Travel, Currency and Money saving tips for El Salvador
El Salvador suffers horribly from bad press. While gang violence still dominates international headlines – and keeps so many adventurous travelers at bay – the vast majority of this beautiful country remains untouched by 'the troubles.'
Those visitors who do make the effort are invariably impressed by the warm welcome they receive and by just how much this tiny country has to offer: world-class surfing on empty, dark-sand beaches; coffee plantations clinging to the sides of volcanoes; pretty flower-filled villages with buildings splashed by murals; and sublime national parks. There are few crowds outside the capital, San Salvador, which itself has more swagger than its Central American counterparts.
San Salvador is a great getaway to explore nearby attractions. The city itself is very busy with constant traffic and people rushing somewhere, so you feel like you want to escape the noise. Take the opportunity however and discover San Salvador downtown with many historical buildings, including the National Palace, National Theatre, the Cathedral and the Plaza Libertad.
Cureency tips for El Salvador.
The unit of currency in El Salvador is the U.S. dollar. The country made the switch from its native colón in 2001, and colónes have been phased out since 2004. Small-town tiendas rarely have change for a $20, so get small bills whenever you can. ATMs, known as cajeros automáticos, can be found in all major cities but are hard to come by in rural towns. Even when a smaller town has an ATM, it may not accept your card -- stock up on cash when you can.
Bank machines accept most major card networks, such as Cirrus, PLUS, Visa, and MasterCard. Credit cards are accepted mainly only in the larger hotels, restaurants, and shops. Sometimes, you get lucky in the most unexpected places, but generally, small shops or restaurants in villages are solo efectivo, or cash only. Those that accept credit cards usually take American Express, Diners Club, Visa, and MasterCard.
How to get around in El Salvador?
Flying within El Salvador is neither cost effective nor easily accessible. Some well-heeled execs fly private planes between San Miguel and San Salvador, and Puerta Barillas in Bahía de Jiquilisco has a helicopter pad, but most folk here stay grounded. There are no trains in El Salvador.
Hypercolored American school buses run frequently to points throughout the country and are very cheap (US$0.25 to US$5). Some weekend fares increase by up to 25%. Routes to some eastern destinations have different categories: ordinario, especial and super especial. The last two options cost more, but they are faster and more comfortable. Most intercity bus services begin between 4am and 5am and end between 6pm and 7pm.
Most roads in El Salvador are paved, but traffic is not easy to negotiate and roads are not particularly well signed. Police set up checkpoints, especially on roads to border crossings. Carjacking is a problem, as is getting parts stolen off your parked car. Don’t drive alone in areas of ill repute and always park in safe places. Car insurance is a good idea, but not required. Rental cars are available in San Salvador and San Miguel and can be delivered elsewhere.
Cycling is popular in El Salvador, both as a recreational activity and means of transport. In San Salvador, a good point of contact is cycling enthusiasts Ciclistas Urbanos. They can provide information about the Cicleada Urbana Nocturna, a weekly Thursday-night group-cycling event in the capital. Mountain-biking is possible near Perquín in Morazán – ask at Perkin Lenca or Serafin Tours.