El Salvador Dos and Don'ts

El Salvador beach with surfer
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Tiny El Salvador is Central America's second-smallest country, after Belize. But it packs a whole lot of attractions – and a whole lot of people! – into its tiny size. When you're traveling in El Salvador, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Here's our list of dos and don'ts for El Salvador travel.

Travel Dos

  • Do learn Spanish, even if it's just a few phrases and important terms. You can't always count on English being spoken. Also, El Salvadorans are extremely appreciative if you give Spanish a try, even if your accent's terrible.
  • Do be friendly! Shake hands and say "mucho gusto" whenever you meet somebody new.
  • Do get all proper vaccinations before arriving in El Salvador. The CDC recommends Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccines for El Salvador travel. Ask your doctor if you're at risk for Hepatitis B and Rabies. While malaria risk to travelers is low, travelers should consider taking anti-malarial drugs.
  • Do tip the wait staff at restaurants (but check to see if a service charge is included first; usually it's 10%). If you're staying in a mid-range or luxury hotel, tip anybody who helps you with your suitcases. It's also kind to leave a tip for housekeeping.
  • Do haggle at El Salvadoran marketplaces. Often, vendors quote an overly inflated price, especially to foreigners. Don't bargain too hard, though – people's livelihoods are on the line.
  • Do bring American dollars: They're the official El Salvador currency.
  • Do dress conservatively while traveling in El Salvador – yes, even when it's hot out. El Salvadorans are typically modest dressers, especially indigenous Mayans. Wear pants or a long skirt if you're visiting a religious attraction, like a church or ceremonial site. And take off your hat!
  • Do wear sunscreen to shield your skin from El Salvador's tropical sun.
  • Do wear insect repellent with DEET while hiking in El Salvador's forests, or hanging out on El Salvador beaches, especially at dusk.
  • Do travel smart. If you bring a laptop, put it in your hostel or hotel safe before heading out for the day. Wear a purse with a strap across your chest, or wear your daypack in front. Scan your passport and other important documents, and email the images to yourself to yourself. In addition, carry a photocopy of your passport on you at all times. Leave fancy jewelry and other expensive possessions at home.

Travel Don'ts

  • Don't drink the water in El Salvador, unless you're certain it's purified. It's easy to find bottled water all over El Salvador. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, mind the travelers' mantra: boil it, peel it, cook it – or forget it.
  • Don't take photos of El Salvadorans without asking, especially children. Also, don't photograph religious ceremonies if you don't have explicit permission.
  • Don't flash signs of wealth when traveling in El Salvador. That includes smartphones, MP3 players, laptops, expensive cameras, and jewelry. Leave them in your hotel safe – or better yet, leave them at home.
  • Don't flush toilet paper – throw it in the trash can. In El Salvador, many pipes are too narrow to swallow all those wads of paper.
  • Don't wander the streets of San Salvador alone at night. Take an official cab, or stay in.
  • Don't resist if stopped by El Salvadoran military or police officers. Steer clear of large gatherings, especially political protests, which can occasionally turn violent.
  • Don't resist a robbery. Those who cooperate are usually unharmed.
  • Don't feed, harm or bother El Salvadoran wildlife or marine life. Don't step off the trail when hiking in El Salvadoran forests.
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