El Salvador, a small, densely populated Central American country, is often overlooked by tourists when planning a trip to Latin America. However, those who take the time to visit this beautiful country will find a hidden gem with a wealth of natural and cultural treasures waiting to be explored. If anything like my trip, you will also find extremely friendly people who are very happy to welcome tourists to their country. Don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t all that great, Google translate can do the job in a pinch and many people know just enough English to help, especially at the resorts.
I was asked to visit El Salvador as part of a program run by Bpeace, an award winning nonprofit, that pairs highly skilled volunteer consultants (Skillanthropists) with high-potential company leaders (Fast Runners) to help them grow their businesses and contribute to the economic and social stability of local communities. I’ve been volunteering with Bpeace for 20 years and while in the past I’ve provided guidance on topics like e-commerce and global operations, this time, my “job” was to spend 4–5 days evaluating the travel and tourism industry. I even got to bring a friend. Nice!
One of the best things about traveling to El Salvador from the United States is the ease of access and the convenience of being able to use the US dollar as currency. It’s less than a 3-hour nonstop flight from from Miami or Houston to the newly renovated San Salvador airport and from there you travel on well paved roads to the city or beaches. Simply buy a $12 visa upon arrival and use your dollars (or bitcoin!) throughout the country. Heck, you don’t even have to worry about charging your phone to post your amazing photos to Insta and TikTok as El Salvador uses the same power as the US.
Black Sand Beaches
El Salvador boasts stunning black sand beaches, world-class surfing spots, and breathtaking hiking trails, making it the perfect destination for adventure seekers and nature lovers. And while you may be asking, “Isn’t there a lot of gang violence?” the government has implemented a mix of law enforcement measures, social programs, and community outreach initiatives to reduce this problem. While there is mixed sentiment on the approach, there has been a significant improvement in public safety with gang related incidents down substantially over the past several years. As for my visit, I experienced nothing but friendly smiles and warm welcomes!
A must do on any trip to El Salvador is to immerse one’s toes in the famous black sand beaches. The country has over 300 km of coastline, with many of its beaches featuring volcanic sand that creates a striking contrast with the Pacific blue waters. I experienced this firsthand at an adorable resort, Playa Las Flores, tucked away in the Southeast part of the country. I took a super fun surf lesson and El Salvador’s coastline offers a variety of breaks suitable for beginners and experts alike, with the warm Pacific waters making it possible to surf year-round. Though I didn’t have a chance to visit, Playa El Tunco, located just an hour south of the capital, this is perhaps the best known black sand beach in Latin America due to its excellent surfing conditions, attracting wave riders from all over the world.
If you’re an aspiring volcanologist, or simply like to hike, El Salvador looks like paradise, with than 20 volcanoes. I’ll definitely be returning to check out Cerro Verde National Park, where visitors can hike to the summit of the Santa Ana volcano, one of the country’s most impressive natural landmarks. The summit takes about two hours and offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape, including the Coatepeque Lake, a crater lake formed by a volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Other popular destinations include El Boquerón National Park, which is just 20 minutes from San Salvador, and El Imposible National Park, the largest protected area in the country. Notably, all these locations get 4.5/5 start on Trip Advisor.
Culture & Food
I didn’t actually visit the capital city, San Salvador, but I understand the museums have impressive collections of artifacts, including Mayan pottery, stone carvings, and tools, and “El Centro” has many iconic buildings and monuments setting the backdrop to a thriving street art scene, with murals and graffiti decorating many of the city’s walls and buildings. No matter where you visit in El Salvador be sure to sample the local cuisine, especially the pupusas (stuffed tortillas that can be savory or sweet), tamales, and yuca frita (fried cassava).
Go, Before Everyone Else Does!
Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach, catch some waves, hike to a volcano, or learn about the history and culture of the area, El Salvador has something for everyone. And the best part of all — El Salvador is still off the beaten path for most tourists. Go!
Note, I used ChatGPT for the first time in crafting this article. My assessment is that it gave me great information to work with but the writing istelf was pretty boring and often repetitive. That said, not having to spend time looking up the biggest parks, best surf beaches, or facts and figures about the country definitely saved time.