JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH LISSETTE ALFARO FROM SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR !
Lissette Alfaro or ‘Liss’ as people like to call her, studied Marketing, Busieness Administration, International Postgrado in design and management of tourism. She is a certified guide by the Ministry of Tourism of El Salvador and a Canadian company to work in cruise ships. She has been working 18 years in tourism. She is passionate and inspired to give the best of her. She is the founder of the Company El Salvador Xpedition. Being born in San Salvador, she visited many tourism places in and out of San Salvador since the time she was a kid and hence she knows it like the back of her hand.
El Salvador is the smallest country in the whole of Central America. The country is bordered by the Pacific Ocean in south, Guatemala in west, and Honduras in north and shared maritime borders with Nicaragua.
The geography of El Salvador is mainly mountainous. There are two mountain ranges that run parallel, these are separated by a central plateau landmass. In the north, running parallel with the border of Honduras, is the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Alternatively, in the south, the land lowers, there are a staggering 20+ volcanoes that form a line running west to east.
It is also the only country in Central America that does not have a coastline on the Caribbean Sea, still its popular tourist attraction are its beaches. It is a Mecca for surfers due to the right hand, point breaks that grace most of its 307km coastline. Punta Roca and Punta Mango are arguably the best point breaks in all of Central America.
El Salvador is known as the Land of Volcanoes, as it has frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. It has more than 100 volcanos. Around twenty volcanos are potentially active. Standing at 2,381 metres above sea level, Santa Ana is the highest volcano in El Salvador. Locals call Volcan Santa Ana Ilamatepec or Mother Mountain. Even the two largest lakes in the country — Coatepeque and Ilopango are formed by volcanic eruptions.
The capital city of El Salvador is San Salvador. It is the oldest and most long-standing capital in Central America. In 1524, Pedro de Alvarado invaded El Salvador and founded San Salvador.
Despite being historically and culturally rich, El Salvador is an overlooked part of Central America. Please tell us what makes the country special and definitely worth visiting.
You will fall in love with the wonder of our country, even though is very small one, has a lot of touristic destinations and the most important thing, the people are so kind and nice, our country is recognized like the “eternal smile”, always willing to help others.
Nature, history, beautiful beaches and more, are waiting for you and so prepare to know every magical place in El Salvador. Strategically located to easily visit others countries in Central America.
What is the best time to visit El Salvador or rather which season must be avoided?
El Salvador is a country with a very warm or tropical climate, average temperature is 28°C, oscillating between 25°C and 28°C, in mountainous areas the temperature fluctuates in 10°C and 22°C.
El Salvador has two seasons, summer from November to April and Winter time, rainy from May to October; being the most rain in June and September, having a decrease in July and august, known as canicula.
Anything that one must keep in mind while planning a trip to the country.
Before planning the trip, you must know the following –
Entry Requirements : Passport, depending on the country of origin. Sometimes a tourist Visa or tourist card for a cost of USD $12.00, It’s valid for 90 days. All visitors must verify the immigration requirements needed to enter El Salvador before starting their journey to avoid unwanted setbacks. Passports should have at least six months of validity when traveling to El Salvador.
Airport Tax : USD $ 32.00
VISA Requirements : Nationals of the following countries do not require a Visa to enter El Salvador for tourism or family visits when period time does not exceed 90 days or just for transit. This Visa-exempt countries may require a tourist card, which can be obtained at the border points of entrance to the country, and has a cost of USD$12.00.
For any of the Visa categories consider the following : The maximum length to stay in the country that can be given to a tourist is 90 days. If an extension is required, one can be requested per year. People arriving from Panama, South America or Africa must have received the yellow fever vaccine at least 15 days before their trip to El Salvador.
Currency : US Dollar (USD)
Official lenguage : Spanish, but our country is preparing at tourist level in different other languages, predominating English, we have tour guides speaking other languages like French an Italian.
Contact a Tour Operator to make a tour plan, including transfers from/to airport, hotel reservation and tours.
When in San Salvador, how to get around the city?
In El Salvador there are several options.
The Salvadoran public transportation system includes buses and micro-buses. The country has a comprehensive network of private buses that provide services to all parts of the country, urban and rural and are very affordable. They charge approximately $0.25 per trip depending on the distance. A trip within the capital of about 5 miles will cost less than $0.75. Also, from the capital, San Salvador to Sensuntepeque, about 80 kilometers away, it will cost less than $3.00. However, quality of service and poor conditions of buses can be a cause for concern. SITRAMSS, which is a rapid transit bus that has rechargeable cards for payment and charges $0.33 per trip, depending on the distance.
Mototaxi is also one of the most used transport by people who need to travel short distances in a short time. This means of transportation is usually a cheap option for travelers.
The best modes of transportation in El Salvador are driving, taking taxis, shuttles or Uber.
El Salvador does not have domestic flights or train services.
Do you recommend renting a car or public transport does the job?
To rent a car, fee could be USD$25.00 per day more or less.
To get an Uber the fee start USD$3.00, also you can get a tourist transport, wich includes a driver and oil.
Public transport is recommended if the Budget is limited.
What are the five must visit attractions in the city for history and culture?
El Rosario Church : Since 1971, El Rosario church has been recognized as a religious heritage site for Salvadorans. It is one of the last churches built in downtown San Salvador. It has a modern architectural design, rich with European influence, and is unique in the Americas. All visitors will appreciate its unique concrete walls with no finish. Even more, impressive are the stained-glass windows that give light and color to the otherwise dark interior.
El Rosario church is the resting place of independence heroes’ brothers Nicolas, Vicente, and Manuel Aguilar. Making this temple a cultural property protected under The Hague Convention and by Legislative Decree #38, issuing “Historic Site” status in 1972. The ideal time to visit El Rosario is early in the morning or late afternoon when the light, reflected from the stained glass, has the most dramatic effect.
National Theatre of El Salvador : Is the oldest theatre in Central America. It began construction on November 3, 1911. The building is among the capital’s most notable works of architecture, with its stately Neo-classical façade giving way to lavish French Renaissance interiors, including a grand mural by Salvadoran painter Salvador Carlos Cañas. Today, the 650-seat theater remains the heart of Salvadoran performing arts, hosting an ever-changing schedule of classical concerts, theater, folk music performances and art workshops.
The Metropolitan Cathedral : The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador and the seat of the Archbishop of San Salvador. Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador from 1977 until he was assassinated in 1980. Romero was buried in the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador. The church was also visited twice by Pope John Paul II.
People from all over the country and international tourists visit this cathedral for many different reasons. The most popular reasons why people visit are the location, history, faith, and Saint Oscar Arnulfo Romero’s crypt.
The National Palace : It is one of the most symbolic and majestic buildings in the country and despite being located a few meters from kilometer zero of the Salvadoran capital, it is very well preserved. The Palace has four main rooms, the red, blue, pink and yellow. Each room reflects a majestic harmony of colors, highlighted by its floors, ceilings and wall decorations. In the center of the building there is a large patio surrounded by five araucarias, which symbolize the 5 nations of Central America.
Anthropological Museum David J. Guzman : Travel through the pre-Hispanic past, the colonial mix, and the identity of El Salvador in this museum located in the capital city. While visiting this destination, visitors will learn about the culture and history of the country, including migration and roots, agriculture, craft production, industry and trade, religion, and pre-Hispanic burials of the different periods.
With miles of coastline to explore, which are the best beaches near San Salvador?
El Salvador has more than 300 kms of beautiful beaches.
The Tunco beach, it is a place to have a very fun time, there are hotels, restaurants, coffee shop, music and many other amenities. It is located just minutes away ( 50 minutes ) from the International Airport Of El Salvador. You also get scooter rental places here, prices of which starts at $25 per day. It is an International surfing location because of the large waves and swells and is one of the most visited surf town in Central America. El Tunco Beach has access to two surf spots: La Bocana and Sunzal surf spots.
How To Reach : By car, you must take the highway to the Port in La Libertad. Then take highway to the Littoral going West, until you see the entry sign to El Tunco.
By public transportation, you can take 102, 107 or 177 bus routes. Ticket costs $1.50. Trip is 1 hour approximately. Buses leave every twenty minutes, starting at 6:00am until 7:00pm, from the Simon Bolivar Park in San Salvador.
El Zonte beach is another ideal beach for resting, surfing and having fun, a place where children and adults enjoy the waves. The beach is located in the town of El Zonte, about an hour drive from Comalapa International Airport and the capital – San Salvador. Playa El Zonte is well-known among the local and international surfing communities. El Zonte beach has some beautiful caves on the west side of the beach. The caves are found beneath one of the cliffs that surround the beach. However, the caves are only accessible during low tide.
How To Reach : El Zonte beach El Salvador is located at kilometer 53 on the Coastal Highway in the department of La Libertad; it is about 31 miles from the international airport.
San Salvador, the capital is strategically located, making it only a few hours away from any destination in the country. Which towns/villages would you absolutely recommend visiting?
El Salvador has so many spectacular places, it is hard to mention only a few of them.
Suchitoto : Located 47 kilometers from the capital, is a must-see destination during your visit to El Salvador. This colonial city houses an invaluable cultural and historical wealth, blending with nature and its imposing views, honoring its meaning in Nahuat “place of birds and flowers.”
Historically, this destination was home to the first capital of the country in 1528. Its commercial characteristics are visible in the area, now converted into a tourist bastion surrounded by hostels, restaurants, and picturesque coffee shops that give the feeling of being in colonial times.
Route of The Flowers : A Tourist Route is the integration of different tourist areas through the management of tourist routes with the interpretation of elements such as productive activities, scenic attractions or other attractions that allow to offer a quality experience through the creative management of existing resources (natural areas, crafts, special attractions, traditions, and gastronomy, among others).
Santa Ana Volcano : Located in the department of Santa Ana, this colossus has an altitude of 2,381 meters above sea level, the highest in El Salvador. Its last eruptions occurred in 2005. As you get ready to climb the volcano, you will experience incredible contact with the flora and fauna of the area, which will give you a fresh and delicious climate. And once at the top of this imposing colossus, you will have spectacular views of the Izalco volcano and Lake Coatepeque.
Coatepeque Lake : Is one of the favorite destinations for Salvadorans and foreigners, here you can practice kayaking, jet skiing, and diving. This volcanic lake has abundant natural wealth. Visitors can observe a great variety of resident and migratory birds or go fishing, diving or riding a kayak, jet skiing, or boat riding. In addition, the surroundings entice you to go hiking or mountain biking, relish the beautiful panoramic views covered with lush vegetation.
Joya de Cerén Archaeological Park : Is an icon of pre-Hispanic culture that describes to visitors what the daily life of the Mayans was like. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1993 and is also called The Pompeii of America, being compared to the archaeological site of Italy, therefore it is a must-see destination in El Salvador. It is characterized by being the only village in El Salvador with evidence of the daily life of the Mesoamerican inhabitants more than 1,500 years ago. It displays an excellent state of preservation of ancient botany and fauna.
There are several Mayan ruins in El Salvador, some as large as those you would expect to find throughout Guatemala and Mexico. The most visited ones are Joya de Cerén, Tazumal and San Andres. Tazumal is an archaeological site located about 60 km west of the capital San Salvador. While San Andrés is 40 km north-west of San Salvador.
Montecristo National Park : Is part of the Trifinio Transboundary Biosphere Reserve and was the first declared protected area in El Salvador. It’s highest peak is located at the Punto Trifinio, where three countries converge: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
This destination offers visitors camping areas, cabins (for reservation & permit email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com), soccer fields, and starting points for hikes to viewpoints, rivers, and a 100-year-old garden where you will appreciate different species of ancient plants, ferns, and orchids. One of its main attractions is the love tree, where two trees embrace in a hug. This is the perfect scenery to observe quetzals, cuche de monte, the mountain guacalchía, deer, ocelots, cotuzas, among others.
Jiquilisco Bay : Discover the largest mangrove site in El Salvador at the beach Bahia de Jiquilisco in Usulután. Home to the largest population of seabirds in the country. Most of them are protected species or in extinction danger. Once there, little by little, you will be entering into a paradise with virgin islands and beaches, appreciating the sites of volcanoes, sunsets, flora, and fauna.
Perquin : A town full of history, panoramic views and natural wealth awaits you in the north of Morazán. Its main attraction is the Perquín hill which offers magnificent views from its summit of the municipality and the Sierra de Nahuaterique. It will not take you more than 15 minutes to climb to the top from the Museum of the Revolution, another of the historical attractions of this town, where you will learn part of the history of the Civil War of El Salvador. Due to its location and abundant vegetation, coffee, and pine forests, Perquín has a cool climate which will make your stay a great experience away from the bustle of the city.
La Palma : La Palma is the starting point to various destinations in the upper area of Chalatenango, such as El Pital and Miramundo, where agritourism and many more entertainments are offered. La Palma displays houses painted with naive and fresh designs, very typical of the area. This technique was created by Fernando Llort, one of the most recognized national and international Salvadoran artists. You will also find workshops there on handicrafts in wood, leather, ceramics, seeds, and cotton fabric.
What is the local produce and cuisine of the city?
You should taste Pupusas, which are the typical food that represent our country. A pupusa is thick tortilla, made from corn or rice flour, stuffed with cheese, beans, or other ingredients. If you want you can eat them with cabbage in vinegar and tomato sauce.
Also we have tamales, Tripe Soup, Wild chicken soup, enchiladas (fried tortillas with meat and toppings), Yuca frita con chicharron (Fried Cassava with pork chunks), Pastelitos (Salvadoran turnovers), Elote loco /Crazy corn, Salvadoran Quesadilla (‘Salvadoran Sweet Cheese Cake’ not tortillas filled with cheese and other ingredients like other Latin American countries), Torrejas (French toast with sweet sauce). Panes rellenos (Salvadoran sandwiches).
Note : The national flower of El Salvador ‘Flor de Izote’ is a popular edible palm flower. It is pickled, steamed, mixed with eggs or put into soups.
Which places would you suggest for trying authentic Salvadoran cuisine?
Relajo Cocina Salvadoreña, Tipicos Margoth, Pupuseria La Unica, Delote, Mercadito de Merliot, Comedor Mercedes to name a few.
Where should one head for shopping in San Salvador? Are there any weekend/night/flea markets which tourists must visit?
If you are looking for a souvenir store, you must go to the artisan market in San Salvador, also there are other stores located in malls all around the county. You will also find international and local markets throughout.
Centro Commercial Gallerias, near Zona Rosa was built on the site of a colonial mansion, later transformed into a mall. Metrocentro Mall is the most modern mall in the city with popular brands.
Any classes or workshops that one should attend in the city? Anything that one must bring back from San Salvador?
If you come to visit our country, there are many things you can learn, for example:
– To make pupusas, typical food that represent to El Salvador.
– Spanish classes
– Dance classes, like salsa, merengue, bachata.
– Participate in an añil (indigo) workshopa, which is a blue dye, a very important activity in the history of El Salvador. El Salvador was the hub or the main producer of the Anil color which is used in many of the great Mayan pyramids and Temples throughout Central America.
You will find ideal places to buy souvenirs like shirts, candy, coffee, good as the best around the world.
El Salvador hosts various events/festivals annually. Which are the most significant events which tourists must witness?
El Salvador has many festivities around the year, when the new generations learn about costums and traditions to have identification with the community, the country and others.
Some of the festivals are:
The fireballs : The main attraction of Nejapa is the festival of “Las Bolas de Fuego” (Fire Balls). The tradition is more than 100 years old; and began after the eruption of the volcano El Playon in November 1658, which forced the town to move to its current location. During the eruption the volcano threw incandescent balls of fire (or bombs) into the air which then led to the celebration and tradition of the “bolas de fuego”.
When : The celebration is held every August 31st. The balls are made of rags and tied up with wire and sunk into kerosene for a month.
Farolitos Festival : Farolitos Day (lanterns) is a traditional Catholic holiday that takes place every September 7. It has more than 150 years of existence and is originally from “Ahuachapán” and declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by the legislative assembly of El Salvador.
When : Every September 7, the municipality of Ahuachapán illuminates the night dedicated to the eve of the birth of the Virgin Mary. Thousands of Farolitos light the city and the House of Culture holds a contest for the best decoration made with these luminaries.
San Miguel Carnival (Carnaval de San Miguel) : The absolute best time to visit the city is in November. San Miguel Carnaval is one of the most important events in the country. This huge celebration is in honor of the town’s patron, Virgen de la Paz (Virgin of the Peace). During this time what is usually a relaxed town turns into a party town with all sorts of activities.
When : It happens every year during the last week of November and lasts for a whole week.
As a local would you give any suggestions/tips to tourists visiting El Salvador.
Yes, definitely !
- Come with all the willingness to have a good time, to let yourself be treated as only we in El Salvador can do.
- You must be cautious as in any other country.
- It is best to hire tours to take advantage of the time and get to know the most important things about each place.
- Get ready to meet a destination that will exceed your expectations.
THINGS TO KNOW
How to Reach San Salvador : Located about 50 km (31 mi) from the city of San Salvador, El Salvador International Airport (SAL) is the country’s chief airport and point of arrival for almost all international air travellers. You can get to San Salvador in many ways, but it is easiest to fly. San Salvador International is the only airport on the island that serves international flights. Most people come one of the two ways, by air to San Salvador airport, or by land from Guatemala, or Nicaragua (via Honduras).
If arriving by a cruise is on your mind, remember El Salvador is just making a name for itself as a cruise destination and currently only has two main ports on both its east and west coasts. Acajutla, on the west coast, has some of the most modern cruise port facilities in Central America which is included in the itineraries of several cruise lines like Princess Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises. In shore excursions, Flower Route, a visit to the capital city of San Salvador and a visit to ancient Maya ruins are included. Other important ports and harbours include Puerto Cutuco, La Libertad, La Union, and Puerto El Triunfo.
Note: El Salvador has a small railway network which provides passenger service from San Salvador to Apopa. Other than this, there is no other rail service in the country.
San Salvador Weather : El Salvador has a tropical climate and stable temperature throughout the year. From January to December, you can enjoy pleasant temperatures around 77°F. In the dry season there is total lack of rain. While May to October experiences high rainfall.
Where to stay in San Salvador : Zona Rosa, in the southwest part of the city, is where most popular hostels and hotels are located. It is safe and transport is easily available. You can also choose to stay right in the centre of the city. It is crowded but also gives you an authentic Salvadoran experience. Some neighbourhoods and ares in the north and east parts of the city is worth avoiding due to gang-related crimes.
San Salvador Helpful Facts :
1. National Language : Spanish (El Salvador remained a Spanish colony for about 300 years.)
2. Currency : From 1892 until 2001, the currency of El Salvador was the ‘Colón’ established during colonial rule in the 19th century. The US dollar replaced the colón in 2001.
3. El Salvador is the only country which accepts bitcoin as its legal tender. Although you can buy bitcoin, for selling it, the infrastructure of the country is not quite ready.
4. The five volcanoes and five flags in the national shield represent the five core Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Nowadays, two additional countries have been included in Central America; Belize (which was part of Guatemala) and Panama (as part of Gran Colombia).
5. Tap water is safe to drink in El Salvador.
6. In El Salvador the power plugs and sockets are of type A and B. The standard voltage is 115 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz. Come prepared.
7. If visiting in summers, bring a hat, plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant.
8. Claro and Tigo Simcards work the best in El Salvador.
9. The biggest cities in the country are San Salvador, Soyapango, and Santa Ana.
Country Code, Important Telephone Numbers :
- International dialling code : +503
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