El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, primarily attracts tourists who are interested in its black-sand beaches and surfing, and its vibrant nightlife. In recent years, the El Salvador government has placed more of an emphasis on tourism, and is enjoying a dramatic increase in visitors and tourist revenue.
El Salvador's tourism landscape differs from its Central American neighbors. Because of its geographical size and urbanization, there aren't many nature-themed tourist destinations such as eco-tours or archaeological monuments. Surfing, however, is a popular tourist attraction that gaining global interest in recent years as more surfers visit the many beaches on the coast of La Libertad and the east side of the country, finding surfing spots that are not yet overcrowded. One of the major tourism assets of the country, the Pacific coast is only 30 minutes from the capital of San Salvador. The 188-mile black sand coastline begins with Garita Palmera near the Guatemalan border and continues south with the major hotel and golf developments of La Costa del Sol, to the beautiful beaches of El Espino and El Cuco and the popular surfing beach of El Zunzal.
Also, with direct flights from the U.S. to El Salvador taking only four to six hours, this destination is gaining in popularity, and the country is building more American-style malls, stores and restaurants in the main urban areas, especially greater San Salvador.
El Salvador is also making the most of its turbulent history. Some of the latest tourist attractions in the former war-torn El Salvador feature gun fragments, pictures, combat plans and mountain hideouts. The mountain town of Perquin, once considered the “guerrilla capital,” is now home to the Museum of the Revolution, featuring cannons, uniforms, pieces of Soviet weaponry, and other weapons of war once used by the FMLN’s (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) headquarters.
El Salvador’s National Zoo is considered to be the most modern zoo in Central America. It houses a large collection of more than 600 animal species, and is designed so that the animals enjoy a habitat as close as possible their own natural surroundings. La Laguna Botanical Garden is a fascinating stop for anyone interested in El Salvador's native plants or tropical agriculture. The seven-acre garden, set in a volcanic crater on the outskirts of San Salvador, features economically important plant species such as coffee and cacao, along with areas devoted to bromeliads, orchids, cacti and plants used for medicinal purposes or commonly found in Salvadoran gardens.
The David J. Gusman National Museum is home to a fascinating collection of ancient objects dating from the pre-classic period of 1500 BC until the late post-classic period, around 1200 to 1525 AD. And the San Salvador Volcano towers over the city that shares its name, offering spectacular views and opportunities to hike along the well-maintained trails into the dormant crater.
For explorers, El Salvador offers a fascinating collection of sites, including Tazumal, a group of flat-topped stepped pyramids that is still being studied by historians, located on the outskirts of the city of Chalchuapa; Guija, near the Guatemala border on the Guija Lake, where many archaeological treasures can still be found, untouched, on the lakeshore; San Andres, another group of stepped pyramids positioned between two rivers in the Zapotitan Valley; Cihuatan, which features ruins of cities over an area of four square kilometers; Joya de Ceren, a settlement that was buried under five meters of ash from the eruption of Laguna Caldera Volcano in 600 AD, and was discovered in 1978; and Corinto, which consists of two caves situated on a broad plain north of the village of Corinto that contain prehistoric drawings about 10,000 years old.
In the northern highlands, the Montecristo Cloud Forest, known as El Trifinio, marks the point where the borders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet, and is one of Central America's largest and most magnificent cloud forests. Cooperatively protected by the three countries, the forest contains a variety of micro-climates and possibly the greatest diversity of wildlife in Central America.
Salvadoran cuisine consists of food from the Maya, Lenca and Pipil people, with many of the dishes made from corn. El Salvador's most notable dish is the pupusa, a thick hand-made corn flour or rice flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, chicharron (cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency), refried beans and/or loroco (a vine flower bud native to Central America). There are also vegetarian options, often with ayote (a type of squash) or garlic. Soups are also popular among Salvadorans of every social level. One of the staples of Salvadoran cuisine is paella, a rice dish that can be made with chicken or shrimp.
The only airport in El Salvador serving international flights is Comalapa International Airport, about 30 miles southeast of San Salvador. The airport, commonly known as Comalapa International or El Salvador International, serves American, Continental and Delta airlines, as well as international and regional carriers.
Like the rest of Central America, El Salvador has a tropical climate with a wet rainy season, and a warm, dry summer. There are also significant variations in weather by region, elevation and proximity to the coast. The busier time of the year for travelers to El Salvador is November to May, which are the winter months of the Northern Hemisphere, and the dry season for El Salvador. Still, many visitors prefer the quieter, though wetter days of the summer months from June to October.