So last week I went backpacking for 8 days in El Salvador and I have to say I loved it. I had booked the tickets two months in advance and had been waiting patiently since. I haven’t left the country in 3 years so you know the travel bug in me was getting antsy just itching to explore another country. Well my patience paid off and was well rewarded because when I went to go check in for my flight, I was asked if I wanted to upgrade my last connecting flight to El Salvador to business class for $165 (Heck yes, who wouldn’t for that price)! So after a 12 hour long day with a crazy dumb flight itinerary, I finally made it to El Salvador.
Is It Really as Dangerous as People Say It Is?
After being there for a week I can really tell you that I felt safe the entire time there, exploring different parts of the country. That’s not to say that the entire country isn’t dangerous because most parts of it are, but as long as you’re not looking for trouble and use common sense you’ll be alright.
Gang violence is notorious in most part of the country, but you’ll only really hear most of the violence happening to other gang members or to the locals. I haven’t really heard of anything happening to any tourists while I was there but I’m sure it does happens. As long as you aren’t wandering the streets alone, drunk off your ass, and holding a sign saying you’re looking for trouble – you should be fine. Cities and towns that promotes tourism are a safe bet as they’re are a lot of armed police officers and security guards patrolling the street all day. Once you get over the fact that the security guards here actually carry shotguns you’ll start to feel safe (I found it rather amusing). They’re actually pretty nice and they were always willing to help me with a smile on their face whenever I was lost wandering their city. To tell you the truth, the whole time I was there I never once felt like I was in any danger. Not only that but the locals really do look out for you and inform you which town is safe to visit and which one isn’t.
How to Get Around the Country?
El Salvador is pretty much a small country, so getting any where around the country isn’t a problem. For the most part it’ll take you an hour to an hour and a half to go where ever it is you want to go. If you plan on going from one side of the country to another, expect it to be a couple hours more. The main method of transportation would be to use the public chicken buses. I know what you’re thinking, what the hell’s a chicken bus?! Well if you haven’t ridden one get ready for an interesting bus ride. They’re pretty common in Central America and they’re pretty much school buses uses to take people to their destinations. Usually they’ll have designs painted or graffiti on them, and on the front of the buses they will have a particular number assigned to it as well as all the destinations it travels to written on it. As majority of the locals with out cars uses them, expect for these buses to be packed. To make matters worst, there really aren’t any air conditioners in them (unless you want to count some of the fans they put up in the front), so it can get pretty hot quickly. Easy solution would be to have your window down and you’ll be just fine. The nice breeze you get from that will have you feeling just right.
The ride won’t be like any other school bus you’ve been on. This will be a fast paced one, with a lot of swerving, horn honking, and tight turns as it tries to past the cars in front of it. It felt like I was playing crazy taxi or in a Fast in the Furious scene but in a bus. Most bus I rode on (even taxis!) will do anything to pass cars they think are driving too slow and will drive on the wrong side of the road or even on the curb to pass them. Its amazing how none of these things while I was there never gotten into any accident before! They’re definitely pro’s when it comes to driving a bus and it can be fun to watch them drive if you’re up in the front.
One more thing to know about chicken buses is that they stop quite frequently to pick up people in towns or on the side of the road, so it can sometimes take a little longer to get to your destination. When in town- do expect a swarm of sales people and kids to walk up and down the aisle,shouting what merchandise and sweets they have,and trying to make a sale. It’s a sight to behold and was totally unexpected the first time I rode the bus.
Be Prepared for the Heat in El Salvador!
The weather down there is pretty much hot all year round. So I would advise you to bring some shorts and tank tops with you as you will be feeling the heat! Your days will be covered and sweat and you will question yourself if there was a point to that shower you just took 2 minutes ago as your standing there in your room covered in sweat again. A lot of places and even some hostels won’t have air conditioner, and fans can only do so much. You will be sweating your ass off for the most part, and your shirt will be drench in it. Once you can get past the heat; El Salvador is a pretty much nice place. If you want to beat the heat, just go for a swim in the pool or hit the beach and refresh yourself. Don’t forget to drink a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated out there!
One thing that the heat brings which I wasn’t prepared for are the freaking mosquitos. DO BUY A LOT OF BUG SPRAY!!! I cannot stress that enough. My arm and legs looked like a battlefield of humungous red bumps all over them. My skin usually doesn’t usually turn red so that says a lot! I would suggest closing your windows shut when sleeping at night as a lot of them will attack you and keep you up at night, with all the buzzing through your ears and the vicious bite attacks. It’s no joke!While I was down there it became a common practice when meeting new people to show each others your battle scars, and tell about your war stories battling these vicious foes.
Want to Go Somewhere But Don’t Want to Spend A Lot of Money?
Then El Salvador is the place for you. Tickets were cheap for me but I’m sure it’s most likely due that I live in Miami. Besides that, the cost of living here is dirt cheap. Beers (called cerveza’s in Spanish) usually go by $1.00 in hostels, and anywhere from $1.50 to $2.00 out in town. Drinks and cocktails can go anywhere from 2 to 4 dollars. Breakfast (called Desayuno in Spanish) are usually $3.00 and lunch and dinner are anywhere from $5.00 to $8.00 dollars. Trust me you won’t be spending nearly as much as you would back home.
The currency in El Salvador are U.S dollars. I would also strongly suggest to have no bills larger than $10.00 on you; as some places will not have change for you. As everything is so cheap there I would suggest you ask before buying anything if they have change for your $20.00 unless of course you’re buying a lot of items. When coming to El Salvador try not to come with a full backpack. Bring only the bare essentials. Trust me when you get here and see how cheap stuff are, you’re going to want to buy a lot of stuff from souvenirs to clothes.
All in all I had a blast in El Salvador. One week was not enough to cover this beautiful land at all. I met a lot of great friends (backpackers and locals). I ate great food, learn a little bit of Spanish, and got to experience another culture. I will have to come back another time for a longer stay so that I can explore more of the country. If you do come here I would recommend at least two weeks or more to see what this country has to offer. You will not be disappointed.