• El Salvador, An Exotic Destination

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    El Salvador, An Exotic Destination

    Posted by Donald T

    Location: El Salvador, the country, is located in Central America, bordered on the north and

    west by Guatemala and the north and east by the nation of Honduras. All other
    information is included in the travel tips.

    More and more…folks are beginning to discover the
    beauty, charm and friendly people of El Salvador,
    “Central America’s Hidden Gem”

    EL SALVADOR…
    DISCOVER THE UNDISCOVERED CENTRAL AMERICA AN EXOTIC
    AND SUPRISE DESTINATION…….

    The following suggestions are put together for anyone
    traveling to El Salvador, whether it be to visit
    friends or relatives, for business or just for a visit
    of the country.

    suitcase
    How to Pack: El Salvador is hot and humid any time of
    the year. Rainy season begins usually at the beginning
    of May and runs through October, so plan accordingly.
    Bring light weight clothing, but appropriate clothing.
    In some rural areas it is still inappropriate for
    women to wear pants and especially shorts so be sure
    to pack some skirts, sisters, just in case! You’ll now
    see more and more bikinis sported on El Salvador’s
    public beaches as in the resort areas of Costa Rica
    and Mexico. Things are slowly but surely changing.
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    Good shoes…. Please bring comfortable shoes. Even if
    you hire a driver or tour operator to transport you or
    rent a car in El Salvador some hiking and walking will
    be required to explore off the beaten path, and it
    won’t always be down paved sidewalks, more often
    mountain trails, so bring some good, sturdy and
    comfortable hiking shoes. Leave all your valuables you
    will not need at home. No flashy jewelry, no fancy
    watches, nothing that will make you stand out in the
    humble villages you are bound to visit. Remember, the
    contents of your luggage could contain more than a
    humble person may possess in a lifetime.
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    Travelling around: In the modern cities of San
    Salvador and San Miguel, Santa Ana and Sonsonate the
    visitor shall encounter the modern US style
    “MetroCentro” malls boasting everything from
    supermarkets to tattoo parlors where the young imitate
    US dress and styles, chatting endlessly on the
    cellular phones! ATM machines and Banks are located in
    the modern shopping centers and accept most all
    international credit and debit cards, paying out in
    USD, the currency of legal tender in El Salvador since
    2000. The shopping malls have their own private guard
    services avoid using ATMs located on the street or
    outside banks when alone, especially at night. When
    travelling to to beach or countryside bring only as
    much cash as you feel you’ll need for meals and small
    purchases, some of the larger coastal restaurants and
    all of the larger guest houses, B & B’s and beach and
    mountain resort hotels accept credit and/or
    international debit cards. For large purchases in the
    city, use credit card. Never flash a lot of cash, nor
    leave valuables unattended in a parked vehicle unless
    locked securely in the trunk out of sight.
    Never discuss your travel itinerary with overly
    friendly strangers nor tell anyone where you are
    lodging. Many El Salvadorians have lived or worked in
    the US/Canada and there are many who understand
    English..if you are in public and wishing to converse
    or conduct business privately go to areas like the
    Food Courts in Metrocentro or Galerias Mall where it
    is noisy and strangers are unlikely to overhear, being
    a little ‘nosy’, especially regarding foreigners is
    part and pacel of the culture here in El Salvador. If
    you speak a language(s) other than English or Spanish,
    go for it, I used to speak German with a multi lingual
    Salvadorian friend in such situations.

    US and Canadian Citizens no longer need to purchase a
    $10.00 tourist card when they arrive in El Salvador.
    Stay given is 90 days, and that includes immigration
    for 3 other nations of the CA-4 (Central American 4
    countries): Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, after
    that the visitor must exit to either Belize, Mexico or
    Costa Rica and return after 72 hours for another 90
    days, if planning to work or volunteer check with your
    employer or non profit organization regarding
    assistance with obtaining a 1 year work permit or
    volunteer visa.
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    The airport departure tax leaving El Salvador is
    generally $27.00-$34.00USD cash, check with your
    airline. (not included in the price of your ticket
    usually). Remember that the airport for El Salvador is
    near the coast, actually 45 kms. or 28 miles from the
    capital city (about a 45 minute ride to the capital).
    Those planning beach or coastal vacations in El
    Salvador will be more than happy to hear that resorts
    and hotels on the Pacific Coast are all accesible,
    some within minutes, from the airport by the Carretera
    Litoral or Coastal Highway CA2, no need to drive into
    or through the congested capital city of San Salvador.
    TourbusDF
    There exist in El Salvador local tour
    operators/drivers and transportation companies who
    will arrange in advance to pick you up at the airport
    and transfer you to your Beach, San Salvador city or
    Countryside lodging place(or often the hotels may have
    airport shuttles),
    Panoramic_view_Comalapa_Airport
    When travelling by first class or luxury bus services from either Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua/Costa
    Rica(King Quality Lines, Pulmantur, TransNica and Tica
    Buses), the The international bus terminals are
    located at the modern ‘Puerto Bus’ terminal..with
    security or in the upscale Colonia San Benito, near
    many of the 4 and 5 star luxury hotels.

    Where to Stay in San Salvador to suit any traveler’s
    budget:

    There are several unique places to stay in and around
    San Salvador.

    Business and Upscale Travel: If you are a business
    person looking for first class hotels with world
    business class service try the Hotel Princess, El
    Presidente, Raddisson, or Holiday Inn located in the
    upscale San Benito, Escalón and Santa Elena
    neighborhoods of Metro San Salvador. Also some
    excellent 3 star hotels such as the Hotel-Casino
    Siesta offering discounts with advance
    reservations..have no fear, if you wish we’ll assist
    you to handle all the detail work for you in advance,
    and save you a bundle off the rack rate! Some of these
    4 Star hotels are located in or near the Zona Rosa, a
    trendy area with expensive boutiques and restaurants..
    It is quiet and very safe in the surrounding areas by
    day. The Holiday Inn is the newest large hotel in San
    Salvador. It is in the neighborhood of Santa Elena,
    just 3 blocks away from the U.S. Embassy. It is at the
    edge of town and will allow you to leave San Salvador
    for the western part of the country without having to
    fight the traffic of the capital city. Prices in these
    hotels range from $65-$100+ per night rack rate
    depending on how many occupants you will be traveling
    with. Book ahead.

    Budget and Independent Travel: No doubt, if you are an
    independent traveller you are looking for something
    nice but less ritzy, try one of the many unique
    lodging places, bed and breakfasts and guest houses
    associated with us in and around San Salvador. They
    have private rooms and bathrooms, but are not as large
    as the hotels, generally with less than 15 rooms.
    Prices for the bed and breakfasts/guest houses range from $25-$75 per night depending the establishment and
    on how many beds you require. Cheaper accomodations
    can be found at some of the smaller hotels closer into
    town and around the National University area, which
    boasts a thriving “Bohemian” style nightlife. Most of
    these small hotels and guest houses offer excellent
    basic services for our travellers, especially those
    who wish to mix and socialize with natives and other
    travellers and of course, do not mind taking a cold
    shower in the early morning! Prices range from $6.00
    per person in dorm rooms to $20.00-$25.00 double in
    some small guest houses offering breakfast, cable tv
    and hot water! . for anyone who wishes to stay on in
    El Salvador for a time and either work or volunteer in
    one of the ongoing releif projects or in humanitarian
    aid, before and after your arrival we are willing and
    able to assist you in finding home stay or long term
    room or apartment rentals from $60 month+. Home stay
    with native families in Indingenous Studies (Nahuat)
    and Spanish Language programs is also recommended and
    arrangements may be made with them on a weekly or
    monthly basis.

    Getting Around: Transport – Public Transportation The
    buses in El Salvador are a thrill for those who have
    never experienced our “guanaco” mode of transport. If
    you enjoy a thrill, feel free to use the public bus
    system on your free time to get around. It can be slow
    at times, but it is extremely cheap. Even if you
    choose not to use the public transportation, you
    should take one bus ride just for the experience.
    There’s nothing quite like it… believe us! All the
    organized tours for travelers are in insured vehicles
    with driver for your comfort and safety..and theirs as
    well! Taxis within the city of San Salvador are
    reliable. Do not walk alone nor take public transport
    after 8PM within San Salvador unless you are familiar
    with the area and route. Simply flag a taxi down on
    the street if you require to and determine the price
    to your destination before you get in the cab. There
    are also dispatch services that you can call from your
    lodging place and have pick you up. Most dispatch
    drivers have their own cell phones and you are able to
    contact them later for pick up. Try to avoid the
    “taxistas” at the luxury hotels, unless you are able
    to negociate in Spanish, or if not, try and have a
    native negociate price for you if possible. For
    visitors in San Salvador there are safe and sound city
    nightlife trips if desired: casas de arte, gallery
    showings, theatres, bars and restaurants with either a
    Salvadorian or international flavor, in the
    countryside (small towns) in El Salvador there exists
    little “night life” but the “right life” with El
    Salvadorian native guides or friends introducing you
    to our culture, cuisine and customs. Rental Cars: If
    you don’t wish to drive contract transportation which
    is insured, with a local bonded company driver who
    knows the conditions and terrain, however for certain
    specialized archaeological and ecological trips it may
    be necessary for your group to rent a 4WD vehicle, one
    of several qualified native guides is able to conduct
    you if desired. Remember that rental car companies in
    Central America offer you two insurance options: 1.
    Basic: with a $1,000 to $1,200 deductible on your
    Credit Card at approx. $17 per day up insurance
    charges or 2. Full insurance, including all collision
    damages, fire and theft at approx. $60 per day
    insurance charges for a 4WD, if I were you, venturing
    to remote areas with rough terrain I would choose full
    insurance, a friend of mine recently did so in
    Nicaragua and saved $1,200! Again, economic car,
    $40-$55 for a four door sedan, $75-$100 for a large
    pickup or SUV. All these prices incluye insurance and
    13%sales tax (IVA). What to see n’ do: There are a few
    things you shouldn’t miss while you are in El
    Salvador. Here are a few activities that you could do
    Either on your own or with a guide.
    For those independent travelers wishing to take
    public transport to all of their destinations while
    visiting El Salvador, be advised to leave the bulk of
    your luggage, passport and valuables at hotel or
    friend’s home. If going far leave early in the
    morning, most buses are running by 5AM. Buses are
    generally crowded, especially after 3PM and on
    weekends, there is excellent service on main bus
    routes such as San Salvador to Santa Ana (Ruta 201),
    San Salvador to San Miguel (Ruta 301) and San Salvador
    to Puerto Libertad (Ruta 102), however to more remote
    areas and smaller towns bus service can be sparse, in
    areas where there exists little or no public
    transport, you may need to hitchhike a ride on a pick
    up truck, giving driver a tip at arrival. Many of
    these pick ups often act as “public transport” for
    locals anyway.

    Cerro Verde and Lake Coatepeque: These two
    destinations are beautiful, close to each other and
    not to be missed.
    Cerro Verde National Park: a lush verdant park on a
    summit soaring above the lake with the famous view of
    Izalco’s Volcano and its still smoking cone. The
    lodge, where you may stay overnight, with volcano or
    lake view rooms, is run by the national tourist
    commission, reservations required. We obtain your
    permits to enter the park. The lake is very scenic
    with boat trips with local fishermen to the small
    island “Teopan” in the middle that is a holiday and
    weekend retreat for wealthy Salvadorians. Most of the
    island is a nature preserve and hiking on the trails
    is allowed, thousands of Monarch Butterflies in mating
    season and a bird sanctuary. Lake Coatepeque is a
    volcanic crater lake and there is a nice hotel and
    some small restaurants along the lake edge.

    Montecristo Cloud Forest: This is one of the most
    beautiful hikes in all of Central America from the
    summit, which is reached by 4WD, coaster or minibus
    (standard vehicle not recommended) by winding dirt
    road 23Km. above the town of Metapan, located 35 Km.
    north of Santa Ana, near the Guatemalan frontier, a
    1.5 hour drive from San Salvador. One of the few
    remaining cloud forests in Central America,
    Montecristo winds to the top where Guatemala,
    Honduras, and El Salvador are all visible from the
    Atlantic to the Pacific. Orchid Gardens near to the
    Camping grounds…our organization provides camping and
    equipment on all our organized tours for those able,
    others may opt for country hotels. ..The park is
    administered by an NGO from the EU.

    Life is a Beach!
    Ocean Highway – Calle Litoral from La Libertad to
    Acajutla This coastal highway runs along the ocean
    front for seventy or eighty kilometers. It is a
    beautiful drive that winds along the hills and through
    a set of five tunnels. Take time to snap some photos
    and have lunch in La Libertad or Sonsonate. If you’re
    eating in La Libertad try La Curva one of the nicer
    oceanside restaurants with a great view and wonderful
    food. Acajutla is a thriving port city and the nearby
    Los Cobanos Beach offers the adventure traveller deep
    sea fishing and diving excursions. For more detailed
    information on El Salvador’s coastal desinations,
    unique lodging places and resorts contact the writer.
    At present, besides the ‘Decameron’ there are two new
    resorts very close to to the International Airport
    under operation and several more new unique lodging
    places along the coast, as well, tourism in the
    colonial and crafts villages and the countryside is
    increasing.

    Ruta de Las Flores – Carreterra from Sonsonate to
    Ahuachapan Stop off in Nahuizalco and buy a few wicker
    souvenirs. The nahuizalqueños set up their shops right
    along the highway, but if you have time, go into the
    small town and visit some of the shops. The
    handicrafts are worth a few minutes of your time as is
    the market. Drive through Salcoatitan and take the
    detour into Juayua. If you’re driving through on a
    weekend, they often have a market with traditional
    dishes set up around the central plaza. These are
    generally very clean and safe to eat. After Juayua
    visit Apaneca where you can have a bite to eat at the
    Cabañas de Apaneca and take in the view of the coffee
    fields and surrounding mountains. Continue to escape
    the heat by passing through Ataco on your way down to
    Ahuachapan. Chorros de Juayua: The Chorros de Juayua
    are a set of waterfalls outside of the town of Juayua.
    The hike down is not difficult, but the path is not
    easy to traverse. It is definitely worth it, though.
    The secenery around the waterfalls is beautiful and
    the hike down is also very scenic. **If a single or a
    couple alone..Ask the local police in Juayua if they
    would be willing to provide an escort as local thieves
    occassionally hide out along the trail. If you do
    encounter a thief, however, simply give him some money
    and be on your way. They are usually local teens that
    do not intend to harm anyone, but are looking for an
    easy buck. If you are the type who would rather be
    “safe than sorry” then The El Salvadorian National
    Tourist Police are also able to escort small groups on
    day tours, including eco tours, anywhere within El
    Salvador if you give them about two weeks notice,
    there is no charge, however tipping is expected.
    Police are very helpful to tourists, and if driving a
    rental car and are stopped, show your licence and car
    papers and you’ll be on your way

    Mayan Ruins: San Andres and Joyas de Cerén San Andres
    and Joyas de Cerén are two Mayan ruin sites. San
    Andres has a new museum that is excellent and offers
    free tours before examining the pyramids. If you have
    seen the majestic temple ruins in Copan, Mexico or
    Guatemala, don’t expect much in “size” from these
    ruins, but more in “quality” We know native guides who
    are experts in every aspect of our Maya-Pipil
    culture..We ourselves are associated with ‘Mundo Maya’
    (The Mayan World) organization. Joya de Cerén is the
    only “non royal” Mayan site existing in MesoAmerica,
    an ordinary village buried under volcanic ash some
    1400 years ago after an eruption of the nearby
    volcano, Joya de Cerén is referred to as the “Pompeii
    of the Americas”. It is a very interesting site for
    academics and a “must see” for visitors who wish to
    understand fully our pre-Hispanic culture! with some
    displays explaining what has been unearthed, but is
    not completely finished yet. Well worth the effort is
    a visit to Cihuatan, a ruins north of San Salvador,
    still under excavation, called “The City of Women”….

    Santa Ana: Cathedral and Theater in the Central Plaza
    of Santa Ana The catedral in Santa Ana is famous
    throughout El Salvador for its classic gothic design.
    Be prepared for the pigeons and local photographers
    trying to snap your photo and sell you a picture. The
    theater on the other side of the park is a rare work
    of art in El Salvador. They are attempting to restore
    it, and it seems very “out of place” for Santa Ana
    with its classic design and architecture. There is a
    nominal fee (less than 50¢) to get in, but it is an
    interesting stop if you are in Santa Ana.

    Suchitoto:
    Narrow Cobbled Stone Streets and Adobe Houses…
    Time definitely seems to have stopped in the city of
    Suchitoto, one of the country’s most visited cities in
    the Northern part of the country. Suchitoto is located
    in the department of Cuscatlán and is situated 47
    kilometers from the capital city of San Salvador. This
    equates to about a one hour drive.
    Suchitoto, which in the native Nahuatl tongue means
    “City of the Flower Bird”, literally became a ghost
    town in the period of the country’s civil war, which
    lasted from 1980 – 1992. The constant cascade of bombs
    and battles near the extinct volcano of Guazapa forced
    most of its inhabitants to abandon the city. Yet it
    was this migration that helped the city to preserve
    its unique architecture. While visiting Suchitoto,
    you’ll experience that magic calm of the old days,
    with narrow cobbled stone streets and adobe houses
    with balconies.
    Read more:
    http://www.alfatravelguide.com/english/sv/Suchitoto.asp

    For more detailed information: http://gaesuchito.com/
    & http://www.theotherelsalvador.com/ in English &
    Spanish, Webmaster is a Salvadorian-American residing
    in Suchitoto. Any contributions to the site are
    welcome in either language.

    *Guatemala, just over the border: We have associate
    native guides, hotels and lodging places and tour
    operators in Guatemala, only 4.5 hours by vehicle or
    first class bus from San Salvador. Antigua, where most
    travellers choose to base, is only 45 minutes
    southwest of Guatemala City (42 Km.) by paved divided
    highway. For budget travellers buses to Antigua leave
    Zona (Zone)3 in Guatemala city every 10-15 minutes
    during the day.

    No No’s: Do not plan JUST for a “vacation”. Plan for
    AN UNFORGETTABLE CULTURAL AND SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE! Do
    not bring expensive gifts to give out to beggars or
    street children… This sets up false expectations for
    other families and trravelers when they come to visit
    in the area. Many of the people you visit will be
    extremely poor, but the best thing to do is not to
    give them money, ESPECIALLY STREET CHILDREN, if you
    wish to donate, arrange to do so quietly with your
    native guide and a village leader or priest. Please do
    not offer anyone promises of visas or work in the
    United States, etc… Always respect local culture and
    customs, never become argumentative nor critical and
    always have your native guide smooth out any disputes
    that arise.. Do everything possible to make all your
    own arrangements leaving from the United States,
    Canada, etc. and not burden others with those little
    minute travel details that you should be able to
    handle on your own. If I do not know the answer to a
    question I shall try and find out for you. Invaluable
    to bring along with you are PRINT Guidebooks, up to
    date, such as Footprint Mexico & Central America
    Handbook..very detailed..your best bet!, Lonely Planet
    Central America and the ‘On Your Own in El Salvador’
    (the only country specific guidebook for El
    Salvador)..2nd edition out of print..try on Amazon.com
    and detail maps available in bookstores as well as on
    the Internet….. so ‘Let’s Go Amigo!…’

    Donald Lee, San Salvador, El Salvador
    Resident of El Salvador, Guatemala & México over 21 years
    E mail or message me on care2.com for more detailed information.
    Donlee23 at care2.com

    Alpha Travel Guide…
    In English, Swedish and Spanish
    Great information and reservations portal for all
    Central
    America….http://www.alfatravelguide.com/english/index.htm

    For a virtual tour of El Salvador: English or Spanish
    http://www.4elsalvador.com/

    Some Top El Salvador Attractions:
    Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site
    San Andres Archaeological Site
    Devil’s Door (Puerta del Diablo)
    Arbol de Dios Gallery and Shop , San Salvador
    Parque de San Martin Suchitoto
    Iglesia Santa Lucia Suchitoto
    For more information on the charming colonial
    restored town of Suchitoto view:
    http://gaesuchitoto.com/
    http://www.theotherelsalvador.com/
    plus:
    Catedral Metropolitana , San Salvador
    Lake Coatepeque
    El Sunzal Surfing Beach
    Montecristo Cloud Forest
    El Imposible Nature Reserve

    More much, much more..ignore all the ‘bad press’ and
    discover the undiscovered El Salvador!
    ********************************************************************
    ***************************************
    Security…keep a low profle and use common sense..anywhere you travel in Latin
    America
    Drive defensively, and as at home..you may encounter a few ‘nuts’ on the road,
    if you do ever become involved in an vehicular accident, keep your cool, never
    react to another angry driver**, ‘road rage’ and stressed out motorists are
    becoming a world wide phenomenon..if you must venture into the capital city of
    San Salvador for vehicle parts, ATM or errands, hire a local to help you and
    take public transportation, another good way to get to know the country and
    people.
    **Also be aware that ‘hit and run’ accidents..motorist on pedestrian or
    bicyclist are quite common throughout Latin America..avoid driving Saturday and
    Sunday afternoons when many drivers are intoxicated and never at night, except
    in case of emergency.

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