I recently took a trip to El Salvador for the very first time. That’s right—El Salvador, the country that everyone has told you never to visit! Yes, El Salvador gets a bad rep, and there is a lot of truth to what you hear. El Salvador is known to have a lot of gang violence and that is indeed a FACT. However, there is another side to El Salvador that people tend to leave out of the conversation—a GOOD side to El Salvador. My four night, five day experience in the country as a tourist was nothing but pleasant and I would definitely go back!
Just like any new city you travel to, you need to travel with common sense. If you go looking for trouble, you will find it. A lot of locals don’t hang out at night because it’s not safe to roam the streets after the sun goes down. However, I did hang out at night (with the help of Uber) and I went to places recommended by the hotel staff. I stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in San Salvador, “la capital,” and I felt right at home!
Before visiting, one thing I had read online from plenty of people was that El Salvador had a reputation for having genuinely nice people. Being there and interacting with the locals, I have to say that those reviews were right on the money. The people I met were extremely “cálido” (warm, friendly). I met lots of new “cheros” during my stay.
Fun Fact: “Cheros” is a local term that they use for “amigos” (friends).
Our first full day there, we visited an active volcano called “El Boquerón. We booked a tour through a tour guide company called Nauhuat Tours which I highly recommend! Our tour guide and driver were super friendly. Our tour guide spoke a little English, however our driver did not. With that being said, if you plan on visiting El Salvador, you may want to consider brushing up on your Spanish. It helps A LOT and allows you to connect with the people a little more.
El Boquerón was too high to hike completely, therefore we drove up as high as we could and then hiked the rest of the way up. It wasn’t too bad of a hike, however there were some very steep points. Once we reached the top of the volcano, it was a BEAUTIFUL site! Photos really don’t do it any justice. In addition to the physical beauty of the landscape, it felt very therapeutic being up there.
Fun Fact: According to our tour guide, El Boquerón means someone who talks too much. I don’t know if this is just a local term or what because according to spanishdict.com, it also means a big hole or wide opening. Nonetheless, think about the word “boca” which means “mouth.” Mouth…talks too much…get it? Lol
Tip: Wear athletic gear and hiking boots/sneakers if you own a pair.
El Tunco is a surfers paradise! I don’t surf, but it was super cool to see all the surfers walking around with their surf boards. El Tunco is a black sand beach, meaning it is not the type of beach that you want to lay out in. Instead of sand, it is made up of big, black rocks.
As a beach person, I will admit that the idea of this had me giving El Tunco a major side-eye. However, when I got there I was surprised at how beautiful it was. You may not be able to lay out on the beach as you would on a more tropical beach, but there are good restaurants/bars to chill at that give you a nice view of the beach.
Lots of European and American tourists choose to stay in El Tunco when visiting El Salvador. In addition to surfers, lots of backpackers visit this location because of all the hostels. The environment is so chill and the nightlife is pretty LIT!
Fun Fact: El Tunco literally means “pig” in Spanish. There is a huge rock in the beach that supposedly resembles a pig, but honestly, I didn’t see the resemblance. 🤔
Tip: If you don’t plan on staying here for your entire stay, but want to spend a day here, I would recommend to get a hotel for at least one night. You can always head back to your main hotel the next day.
Lago de Coatepeque
This is definitely a precious gem of El Salavdaor that you must visit. Located 18 kilometers south of Santa Ana in a district called El Congo, this 26 kilometer wide lake felt like paradise. There are lake homes, water sports, and restaurants at the lake, however we viewed the lake from above where there were plenty of nice restaurants overlooking the spectacular view. This was definitely one the highlights of my trip!
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Fun fact: Lago de Coatepeque was formed from two volcano eruptions that happened somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 years ago. Wow…
The nightlife in El Salvador was amazing! From all the videos I had watched all year leading up to this trip, I didn’t come across anything on YouTube that quite captured how live the bar/club scene gets at night.
The first night there, our hotel suggested a club called El Ancla. When we first stepped out of our Uber, my stomach immediately dropped when I saw two guys standing outside the club with two BIG ASS SHOT GUNS. “Holy shit!,” I thought…lol! Come to find out, all of the security in El Salvador carry the huge shot guns. After all, the country does have a big gang problem. Once we went inside, heard the music, and saw the vibe of this trendy spot, I felt right at home!
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Paseo el Carmen is one of the more popular hangout spots. It’s a fairly long strip of restaurants/bars/clubs.
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As I mentioned earlier, El Tunco also has a wonderful nightlife. There were lots of cool spots that we visited; some had live music while others just had loud music booming through the speakers. La Bocana is a restaurant that overlooks the beach, with delicious food might I add, and it opens up a dance floor at night. In addition to brushing up on your Spanish, you also may want to brush up on your Salsa and Bachata! Dancing plays a very important part in being social in Central/Latin America.
One final place that I have to mention is called La Playa 503. Located in Zona Rosa, this upscale spot has three floors and although the main floors may close at midnight, the basement is opened until 2 or 3 am with karaoke and a dance floor. So much fun! I was able to cross something off my bucket list as I sang “Hasta el Amanecer” by Nicky Jam, haha.
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Tip: Entertainment is generally really inexpensive in El Salvador, but La Playa 503 is a little more expensive. Expect to pay prices that you would usually pay in the United States.
As you probably know, El Salvador is not as socially progressive as Costa Rica (the most gay-friendly country in Central America). However, that doesn’t mean that a scene does not exist. According to a few locals who I spoke with, there are gay bars present. However, they aren’t as “loud” as a loud and proud gay bar in the states for example. I personally wouldn’t visit El Salvador waving a gay flag, but I did see people who were visibly gay during my stay. I also found a more discreet way to check out the scene as I swiped left and right on my Tindr app. Even with this, you still have to be very careful because you never know who you may be dealing with. But again, I personally had no negative experiences!
That was my Trip!
El Salvador is a beautiful country to visit filled with warm and friendly people. If you only rely on what the mainstream media feeds you, then you’ll probably never go anywhere. During my stay, locals have told me how much they hate the reputation that El Salvador gets and that they would like for more people to visit. I’m telling you first hand, El Salvadorians treat their visitors well! Travel smart and travel safe!