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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Julia

The Surprise of El Salvador: History, Culture, Travel #DontSkipElSalvador

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

When I left Atlanta, GA in 2020, travel to El Salvador didn't enter my mind. The history, violence, and news didn't help. I remember seeing and hearing about El Salvador years ago.

For years, I wondered is "El Salvador Safe"?

As a result of a history of gang violence, homicide rates, and bad press, many travelers have skipped El Salvador for years.

In 2021, I found female travelers like Alyssa with @mylifeasatravelmovie and Kelly Hill enjoying traveling in El Salvador safely.

With a digital marketing project and press trip in Honduras, I found out flying into San Salvador airport in El Salvador would be the closest.

With my travel to 7 Continents, I decided to include El Salvador. During my entire week in El Salvador, I felt safe. I stayed in a jungle house, discovered the beautiful beaches of Playa Tunco, experienced a garden home, and explored San Salvador.

What I learned about El Salvador with EC Tours about its history, people, and resilience is unparalleled.

El Salvador as a country surprised me exponentially. The Surprise of El Salvador has this global traveler saying "Don't Skip El Salvador"! #notsponsoredyet

Don't Skip El Salvador

I am not the only one saying "Don't Skip El Salvador".

San Salvador Walking Tour with EC Tours

In 2018, Edwin Carrillo became one of the Salvadorans leading the charge to overcome bad press generated by gang violence, homicide rates at about 60 per 100,000 people (global average is 5), and bad press.

With the Minister of Tourism in 2018, Jose Napoleon Duarte Duran, Edwin, and El Salvador launched the tourism campaign leveraging the social media hashtag #DontSkipElSalvador.

While El Salvador was called the Murder Capital of the World for years, times may be changing.

El Salvador Leadership

The El Salvadorian President Nayib Bukele, a former ad executive, has not been without controversy. El Salvador's prior Mayor utilizes social media to connect with the public, criticizes past Presidents, successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to turn over Salvadorian laws of consecutive re-election, and has been compared to Trump.

LA Times article stated "El Salvador's millennial president is a man with one vision - Power."

El Salvadorian Presidential laws historically provide for 5-year terms. Although consecutive re-election is not permitted, previously elected presidents may run for a second, non-consecutive term.

According to CNN, El Salvador's highest court in September 2021 has ruled that the country's president can serve two consecutive terms in office, paving the way for current president Nayib Bukele to run for re-election in 2024. The sentiment in the country is of concern of a dictatorship.

Are murder rates dropping in El Salvador?

Since President Bukele entered office, El Statista and other sources have cited homicides in El Salvador falling over 50%. Retuers sited drops in homicide rates are related to officials citing tougher enforcement, informal deals with authorities, and gangs easing up on violence.

No different than any other state or country, I felt entirely safe the entire time in El Salvador during my visit.

Travel to El Salvador

According to the Ministry of Tourism, tourism revenue increased by over 16% in 2019 vs. 2018. Since 2010, tourism has doubled. In 2019, El Salvador received about 2.6 million tourists visited increasing 4% over the prior year.

Although El Salvador may be known around the world for its violence, the country offers much more. I wonder if we published gang rates, violence, and travel advisories for states if we would be as keen to visit other states and countries as well.

You will find a country rich in its history and culture with the land of volcanos, a surfers paradise, and a lucrative international coffee business.

El Salvador: Playa Tunco

History of El Salvador

In 1524, Spanish adventurer Pedro de Alvarado conquers El Salvador giving its name after Jesus Christ, "Holy Savior".

Salvadoran culture is influenced by Native American culture (Lenca people, Cacaopera people, Maya peoples, Pipil people) as well as Latin American culture (Latin America, Hispanic America, Ibero-America). Mestizo culture and the Catholic Church dominates the country.

Pipils called their new home “Cuscatlan” or “Land of the Jewels.” They farmed the land growing beans, pumpkins, chiles, avocados, guavas, papayas, tomatoes, cocoa, cotton, tobacco, indigo, and corn. In 1524 with the Spanish invasion, based on historical accounts, they terrorized and tortured the Pipils.

In 1859-1863, President Gerardo Barrios introduces coffee growing transforming the economy. The resulting profits helped develop much of San Salvador's Historical Center among others.

By the late 1800s, Las Catorce (fourteen families) controlled half the land in El Salvador. They privatized the lands focusing on increasing profits by exporting coffee, cotton, and sugar cane.

In 1932, the government refused to seat elected members of the Communist Party. A protest developed by a majority of the indigenous population to demand better living and working conditions. The government responded by massacring an estimated 30,000 people, or 4% of the population, in one week. This became known as La Matanza, or the Massacre.

200 Years of El Salvador's Independence

The indigenous resist El Salvador becoming a Spanish Colony losing its battle in 1540. El Salvador becomes a Spanish colony.

It would be about 300 years before El Salvador would gain independence from Spain in 1821.

During my time in El Salvador, I actually ended up being in San Salvador September 14-16, 2021.

200 years celebrating independence: September 15, 2021.

While on my walking tour, Estafany with EC Tours and I ran into YouTubero Salvidereno.

We ended up being on his videos!

I did a clip to intro the behind the scenes in Spanish!

You can find me doing the short intro at 9:34, and several clips of Estafany with EC Tours and I at 6:54

El Salvador's Civil War

The fully-fledged civil war lasted over 12 years including terrorizing and targeting of civilians by US-trained government death squads including prominent clergy from the Catholic Church, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.

The events that sparked the official Civil War included a right-ing death squad assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Military forces assassinated Romero, a popular bishop of the poorer people in El Salvador, while he was saying mass in 1980.

The Salvadoran Civil War in El Salvador was fought between the military-led junta government of El Salvador and the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) (a coalition or "umbrella organization" of left-wing groups) from 15 October 1979 to 16 January 1992.

The war resulted in over 27 known massacres including Student Massacre of 1975, Plaza La Libertad, and El Mozote.

Over 75,000 people died during Civil War in El Salvador

US Involvement

The US also provided significant training and equipment to the military. The Salvadoran government was considered "friendly" and an ally by the U.S. In May 1983, it was reported that US military officers were working within the Salvadoran High Command and making important decisions.

Displacement Impacts

The war displaced more than 1 million Salvadorans—roughly one-fifth of the population at the time—both within the country and throughout Central America and to Mexico, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Many of those who had relocated to Los Angeles during the war as refugees became involved in gang violence. Many continue to flee from El Salvador to the USA for economic and safety reasons.

The two main street gangs, 18th Street and MS-13, are estimated to number around 25,000 at large, and 9,000 in prison.. The gangs trace their origins to street life in cities such as Los Angeles, where many Salvadorans sought refuge during their country’s 1980-1992 civil war.

Deported to Danger

In 2020, Guardian reported at least 200 Salvadoran migrants and asylum seekers have been killed, raped or tortured after being deported back to El Salvador by the United States government which is turning a blind eye to widely known dangers, a new investigation reveals.

Human Rights Watch has documented 138 deported Salvadorans murdered by gang members, police, soldiers, death squads and ex-partners between 2013 and 2019. The majority were killed within two years of deportation by the same perpetrators they had tried to escape by seeking safety in the US.

Local Impacts of Violence

The violence is predominantly impacts locals in El Salvador. At the same time, a tourist may be targeted for theft or violence, especially with any involvement with drugs. Typically, tourists are left alone by gangs and cartels because they are bringing in money into the country.

A New Chapter Unfolding in El Salvador

Since the entrance of the El Salvador President, Nayibe Bukele's a new chapter may be unfolding in El Salvador. With a focus on stopping gang violence, homicides decreasing over 50%, and increasing tourism, El Salvador is transforming.

Culture of El Salvador

Although El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, it is rich in history, culture, and tradition. The indigenous, Spanish, and the church have influenced El Salvador. This is easy to see with its people, traditions, architecture, and food.

El Salvador celebrations include Holy Week, Day of the Cross, August Festival, Independence Day, National Pupusa Day, San Miguel Carnival, and Christmas. Their holidays and traditions combine indigenous and colonial influences.

Similar to all of Central America, El Salvador’s food is a mix of native, European, and corn-based.

If you haven't tried the pupusa, you haven't lived!

Pupusas are El Salvador's claim to fame, and Central American all at the same time. They may be corn or rice-based tortillas stuffed with beans, pumpkin, shrimp, mushrooms, beans, and any number of other choices.

They are delicious! Pupusas are easy to eat on the street and at home, and come served with cabbage and salsa you may add on top. Although the El Salvador lifestyle and diet is predominantly meat-based, I found it easy to ask for seafood and/or vegetarian options with no cheese.

Travel to El Salvador

Don't Skip El Salvador. You will miss the land of the volcanos, surfers paradise, world-famous coffee beans, and more. Travel to El Salvador is a breeze!

I flew from San Jose, Costa Rica with Volaris Airlines to San Salvador with a direct flight. I encourage you to use and related sites.

As far as transportation, Uber is easy to use from the airport and in San Salvador. I would have taken a Uber from the Airport to Playa Tunco. My Airbnb arranged a driver for a lower rate. I did take Uber many times in San Salvador when I returned to the city.

In smaller places in El Salvador, you will find it easy to walk, take Collectivos, or a taxi.

Where I Traveled to in El Salvador

I decided to visit El Salvador for a week including Playa Tunco for 4 days, and San Salvador for three days. If you are curious what to do for a short trip like One Day in El Salvador, and Top 10 El Salvador Things To Do, I have you covered on the next blog!

Playa Tunco is an hour from San Salvador, and the return the same. I spent $30 USD each way.

If you didn't know the currency in El Salvador is the USD

The country is in the process of implementing and adopting bitcoin.

To bitcoin or not to bitcoin, that is the question...

Playa Tunco, El Salvador Airbnb

I found an open air jungle house within 10 minutes walking to the beach. From the moment I saw the Airbnb, I knew I wanted to stay. Wouldn't you?

The stay far exceeded what I dreamed with the peace, tranquility and views.

I think you will agree that the pictures and video say it all.

You can find all the Airbnb's I have stayed in around the world on my Airbnb Profile.

My reviews of places are public for you to see.

San Salvador, El Salvador Airbnb: Casa Castellanos

I found a beautiful private room / studio in San Salvador. The reviews, colors, and space spoke to me. I am so grateful I did!

Gloria and her family go above and beyond with the amazing space, secret garden, and breakfast!

We enjoyed incredible conversations about faith, passion, purpose and travel!

You can find all the Airbnb's I have stayed in around the world on my Airbnb Profile.

My reviews of places are public for you to see.

You can find all the Airbnb's I have stayed in around the world on my Airbnb Profile.

My reviews of places are public for you to see.

Cost of Traveling to El Salvador

I stayed in El Salvador a week visiting Playa Tunco and San Salvador.

Stays – $150 USD for Playa Tunco 3 nights and San Salvador 3 nights

Transportation -

$80 Flight from Costa Rica to El Salvador

$30 Car from Airport to Playa Tunco

$30 Car from Playa Tunco to San Salvador

$30 Car from Airbnb to Rainbow Slide and Back ($20 Extra Driver Waited!)

$40 Car from Airbnb to Honduras Border

$210 USD

Food -

$25 USD for 11th - 14th including

Pupusas 4+x, Minutas, Coconut Water, Smoothies

Average $6 USD Daily

$20 USD for 14th to 16th including

Pupusas 2x, Juice, Breakfast 2x,

Average $7 USD Daily

$45 USD

Adventures -

$20 Walking Tour

$10 Rainbow Slide

$30 USD

Total $285 USD

All shots are my own on Canon EOSM100, Sony A330, and/or my iPhone 12 Mini or Airbnb photos.


The Surprise of El Salvador

When you travel to Central America, #Don'tSkipElSalvador. The surprise of El Salvador brought me history, culture, and adventures of Playa Tunco, San Salvador, and Santa Tecla.

Now that you know more about safety, history and culture, you may be thinking about traveling to El Salvador. Stay tuned for my One Day in El Salvador and Top 10 El Salvador Things to Do!

Is El Salvador surprising you too? #Don'tSkipElSalvador

Travel Guides

Mexico Travels

Guatemala Travels

Costa Rica Travels

Not to mention our Inspiring Travel Now & in the Future Project &

Costa Rica Retreat coming in August 2021!


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