When my friend and I booked our flight on Avianca Airlines from the United States to Peru we had no option but to book our flight with a long layover in El Salvador, a country in Central America. Our layover was 7 hours to be exact. Because both of us have somewhat adventurous spirits we definitely didn’t want to stay at the airport that long and we started looking up what to do on a long layover in El Salvador. We looked on Trip Advisor and all over the internet, but didn’t seem to find any real viable options.
Now there are TONS of great layover options all over Viator and TripAdvisor, but at the time we went, there wasn’t much. One option we did find was to go on a tour of the city in a cab. As two traveling females, we had heard that San Salvador wasn’t the safest place so we opted to do something else. If I were to go now, I probably would have given San Salvador a chance on our 7 hours layover.
After speaking with one of my colleagues, I learned that El Salvador’s beaches were amazing. Specifically, Playa El Tunco. So, we decided to arrive in El Salvador, try and leave the El Salvador International Aiport, and go to Playa El Tunco. Adventuress Kate also recommends Play El Tunco as a great place (and safe place) to visit in El Salvador.
Here’s what we did, and I highly recommend you do it too if you have a layover in El Salvador. If you’d rather do something else, I have a list at the bottom of this post with other great options for your long layover!
Note: Please make sure you do your research on official government sites as the systems and prices may have changed since I was last there.
Step 1: Pay the “leave the airport” tax
We realized quickly that you have to pay an airline tax to leave the airport and come back. El Salvador’s International airport is long and skinny with a lot of people in wheelchairs (this was weird?) and we found the Avianca desk at one end of the terminal to pay the tax. They made us pay $37.00 USD to leave the airport and come back in. Be prepared for El Salvadorians to take their time. We thought it was a little expensive but worth not sitting in the airport all day.
Step 2: Get your visa
We went down to the customs gate and bought our visas to get into El Salvador. This cost us $10 and was the minimum visa you can get in El Salvador. This gets you 90 days in the country. They also took their sweet time to do this but were very kind, excited to talk to us, and gave us recommendations of food to eat…mainly papusas. There wasn’t any extra charge for our visas.
Step 3: Grab your cab
We asked the officers at the gate where to get taxis to El Tunco and they guided us outside to a taxi who said he would take us to El Tunco for $30 USD for about a 45-minute ride. After getting in, we asked him to take us to Playa El Tunco and tried to tell him to take us to the public part. Clearly, we were clueless and really meant to ask him to take us to the main drag.
Step 4: Enjoy the ride and the beach
The beach was about 45 mins away from the airport, but we had time to kill. The drive there was interesting enough and it was fun to see the beautiful coastline and countryside of El Salvador. Our cab driver ended up dropping us off at the main walkway down to El Tunco and we got out and hoped we’d find a ride back later!
Step 5: Visit El Tunco
El Tunco was SO COOL! It was very beachy and full of surf shops, hostels with hammocks, and a wonderful beach. We went down to the beach and hit the water first. We wished we had rented surfboards or taken a lesson because the water was so warm! It was a great change of pace from traveling on a plane overnight! Do not sleep on the burrito, papusa shops, and fresh juice places. You might also want to try the morro horchata which is a famous Salvadorian drink! It’s different than the Mexican drink made with rice, this one is made with morro which is a large green fruit that resembles a coconut.
Step 6: Try the papusas
We laid around and hung out at the beach for a few hours and then got up to go eat some papusas at a local shop along the beach called Fifi’s. My favorite papusa was the chicharron con queso and the homemade salsa they provide with papusas was AMAZING. You can get these at the airport too and I highly recommend trying them.
Step 7: Find a ride back to the airport
After a few hours, we decided it was time to head back to the airport. Unfortunately, there weren’t any cabs around so we asked the guys guarding the gate to the beach and they said their friend could drive us. This would have normally probably been sketchy to do in El Salvador…okay it was. But something in my gut said we were safe and it ended up working out great! I recommend asking the gate guards for a ride or someone in one of the shops.
Step 8: What to do back at the airport
We made it back to the airport with probably too much time to kill and could have stayed longer at the beach. It took us about 20 mins to get back into the airport through security and 45ish minutes to drive back. The airport in El Salvador doesn’t have much going for it, but there is a bar if you need to sit there for 7 hours. I highly recommend biting the bullet and going to the beach though!
Not a beach person? Try taking one of these other El Salvadorean adventures
There are so many cool things to do in El Salvador on a layover, so you don’t just need to do what I recommended above!
Try a guided tour with Salvadorean Tours
You might want to try a tour company that has great reviews for your adventure. This tour has plenty of tour options for your layover. Book your tour here.
Santa Ana Volcano Hike
This is a great option for a longer layover if you feel like renting a car or getting a cab. The Santa Ana Volcano is a moderate 4.3 mile out and back trail that many people say takes about 3 hours. This trailhead is about a 2-hour drive from the San Salvador Airport. Check out these tips from a blogger who has actually done the hike. It looks epic!
Visit the Historic Center of the City of San Salvador
You can always take a trip to San Salvador city. Visit the famous and unique El Rosario Church and pop into the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Salvador (or the Catedral Metropolitana), the most important church in El Salvador for the Catholic community. It is also the seat of the Archbishop of San Salvador. Don’t miss the National Palace while you’re in this area. It’s beautiful and full of history.
Hike the the Boqueron volcanic crater in the Boqueron National Park or Parque Nacional El Boqueron
This is an epic volcano, also known as the San Salvador volcano, which is only about an hour’s drive from the airport. You’ll find this volcano takes over the skyline of San Salvador and you can’t miss it! The hike takes about 1 hour to hike around the volcano. Here’s a great tour option that also includes a tour of San Salvador.
Visit the Joya de Ceren Archeological Site
Joya de Cerén is an archaeological site that features a pre-Columbian Mayan farming village. It’s about an hour and a half drive from the airport and is El Salvador’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re into history, this might be the place!
Have you ever experienced a long layover? Would you go to the beach or do something else?
Welcome to the Traveling Spud! I’m Katie, a 30 something from Idaho who quit her marketing job in San Francisco, California to travel the world for a year. After a trip around the world, my heart chose Idaho. I'm addicted to outdoor adventures, photography, and inspiring others to get out of their comfort zones and cross experiences off of their bucket lists. Let's explore together! Read more here.