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El Salvador - ox cart and Usulután volcano -f.m. photo

Even while we were still on the bus, I could feel that El Salvador would be quite different from Guatemala. The people are friendly and courteous, and always ready to help. They smile and look happy, with none of the glum expressions we saw so often in Guatemala. Despite the stories in the news, we never felt in any danger. Wherever we went, we only ever encountered pleasant people.

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Two gangs rule the country (MS-13 and Calle 18) which are constantly at war with one another, and innocent civilians are often the victims of their frequent street battles. Once you join a gang, you can never leave, and just to make sure of that they give you a facial tattoo, which might be enlarged if you do particularly well. According to Bruno it’s more dangerous for him to meet a gang member than it would be for us. They can tell he’s a local, so they’d steal his valuables, or beat him up, or knife him, but they’d be friendly with us. One traveler told us how he met a gang member in a ghetto on the outskirts of the city, where instead of robbing him, he invited him to meet his family. There he was treated as a guest of honor, and at the end of the meal they called a taxi for him and paid his fare back.

It’s a strange world.

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Prices here aren’t much different to those in Central Europe, and teachers and doctors receive a higher salary than in Hungary. The difference is, in El Salvador someone is murdered every hour.
We visited many rural villages, and I believe that if visitors obey the rules of the game, and don’t flaunt their valuables, then it’s possible to walk the streets without fear, even at night. (2016)


Practicals

Transport

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El Salvador - Ruta 222 Las Flores - r.f. photo

Food

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El Salvador - grilled tiger prawn - r.t. photo

Public safety

All shops and establishments containing material assets are guarded by private security firms armed with firearms. But it does not help much if an owner does not pay monthly money to at least one of the two competing gangs. Getting into a shootout during a robbery is a real risk for someone who visits the capital as a tourist. It is even more real to be robbed 15 minutes after sunset on the capital's streets, even in its center.

El Salvador - policeman

El Salvador - security guy - g.s. photo

Others

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El Salvador - street art - zl. photo

Background

El Salvador - national flag

Destination in brief

El Salvador in brief 

El Salvador is a small Central American country. Neighbors: Guatemala (northwest), Honduras (northeast). El Salvador has a coast on the Pacific Ocean. 

Size: 21 041 km² (8 124 mi²) – the smallest country in Central America.

This is the “country of volcanoes”: it has more than 20, two among which are active.

Population (in 2020): 6,4 million – 86.3% mestizo (white and Amerindian mix), 12.7% white, 0.2% Amerindian. Those who have visible indigenous features suffer some discrimination and are referred to by the derogatory terms "indios" (Indians) or "negros" (blacks). 

Capital city: San Salvador (1.1 million)

Official language: Spanish (colonial heritage)

Religions: Roman Catholic 50%, Protestant 36%

Official currency: USD - The colon was El Salvador’s currency for over 60 years, before the country adopted the US dollar following the end of the civil war (1992). It is difficult to pay with notes larger than the 20 USD ones.

Average monthly salary (in 2020): 320 USD About half the population lives below the poverty line and is able to buy food but seldom clothing and medicine. El Salvador is somewhat wealthier than Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, but poorer than Panama and Costa Rica.

The coffee cultivated in the western part of the country is world famous.

Most frequent surname: Hernandez

Public safety: not good – better than in Honduras, much worse than in Costa Rica or Panama. Tourists are seldom victims of violent crimes, which happen mostly between the two big gangs (with some victims among innocent locals caught in the crossfire in neighborhoods outside of the tourist tracks). Still, it is better to avoid taking local, long-distance buses, which may be robbed on public roads. 

Diarrhea is the main risk for tourists, especially during the first days of consuming local food. 

Optimal timing of a tourist visit: December-April (less rain, nice warm weather) – June-November is hurricane season (the worst being in October and November) 

Main tourist attractions: a rich heritage of Maya civilization, semi-tropical landscape, scenic lakes, exciting volcanoes, beautiful ocean coast (popular surfing destination), the spectacular flora of the mountains. Locals are very friendly and smile much more than the people in Guatemala. They are very welcoming to tourists (surprisingly, even those who are visibly gang members are friendly to tourists). 

El Salvador is a special off the beaten path destination that hasn’t been spoilt by tourism yet.

Climate

“El Salvador has a tropical climate, divided into a warm and a dry season. The temperature generally depends not so much on time of year, but on altitude above sea level. The coastal areas are always hot, but the temperatures on the central plateau and in the highlands are much milder. The rainy season lasts from May to October, and almost all the annual precipitation falls during this period. Excluding the southern hills, rainfall in all areas can reach as much as 2170 mm in a year.

From November to April, the weather is shaped by the northeastern trade winds, which blow from the Caribbean, and any rainfall they bring falls on the mountains of Honduras, and by the time it reaches El Salvador it has become a warm, dry, dusty wind.

Hurricanes in the Caribbean sometimes reach El Salvador too, but these have less impact here than in other Central American countries. Interestingly, Salvadorans generally refer to the rainy period between May and October as winter (invierno), though the country is in the northern hemisphere.


People

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El Salvador - farmer family - k.v. photo

El Salvador - firewood (legally?)

Gastronomy

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El Salvador - for breakfast

El Salvador - pastelitos

Attractions

Churches

El Salvador - Zacateroluca - Saint Lucia's Cathedral - s.p. photo

El Salvador - Santa Ana - The Cathedral of Our Lady Saint Anne, a neo-Gothic church

El Salvador - San Salvador - Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior - Elter photo

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