For some reason El Salvador is often overlooked by backpackers traveling throughout Central America. Yet backpackers who do decided to visit the country, can’t stop talking about its charms, and beauty. El Salvador is not only the home of exceptionally friendly people but it also has some of the most stunning scenery in Central America, which remains mostly unspoiled due to the lack of tourists coming here. This small, off the beaten track, country is the perfect place for travelers looking to get off the gringo trail and explore ancient Maya ruins, climb active volcanoes, lay low on deserted beaches or hike through lush rainforest – without the crowds.
Public buses in El Salvador go almost anywhere you would want to go and only cost around US$0.40 to US$5, depending on where you are going.
A dorm bed in a hostel usually cost around $8US and a private room around US$20. If you are looking to stay in a private room, stick to local guest houses rather than hostels, as they are usually a few dollars cheaper.
Food is very cheap in El Salvador, as long as you eat at local restaurants and stay away from American or European owned places. To give you an idea, one pupusa, a popular street food snack in El Salvador, costs around US$0.50 and a regular meal at a local comedor costs around US$3.
Many locals simply can’t afford to pay for public transportation, so hitchhiking is still very common in El Salvador. Just use common sense before accepting a ride.
2.) Eat fresh veggies and fruits
El Salvador is a dream come true for vegetarians. Fruits and veggies are not only extremely cheap here but they also taste so much better than what you are used to. Vegetarian or not, snacking on fruits is a great way to stay healthy and save some money for other things.
Top Things To Do in El Salvador
Tazumal is one of the most important Maya sites in El Salvador. The ruins here are not as impressive as some of the other Maya ruins in Mexico or Guatemala, however they are still worth a visit – especially if you haven’t visited any of the bigger ruins yet. The entrance fee is $3 USD.
Joya de Cerén
Joya de Cerén is a pre-Columbian Maya site that was covered by volcanic ash after the eruption of volcano, Loma Caldera, around AD 590. The villagers fled but left behind ceramics, furniture and other everyday items, that give us a rare glimpse into how ancient Mayans used to live. The entrance fee is $3 USD per person.
Lake Ilopango is a crater lake formed by previous volcano eruptions and is the second largest lake in El Salvador. Today the volcano is extinct and Lake Ilopango became a popular tourist destination among fishers, divers and hikers.
Pupusas are thick handmade corn tortillas filled with a variety of ingredients, such as cheese, pork or beans. It is a traditional Salvadoran dish and one of our favorite street foods in Central America. But we are not the only ones who are in love with Pupusas. On the second Sunday of every November, the people of El Salvador celebrate National Pupusa Day to promote the production and export of the country’s national dish. The celebrations include a variety of activities, such as a pupusa eating contest, biggest pupusa contest and more. Nonetheless, it’s a lot of fun to attend plus you get to stuff your face :).
El Boqueron National Park
The park is located on top of the San Salvador Volcano and it’s main attraction is the 5 km wide crater. There are a number of hiking trails leading to the giant crater. Some of them are more difficult than others but there is a trail for everybody, be it for beginners or for experts.
Puerta del Diablo (Devil’s Door)
Puerta del Diablo is a lookout point with an amazing view of El Salvador all the way to the Pacific coast. It got its name from the Spaniards who thought that the rock formation that accrued as result of heavy rain, looked like “The Devil’s Door”. Puerta del Diablo is also a popular spot among adrenaline junkie, as it is one of El Salvador’s main rock climbing site, with sixty established routes to climb.
Chaparrastique Volcano (Volcán de San Miguel)
This stratovolcano is one of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador and forms a prominent land mark. If you are fit, a nine hour long hike will get you to the top (2130 m) where you can enjoy a breathtaking view all the way to the coast.
San Salvador is the capital city of El Salvador and a great transportation hub. Due to its central location many travelers base themselves here to explore the rest of the country without sacrificing the conveniences of a big city. San Salvador has also some of the best nightlife in Central America, a vibrant art scene, many beautiful monuments and museums, and a historical downtown.
Suchitoto is the culture capital in El Salvador and a popular weekend destination for Salvadorans. It is known for its beautiful church, cobblestone streets, art galleries and its amazing view of the Suchitlán lake. Many backpackers base themselves here to explore the surrounding waterfalls and caves, that are located just outside of town.
Cihuatán is located in the valley of the Guazapa volcano and is one of the greatest pre-Columbian sites in El Salvador. Research shows that a number of different ethnic groups came together to live here during very unstable times and the fall of the Mayas, until unknown invaders burned everything to the ground. The admission is $3.00 per person.
La Libertad is El Salvador’s surf capital, with plenty of surf shops and board rentals located along the coast. Surfers from all over the world come here to catch a wave or participate in the surfing championships frequently hosted here. Other popular surfing spots in this region are: El Sunzal, El Zonte and El Cuco.
Montecristo National Park
The Montecristo National Park is located at the borders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and is an unspoiled haven for hikers, bird watchers and other nature lovers. It is said that this park is El Salvador’s most breathtaking wildlife sanctuary, with a wide variety of flora and fauna calling the forests their home. The highest point (7,000 feet) in the park is called El Trifinio and can be reached by a demanding 4.5 mile climb through the lush cloud forest. At the top, a plaque marks the border of the three countries and the view is simply breathtaking. The entrance fee is $6 USD per person per day.
Los Chorros is a natural oasis with a series of water springs that descend from the overhanging San Salvador volcano. The cool waterfall pools are very refreshing after a hike through the sweltering jungle and are well worth the visit.
Get Insured Before Backpacking El Salvador
No matter how long or short your trip, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you don’t wanna get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel. So don’t leave home without it. We use and recommend SafetyWing.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with SafetyWing, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
Other Travel Guides
If you are more of a book person and would rather carry a physical guide with you when backpacking El Salvador, we recommend Moon El Salvador. Remember though, don’t follow it step by step, use it as a guide instead.
If you enjoyed our backpacking El Salvador on a budget guide, please share it on social media and consider coming back to plan your other trips with our detailed backpacking guides.
Hey! I’m planning on backpacking through Central America for 6 months. How much time would you recommend I spend in El Salvador?
I really depends on how fast you travel but I think two weeks is a good amount. But since there is 6 countries in Central America and you have 6 months, maybe you can spend a month in each :D Enjoy your trip to Central America.
Very helpful blog, thank you for sharing the Beauty in words of what El Salvador has to offer. I visited for ten days last year and could not even visit all the places I had plan to. Will have to take another trip to explore more. Unforgettable memories fur my whole family
El Salvador is underrated, and we hope travelers will give it a chance just like you and your family did!
Tim Kroeger says
Nice post! I am planning to travel from Mexico to Costa Rica at the end of the year and will definitely do some of the things you recommend. Thank you for sharing! :)
Thanks for stopping by Tim. Enjoy your trip and if you have any questions along the way feel free to hit us up :)