Do you want to know how I spent 7 days in El Salvador all because I found a ridiculously cheap airline flight? I’d love to tell you. First let me share a little back story before sharing my 7 days adventure in El Salvador.
Flights to El Salvador
Since I work in a school, I typically only have a few opportunities to travel extensively: spring break (March), summer break (June-July), fall break (October) and winter break (December/ January). I typically start looking early for the best deals on flights about 6 months in advance. Thankfully, I live in Phoenix, AZ and can easily jet over to Los Angeles, which is a prime spot a hundreds of airlines for all continents. Currently, I’m in the Central America phase of my traveling life and LAX has many affordable airlines for including Volaris, Avianca, and Aeromexico.
For spring break 2022, I was able to find a super cheap flight out of Los Angeles on Avianca Airlines through my credit card company for $191.70 round trip. Even better was that I was able to use points to cover the entire round trip.
Where to? EL SALVADOR.
Round-trip flights between PHX and LAX are very common and relatively reasonably priced thanks to Southwest Airlines. The flights during spring break (March 2021) totaled $172.96. In total, without points, my round trip flight (s) from Phoenix to San Salvador, El Salvador would have cost me $364.66. Talk about a STEAL!
What I had not realized was that I book an XS seat (mistake 2). This resulted in me having to paying $200 dollars for my carry-on (mistake 3). But, the flight I booked was a red-eye, non-stop flight directly into San Salvador.
After all the flights were book, I found myself with 7 Days in El Salvador for spring break. Here’s what I did
Day 1- Arrival and Explore San Salvador
My flight landed around 6:45 am, along with a friend, giving us the entire day to explore. I had done a little bit of research prior to arriving to see what San Salvador had to offer. Here’s a general overview of “Things to see/do in San Salvador”
- Parque Nacional El Boqueron
- Rainbow Slide
- Mercado Nacional de Artesanias
- Joya de Ceren Archaeological Park
- Check out the art and history museums
- Take a City Tour
Honestly, many websites and blogs/vlogs, mostly talked about taking day trips out of San Salvador. They recommend go to places like the Ruta de las Flores (wasn’t in season), Santa Ana Volcano, or Lake Illopango.
What was on my priority list was to get to the Rainbow Slide. We only had one full day in San Salvador and that was my “must do’. We ultimately decided that after breakfast we would catch an Uber and go to Parque Nacional El Boqueron. The uber only cost us $5.17 USD and was on the same road as the Rainbow Slide. If I had one more day to explore, Joya de Ceren and the Mercado would have been places I would have loved to explore/visit. (Did I mention El Salvador’s currency is US dollars?)
Parque Nacional El Boqueron
This place was very busy and a bit hectic to get to but once there, the hike/stairs are too challenging. I also didn’t think it was wildly long either and doesn’t take much time to explore. We spent a little over an hour here. The view is quite amazing. I mean it’s a volcano inside a volcano. Plus, it’s only a $2 entrance fee.
I was told there is a way to hike down to the crater. I have no idea the accuracy of that information.
One thing to be mindful of is that there is no cell service at the top. This means no way to request an uber. Plan to have your uber/taxi driver wait, or do what we did…walk down the road/mountain!
The walk down was long 5.6km (3.something miles), but not too dangerous (at least I never felt unsafe). Along the road were several restaurants including Las Pupusas desde Pas Vegas Finca. That’s where we stopped at for a local beer, before making our way to Picnic Steakhouse.
Rainbow Slide @ Picnic Steakhouse
Picnic Steakhouse is actually the location of the Rainbow Slide. It happens to be on the same road as Parque Nacional El Boqueron. It only costs $5 to go down the slide and totally WORTH IT. Honestly, the walk down was refreshing after flying and ending up with 2 beers plus a ride on the slide for $15 total was perfect. This location was also easier to request an Uber ride back to the city. We obviously didn’t think twice about doing that. It only cost us $3.17 to return to our hostel from Picnic Steakhouse. By this time, my friend and I are exhausted and we ended up just chilling in the hostel the rest of the night.
Where to Stay
I reached out before heading down to El Salvador for recommendations on places. They recommended La Zona Hostel, which was approx $20 per night and I ended up deciding to book them. They were in a great location close to the bus station/bus depot and in a safe neighborhood. Plus, there is a pupusa lady right out side the hostel every morning and it’s like 4/$1.
Another hostel that came recommended was Hostal Cumbres del Volcan Escalon. It’s also in a good location, safe, and has solid reviews.
Day 2- Day Trip to the Copán Ruins, Honduras (friend's choice)
On day 2 of my 7 days in El Salvador, my friend (big traveler) and I made the decision to take a tour from San Salvador to the Copán Ruins in Honduras via Guatemala. It was her last country in Central America and it sounded like a beautiful place to explore. We ended up booking through Viator for Full Day Tour : Copan Ruins an Amazing Mayan Site from San Salvador City operated by El Salvador Positive Tours for $185 + tip.
Our tour driver, Roberto was amazing and very knowledgeable. Borders were easily crossed and the drive was uneventful. It was a SUPER hot day once we arrived at the Copán Ruins. At Copán, we ended up hiring a local guide explain more about the history.
It was really interesting hearing about the Mayan civilization that resided at Copán. It was also fascinating hearing about how they built temples around temples around temples. (unfortunately it was closed at the time of visit). We spend a couple house wandering the ruins, learning about the meanings of the carvings, and watching the red macaws fly around.
I first started learning about the Mayan civilization when I was in the 5th grade. It always brings back fond memories of childhood whenever exploring a Mayan civilizaiton. It really is something special to experience the ancient ruins first hand after being introduced to them at 11 years old.
After exploring the ruins, Roberto took us to a local restaurant for lunch called Carnitas Nia Lola. I managed to try 2 local Honduran beers and enjoyed a delicious carne asada con fritos lunch plate. I’m a sucker for local beers!
Before long, it was time to return to San Salvador to end our day.
MY HONEST REVIEW:
It was ALL day and a lot of driving. I don’t think Copán Ruins was worth the 8-9 hours in the car. Although you can see a lot of the countryside, it’s a long time to sit in a car. There are ruins within El Salvador that would have been enjoyable to see. Plus, it would have given us an extra day to spend elsewhere. I would say, save the ruins in Honduras for when you’re exploring Honduras. In all reality, the amount of stamps to do this day trip was excessive. We had to stamp in to Guatemala, out of Guatemala, in to Honduras, out of Honduras, back into Guatemala, back out of Guatemala, then re-enter El Salvador. Pretty sure it took up an entire page in my passport.
Day 3- San Salvador to Santa Ana
On day 3 of my 7 days in El Salvador, it was time to leave the city and head north to Santa Ana. Santa Ana is the second largest city in El Salvador and sits within a basin near Volcán de Santa Ana, known as Ilamatepec.
Getting to Santa Ana from San Salvador is very simple, especially from La Zona Hostel. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the San Salvador Hospital where there is a large bus area. Simply look for bus 201 to Santa Ana, wave your hand, board the bus, and pay $1. The bus takes about 2 hours but does drop you off on the outskirts requiring some walking (15-20 minutes).
Santa Ana is famously known as the capital city of the coffee-rich region of western El Salvador and colonial architecture. It’s home to a wide range of preserved architecture including the iconic La Cathedral de Nuestra Señora Santa Ana.
The Cathedral is located in the Historic Center along side the Santa Ana Theater, the Mayor’s office, and Liberty Park. This is where we spent majority of the afternoon. The historic center has many places to eat and several have views of the cathedral. Unfortunately, the theater was closed while we were there and we were not able to check out the inside.
After we spent some time in the cathedral, my friend, a fellow traveler, and myself wandered the city. We ended up at the Central Market and got to see local food, textiles, and merchants.
At the market, I purchased a bag of jocote, a local fruit that was recommended I try. They tasted like a mango green apple and some were very tart.
Where to Stay
With several options for hostels near and around the city center, it was difficult to choose. Some of the places we were looking at were:
Hostel Casa Verde Santa Ana: a short distance from the city center with dorms around US$14, single private rooms for ~US$33, and twin private rooms for ~US$47
Pool House Hostel: a little further from the city center, but inexpensive. Perfect for that budget backpacker with dorms around US$8 and private room with shared bathroom for US$18
Velvet Hostal: close to the center with only private rooms ranging between US$30-35 with ensuites
Hostal Las Puertas is where we ended up staying. It was a little more quiet and was able to be booked through my credit card (earning those points). For a Deluxe Queen room, which sleeps up to 3, was $72.64 for two nights. We really enjoyed our room and private bathroom. Plus, the location was in a really great spot and I highly recommend this place.
Number ONE Recommendation
Eat at Pupusería Rosita. This was the BEST place we ate at during our time in Santa Ana. For 7 HUGE pupusas, 1 horchata, 1 jimica and a water the total was US$8.75 split between two. Seriously, if I had more time, I’d had gone back every night.
Day 4- Volcán Santa Ana and Lago de Coatepeque
On day 4 of my 7 days in El Salvador, my friend and I ventured out to hike Volcán Santa Ana. This is a must do while in Santa Ana. There are two options to get to the starting point at El Tibet Hostel.
- Hire a private taxi/driver
- take public transportation
Being limited on time/days, we decided that hiring a private driver would allow us the freedom to also go to Lago de Coatepeque. With public transportation, it would have been nearly impossible to do both.
The private driver was US$70 split between two including tip. He picked us up around 7am and didn’t drop us back until well after sunset.
It takes about 1 hour from the city center to arrive at El Tibet Hostel. Taking public transportation can take up to several hours as they have a tendency to break down. (remember the fellow traveler from earlier, this happened to them).
Once you arrive at El Tibet, you typically wait around for a group of people, pay the mandatory US$3 for a guide and begin to hike. When you reach the basin of the climb, it’s another US$6 to enter.
The climb takes a few hours and is moderately challenging (depending on how “in shape” you are). It’s worth it, but don’t be like me and apply sunscreen more than twice.
The views from the top of the volcano are pretty spectacular. The huge lake in the middle of the crater is a turquoise blue and you can visibly see the lake steam and bubbles forming from the Earth’s core.
After spending some time up at the crater, we made our way back down and headed towards the lake. We both really wanted to swim/watch sunset at the lake, which again is not possible as the last bus leaves around 6pm.
There is a party hostel located at the lake called Captain Morgan, which I’ve heard is very common among young backpackers. We were happy without staying and enjoyed a delicious lunch, several beers, and a nice swim before watching the sunset.
Day 5- Santa Ana to El Tunco via San Salvador
On day 5 of my 7 in El Salvador, it was time to begin our journey from Santa Ana to El Tunco. Honestly, I was fairly sure this journey was going to take a long time. Bus travel in any country can be unpredictable, but the front desk lady at Hostal Las Puertas helped us tremendously. She walked us through exactly what was needed to get from here to there via San Salvador.
We took a taxi directly to Tudo Bus Terminal, where we booked a US$1.35 especial bus to San Salvador, which means direct. This was only 35 cents more than the local bus, and took only about 1.5 hours.
Then, we were guided to the gas station, where we stood looking for the El Tunco bus/van. This was also an especial van and cost us $1.50 as bags were extra.
Where to Stay
We traveled for roughly 2 hours before we were told by the drive to get off, pointing towards our hotel (we hoped). Thankfully, it was only a mere 5 minute walk to arrive at Eco Del Mar, our home for 2 nights.
For me, this location was primo, but the expense was a little high for my budget backpacking budget. My friend I was traveling with was “less hostel, more hotel”, and we compromised. It was $80 per night so $40 total and could have slept a total of 4 people. If you had a family, or traveling with multiple people, the price would be okay. Plus, our balcony had a hammock and breakfast was included, so I’d call that a win.
Other places that were either recommended or researched that I would have loved to stay included:
- Papaya Lodge: price ranges from US$15.50 for a mixed 9-bed dorm, or US$35.50 for a private twin room with ensuite.
- Hotel Tunco Lodge: The location is great, but also pricy at roughly US$90 per night.
- Lagarza Hostel: this place is way more remote and would be more accessible with a scooter rental, but is ideal for a more relaxing, chill getaway. Price is US$59 for a bed in a 8-person dorm.
After we checked into our hotel, we went out to explore the town. It’s not a huge town and very easily accessible by foot. We walked in both directions from our hotel, grabbing some ice cream, a mojito and some shrimp ceviche before returning for a dip in the pool.
Sunset at El Tunco was by far the best in all of El Salvador. It’s located at the corner of the walk before the canal and does get very crowded. It’s worth it and a perfect spot for that very classic insta-sunset photo!
For dinner, we just went to one of the many seafood restaurants with a view of the ocean.
Day 6- El Tunco
On day 6 of my 7 in El Salvador, majority of the day consisted of rest and relaxation. The day looked like this:
– an hour swing in the hammock enjoying the quiet
– free breakfast at the hotel
– a morning swim / fighting waves at the beach
– walk around the town and lunch at the BEST pupusas place called Esquina Los Amigos (seriously US$1 for a pupusa and US$2 beer)
– an afternoon dip in the pool with a few local beers
– ending the day with one final sunset followed by a delicious seafood dinner (aka ceviche) and drinks
- This is a primary reason why travelers visit El Tunco/Sunzal. There are several different places that offer surfing lessons, and honestly if it wasn’t March, I would have jumped at the opportunity. The El Tunco Surf School was recommended by a friend and probably would have been the place I would have chosen, but there are so many.
- Take a Yoga Class
- There are several places that offer yoga/retreats within the El Tunco/Sunzal area. I’m not a huge yoga person, but I did overhear several people talking about it.
Day 7- El Tunco to San Salvador Airport (Departure)
Day 7 of my 7 days in El Salvador, was my final day and wasn’t filled with much excitement. After breakfast, it was time to head back to the beach for a final swim / fighting the waves. Fighting off the waves basically meant the water was very rough and rapidly moving, and there is only so long you can “swim”. Thankfully, we same in the water closest to the lunch spot of choice- Esquina Los Amigos.
Since I traveled when COVID testing was still required to re-enter the USA, we had to plan ahead. We actually found a company that comes to you and we schedule for someone to come to our hotel to meet us for US$40. Results came within 2 hours, and honestly was the easiest thing. I’m glad we decided to pay more for the testing to come to us. It also gave me some extra time to pack, shower, and prepare for a long travel day back to Phoenix.
Knowing there weren’t many options to get to the airport from El Tunco, I went with renting a private taxi. The taxi was only US$40 from hotel to airport and was uneventful.
At the airport was another story. The line to check baggage was INSANE. It made me feel good about my carry-on lifestyle. There’s no way I would have made my flight if I would have had to check my bag.
There is only negative with flying Avianca and that is they DO NOT allow you to bring on water bottles or filled reusable water bottles. But at least the fly home was short and easy with immigration only taking 30 minutes. I count that as a win!