El Salvador is a much overlooked tourist destination, but that’s not to say that the country doesn’t have plenty to offer visitors. In fact, the colorful country is packed with activity and attractions, including volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls and small-town charm—and none of the swarms of fellow tourists you would typically have to share it with. But while you should definitely consider the country for your next tropical getaway or backpacking rendezvous, there are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind for safe and memorable travel in El Salvador.
Do: Eat the street food.
Puposas, anyone? These delectable local specialties are highly addictive and worth a sampling at any chance you get. The thick, hand-made tortillas are stuffed with cheese, beans, pork or chicken, and then grilled on a special device specifically designed for puposa-making purposes. For the best puposas, look for any pupuseria packed with locals.
Don’t: Drink water from the tap.
If you experience any danger in El Salvador, it’s likely to be an unfortunate bout of traveler’s diarrhea or food poisoning. Avoid drinking water from the tap, and consider using bottled water to wash fruit and brush your teeth with.
Do: Talk to the locals.
Perhaps it’s because El Salvador doesn’t see as many tourists as neighboring countries, but regardless, Salvadorians are incredibly friendly and hospitable. Don’t be shy to strike up a conversation with a local or two.
Don’t: Advertise you’re a ‘gringa’.
It’s likely you’re going to stand out as a ‘gringa’ no matter what you do, but remember that it’s always respectful to follow local customs. Most Salvadorians don’t wear short shorts, wear their swimsuits around town, or flash fancy jewelry.
Do: Take public transport.
El Salvador has some pretty epic chicken buses. A ride on one can be a memorable experience in its own right—and a great place to shop! Vendors regularly come on the buses, selling everything from snacks to toothbrushes. That said- exercise discretion before taking public transport at night.
Don’t: Walk around major cities at night.
Like anywhere in the world, exercise caution not only on public transport but also when walking around at night. This is especially true if you’re in a large city or an area you are not familiar with.
Do: Go off the beaten path.
Many travelers to El Salvador are there for the beaches or the Ruta de las Flores. But don’t be afraid to venture off the beaten path and explore smaller Salvadorian towns like La Palma and Alegria.
Don’t: Drive through countryside at night.
I love a good road trip, but it’s not advisable to drive around El Salvador at night, especially if you are in a rural area you’re not familiar with. Opt to find your hotel before nightfall to avoid any unnecessary problems.
Do: Brush up on your Spanish prior to arrival.
While you’ll find that some Salvadorians speak English around tourist attractions, most locals will only speak Spanish. Know a few handy words or carry along a phrase book.
Don’t: Be excessively worried about the numerous armed guards and large guns.
Armed guards and guns are everywhere in El Salvador, but this shouldn’t lead you to excessively worry about travel in the country. Yes, there is gang and gun crime, but it rarely affects tourists.
Do: Keep a close eye on your belongings and exercise normal due care.
This is true for travel anywhere around Central and South America. Don’t flash expensive belongings, and don’t leave your possessions unattended.
Don’t: Check your bags into the hold of the bus driver.
This goes hand-in-hand with keeping an eye on your belongings. If you can, keep your bags with you on the bus. If you absolutely must check them under the bus, be sure to keep a close eye on them during any stops.
For more tips, don’t miss these 14 things to love about El Salvador from Globetrotter Girls!