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El Salvador Travel Guide for Budget-Conscious Travelers

A mere few years ago, El Salvador was not a viable destination for a solo female traveler such as myself. However, I am pleased to report that the situation has improved dramatically. What was once considered a perilous location for both locals and visitors alike has now undergone a transformation. Thanks to the government's concerted efforts El Salvador’s Leader Has Eroded Rights to Tackle Violence. Is It Working?, the country has become considerably safer. This has inspired a renewed sense of hope and optimism among the populace, who are eager to rebuild their nation's reputation.

Now that I have told you why you no longer should not go to El Salvador, now let me tell you why you should!

Allow me to entertain you with some of my fondest recollections of The El Salvador They Don't Show You . Not convinced yet? Picture this, as you traverse the landscape in different parts of the country, you are treated to a wealth of natural splendor, including remarkable waterfalls, and striking black sand beaches.To top things off, you have the opportunity to witness an active volcano in all its glory. You cannot tell me that these depictions have not undoubtedly piqued your interest in exploring the country further. If your answer is yes, continue reading about my 9 days in El Salvador!

Let’s settle some practical issues first. Upon arrival in El Salvador, you will be required to purchase a tourism card for $12 which is valid for 90 days. It is advisable to have the exact amount in cash to avoid any inconvenience. The country uses USD, so if you are American, you don't have to worry about exchanging currencies.

Transportation from the airport is an important consideration if you are looking for convenience. I recommend using a trusted car service for a hassle-free experience. I paid $35 for a one-way trip from the airport to my hostel in San Salvador and $45 for the return trip from La Libertad to the airport. While taxis are available outside the airport, it is safer to arrange transportation beforehand.

Looking to explore El Salvador on a budget? I got you! My experience of solo traveling for 9 days using mostly public transportation and staying at affordable accommodations can be of great help. Let me provide you with a comprehensive El Salvador travel guide to make your journey more fulfilling and budget-friendly.

Day 1- Customs and Trying Local Cuisine

On the first day of my trip, I cleared customs and found my driver. Our first task was to discover the most delicious Salvadorian restaurant that served the country's staple dish, pupusas.Pupusas are made of thick corn tortillas filled with various ingredients such as cheese, beans and meat. They are typically served with a side of curtido, a pickled cabbage slaw, and tomato-based salsa. Once I indulged in this savory meal, I made my way to the hostel to check-in and unwind after a tiring day of traveling. For the remainder of the day, I took it easy and rested.

Day 2 - San Salvador City Tour and Rainbow Slide

On the second day of my trip, I decided to explore San Salvador by booking a guided city tour through the same taxi service that picked me up from the airport. The tour cost me $75 and included a walking tour of the city with a Spanish speaking guide. During the tour, I visited historical sites such as the Cathedral and National Palace in the downtown area, as well as Iglesia el Rosario. Additionally, the tour guide took me to the famous rainbow slide at Picnic Steak House and another stop at Boqueron Park where I saw the volcanic crater. Keep in mind that there are separate entrance fees for the National Palace ($5), Iglesia el Rosario ($2), and the Rainbow Slide at Picnic Steak House ($5) which are not included in the tour price, so keep cash on hand.

If you're on a tight budget, an alternative would be to take an Uber to downtown San Salvador, which costs around $6-$10, and do the walking tour on your own. However, I personally didn't feel comfortable navigating the busy streets of San Salvador by myself and opted for the private tour, even though it was a bit pricey.

Here’s a tip: Something to keep in mind when planning activities is distance. Despite being a small country, getting from one city to another can take a lot of time due to the distance between locations. This was something I didn't consider initially, which led to some unexpected expenses.

For those interested in visiting the rainbow slide, it's worth noting that there are two options. The one at Picnic Steak House is located in Santa Tecla, which is about 30 minutes away from San Salvador. On the other hand, the rainbow slide at Cafe Albania is about 2 hours away. I personally visited the one at Picnic Steak House, but found it to be a bit tacky and overrun with wild dogs. If you have the time, I would recommend spending a full day at Cafe Albania, where there are more activities to do such as ziplining ($13), biking over cables ($10), surfing over cables ($10), a swing ($5), a maze ($3), and the full package deal for $40.

Day 3 - Travel to Santa Ana

Make your way to the charming city of Santa Ana, which is known to be one of the most budget-friendly cities in El Salvador. If you're starting from San Salvador, you can easily reach Santa Ana using public transportation . This goes to show how safe I felt in El Salvador. Opt for a direct bus from Terminal de Occidente in San Salvador which will cost you only $1.35 and the journey will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Just keep in mind, if you're carrying large backpacks or suitcases that take up the space of two people, you will be charged double the fare while traveling by public transportation. Once you reach the terminal in Santa Ana, you can choose to travel to your final destination via Uber, taxi or local bus.

Day 4- Santa Ana Free Walking Tour

Immerse yourself in the rich history and stunning architecture of Santa Ana with a free, 2-hour walking tour. Led by a knowledgeable guide, you will discover the colonial architecture that has been meticulously preserved over time. The tour includes a visit to the Cathedral of Santa Ana, where you will gain insights into its fascinating history. You will also learn about the National Theater and have the opportunity to sample local dishes from nearby eateries.

Reservations can be made online through GuruWalk, or you can simply meet your guide in front of the Cathedral of Santa Ana. At the end of the tour, tips are welcome but not mandatory. Please leave a tip if you can!

For dinner, head to the main square and treat yourself to a delicious meal at Simmer Down restaurant. If you're on a budget, you can also try some local dishes from the many street vendors nearby. With so much to see and taste, Santa Ana is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Day 5 - Visit Volcan de Santa Ana and the Coatepeque Lake

On the fifth day of the trip, you should consider visiting the Volcan de Santa Ana and the Coatepeque Lake. This active volcano, located near Santa Ana, is surrounded by breathtaking viewpoints that attract hikers and nature enthusiasts alike. To get there by public transportation, also known as the chicken bus, take bus 209 from La Vencedora terminal in Santa Ana at 7:30am in the morning. Check out this Tiktok video I posted: Bus Ride to Santa Ana Volcano.

If you're not sure when to get off the bus, don't worry. Many travelers will be heading to the same place as you, so introduce yourself to other travelers at the bus terminal, and get off the bus when they do. The journey takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes and costs only 90 cents.

When you arrive, a tour guide will greet you and ask each person to pay $4 for the guide and an additional $6 at the National Park ticket office, totaling $10 for the entire experience. The hike takes about 2 hours up and 2 hours down. In my own experience, I found the hike to be quite doable, even if you don't consider yourself to be particularly active. In fact, hikers of all ages - from young children to seniors - were present on the trail.

If you plan on taking the bus back to Santa Ana, note that it departs at 1pm and the last one leaves at 4pm.If you prefer a different mode of transportation, like I did, consider splitting the cost of a private transportation with some new travel buddies. My group of five paid only $50 for the driver to take us to Coatepeque Lake and back to our respective hostels. This is a great deal compared to the original price of $140 for private transport to both the Santa Ana Volcano and Coatepeque Lake.

Day 6 - The 10 Waterfalls of Juayua, El Salvador and Food Festival

One of the most unforgettable parts of my trip was hiking/climbing the 10 waterfalls of Juayua in El Salvador and then attending the Juayua Food Festival. The day started with myself and two other solo travelers meeting the local tour guide in Juayua, which is roughly an hour away from our starting point. To avoid waking up at 6am to take the chicken bus, we opted to catch an Uber an hour later for $24 for all three of us. However, it's worth noting that getting an Uber back to Santa Ana from Juayua can be difficult due to the town's rural location, so taking the chicken bus back is your best bet.

To book a tour for the 10 waterfalls, simply text or call the following number: +503 6113 7277. We paid $10 per person for the tour, which was led by a mother and her young son. It was heartwarming to support the local economy by contributing to a mother's income and allowing her to bond with her child while showing us the beauty of their country.

Aside from hiking, the Juayua Food Festival, known as La Feria Gastronomica, is the town's main attraction. This meat-heavy (sorry vegetarians and vegans) event takes place every weekend of the year and is a must-visit after hours of hiking and feeling famished. Don’t worry about getting here, the tour guide will drop you there after the hike. From here, you will walk back to the bus stop to catch the chicken bus back to Santa Ana.

Day 7 - Getting to Lagarza Hostel or El Tunco

If you're looking for a more tranquil place, consider visiting the La Libertad or El Tunco region, both of which offer stunning black sand beaches. To reach these destinations, you can take public transportation from the Metrocentro Santa Ana bus station, located in the city center. Hop on the direct bus 201 to San Salvador, which will cost $1.35 per person and take approximately one hour. Conveniently, you can pay for your fare on the bus itself.

Get off the bus at La Ceiba de Guadalupe, an intersection for buses on the outskirts of San Salvador, you can save time and money by not traveling all the way to the city center.

Once you arrive at La Ceiba de Guadalupe,cross the southbound carriageway using the pedestrian bridge and catch bus 102 to La Libertad or bus 102A if you are going to El Tunco. The cost for the bus ride to La Libertad is $0.59. From there, take bus 192 to Lagarza hostel for $0.45. To avoid missing your stop, periodically check your location on Google maps and remind the bus driver when you're approaching your destination. Keep in mind that most public buses stop running around 5pm, so plan accordingly.

Day 8 - Beach/Pool Day

I spent some time at the beach and the pool. Lagarza hostel had access to a private black sand beach, and I enjoyed walking along the shore while sipping on some delicious cocktails. Later, I lounged by the hostel’s infinity pool, soaking up the sun and taking in the stunning scenery. This is the type of vibes I like to conclude my trips on.

Day 9 - Departure Day

I prepared my luggage and left for the airport at 3am. While waiting for my flight, I reflected on my incredible journey and felt fortunate to have witnessed the beauty of El Salvador with my own eyes. Seeing places in person, as opposed to relying on media depictions, can be a truly life-changing experience. Traveling enables me to break away from preconceived notions and stereotypes, and instead establish my own viewpoints based on firsthand experiences. I am grateful for the opportunity to have explored El Salvador and encourage others to do the same.

Accommodations Reviews

During my trip, I stayed at several accommodations. My first stop was in San Salvador at Hotel Oasis, a hostel where I spent two nights for $42. Though it was nothing extraordinary, the area was safe and the hostel served its purpose. Next, I stayed in a hostel in the beautiful city of Santa Ana, and I was pleasantly surprised by the luxurious and modern interior of the private suite at Hostel Casa Verde. I highly recommend checking it out, and you can see for yourself through the video I shared on my Tiktok. For three nights, I paid $141, which was reasonable for the quality of the stay.

Moving on, I visited Lagarza Hostel, located near the city of El Libertad. This hostel's serene atmosphere and cozy accommodations provided the ideal space for me to recharge and reflect. I stayed in a private room for $99, and also a four-person dormitory for $32, which I had to myself that night. Although it was a bit on the expensive side for a hostel, the ocean view, infinity pool, and seclusion of the property made it worth it, in my opinion.

You can book any of these hostels through HostelWorld.

Finally, I stayed at Atami Escape Resort, which was not too far from Lagarza hostel. Unfortunately, it was my least favorite stay of the trip. The landscape of the property was beautiful, but the customer service, entertainment, and food could use some improvement. I found the onsite restaurant's food to be salty, Americanized, and overpriced. The place just lacked pizzas! Ultimately, I do not believe it was worth the $90 a night, and I would not stay there again.

Thank you for taking the time to read about my travels. If you enjoyed this, please consider subscribing and checking out my other comprehensive blogs.

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Thank you so much for this guide. I’m actually going back to El Salvador in September so this is an amazing guide for me. I love all the great details about public transportation as well!

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