So, the question will be asked – Is Visiting El Salvador safe? The country went through a horrible civil war for many years, but it is steadily putting all that behind, and the government has put a huge emphasis is fighting crime. Like in most places, there are areas that tourists should not go (and have no reason to), but the tourist towns in the coast and most of the major cities are safe. You will see a lot of police presence, but they are there to protect you, not harass you like in other countries. You will also notice that everything pretty much shuts down after dark.
Health-wise, they have been very proactive in containing Covid – at the time of writing, it is the Central American country with the lowest Covid rates. Every business you go to requires you to wear a mask, and upon entering you will have your temperature taken and asked to scrub your shoe soles on a disinfecting rug.
They even have fancy machines that will take your temperature, tell you if you are OK, and squirt hand sanitizer at the same time! As a tourist, you have to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test upon entering the country, and there is a major effort to get the whole population vaccinated. Since the Covid situation is fluid, you can find the latest info from the CDC here, and general statistics here and here. Also be aware of the Covid rules for El Salvador, as well as the US.
El Salvador no longer has their own currency (the Colón) since they adopted the US Dollar in 2001. That means that everything is priced in dollars. Prices are similar to the US for most things, including food and accommodations. Hotels range from really basic surfer hostels to fancy hundreds-of-dollars-a-night hotels. Since the climate is warm year-round, only the high-end hotels have hot water (you’ll get used to it! J ) When making reservations, you will want to make sure that a private bathroom and air conditioning are provided in the room, which will set you back about $50-$100 a night or more, depending on location.
We highly recommend renting a car, although, again, it is not cheap. Expect to pay about $450-600 for a two-week rental of the cheapest car. Make sure that Liability Insurance (which is mandatory in El Salvador) is included in the rental (or you allow for it in your budget). It is not covered by your credit card insurance or the other insurances that the reservation websites sell you. On a recent trip, I had to pay $14/day extra to Alamo for that.
Having a car will give you a lot of freedom to explore (think volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls). The roads are pretty good in general, except for some dirt roads in the towns (it rains a lot). Google Maps work OK, just make sure you download the maps to your phone before you go if you won’t have cell phone service. Be prepared for the occasional bad routing which may end up in a dead-end dirt road. Have patience and backtrack! If it looks like a short-cut, don’t take it! There is quite a bit of road improvements going on, which may cause traffic jams, so allow extra time, especially in or near the cities and on the Pan-american Highway.
We found cell phone service to be pretty good – better than in our home-town in the US. Check with your cell phone carrier for coverage and rates. We use Google Fi (great for travelers!), and El Salvador is one of the 200 countries where coverage is included in your unlimited plan, so that means that data comes off your 22 Gb data allowance as if you were in the US. This is great for WhatsApp, Skype, Waze, web, email, etc. Regular phone calls do cost 20 cents per minute. You can also buy a SIM card locally if you will be making a lot of local phone calls, they are widely available.
Note that El Salvador is a poor country, and has been through a lot of hardship. The tourism infrastructure is slowly building up, but it has a ways to go compared to a country like Mexico or Costa Rica, so keep your expectations in check. The Bitcoin adoption is part of the strategy the government is embracing to improve their economic situation as well as attract Bitcoin Tourists and hopefully new residents and entrepreneurs.
Salvadorans are friendly and welcoming, and the nature is spectacular. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We encourage you to visit – you will love it!