Bargaining

Bargaining is less common here than it is in other Central American countries. A little back-and-forth is common with taxi drivers and market shopkeepers, but hard bargaining can seem a bit rude.

Climate

The invierno (wet season) is from May to October, and the verano (dry season) is from November to April. During the rainy season, it usually only rains at night.

In San Salvador the maximum temperature varies from 27°C (80°F) in November to 30°C (86°F) in March and April; the minimum temperatures range from 16°C (61°F) in January and February to 20°C (68°F) in March. The coastal lowlands are the hottest region.

Dangers & Annoyances

Attacks on tourists in El Salvador are rare and crime shouldn’t deter travelers from visiting.

  • Gang violence is concentrated in neighborhoods with little appeal to travelers. Police control most tourist areas, so don't be overly nervous.
  • Avoid traveling at night. After dark it’s best to take a taxi, particularly in San Salvador, San Miguel, Sonsonate, La Unión and La Libertad.
  • Take commonsense precautions: carry as little as possible on day trips and avoid toting expensive items.
  • Weapons are widespread, so never resist a robbery.
  • Make copies of important documents; carry a copy with you and email a copy to yourself.

Safety when Hiking

Most volcano climbs are best done with a police escort, partly for your safety and partly so you won’t get lost on unmarked and intersecting trails. The service is free, but you must request it by phone or in person at least a day in advance (and preferably more). Officers are friendly and trustworthy.

Embassies & Consulates

Emergency & Important Numbers

To dial a phone number from outside El Salvador, dial your international access code, El Salvador's country code (503) then the number.

El Salvador's country code503
International access code00
Ambulance911
Police911
Fire911

Entry & Exit Formalities

  • A visa is not required for stays of up to 90 days for citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland or the European Union, among other countries.
  • Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania among other countries must buy a US$10 tourist card on arrival, valid for 90 days.
  • Citizens of the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania), New Zealand and most South and Central American countries do not require a tourist card.

Customs Regulations

People entering El Salvador are permitted to bring in the following:

  • 200 cigarettes or 25 cigars and cigarillos or 250g of tobacco
  • Up to 12L of alcoholic beverages
  • Up to six units of perfume
  • Other articles up to a value of US$500

All visitors leaving and entering El Salvador go through customs. Be prepared for bag checks at both airports and land borders.

Visas

A visa is generally not required for stays of under 90 days, although a $US10 tourist card is obligatory for the citizens of certain countries.

Further Information

The Central America-4 agreement allows for travel between the borders of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua for up to 90 days, with one passport stamp and one US$10 tourist card (unless you are a from a country that is exempt from needing a tourist card).

A full visa – if you a from a country which requires one – costs US$30.

Etiquette

  • Greeting It's not unusual for Salvadorans to touch each other lightly on the arms when chatting. It is usually intended as a friendly gesture and is not necessarily flirtatious.
  • Moving about When it comes to boarding buses, queuing etiquette is generally nonexistent.
  • Interactions It's common to attempt to catch a person's attention by hissing to them. Don't be affronted: the gesture is used indiscriminately and is not intended to be rude.
  • Religion The majority of Salvadorans are very religious. Be respectful when discussing religious matters to avoid causing offence.

LGBT Travellers

Gay people receive little tolerance. Numerous recent attacks on members of the LGBTIQ+ community have gone unpunished. Some hotels refuse to rent a room with one bed to two men; women will encounter less scrutiny. In San Salvador, the area around Blvd de los Héroes has cultural centers and clubs that are gay friendly. Gay organization Entre Amigos is the most established in the country.

Internet Access

Wi-fi is available at many restaurants and cafes and nearly all hostels and hotels in urban areas. Many rural areas also have wi-fi, though a few remote places are off the grid. Some towns now have free wi-fi in public spaces, although the connection is not very reliable.

Internet cafes are becoming less common, but can still be found in most urban centers. Expect to pay between US$0.50 and $1 per hour.

Maps

  • Corsatur and the Ministry of Tourism offer glossy maps of El Salvador and the capital, available at some hotels and tour offices.
  • Simple maps of hiking trails are sometimes available at visitors centers.

Media

  • Newpapers San Salvador’s main newspapers are La Prensa Gráfica and the conservative El Diario de Hoy. El Mundo and El Latino are thinner afternoon papers.
  • Online El Faro (www.elfaro.net) is a respected and often controversial online journal.

Money

El Salvador's official currency is the US dollar. ATMs are plentiful, and credit cards, particularly Visa, are widely accepted.

ATMs

ATMs are found in most cities and towns. Banco Agrícola, Scotiabank and Banco Cuscatlán have the largest networks of ATMs. Visa and MasterCard cards generally work well, but try more than one machine should your initial attempt fail. Look for safer locking cabins when withdrawing money, and avoid taking out cash at night.

Tipping

  • Restaurants Tip 10%
  • Taxis It is not customary to tip taxi drivers, though rounding up the amount is appreciated

Cash

On January 2001, El Salvador adopted the US dollar as its official currency, replacing the colón. Bring some US dollars with you, preferably in US$20 bills and smaller. The border crossings have money changers.

Credit Cards

Credit cards are widely accepted, though many establishments add a surcharge. Visa and MasterCard are more common than American Express.

Exchange Rates

AustraliaA$1US$0.76
CanadaC$1US$0.77
Euro zone€1US$1.17
Japan¥100US$0.91
New ZealandNZ$1US$0.67
UKUK£1US$1.33

For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.

Opening Hours

Some offices and stores close at lunchtime, between noon and 2pm, but this practice is fading.

Businesses & stores 9am–6pm weekdays

Government offices 8am–4pm weekdays

Banks 8am–4pm or 5pm weekdays; most open Saturday morning as well

Restaurants Dinner is early; 4pm is pupusa hour

Post

The Salvadoran post service (www.correos.gob.sv) offers two rates for sending international mail: express mail and airmail. Letters and packages sent by express mail should reach the USA in five to six days and the rest of the world in six to eight days. Post sent by airmail should arrive in the USA in eight to ten days and the rest of the world in 10 to 15 days.

FedEx and DHL have offices in large cities.

Public Holidays

New Year's Day January 1

Semana Santa Easter

Labor Day May 1

Mother's Day May 10

Father's Day June 17

Feast of San Salvador August 6

Independence Day September 15

All Souls' Day November 2

Christmas Day December 25

Smoking

  • Smoking Still very common; banned in closed public places.

Taxes & Refunds

A VAT of 13% applies to all goods and services; it is usually factored into prices.

Telephone

  • The country code when calling El Salvador from abroad is 503.
  • Phone numbers usually have eight digits; there are no internal area codes.
  • Some internet cafes offer web-based calling.

Mobile Phones

Claro, Tivo, Digicel and Movistar all provide decent service and affordable, ubiquitous prepaid SIM cards that work in Australian and European cell phones. You will need a passport to sign up initially.

US travelers should be aware that CDMA-only phones cannot use GSM SIM cards.

Time

El Salvador has one time zone – Central Standard Time (CST). There is no daylight saving time.

Sydney

Difference to El Salvador time (hours)

+16

Tokyo

Difference to El Salvador time (hours)

+15

Dubai

Difference to El Salvador time (hours)

+10

London

Difference to El Salvador time (hours)

+6

New York

Difference to El Salvador time (hours)

+1

Toilets

  • Toilets are sit-down, not squat.
  • Usually free, but sometimes a small charge (US$0.15).

Tourist Information

  • El Salvador has decent tourist offices in the more popular areas, including Suchitoto, Ruta de las Flores, La Libertad and Perquín; however, hotel owners are often the best resources.
  • In the capital you’ll find the office of Corporación Salvadoreña de Turismo, which offers brochures and flyers.

Travel with Children

El Salvador is a very Christian, family-centered society, so children are always welcomed. Some tips:

  • Suchitoto, Ruta de las Flores and Alegría are generally relaxed, family-friendly places to visit.
  • La Costa del Bálsamo has fabulous beaches, but the ocean is dangerous for weak swimmers.
  • Camping is potentially excellent, but some experience is needed as facilities are not great.
  • Buses are often packed full and traveling on public transport with children is challenging in El Salvador.

Accessible Travel

There are many people with disabilities in El Salvador – most victims of war-related violence – but there are still limited services or amenities to make their lives easier. There are few well-maintained ramps and handrails, and few services for the visually and hearing impaired. However, all travelers, including those with disabilities, will find Salvadorans extremely friendly and eager to help.

Volunteering

In San Salvador’s Blvd de los Héroes area, Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad (CIS; www.cis-elsalvador.org) is a center for peace and social justice that provides opportunities for volunteers to teach English to low-income Salvadoran adults and learn Spanish. There’s a 10-week minimum commitment and teachers get half-price Spanish classes in return. It can also provide information about NGOs working on various issues, including community development, gang intervention, the environment and more. CIS cannot arrange an actual volunteer position, but can point you in the right direction.

In Bahía de Jiquilisco, the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO; www.hawksbill.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to hawksbill turtle conservation. Volunteers help monitor, measure and tag turtles. Placements cost US$280 per week, including meals and accommodations.

Weights & Measures

  • Weights & Measures The metric system is used.

Work

There are no publicized working opportunities in El Salvador for travelers, though teaching English or surfing is sometimes done on an ad hoc basis. Those looking to stay longer term are invariably involved in volunteer community projects.