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Backpacking in El Salvador

Backpacking in El Salvador will take you to the smallest country in Central America, which offers you a breathtaking landscape dominated by volcanoes. You’ll encounter a special warmth among the population. Unfortunately, the country still suffers from the consequences of the civil war and the effects of natural disasters, especially in the outskirts of cities, where great poverty prevails. The crime rate is correspondingly high. However, this should not deter you, as there are countless natural attractions to discover on your backpacker trip.

Due to El Salvador’s geographical location, this area is particularly prone to earthquakes, as three continental plates collide off the Pacific coast, causing repeated earthquakes that cause major damage. The civil war and earthquakes have a major impact on infrastructure. However, tourism has become a high priority for the country’s government.

More than 7.3 million people live on an area of 21,041 km². The capital is San Salvador, with around 520,000 inhabitants. El Salvador translated into German means “the Saviour”, “the Redeemer” or “the Saviour”. In the capital you can still find relics of the colonial era like the Rosario Church, where the national hero José Matias del Gado has his grave. On the outskirts of the city, the botanical garden in the crater of a volcano, a jewel of tropical vegetation, awaits you.

El Salvador Städte im Spiel der Farben

El Salvador cities in the game of colors

On your backpacker trip in El Salvador you will experience a predominantly mountainous and hilly landscape, where you will even encounter active volcanoes. From the formerly dense tropical forests, only a few mountain forests remain. Here live smaller mammals, many bird species and iguanas. In addition to the special scenery, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the secrets of the Mayan high culture.

Near San Salvador lies Joya Cerén, a village that has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO because of its priceless value. Hidden under a metre-high layer of volcanic ash, this village has been excavated since 1976 and reveals a view of life 14 centuries ago.

When travelling in El Salvador, a good transport infrastructure in the country makes it quite pleasant. There is a road network of about 12,000 km, of which about one third is paved and even asphalted. Backpacking in El Salvador you will find a hot, subtropical climate. There are high day temperatures, which are accompanied by cool nights. You can get money at ATMs in larger cities, at petrol stations or in shopping centres.

It is important that your cards have the Cirrius or Mastero symbol. Credit cards are accepted for cash withdrawals from cashmere machines. You should only exchange money at authorized exchange offices or banks. However, only US dollars and no euros will be exchanged.

San Salvador Palacico Nacional

San Salvador Palacico Nacional

Culture in El Salvador

The culture of El Salvador is influenced by the mixing of Spanish descendants with the indigenous population. Almost all inhabitants are Mestizo (Ladinos). There are only about four percent Indians left who live together in their own villages. They mix in a very interesting way their Christian faith with Mayan religious content and cultivate the old habits and rituals of their ancestors.

During your backpacker journey you will feel transported to another world, as fields are ploughed according to the old method. You will live in huts made of palm leaves. The same costumes are worn as many centuries ago. In spite of the Christian faith, which is common in the meantime, we pray to the rain god Chac and celebrate the corn god Xipe Totec.

The Mayan culture can also be found in crafts, where you can find typical figures made of clay, bamboo, ceramics or wood, as well as special textiles. The people welcome you with a great warmth and hospitality. You should, however, follow a few rules of conduct. Be careful when choosing your photo motifs. Better ask first, before there is trouble afterwards.

More backpacking information about El Salvador

El Salvador is quite cheap compared to the neighbouring countries, so you can cover the costs with a daily budget of 30 to 40 Euros.

In the country there are indescribable landscapes to explore and a lot to learn about the culture. There are a variety of hills, mountains and volcanoes that provide you with a unique flora and fauna. In the tropical nature you will be accompanied on your walks by monkeys. Over 2000 different species of orchids can be found in the capital San Salvador. You will encounter the indescribable Mayan culture in the five ceremonial Mayan temples.

There are many different ways to find a hostel while backpacking in El Salvador. There are even real bargains between 7 and 10 Euros. But the average price is about 14 Euro in a hostel. In hotels you can sometimes find very cheap accommodation, if you are not heading for the first hotel that you meet on your way.

In El Salvador’s kitchen you can feel the Spanish influence. Papusa, deliciously filled pancakes, are a culinary experience. A unique culinary highlight is the Juayua Food Festival. You will be served a variety of delicacies that you should definitely try at a good price. For foodies, the festival is a real paradise for pleasure.

The official language in El Salvador is Spanish. But there are also Indian languages like Maya and Nahua. But you don’t need to worry about communicating with the locals, because English is also spoken in many places, as this language is considered a commercial language.

Besides the El Salvador Colón, the US dollar is the official national currency. The El Salvador Colón has not been issued by the central bank since 2001. Therefore, the local currency was practically replaced by the USD. If you travel through El Salvador on your backpacker trip, you will automatically come into contact with the culture of the country, so that you will quickly realize how different life is in this country.

On the big markets it’s worth shopping. Here you can find souvenirs like clothes and fabrics with Maya patterns as well as ceramics and pottery. But also in the small and big shops of the cities and especially in San Salvador it is worthwhile to have a look, because different goods are offered to you at great prices.

As a German citizen you don’t have to worry about a visa because you don’t need a visa for 90 days in El Salvador. For more information about El Salvador, see Visas & Vaccinations.

El Salvador Strandidylle

El Salvador sunset

Backpacker Budget in El Salvador

Traveling and living in El Salvador is quite cheap, in contrast to other backpacker countries. As a rule, you get along well with a budget of 30 to 40 euros per day. Since the national currency is the USD, the currency is quite stable against the Euro and is hardly subject to large exchange rate fluctuations, so you can control your expenses well.

You don’t have to plan big expenses for various activities. However, if you want to do a coffee tour in Juayua, you should plan on 17 Euros. Even though this amount may seem quite high, you won’t regret this trip at all. You won’t have to spend a lot of money on a meal if you buy your meals at the snack bar or the many street stalls.

A delicious breakfast typical of the country is available from 3 euros. For a meal in a higher restaurant you pay between 4,50 and 9,00 Euro. Soft drinks such as Coke, Sprite as well as water cost around 1 Euro. The local beer costs around 1.50 euros. In bars and restaurants the drinks are a little more expensive.

Bus fahren in El Salvador

Bus in El Salvador

Taxi driving Bus driving in El Salvador

Buses are the main means of transport in El Salvador. In the cities there are regular buses, which are often overcrowded and in a poor technical condition. Long-distance buses are one of the most important means of transport as they provide a good connection between the larger cities. Bus travel is very cheap in El Salvador if you use the local buses and do not accidentally take a tourist shuttle. In public buses that travel along numbered routes, you pay 0.70 euros per hour.

Taxis in El Salvador are often in a very bad technical condition. They have no taximeters. Therefore, you should agree a fixed price with the driver before starting the journey, so that the costs do not rise into the unmanageable. On average, the kilometre driven costs 0.50 euros.

Domestic fares in El Salvador

Flying is not possible during backpacking in El Salvador, as no domestic flights are currently offered.

Train travel in El Salvador

El Salvador has a 560 km long railway network operated by the state railway company FENADESAL. It connects San Salvador with Acajutla, Cutuco, San Jerónimo and Angiuatú. However, the expansion of the road network has meant that the railways have lost importance in the passenger and freight sectors. In the freight sector, the rails are still used occasionally. There are no passenger trains at the moment.

Rental cars drive in El Salvador

If you decide to take a rental car on your backpacker trip, you will get vehicles in San Salvador and at the airport. When driving through the country, you should limit yourself to main roads and avoid driving inland in the dark, as this can be quite dangerous. You need an international driving license.

Backpacker Route in El Salvador

On your backpacker trip through El Salvador you will enjoy an indescribable geographical and cultural diversity. An interesting excursion will take you to Panchimalco, where Pancho-Indians live. They are direct descendants of the Pipil tribe and have preserved many traditions and costumes.

Unique scenery awaits you at Lake Ilopango. In the mountainous landscape the volcano Izalco with 1910 m above sea level waits for you, just like the volcano San Salvador. An indescribable view of San Salvador can be experienced through the rock gate on Mount Chulul. Don’t forget the 320 km long beach on the Pacific coast, which offers a very special atmosphere with small holiday villages, fishing villages and pine forests.

El Salvador is ideal for hiking, surfing and just relaxing and enjoying. There are so many cultural and geographical things to discover. So you’re probably wondering what you should definitely have seen on your backpacking trip to El Salvador.

Route 1: The classic (15-20 days)

  • 3 days experience the flair of San Salvador and visit the botanical garden.
  • 2 days to discover Ilopango and the Lago de Ilopango.
  • 2 days climbing Zacatecoluca and Vulcán San Vicente.
  • 3 days La Unión surfing and relaxing on the Pacific coast.
  • 2 days in Ilobasco to discover ancient traditions and local handicrafts.
  • 3 days exploring Santa Ana and immersing yourself in Mayan history in the Tazamul ruins.
  • 2 days in the Departamento Sonsonate the landscape and the Volcán Santa Ana
  • 3 days Los Cobanos soul dangle on the beach and explore Acajutla.

Route 2: Backpacker Intensive Trip (up to 30 days and more)

  • 3 days experience the flair of San Salvador and visit the botanical garden.
  • 3 days to discover Ilopango and the Lago de Ilopango.
  • 2 days climbing Zacatecoluca and Vulcán San Vicente.
  • 3 days Usulutan. In the biggest city there is also a lot going on.
  • 3 days La Unión surfing and relaxing on the Pacific coast.
  • 2 days Santa Rosa de Lima explore a city with special flair.
  • 1 day Sensuntepeque
  • 3 days of Chalantengano and the unique nature of Rio Lempa.
  • 2 days in Ilobasco to discover ancient traditions and local craftsmanship.
  • 3 days exploring Santa Ana and immersing yourself in Mayan history in the Tazamul ruins.
  • 2 days in the Departamento Sonsonate the landscape and the Volcán Santa Ana
  • 3 days Los Cobanos soul dangle on the beach and explore Acajutla.

Travel times in El Salvador

El Salvador has a small coastline on the Pacific where you will find a tropical climate. It is relatively hot and there is a rainy season that runs from May to November. In the hinterland the climate is different and gives you higher temperature differences. During the day the temperatures rise even higher than in the coastal area. But it becomes pleasantly cool at night. The rainy season shortens by one month and lies between May and October.

The higher you go into the mountain regions, the cooler the temperatures become. But they are still very pleasant. The average annual temperature is around 23°C. A certain peculiarity is the fact that rain falls most often at night in El Salvador, during the day rather rarely. However, the very abundant rain showers can have the consequence that unpaved roads are no longer passable.

The optimal travel time for El Salvador is from December to March/April, because in this period the drought is not so great and no heavy rain falls. If you choose other travel times, you should note that there is a hurricane season between June and November.

Backpacker accommodations in El Salvador

El Salvador is indeed a very cheap travel country for backpackers. But just with the overnight accomodation offers you meet an enormous price range for an overnight stay. There are different possibilities to find a place to sleep. If you prefer cheap accommodation, take a bed in a simple hostel. There are also alternatives such as small and large hotels.

For a little luxury you pay a corresponding price, of course. In a noble hostel with 5 stars, you can quickly earn 100 Euros and more. However, you enjoy a nice ambience with everything that the hotel has to offer. But if you prefer hostels to spend the night, the hostel page Hostelworld gives you a good insight. Accordingly, the prices for a bed in a hostel are as follows:

  • San Salvador 7 -17 Euro
  • Santa Ana 9-11 Euro
  • El Sunzal 7-9 Euro
  • La Libertad 13-22 Euro
  • El Cuco 9 Euro
  • Juayua 10 Euro
  • Zacatecluca10 Euro
  • Barra de Santiago 22 Euro
  • Izalco 13 Euro

The prices of some hostels vary considerably. The reason for this are the places where these hostels are located. For a double room in a tourist area you can easily triple the price. Hotels are already an interesting alternative.

Hotels on exit roads and in the outskirts of the city

An interesting overnight option are hotels outside the city centres or motels on exit roads, even if you are not travelling with a rental car. For 14 Euros you get a double room with TV, private bathroom and PC connection. A little more luxury is available from 31 euros. In the hotels breakfast is directly included in the price.

Camping and private rooms

There are a lot of campsites, which are situated in a beautiful landscape, at a dreamy lake or close to the beach and the Pacific Ocean. Here you can use your own tent to spend the night and pay a small fee. A room in a private house is also very common. You stay in a well-equipped, lockable guest room and pay around 14 euros for it. However, a deposit is required, which can vary in price.

Backpacker Trips & Tips in El Salvador

On the one hand you can travel around the country. But your backpacker trip will be much more interesting if you dive into the culture and get to know the country in all its facets. On the one hand you will experience the prehistoric Inca time and on the other hand you can expect a huge nature. It is characterized by the partly still active volcanoes.

Even though many parts of the rainforest have been cleared for the benefit of industry, there are still numerous tree stands where you will encounter the mighty Ceiba tree, huge Zapote trees and mango trees. During your forays through the indescribable landscape of the national parks you will be accompanied by monkeys.

A sightseeing tour of San Salvador includes colonial-style monuments and a host of museums. If you want to visit archaeological sites in El Salvador, it is worth visiting the National Museum in advance. There you can immerse yourself in the history of the country with the many pre-Columbian and colonial rarities.

Volcano in El Salvador

Volcano in El Salvador

Backpacker Highlights in El Salvador

Backpacker highlights in El Salvador include natural attractions such as Cerro Verde National Park, stunning beaches and volcanic lakes Ilopango and Coatepeque. For surfing, visit the beaches of Sonsonate and La Unión, where the waves of the Pacific break.

In Ilobasc you will find unique handicrafts, where you are guaranteed to find a few souvenirs for yourself or for those who have stayed at home. Immerse yourself in the Mayan culture in the Tazumal ruins, located near the town of Chaluapa. In the past the ceremonial site was inhabited by Toltec Pipil, Chorti and Maya-Pokomam. Another time travel into the Maya time you will experience in the San-Andres ruins.

You shouldn’t miss the delicious El Salvador Rum under any circumstances. Besides a shopping tour there is a special highlight for coffee connoisseurs when visiting a coffee plantation. The nightlife also offers its special features. In theatres, dance halls with jukeboxes and nightclubs you can dance and party until the morning.

Indescribable landscapes in El Salvador

Indescribable landscapes in El Salvador

Backpacker Insider Tips in El Salvador

During your backpacking trip in El Salvador, don’t miss the Concepción de Ataco. The small town is located on the Ruta de las Flores, the 36 km long road of flowers. Ataco means translated as “place of the high situated springs”. You are here at 1250 meters above sea level.

What is special about this village is that you can walk along the colourfully painted walls of every street corner and discover new works of art with every step you take. The whole village is a mere wonder bag, because you don’t know what to expect at the next street corner. When you make a detour to the cemetery, you’ll experience exactly the same splendour of colour that is reflected in the flower tendrils of the village.

Foods & Drinks in El Salvador

In San Salvador there is a rich selection of national and international dishes. There are restaurants offering Mexican, Chinese, Italian and French cuisine. In addition, of course, steak houses can also be found. If you prefer cheap and good food, a visit to the market in San Salvador is worthwhile.

But also the local cuisine has many delicious dishes in its repertoire, which is influenced by the Spanish cuisine. In the fishing villages you get fish specialities and crustaceans, which land freshly caught on your plates.

Food in El Salvador

In El Salvador’s cuisine, corn, rice and chili pepper are omnipresent. In addition to the local soups, you must try Pupusa, a thick corn cake, optionally with white beans, cheese and meat. You can get this delicacy at the street stalls. Even vegetarians get their money’s worth with this dish.

Another treat are typical national dishes like yuca frita, fried roots or pan con pavo, roasted turkey meat, which is served with bread. The dishes often have a pleasant spiciness due to the chili pepper, which should not be missing in any dish.

The main meal is dinner, which is usually richer than the other meals of the day. The whole family sits together and it is told and laughed into the late evening.

Drinks in El Salvador

El Salvador is the land of coffee, so you can taste different roasts. In addition to water, fruit juices made from local fruits such as mangoes are very popular. The locals of El Salvador also like to have one in their breast. There are local beers like Pilsener El Salvador, Cerveza and Barena that you should definitely try.

Most popular, however, is the local rum, which is mainly made from sugar cane molasses. Either it is transparent or has a slightly brownish colour, which results from the storage in special wooden barrels. It is used for mixing delicious cocktails like Daiquiri, Mojito or in long drinks like Cuba Libre.

Backpacker Visa and Vaccination in El Salvador

You don’t need a visa for your backpacker trip through El Salvador. As a German citizen you can enter the country without a visa for up to 90 days. However, you still need valid entry documents that are valid for at least 6 months. According to the Foreign Office, the entry requirements for El Salvador are as follows:

  • Passport: Yes
  • Provisional Passport: Yes
  • Identity Card: No
  • Temporary identity card: No
  • Children’s passport: Yes, with photograph


Children’s entries in a parent’s passport are no longer valid. Therefore, all children need their own identification document to enter El Salvador. If you want to stay in El Salvador for longer than three months, you will need to apply for a visa at your local embassy or consulate. The same document must be presented when entering and leaving the country.

Medical Information & Vaccinations for El Salvador

On a backpacker trip to El Salvador you can enter without a vaccination. However, it is advisable to have the standard vaccinations of the Robert Koch Institute up to date. An increase in the Zika virus infection is currently being observed in the region. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Malaria, dengue fever and chikungunya are endemic throughout the year. Therefore you should wear light-coloured clothing covering the whole body so that the mosquitoes do not bite you. On free body places you should apply appropriate insect protection again and again. Tropical medical advice centres and tropical physicians will advise you on disease prevention, which you can select from this directory in your area.

The medical care and thus the health and emergency care in El Salvador is rather inadequate and only guaranteed in the capital San Salvador. However, it cannot be compared with European standards. Therefore, it makes sense to take out a health insurance before you travel to San Salvador, which guarantees a return transport in case of emergency.