We choose the places we travel to according to a variety of interests―relaxation, culture, food, aesthetic natural phenomenon, history, or maybe just bragging rights―but for most of us, such expeditions must always come with another concern: expense. One little Central American country, however, comes with an attractive mix of tourist-satisfying experiences as well as a modest price tag―El Salvador, the smallest but most densely populated country in Central America. For the travel-savvy tourist, El Salvador offers beautiful rural countrysides and a comparatively safe and stress-fee Central American experience. Yes, you’ve probably heard about the safety concerns, and yes, crime rates in El Salvador are high, but almost all of these dangerous altercations relate to gang activity connected to the drug trade. Tourists who practice safety precautions, such as not walking around at night, avoiding bad neighborhoods, and keeping their valuables hidden, should be fine.

Additional information on safety.

Flying to El Salvador and back is the most expensive part of this trip, since lodging, food, souvenirs, and excursions are extremely affordable. Be prepared to haggle for street purchases, though! The locals will nearly always quote a high initial price. Haggling aside, El Salvador contains some of the friendliest people in the world. El Salvadorians are known for being hard working and tenacious, but they do so with good humor and are extremely welcoming to tourists.

For activities, be sure to visit at least one of the two large wilderness preserves―the Montecristo and El Imposible National Parks―to see rare wildlife, hike at least one of the country’s 20 volcanoes (five of which are active), and explore some of the ruins. But above all, set aside time to swim or surf at several of the stunning beaches, where the water averages a balmy 82–86 degrees Fahrenheit and the waves are some of the best in the world for surfers.

Costs and suggested activities.

El Salvador is a fantastic destination for the savvy, budget-conscious tourist. Despite its small physical area, El Salvador contains much of the beauty of other Central American countries, while remaining safer and cheaper for tourists than many of its compatriots. So consider this an invitation. Do your research, plan your trip, and we’ll see you in El Salvador.

Additional tourist tips.

– Sharon Valentine