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El Salvador

Curious what backpackers do in El Salvador? Discover travel destinations all over the world of travelers writing a travel blog on FindPenguins.
  • We made a bad call and rather than taking the scenic route we we ended up crawling through the clogged roads of Guatemala City. After a challenging 3 hours or so we finally reached the Guatemalan/El Salvador border. Then had negotiate a vehicle export and a vehicle import, which isn't easy even in your own language! On top of that it was stinkingly hot so we were pretty shattered by the end of it. We even couldn't be bothered to go to the animal section so Maya is technically an illegal alien in El Salvador!

    First impressions of El Salvador, reputedly the most dangerous country in the world after Syria, are good. Roads are decent and everything seems pretty clean and modern. We drove a further hour to the nice town of Juayua (why-You-a), and had a lovely meal of ribs and veggie laguna (you can guess who had what!).

    We needed to stall a day, as it can be a bit dangerous not doing some things not on the weekend when there aren't a lot of people about, so we spent the day enjoying the hotel garden, enjoying pupusas (the local delicacy), and exploring the nice little town.

    In the morning we did a short walk to Los Chorros (7 Waterfalls), and we were simultaneously worried and reassured that there were 4 heavily armed army and policemen. There were a bunch of lovely pools and I was gutted I didn't have my swimmies with me. Half an hour later we were back in town and weekend food market had kicked off. Jo had an amazing massive shrimp and steak kebab (for 5 bucks!) and I had decent ribs (I know, again!).
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  • As we arrived in the national park everyone was just starting to pack up & by 5 there were a few policemen about. Shame as they missed a truly spectacular sunset with volcanoes poking up through a thick layer of clouds.

    After a peaceful night it got really busy in the morning, and we joined the guided (guide & 2 armed policemen) hike up the Santa Ana volcano, along with at least 50 other people, but unfortunately without Maya.

    It was a very pleasant walk & we were relieved to find it much easier than some of the other volcanoes we've tackled, although still a good couple of hours to the top. The view down into the bubbling & smoking sulphuric crater lake was pretty amazing.

    After some improvised showers (I had to take the indoor one out after it was leaking) we feasted on pupuseas (thick tortillas stuffed with good things) and chips. Phil even managed to improvise a chip butty out of them! It then cleared out again and we had another quiet night huddled in the van watching a film.
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  • Wake up feeling tired. Hot room and rock hard mattress so on the denco rub goes.

    Decide to take a tuk tuk for $2 (50 cents for a local) down to the lake (Lake Suchitlan) as bus (35 cents) was taking too long.

    Have to pay either $1 or $3 to enter lake area. As I have no idea whats what I go for the cheap option!

    Turns out the $3 gains you admission to a pool with a view of the lake!! Nice. Pity our guide didn't bother to tell us this! I would have swum in undies and crop top with no towel but decide just to chill by the lake.

    Its so lovely and peaceful and no tourists which is wonderful. I have the whole lakeside to myself so I just sit and relax with the dog who joined me.

    You have got to love the dumped car right in the middle of the money shot!

    Next it is lunch in the most fabulous place. There are lots of little places to choose from under the one roof. Each place had its own table setting.

    And have a look at the chicken and avocado sandwich I ordered!

    I spend a while here and run into Suzanna my buddy from the tour group. We think she has bronchitis but its been getting worse so she saw an El Salvadoran Dr who was actually an obstetrician! last night and has been put on all this medication.

    We hang out then I catch the public bus up the hill while Suzanna walks.

    Wander around the town which is lovely and peaceful. The handicrafts are way over priced.
    Indigo dye is big here! Go figure.

    Then a banana and chocolate crepe sitting watching the town centre activities! Lovely day.
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  • So we get a great sales pitch on this volcano visit by our tour guide. Easy he said - two hour drive there and back in a pick up truck plus 60 minutes hiking. Ok I thought. I can do that.

    Back by 1pm at the lastest - so that leaves plenty of time for hammocking and margaritas!

    The pick up truck arrives and there are 12 people - first sign of trouble. A mattress goes in the back and seven people are expected to cram into the back with five inside. I'm not stupid - as everybody eagerly jumps in the back I make it to a seat.

    An hour's drive there? Three hours later we get to the volcano but the driver takes us to the wrong volcano!!

    But let me back up abit. We assumed it was a drive on a road as we were not told otherwise. Part was a road then a very bumpy dirt track uphill followed by very steep cobblestone! It was so bumpy we were being thrown all over the place. Thank christ I was inside.
    And this pickup truck wasn't a four wheel drive!

    There was not even a remote bit of commonsense from our tour guide - who I might add has done this trip three times before.

    So we are struggling up hill and the truck is basically sliding backwards down the hill! So we all yell stop and stumble out of the truck. Not sure if the driver or tour guide would have made this crucial safety decision!

    Then half get back in and half start walking. The truck finally makes it to the wrong volcano. So while waiting for the others we walk to the top of this volcano which has telco towers! No much of a view so we trudge down. Turns out a large chunk of this volcano is owned by one person who likes to live alone. He charges $5 to get to the other side of this wrong volcano. The tour guide does say this is his fault and then says he will pay the $5 (to the wrong volcano I might add) and has rung for another truck. I just want the last 5 hours back!

    The $5 volcano has a lovely view and it looks like they are building a cafe and there is a half finished viewing platform.

    Then back to the new truck which you stand in hanging onto a rope which gives you rope burn because the truck shakes so much going over the rocks!

    There is a vote as to whether we carry onto the planned volcano. Majority vote means we do so we start hiking. I'm over it and am thinking of my hammock.

    At the top is a timber lookout which can only hold four people at a time - its pretty shaky though - hope no one is on it when it eventually collapses.

    Back down the volcano in the rope truck then we have to cram into the original truck. Will this nightmare never end.......
    We put another person in the front sitting between the gear stick so there is more room in the back and the guide sits in the back this time.

    Once we arrive back we all rush to order lunch as that can take an hour. I go straight in the pool then to the hammock to have lunch.

    I won't bore you will the bill saga at the hotel but I wasn't going to pay $9 for a piece of chicken when you can get a massive dinner of chicken rice beans and vegetables for the same price. The perils of ordering off menu.

    Day over thank heavens.

    Lovely view.
    You can see the wrong volcano with the telco towers!
    Examples of rural life.
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  • Pupusas, chicken buses and smashing surf!

    Last October on my first day of the trip, I stripped down to my undies and dived into a refreshingly cool Pacific Ocean in Venice Beach, LA. 132 days later, after crossing the continent and back, I can happily report a much warmer dip in the same ocean - 3700 km southeast of the starting point. And what an adventure it's been since then!

    El Salvador won us over in a battle against Honduras. We really wanted to swim with whale sharks in Utila and go white water rafting in Honduras' finest national park but the travel time and cost involved in the detour put us off. El Salvador it shall be.

    We shuttled there from San Pedro via Antigua where we spent a night back at Matiox Hostal. Comfy beds, delightful showers and good wifi just a few of the reasons we love that place. The border crossing was a joke, as people literally jostled at the window booth of customs to get their stamps. Lines and order apparently a foreign concept. Luckily our van driver had the wits to fend them off and hand over a stack of passports. No questions asked. Easy. On entry to El Salvador we didn't even get out of the van. Nor did we get a stamp. Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras have a centro-american pact of some sort (perhaps someone can fill me in?), hence the aforementioned ease. Happy days!

    We're now holed up in a tiny surf town called El Tunco. It's so small that you can walk a lap of the whole town in under five minutes, maybe six if you're decripid like me. Our hostel, la Sombre is a minute from the beach and if you hobble over the rocks to the western most point, you'll find a reknowned surf break called El Sunzal. That's where we've been spending our time!

    We hired surfboards for $10USD (yes, back on the USD) per day (same price as our accomodation!) and have spent mornings and evenings flailing about in the white water attempting to surf! I'm bruised and achey but it's all been worth it even for just a few good rides per session. The waves are glorious right handers, hard to read but once tamed provide decent length and relatively safe rides. My back, arms, ribs and fat man's rash are killing me.

    Everyone has fought the fearsome break with varying levels of success. Mike and I collided on a wave, yet somehow managed to escape unscathed. Cat's best wave saw her hit the beach without getting off her stomach (somewhat impressively I might add). And Char seemed to escape without too much drama on the board. We won't mention her getting stuck in a rip whilst swimming in the shallows. The unforgettable highlight for me was riding a wave over a sea turtle. Brave wee critter.

    When the wind and chop get up during the heat of the day, we've been catching chicken buses into the main town (La Libertad) for groceries and banks. A quarter gets you on board and the ride itself is entertainment. Hot, noisy, jerky, claustrophobic, uncomfortable entertainment. Or something like that. But it's nice to pay peanuts for transport for a change. It's been up there with accommodation as our biggest expense to date! On one such occasion, MERC put on the runners for the journey. Heat almost brought us to ruin, yet we reached La Libertad in a state I wish upon nobody. I couldn't distinguish disgust from worry upon greeting the girls.

    Lunch each day is pupusas. For around 50c-75c you can get a chicken and cheese filled pita. Well it looks like a pita but I'm fairly sure it's of corn derivative. Nonetheless they're delightful and three of the hot treats will fill the stomach of a hungry boy. Lunch for $1.50. Buen provecho! Come to mention it, why not pupuse for dinner too!?

    The middle of the day is hot. You know, that muggy, still heat that doesn't relent and when you mix it with sun it's a recipe for heatstroke? In case you didn't know, I don't like that kind of heat very much, so we've been lazing in hammocks and by fans or taking dips in the 'pool'. The fully-clothed cold shower also a very appealing bi-daily activity.

    Yesterday we foolishly chose to go for a walk in the afternoon heat. I made it to the bus stop - just - before turning to a liquid state. We bussed high up into the hills, found our stop and hired a tour guide off the side of the road. Antonio was a mumbler, just like me. I discovered that mumbling is not a comprehensible tongue, even between mumblers (yet I refuse to do anything about it). So we had very little idea what we'd signed up for except that we were paying this guy $3 a head and there was ample mention of 'cascadas' (waterfalls). That was good enough for us so we sweat our way down the valley to a series of rock pools/jumps. Add these to the aforementioned list of hot midday activities. A much needed cool off consisting of a series of rock jumps into different pools and a rock slide for the less boney bummed swimmer. It was a little sketchy but the locals showed us the ropes and we were away laughing - Cat taking the cake for the biggest pre-jump build in suspense. The uphill return wasn't as bad as expected, as Antonio was the least fit by far and set a delightfully slow pace, his sweat putting mine to shame. Him and I would make great friends.

    Our ticket out of El Tunco was a chicken bus. Luckily Mike and Char set an alarm and woke up the sleeping beauties for the 6am bus! Very apprehensive about the journey, we stumbled out onto the road and awaited our chariot. Our destination: Juayúa, Ruta de las Flores.
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  • Ruta de las Flores, the flower route.

    Well we made it - in case you were wondering. It was a little over three hours in a packed, sticky, bumpy bus, with a midway change over in Sonsonate. If there was an opposite to the phrase 'no sweat', I would use it here, my spinal channel made the Waikato river look like a dried up creek.

    Juayúa (pronounced why-oo-ha) is a tiny agricultural town, not famous for anything other than it's location on the (now fading) flower route. Ruta de las Flores was once a beautiful highway lined with blossoming flowers and colourful murals, punctuated with delicious coffee, intrepid hiking, waterfalls and views to die for. Nowadays a lot of the magic is gone, at least it feels that way...

    As the internet at La Sombra was horrible, we didn't receive any confirmation on our accommodation booking. Therefore our first activity in Juayúa was finding a place to stay. On our second attempt we found Hotel Anáhuac. Conveniently they had received a booking in our name and we quickly got settled into two fantastic private rooms. Spacious, cool and trendy with modern art, tiled floors and white plaster walls (plus ensuite!). Probably our most luxurious accomodation since Chicago! To top it off, they had specialty coffee and an avocado tree. Great find Cat!

    For the inconvenience of finding food, and the lack of appealing options during our transport, we had not yet eaten and hangry humans were beginning to appear. La Cafeta sprung itself upon us with a Sydney-esque decor and menu. We seized the opportunity for a well overdue and delicious late breakfast and as a result, moods started to turn. Phew! The remainder of the morning disappeared around the hotel, reading, swinging in hammocks and catching up on the internet and lost sleep.

    Actually, there's not an awful lot to do in Juayúa, so once we had circumnavigated town we decided we better sign up for one of the two tours on offer. Coffee and waterfalls have both been reasonably well covered already so it was almost a flip of a coin as to which we chose. In the end, the scent of the local bean for sale at the front desk, combined with the prospect of unlimited coffee sampling won us over. Specialty coffee 'Lechuza Cafe' here we come.

    You're probably reading this and thinking 'more coffee?? Boring!'. Well I was bordering on that same thought when we piled into the tray of a truck to depart on a private tour. At $20US pp, my head was spinning at the opportunity cost. However I'm delighted to report it was worth every penny and if you want to find out more about your daily black magic, I'm aiming to post a seperate blog all about it.

    In hindsight, we shouldn't have done the tour so late. We ended up consuming a fairly hefty amount of coffee which didn't stop until around 5.30pm. It's fair to say we didn't sleep too well that night!

    MERC got out twice in Juayúa. Elevation-wise the running was brutal, but the heat was slightly more forgiving than El Tunco meaning for once in a long time I actually enjoyed a run! We're yet to engage in combat with a dog, but we're (I mean Mike) very wary of their presence. We had a couple of narrow misses up in the hills here...hopefully that's the worst we see!

    Ataco (cue: dad jokes) is another stop on Ruta de las Flores which we visited briefly by chicken bus. There's really not a lot to say about this place aside from some great murals and a ginormous cross. I almost felt sorry for the place, with it's dwindling volume of tourists and fading markets it felt a bit used and abused. The feeling was swiftly forgotten by the arrival of a darn good pork tortas, clearly demonsrating the extent of my emotional allegiances.

    On a hot afternoon in Juayúa we trudged down to the local waterfalls and thoroughly enjoyed a refreshing dip in the man made pool. The water was spurting out of the middle of the cliff from a natural spring, caught halfway down in a man made pool, then disappearing back into the cliff to power a hydro dam. All very confusing to one who just wanted relief from the heat.

    By the sounds of things we got out of Juayúa in the nick of time. Saturday brought markets and lots and lots of people. We snuck out on a very sweaty chicken bus to Sonsonate and upon arriving, met queues and queues of people waiting to board our bus in the opposite direction. SO thankful that wasn't us! We made good time to San Salvador, covering the distance in not much more than 2.5hrs at a per head cost of $2USD. Making money!
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  • Potentially our most dangerous stop to date.

    San Salvador - El Salvador's capital - has had it's fair share of bad rap. Primarily, and leading news almost daily, it has a frightening number of murders and other gang related violence. In fact, in the last decade there has only been a couple of murder free days! Definitely a place to be carrying your wits and not much else.

    Most tourists don't bother with San Salvador, not just for the above reasons but also because to be just, it doesn't really have a lot of appeal. Well we're not most tourists, and I had heard good things about fútbol in El Salvador so we thought we'd give it a hoon. A quick and cheap hoon, as we are doing so increasingly often!

    Our chicken bus got us here safely and we had some accommodation lined up with a very helpful english speaking local named Edwin, who even picked us up from the bus station. It was our first ride in a car since Cuba and we were very grateful not to have to find our way to Edwin's. He lives with his mother and her frail mother in a two-storey house near enough to downtown. He also runs a tour guide business and a combination of this and the homestay makes for many comings and goings. As you would expect, we shared our accomodation with two Australians, who we've come to believe must make up at least 50% of tourists in central america.

    We really only had one full day to get things done here and we didn't fancy straying too far from home after dark so that made for even less time. But we gave it a good go! Sunday breakfast was met with little enthusiasm; beans, eggs and plantains are starting to get a little tiresome but some good coffee saw us leaving well prepared. Our first stop was the Iglesia el Rosario, downtown. We detoured past another cathedral which reminded us that it was Sunday morning and touring a church during a service probably wasn't wise. Luckily we caught a break (literally) and snuck into Rosario. It was uniquely impressive; a very brutalist concrete arch frame with an isolated and flimsy looking bell tower off to one side. Actually quite ugly from the outside and reminiscent of the movie Mad Max. Inside was where the spectacle began. Stained glass windows backlit by the morning sun shone rich colours through the entire building, emphasised by dim internal lighting and some sullen background music. On the back wall, a giant stained glass eye peered inward, watching every move. It was a huge space, filled with people all respectfully silent. Worth the stop for sure! The remainder of downtown was a disappointment, dirty, smelly or under construction - as warned by Edwin. Onwards please.

    Having had a little brain fart with her exercise gear, Cat was in need of some new kit. Also, the strapping young men on tour were beginning to look a little shabby and were well overdue some grooming. Conveniently for us, the biggest mall in the country was only a short bus away and offered solutions to both our problems. The barber in the mall made us feel like kings! We were waited on by several different people and offered drinks, foot washes, hair washes and beard trims on top of a very meticulous and time consuming haircut. At $8 a pop we did blow the budget (they were $1.50 on the street) but in one way or another it felt justified. Cat also had a field day and has come out looking sharp - now we just have to do some exercise!

    From the mall we got very confused with the local bus system so ended up taxiing to the Museum of Anthropology. It was very empty. In fact there were probably more shotgun-wielding security guards than visitors, but all the text was in english and spanish and for that we were grateful. It was an interesting insight into El Salvador and it's population. Knowing that over a million kiwis live and work overseas put perspective on a whopping 2 million Salvadorian expatriots (largely in the US) who's cash care-packages contribute to nearly 20% of the country's GDP!

    We left the museum a little disappointed that there was no civil war history (one for google) and trudged through Zona Rosa in the sweltering heat. Supposedly a nice tourist area, we were met with nothing but over priced fast food joints and hotels. Very unauthentic. Perhaps we strayed off course or perhaps this is what most tourists like about San Salvador. Let's hope not. Our expedition eventually reached Estadio Cuscatlan which was uncoincidently our destination for a local footy match.

    We dined at one of the stadium stalls, beef steak (first in a long time!) with rice beans and veg was a treat, and we washed it down with some beers from the supermarket - all the while watching an ever growing number of riot police assume position. Our $6US tickets got us some decent seating in the family section (read: we were way to scared to sit with the other hooligans our age!) and we were allowed to bring in our beers so long as they were in cups. Cheers! Alianza FC (San Salvador prems) were playing LA Firpo in La Liga Primera. Fortunately for us, the rowdiest crowd was on the far side of the stadium, which played music for the entire match and kept us entertained by sneaking around the riot police to abuse the away fans - and vice versa. Even the referees were escorted off the pitch at half and full time by riot police! Alianza clinched the win 1-0 and we left in time to watch a large number of away fans being escorted from the grounds, all the while jeering and abusing anyone in a white shirt. A little scary at times, but nonetheless an entertaining spectacle of hooliganism to remember!

    We were spent by the time we got home - the beers, the heat and the walking taking their toll. We stayed in an lazed around in the extreme heat of our accommodation before heading out for some dirty pupusas on the road side. An early night for an early start. Nicaragua watch out!

    Although the next day wasn't spent in San Salvador, we were in El Salvador so I'll start it in here - it was quite a day!

    5.30am wake up. Edwin had kindly offered us a ride to the bus station which he did with a full and open hot cup of coffee in one hand and a noticeable lack of concentration on the the road or the coffee. We were aboard our first bus and on the road by 6.30am, forking out an extra dollar for a 'first class' bus with AC! It was freezing AC as we had prepared for heat but I really can't complain. The irony is actually quite amusing. As usual it was jammed full; booty, boobs or armpit in the face - if you're seated by the aisle - and every chancer insisting on squeezing his way to the back of the bus and back trying to sell you coca, agua, peanuts or in one case - hot chips!

    This bus ran over an hour late, blowing out to 4.5hrs and dropping us off our tight schedule. We hadn't peed and had barely eaten so by 11am we were looking forward to lunch and a baño but it wasn't to be. We were ripped off the first bus and literally straight onto the second for a relatively short stretch to the El Salvo-Honduras border at El Amatillo. Finally we got our bathroom break, a dodgy chicken burger, an overpriced banana and a variety of treats to see us through Honduras. It was excruciatingly hot by now but the border crossing went smoothly and on days like today that's really all that matters.

    That was a week in El Salvador - rocketing by by just like every other one. It's a country I'll remember for the heat, the pupusas, the ridiculous number of armed guards and OTT weapons - and endless miles of buses.
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  • Up early for breakfast in a cute cafe.

    Then its a 6 hour van journey to the beach!

    On the way we stop at a shopping mall! I am in heaven - an El Salvadoran mall! The group vote was to wait to have lunch an hour and a half away rather than at the mall which meant lunch at 4pm!

    Mad - there was a KFC there which had my name on it! We therefore had only 20 minutes which meant speed walking to check out the mall and get soaks band aids and stock up on food from the supermarket as the hotel is 7km from town and may be overpriced like the Guatemalan jungle resort.
    Went at it like a maniac but KFC had to be dropped - devastated but I got everything else.

    Arrive at the hotel which is shacks near the beach with two hut restaurants and a bar overlooking a gorgeous beach. Have a quick dip in the pool then have my avocado and tomato roll then straight into a hammock with an ocean view with two margaritas as its happy hour! Bliss!

    The rest of the tour group has yet to order their lunch.

    This time I was given an even bigger knife to cut my tomato and as I walked past our tour group they wanted to know if I traveled with this knife! I looked a real sight!

    So rest of the day spent in the hammock and had dinner laying on a beach chair listening to the ocean.

    Wonderful!
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  • Santa Ana was somehow a weird place. We stayed at Casa Verde which was definitely one of the best places I've stayed so far. The owner Carlos took really good care of everybody and over the years he collected ideas from travelers how to improve the hostel. Every dorm bed had it's own fan, reading light & socket. At the foot of the bed there was a furniture to store your backpack with different hangers for towels and all kinds of things. As a courtesy to other people in the room there was also a plastic box for smelly footwear. Additionally everybody got it's own locker with another socket and 2 USB-plugs inside.
    The common areas were really nice and clean. There were 2 kitchens with lots of spices and herbs to use. Also free coffee beans to grind yourself and make fresh coffee. The place was really inviting to stay longer.
    But somehow Santa Ana itself wasn't really. The hostel was in the commercial area and after we went out for dinner everything on the 5 minute walk from the restaurant (which was the only nice place around) to the hostel was closed and dark. There were a lot of homeless people in one street but otherwise we didn't meet anybody.
    The next morning we had a great breakfast and after a stroll over the busy market we got back on the bus to get to the "Rutas de las Flores".
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of El Salvador, El Salvador, Ɛl Salvadɔ, ኤል ሳልቫዶር, السلفادور, Сальвадор, Ел Салвадор, Salivadɔr, এল সালভাদোর, ཨེལ། སཱལ་ཝ་ཌོར།, Salvador, El Salfador, El Salvadɔ nutome, Ελ Σαλβαδόρ, Salvadoro, السالوادور, El Salwador, An tSalvadóir, એલ સેલ્વાડોર, El Salbador, אל סלבדור, अल साल्वाडोर, Սալվադոր, Salvadoria, エルサルバドル, სალვადორი, Elsavado, អែលសាល់វ៉ាឌ័រ, ಎಲ್ ಸಾಲ್ವೇಡಾರ್, 엘살바도르, ئێلسالڤادۆر, Salvatoria, El salivado, Savadɔrɛ, ເອຊາວາດໍ, Salvadoras, Savadore, Salvadora, എല്‍ സാല്‍വദോര്‍, အယ်လ်ဆာဗေးဒိုး, Ersarbador, एल् साल्भाडोर, Lo Salvador, ଏଲ୍ ସାଲଭାଡୋର୍, Salwador, Ël Salvador, سالوېډور, Eli Saluvatori, एल-साल्वाडोर, Salvadöro, එල් සැල්වදෝරය, Salvadori, Салвадор, எல் சால்வடார், ఎల్ సాల్వడోర్, เอลซัลวาดอร์, ʻEle Salavatoa, ئەل سالۋادور, ال سلواڈور, Salvadorän, Orílẹ́ède Ẹẹsáfádò, 萨尔瓦多, i-El Salvador