also practice every water sports under the sun, such as fishing, canoeing, and white water rafting, sailing and boating. These sports can be practiced either by the Pacific Ocean, or in one of El Salvador's many lakes. Plenty of operators offer hiking and trekking trips to the volcanoes, lakes and parks.
Futbol (know as soccer in North America) is the national sport. Other popular sports include basketball and baseball.
Banks & Money
The legal tender in El Salvador is the US Dollar, although you may still come across the old local currency called the Colon, which can be used in stores and buses. All prices are listed in USD. Try not to have any bigger bills then a 20, as big bills will be refused.
You will find ATM machines in larger cities. Traveller's cheques and most major credit cards are accepted in larger stores, restaurants and hotels. Small shops usually only accept cash.
Climate The climate is tropical, with a dry season lasting from November through April, and rainy season from May through October. The average annual temperature usually hovers around 25° C without much variation. Elevation is the biggest influence on the weather, where the coastal lowlands are hot and the mountain are more moderate.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The International Dialling Code for El Salvador is 503. Telecom is the private phone company, with offices in every town. From them you can make local, long-distance, international calls and send faxes. There are a few mobile phone providers in El Salvador. Internet access is more and more common, particularly around universities, cyber cafés and hotels.
There are several daily Spanish newspapers available, such as La Prensa Grafica, El Mundo and El Diario de Hoy. Local television and radio stations are mostly owned by private operators. Cable TV is widely available and carries international channels.
Health All tap water is untreated and not safe to drink or even brush your teeth with. Avoid ice cubes as well. You should strictly use bottled water or agua en bolsa (water in a plastic bag) from a reliable source.
Travelers' diarrhea is the most common ailment. Avoid dairy products (they are not pasteurized), unpeeled fruit and vegetables, or foods that have been washed with tap water. Although tempting, it is recommended to stay away from food sold on the streets.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. Also, vaccination against malaria is highly recommended if you plan on traveling to rural areas. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
Official Holidays January 01 - New Year's Day March/April - Easter May 01 - Labour Day August 01/07 - El Salvador's Patron Saint week long festivities honouring the Salvador del Mundo September 15 - Independence Day October 12 - Columbus Day, discovery of America November 02 - Memorial Day December 25 - Christmas
Safety El Salvador has a lot of trouble shaking off a bad reputation, following the 1980s civil war. Today the country is stable politically however crime is an issue and mostly involves gag activity. As locals to make sure you do not enter gang zones and avoid wearing clothes with numbers 13 and 18. Although the crime rate should not deter you from travelling to El Salvador, extra precaution and attentiveness is essential. Armed robbery and carjacking due happen in every part of the country, even in rural areas. Criminals can get violent quickly and they will shoot. If you should get into such a situation, always do exactly as you are told by the assailant.
Use good judgement, keep money and travel documents well hidden in a money belt and take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels. Always lock your hotel door or your rented car. Never leave any luggage unattended and be inconspicuous with jewellery, cameras, or anything of value. Walking at night is not advised.
Shopping The most traditional souvenir you can purchase in El Salvador is items painted in the La Palma style of art. Made famous by the artists living in the village of the same name as the style, this craft consists of wooden crosses or plaques decorated with brightly coloured designs, often depicting the local vegetation, wildlife, homes, and people. Another village well known for its craft is Ilobasco, where ceramic figures are made mostly for Christmas nativity scenes. Other Salvadoran handicrafts include wicker furniture and basket, pottery, weaved textiles, and masks.
Taxes & Tips The departure tax of around US $32, per person, must be paid when leaving the country if it was not already included on your plane ticket, please verify.
A government sales tax of 13% is added on most goods and services. Usually hotels and restaurants add a 10% service fee. If it has not been added, a 10% tip is recommended. Chambermaids are tipped $1 per day. Bellboys and airport porters should receive $1 per bag. Taxi drivers do not expect tips.
Transportation Most tourists arrive by plane at the Comalapa International Airport, located forty-five minutes outside of the capital San Salvador. There are no regularly scheduled domestic flights in El Salvador. If you are traveling by car, the Pan-American Highway goes through El Salvador and it is considered safe. There are several very cheap domestic bus companies but there is no central agency that coordinates bus routes and schedules, you must ask them from the bus driver. Tours operators remain the best option to travel within the country. Most towns in El Salvador have taxis and fares are negotiable. There are car rental agencies at the airport and in San Salvador, but most roads remain unpaved.