Top events in El Salvador

May
05

In this village close to San Salvador, the annual Flower & Palm Festival sees locals take to the streets laden with palms threaded with...

July
01

Every year, top international surfers compete for the Quiksilver Cup in El Salvador’s premier surf location. Big names expected to attend include...

July
15

Community events, street parades and masses together with a packed cultural calendar of live music, theatre and parties make July a good time to...

Two Surfers, Playa El Tunco, El Salvador
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Two Surfers, Playa El Tunco, El Salvador

© Creative Commons / adobemac

El Salvador Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

21,041 sq km (8,124 sq miles).

Population

6.1 million (2013).

Population density

290 per sq km.

Capital

San Salvador.

Government

Republic.

Head of state

President Carlos Mauricio Funes Cartagena since 2009.

Head of government

President Carlos Mauricio Funes Cartagena since 2009.

Electricity

115 volts AC, 60Hz. Flat two-pin plugs, with or without circular grounding pin.

El Salvador ('The Saviour') might be the smallest country in Central America, but it is well worth exploring. Newcomers are frequently bowled over by this stunning volcanic landscape, and quickly warm to the openness of its people.

This tiny tropical land, about the size of Wales or the US state of Massachusetts, is bursting with natural attractions. Highlights include the Cerro Verdeand El Imposible national parks, together with the volcanic crater lakes of Ilopango and Coatepeque. The Pacific coast is blessed with impressive beaches; the breakers rolling in from the Pacific Ocean make the coastal province of Sonsonate and La Unión a major draw for surfers, while the resorts of the Costa del Sol are a 90-minute drive from the capital. El Salvador also offers interesting archaeological sites from Maya civilisation, and the Ruta de Las Flores takes visitors to some of the prettiest villages and market towns.

Although civil war (1980–1992) and a succession of natural disasters left El Salvador physically devastated and psychologically traumatised, the country was quick to recover. Tourism was made a government priority: new initiatives included a golf and fishing complex in Usulutan, an adventure resort in the mountains of Chalatenango, and a marina at La Libertad. El Salvador still has a reputation as a violent country, but the truth is that the people of El Salvador have always suffered much more than tourists at the hands of criminals. In 2012, a truce between El Salvador’s violent gangs recently passed the 100-day landmark, resulting in an almost 60% reduction in violent crime. While crime remains a problem, the National Civilian Police (PNC) generally have a good reputation, and security for tourists has improved greatly with the introduction of a specially trained tourist police force, Politur, which operates at destinations throughout the country.

The global recession has taken its toll on El Salvador, but recent social reforms have gone some way to alleviating the difficulties of its people, and El Salvador’s tourism industry is rapidly adapting to today’s global economic and climatic situation. Coffee plantations hit by a decline in profits are inviting guests to visit, to eat and drink, to stay, to work. Beach resorts are becoming more boutique, offering better service with a personalised touch for the same money, and with less environmental impact.

Building on the fact that the country remains among the most advanced in the region in terms of infrastructure and living standards, entrepreneurs and official bodies are waking up to the true value of El Salvador’s natural wonders with eco-tours into national parks growing in popularity. Spa hotels are multiplying too, many taking advantage of the country’s volcanic hot springs, while La Libertad has put El Salvador on the global surfing map. Even the Civil War is proving to be a tourist draw, with many visitors keen to find out more about the conflict that divided this nation for so long. El Salvador may have a way to go, but the signs are certainly there of a blossoming renaissance.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 18 April 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

El Salvador has one of the highest crime rates in Latin America. Take particular care in downtown San Salvador and on roads outside major towns and cities at night. Avoid wearing expensive jewellery or displaying valuable items. Safeguard your passport, mobile phone and cash against pickpockets.

There are a number of potentially active volcanoes in El Salvador. On 29 December 2013, the Chaparrastique volcano in the department of San Miguel erupted causing disruption to flights and some local evacuations. You can get up to date information and advice about volcanic activity on the website of the Directorate General of Civil Protection (in Spanish).

The rainy season runs from June to November. See Rainy season

There is a low threat from terrorism.

Edited by Jane Duru
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