Compared to some other Central American countries, El Salvador is an emerging tourism destination and its tourism industry is still in its infancy. The country is in a hurry to grow up, and tourist numbers have shown a steady incline in recent years. The period from 2009 through 2015 saw an overall 21 percent increase in tourist arrivals. The most current available numbers show a 3.2 percent increase for the first 9 months of 2016, when compared to the first 9 months of 2015. The future looks bright as 2017 will see additional air frequencies added from most US gateways and a new non-stop route from Montreal recently opened.
El Salvador is the perfect adventure destinations - known for both an active beach scene and great mountain activities as it has 20 active volcanos. The highlight of the beach scene is the country’s world class surfing opportunities, while the nation’s volcanos have created amazing hiking and trekking possibilities.
Surfing the waves
When it comes to beach sports, El Salvador boasts coastal water temperatures that fluctuate very little - remaining at a constant 80 degrees year-round. The surfing capital of the country is located just 25 miles south of the capital, San Salvador. La Libertad and its main wave, Punta Roca, are the anchors of El Salvador’s surf scene. There are at least a dozen excellent wave locations within about an hour’s drive of La Libertad, so if you don’t feel like battling for waves in town, a short car ride will fix that.
The majority of El Salvador’s coast faces south, so it gets south and southwest swell, which generates long, well-shaped point waves and thumping beach breaks. Spring through fall is the best time of the year for surfing.
El Salvador’s volcanos form part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and create a landscape dominated by rainforest, coffee plantation covered volcanoes and beautiful lakes of volcanic origin. Even though this was a short trip - we still had a time to check out a couple of volcanos.
Parque Nacional Los Volcanoes (Volcanoes National Park) is very close to the capital and makes for a great day trip.
Although Izalco Volcano is open to anybody, the hike is pretty tough - at least 4 hours. Initially you have an easy descent down 1,300 steps through shaded forest, but it doesn’t prepare you for the long climb up Izalco’s steep scree slopes (and comes back to haunt you in the final stages when you must climb back up all those steps to return to the car park). Izalco is also known as the Lighthouse of the Pacific for its constant lava flows, which last erupted in 1966. The lava from that flow can still be seen from the summit.
Hiking Santa Ana volcano (pictured left), El Salvador’s highest volcano, is a slightly easier hike than Izalco. Unlike Izalco, the climb to Santa Ana’s summit is relatively easy, with no really steep sections. The first half of the hike climbs gently through forest, following numbered signs to a mirador (viewpoint). A short while later the forest ends and you emerge on the volcano’s flank, surrounded by long grass and the strange looking agave plants. After another 45 minutes, the bare upper slopes of the volcano are crossed and there are magnificent views over Lago Coatepeque. Below you, deep inside the crater, is a green volcanic lake. Santa Ana is still active and most of the time vents can be spotted on the inner walls, with bubbles and steam rising from the lake.
While the two volcanos are right next to each other, you would need two days to hike them both.
Connecting travelers to El Salvador from North America is easy, with U.S. routes operated by American, Delta, Spirit, United and Avianca. Non-stop service from Canada (Montreal) is operated by Air Transat. International flights arrive at Comalapa International Airport. This airport is located about 25 miles southeast of San Salvador and you can expect commute times to downtown San Salvador of about 45 minutes.
Once North American travelers arrive they have their choice of experiencing either the local culture or something more familiar. The urbanization and Americanization of Salvadoran culture has led to an abundance of American-style malls, stores, and restaurants in the three main urban areas, especially greater San Salvador. The local currency also happens to be the US dollar.