What Should I Know About El Salvador?

O. Wallace
O. Wallace
El Salvador's rainy season is May to October.
El Salvador's rainy season is May to October.

El Salvador, or officially, the Republic of El Salvador, is a lush, fertile Central American country located on the Pacific and bordered by Guatemala and Honduras. It is the smallest Central American country, with a land area of 8,000 square miles (20,720 sq. km). It is densely populated, with over 2 million of its total 6.9 million population living in the capital city of San Salvador.

Soccer is a popular sport in El Salvador.
Soccer is a popular sport in El Salvador.

The earliest known settlers of El Salvador were the Pipil Indians, descendents of the Aztecs — they arrived in the 11th century CE. When the Spaniards arrived in the 1500s, a long conflict for control began between them and the natives. In 1525, the natives were conquered, and Spain began colonization of the area. On 5 November 1811, the fight for independence began anew, but it wasn’t until 15 September 1821 that the Acta de Independencia, or declaration of independence, was issued against Spain.

El Salvador is the only country in Central America with no coastline in the Caribbean.
El Salvador is the only country in Central America with no coastline in the Caribbean.

El Salvador subsequently became part of the United Provinces of Central America, and then later, the Greater Republic of Central America before it dissolved. The 20th century would be marked by wars, violence and political struggle. The coffee trade made a precious few very rich, and would prove to be a point of contention among many. From 1931 through 1979, El Salvador was under military dictatorship.

In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras engaged in what was referred to the “football war,” which lasted four days and started during a football (soccer) match. Border disputes and the expulsion of Salvadorans from Honduras sparked the clash. El Salvador would again be at war by the late 70s, this time against itself. The civil war pitted the governing party, the conservative National Conciliation Party (PCN) and the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). In 1992, the war finally ended with a peace treaty between the government and the guerrilla group, after 12 years and 75,000 dead.

Today, El Salvador is one of the poorest countries in the region, but its economy is growing fast and is becoming stronger, thanks in part to its involvement in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in March 2006, and the adoption of the US Dollar as its currency. Currently, it is a democratic republic with a democratically elected president.

El Salvador is the only country in Central America with no coastline in the Caribbean. Although its tourism industry isn’t as strong as some of its neighbors, its Pacific beaches do attract surfers, and San Salvador attracts others for the nightlife. Its weather is primarily tropical, with a rainy season from May to October.

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Discussion Comments


If you are visiting El Salvador how much Spanish should you know to be able to communicate?

Do very many of the local people working in restaurants and hotels speak English?

Since this isn't a huge tourist area, I wonder how many local people are able to speak and understand English.

I am going to be visiting El Salvador in a few months and am a little nervous about it. I am concerned about safety and how well I will be able to communicate.

I am in the process of learning some Spanish, and plan to have a dictionary with me at all times, but didn't know how much of a problem the language barrier would be.


@bagley79 - Using good common sense and keeping a good head on your shoulders is a good point and should be done visiting any place you are not familiar with.

I probably wouldn't feel safe venturing to downtown San Salvador at night, but would go during the daylight hours.

Don't carry a whole lot of cash with you and I never have anything higher than a $20 dollar bill. Another thing to be mindful of is not to have any expensive jewelry or items that might draw attention to yourself.

If you take common sense precautions like this, you should not have any trouble. Stay on the main roads, and the well populated areas and don't go exploring at night.

I have been to one of their modern shopping malls, which I was able to pick up some great souvenirs. This was a safe place to shop and yet be able to experience some of the culture at the same time.


@backdraft - If you stay within the major cities such as La Zona Rosa, and use good common sense, you should not have any problems.

I have visited El Salvador two different times and have never had any problems. I stayed in well populated areas and with a group of people.

This country is known for a high crime rate, so you do need to be aware of that. This is a small country, but it is densely populated, so you will have people around you all the time.

This is a very beautiful, tropical country. The surfing is the absolute best and I visited some lush waterfalls and hot springs. The climate and scenery is well worth the trip.


Our church has gone on more than one missions trip to El Salvador. They have done everything to helping build structures to working with some of the young kids.

My son went on one of these trips a few years ago. This was the first time he had been out of the country, and the whole experience was a real eye-opener for him.

The people they were working with were extremely poor, but had huge hearts and would have done anything for you. One of the projects the men worked on all week long was digging a 5 foot trench by hand.

This was back breaking work, but when it was all said and done, the people were very grateful.

My son knew a few Spanish words, but not well enough to communicate fluently with them. It was nice that their currency is in US dollars. That made dealing with money a lot easier than it would have been otherwise.


Is it safe in El Salvador? I remember hearing all those new reports back a few years ago. This article says it has a tourist industry but is it OK for westerners traveling there?


I have been to some amazing parties in San Salvador. I am not just talking about drinking and dancing but crazy stuff, a real gang of wild people if you know what I mean.

I spent a lot of time in Columbia in the 80s and Argentina in the 90s. Those places had nothing on San Salvador. If you want to to someplace and totally let loose this is the place.


One thing that everyone should know about El Salvador is that it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I have visited many times and seen lush forests, beautiful beaches and dramatic mountains and rocks.

The politics of El Salvador often overshadow what an amazing place it is. They have a fledgling tourist industry but there are still many nice places to stay and eat. Also, going to El Salvador is relatively cheap and can be a great way to enjoy an exotic culture in a tropical place on a budget.

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