El Salvador was one of the biggest surprises when I spent around 4 months traveling around Latin America this spring.
The country is so often skipped because of bad media coverage and misconceptions, but I never felt unsafe and was really blown away by this beautiful, misunderstood country.
It’s been said that the country of El Salvador will be the next big tourist hotspot for Latin America, and with increased flights from the U.S., it’s clear this is starting to happen. In my time there, I didn’t encounter too many other tourists, especially Americans.
That’s not to say people don’t come, as 2022 brought 2.5 million visitors to the country, a number which indicates that their tourism industry is nearly operating at 100% again after the pandemic.
Those who know about El Salvador are likely hikers or surfers since the coast is gaining more and more attention for its laid-back surf vibe and epic swells, and the volcanos and peaks offer great hiking. I was there for neither, deciding instead to chill and explore the capital city of San Salvador and nearby attractions.
@jjacktravels 5 BEST Places To Visit In El Salvador! 🇸🇻 #elsalvador #travel #tiktok #nature #worldwide #explore ♬ Feel This Moment – Pitbull,Christina Aguilera
The people of El Salvador will likely benefit from an increase in tourism dollars, but I am so glad I got the chance to visit El Salvador before the masses descend upon it and the tourism influx changes its authenticity forever.
4 Reasons Why El Salvador Shocked Me The Most On My Trip To Latin America:
Safety Vs. Statistics
As a country with a history of gang violence and known for having one of the highest crime and homicide rates in the world, I was more than a bit skeptical about visiting El Salvador.
However, all the travelers that I met thought my Central America trip spoke highly of it (as they did about Honduras also), especially when they heard that people were planning on skipping El Salvador. “Don’t Skip El Salvador” became a common phrase we heard in our travels, so we listened and went to find out for ourselves.
El Salvador has gone through a recent (somewhat controversial) crackdown on gang violence, and while it’s made worldwide news for its mega prisons and somewhat questionable ethical practices, there is no denying that it has made the country safer. We spoke to many locals who had nothing but praise for the new way of life.
After all, this county was literally controlled by violent gangs for years, a fact which is evident when you notice all the middle-aged men going about their daily lives with missing limbs, a sobering sight in a country that is trying to rebuild itself after years of hardship.
While there is level 3: Reconsider Travel U.S. travel advisory for El Salvador, it seems most of the crime you might encounter would be gang-related, and therefore not an outward threat to tourists. Even walking around downtown San Salvador seemed safer than many cities in America, and although I wouldn’t go out at night or alone, I never felt unsafe in the daytime.
@gio_bazan_travels Planing on visiting El Salvador? Here’s a few things to do in downtown San Salvador! 🇸🇻💙 #elsalvador #sansalvador #explore #explorepage #foryou #foryoupage #fyp #travel #traveler #viajestiktok #traveladdict #traveltheworld #viral #viral ♬ Memories – Lux-Inspira
Warm and Welcoming
While I was apprehensive about visiting El Salvador, one thing I was not worried about was the people. In our traveling throughout Latin America, we had heard many stories about the people of El Salvador being the nicest of all the countries, and I am inclined to agree.
I would say we met more locals here than we did in neighboring countries, but of course, that doesn’t mean Guatemalans and Nicaraguans are not also lovely as well.
One event that sticks out in my mind is when we got into a minor car accident in an area outside of San Salvador, in a neighborhood in which I wouldn’t normally suggest spending too much time in. The damage was minimal, but the young man who hit our van clearly had no money to pay on the spot (as we learned is common practice there).
In order to get moving, we finally offered to pay the company for his damages, and the emotions and tearful responses that followed were heartwarming and sincere, not to mention all the locals came to check on us and offer food and water.
I honestly felt so well looked after in El Salvador that I would not hesitate to go back in a heartbeat and explore more, especially the Pacific coast, which we did not have time for on this trip.
When a country carries the nickname of the Land of Volcanos, you know you are in for some serious landscapes, and El Salvador doesn’t disappoint in this area. Most come to hike the famous Santa Ana volcano, and while I didn’t attempt this, I met many who had nothing but good things to say about it.
As the only Central American country that doesn’t border the Caribbean Sea, the county makes up this with its famed surfing spots on the Pacific side. I was especially impressed by the clear waters of Lake Coatepeque, having never been in a crater lake inside a volcano before.
Besides the volcanos, craters, and lakes, the small towns dotting the countryside are a main draw here. I was lucky enough to travel along the popular Ruta De Flores and saw highlights such as Nahuizalco, Juayua, Apaneca, and Ataco, all charming and bustling with life.
Another highlight that you can’t miss is Succhitoto, the county’s old capital city and one of the most well-persevered cities in all of Central America. I didn’t stay a few days here but wished I had, wandering the cobblestone stress and gazing into the man-made lagoon of Lago Suchitlán just outside of town.
As one of El Salvador’s main economic and political partners, America is held in high regard here. This is evident in the way in which they treat American tourists and the amount of El Salvadorians who have either returned home from living in the U.S. or have family in the United States.
The alliance with America is especially noticeable if you look at migration factors; when the country was ravaged by an almost 12-year-long civil war, almost 50 percent of El Salvadorians traveled to the United States to seek refuge.
The official currency in El Salvador is the US Dollar, although be aware most are unlikely to accept $50 or $100 bills, so small notes are a must when traveling here. One thing that personally surprised me was the amount of Sacagawea Golden Dollars I saw being used every day. My local friend explained to me that since Americans didn’t want them and refused to use them, they were all sent to El Salvador.
If you are thinking of a Latin America trip or just looking for an underrated great place for a holiday, I have to repeat the famous mantra, please please do yourself a favor and “Don’t Skip El Salvador”
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com