American Express -- American Express traveler's checks can be exchanged at most banks, but very few businesses in El Salvador accept them. American Express offices are located in San Salvador (Anna's Travel, 3ra Calle Poniente 3737 btw. 71 and 73 Av. Norte; tel. 503/2209-8800; or Servi-Viajes, Paseo General Escalón 3508 #4; tel. 503/2298-6868), in San Miguel (Anna's Travel, 8 Calle Poniente 815, Roosevelt Bario San Filipe, San Miguel; tel. 503/2661-8282), and in Santa Ana (Anna's Travel, 2 Calle Poniente and 4 Av. Norte #4, Santa Ana; tel. 503/2447-1574).
Business Hours -- Most banks and Casa de la Cultura community centers are open Monday through Friday 8:30am to 5pm and 8:30am to noon or 1pm on Saturday. Some banks and Casas de la Cultura have extended Saturday hours. Business offices follow a similar schedule, but are closed Saturday and Sunday. Also note that many national tourist sites, such as Tazumal and Joya de Cerén, are open Sunday but closed Monday.
Small-town shops often close for an hour or two around midday, and smaller village restaurants close around 6pm. San Salvador's restaurants close for the night between 8 and 11pm, with nightclubs staying open until the wee hours.
Drinking Laws -- The legal drinking age in both countries is 18, although it is often not enforced. Beer, wine, and liquor are all sold in most supermarkets and small convenience stores from Monday through Saturday. No liquor is sold on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, or election days. If you're caught possessing, using, or trafficking drugs anywhere in the region, expect severe penalties, including long jail sentences and large fines.
Electricity -- Nicaragua and El Salvador run on 110 volts, 60 Hz, the same as the United States and Canada. However, three-prong grounded outlets are not universally available. It's helpful to bring a three-to-two prong adapter. European and Asian travelers should bring adapters with any accompanying appliances. Be prepared for frequent blackouts and bring surge protectors.
Embassies & Consulates -- The U.S. Embassy in San Salvador is located at Urbanización Santa Elena, Antiguo Cuscatlán (tel. 503/2278-4444; http://sansalvador.usembassy.gov). The Canadian Embassy can be found at Centro Financiero Gigante, Alameda Roosevelt and 63 Av. Sur, lobby 2, location 6 (tel. 503/2279-4655). Australia has no embassy or consulate, but has an agreement allowing the Canadian embassy to assist Australian citizens. The United Kingdom has a consulate at 17 Calle Poniente 320 (tel. 503/2281-5555; firstname.lastname@example.org). The U.K. embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala (16 Calle 0-55, Zone 10, Edificio Porre Internaciónal, level 11; tel. 502/2367-5425; www.fco.gov.uk) handles visa and passport issues for residents of the United Kingdom traveling in El Salvador. New Zealand does not have a consulate or embassy in El Salvador. Kiwis need to contact the New Zealand embassy in Mexico City (Jamie Balmes 8, 4th floor, Los Morales, Polanco, Mexico, D.F. 11510; tel. 5255/5283-9460; email@example.com) for assistance.
Emergencies -- Emergencies anywhere in the country can be handled by calling tel. 911. Some towns also have local numbers for tourist police, fire, and other agencies. Those numbers are listed in this guide, wherever applicable.
Hospitals -- The nation's premier private hospital is Hospital de Diagnóstico y Emergencias Colonia Escalón (21a Calle Poniente and 2a Diagnol 429, Urbanización, La Esperanza Paseo del General Escalón, San Salvador; tel. 503/2506-2000). If you have a serious medical issue but are not ready or willing to leave the country, this is the place you need to go. Public hospitals, which are not recommended, are scattered throughout the country and can get you patched up well enough to get home or to San Salvador. A complete list of El Salvador's public hospitals with contact information can be found at www.mspas.gob.sv.
Internet & Wifi -- The hotel listings in this guide contain information on what hotels have free internet and WiFi services. Be aware that many high-end hotels charge between $3 and $10 per day for internet use although some will let you log on and print an airline boarding pass free of charge .Language -- Spanish is the official language of El Salvador. Few El Salvadorans outside of San Salvador's hotels speak English, so it's a good idea to learn a few words and to bring a Spanish phrasebook with you.
Language -- Spanish is by far the dominant language in the region, except on Nicaragua's Atlantic coast, where English is spoken -- a lilting creole that has West Indian roots. A number of indigenous languages have survived, most notably Miskito in Nicaragua's eastern autonomous region. It is also advisable to learn some basic Spanish before you travel here; we recommend picking up a copy of Frommer's Spanish Phrase Finder & Dictionary.
Lost & Found -- Be sure to tell all of your credit card companies the minute you discover your wallet has been lost or stolen, and file a report at the nearest police precinct.
If you need emergency cash, you can have money wired to you via Western Union (tel. 800/325-6000; www.westernunion.com). Their website can direct you to the closest location.
Maps -- Maps are exceedingly hard to come by in El Salvador. The main CORSATUR office in San Salvador offers large, colorful, tourism-style country and San Salvador maps. But few small towns offer street maps. Most towns are easy to find off the main highways and are walkable once you arrive.
Newspapers & Magazines -- El Diario de Hoy and La Prensa are El Salvador's most readily available newspapers. El Diario considers itself to be the country's paper, while La Prensa seems to have a more international perspective. Both are written in Spanish. The best English-language magazine you'll find in El Salvador is the Guatemala-based Revue Magazine, which offers travel, culture, and business features concerning Central America.
Police -- Call tel. 911 for emergencies.
Post Offices & Mail -- Most towns in El Salvador have post offices marked by a blue sign reading CORREOS. Offices are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm in larger cities, and 7am to noon and 2 to 5pm in small towns. To mail a standard letter from El Salvador to the United States costs around 65¢ and 85¢ to Europe and Australia. For a list of post office addresses and phone numbers, visit http://www.correos.gob.sv/ and click on "Correos de El Salvador." In general, expect it to take 2 weeks for your letter or postcard to reach home and the cost to vary from 70¢ to $1 for a letter to North America or Europe. If you're sending a parcel, a Customs officer may have to inspect it first. Theft is a common problem. Always try to send mail from a main post office and insist that the envelope be stamped in front of you. It's wise to send things via registered post, though often the letter can be tracked as far as the border and no more. Private courier services are everywhere, but most are expensive.
Smoking -- There are no government smoking bans in Nicaragua or El Salvador at the moment. Private companies do not allow smoking in places like cinemas or long-distance buses, however. The better hotels and restaurants have nonsmoking rooms and areas, but in general, you can still puff wherever you want.
Taxes -- All hotels charge an 18% tax. Restaurants charge 13% on the total cost of the bill and often sneak in an automatic 10% for service -- check your bill carefully to avoid overtipping.
Time -- El Salvador is 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.
Tipping -- A 10% tip is automatically added to most restaurant checks, and taxi drivers don't expect a tip. No hard standard exists for bellhops, but $1 per bag will keep you in their good graces. Also, many tour guides work entirely for tips, with a $2 minimum expected for anytime up to an hour. After that, it's up to you to compensate for exceptional service.
Toilets -- These are known as sanitarios, servicios sanitarios, or baños. They are marked damas (women), and hombres or caballeros (men). Public restrooms are hard to come by in both countries. You will almost never find a public restroom in a city park or downtown area. You can take refuge in the many huge malls that are now springing up in both countries. Otherwise, one must count on the generosity of some hotel or restaurant. Same goes for most beaches. Most restaurants and, to a lesser degree, hotels will let you use their facilities, especially if you buy a soft drink or something. Bus and gas stations often have restrooms, but many of these are pretty grim. Don't flush toilet paper; put it in the trash bin.
Water -- The water in the major cities and tourist destinations is ostensibly safe to drink. However, many travelers react adversely to water in foreign countries, and it's probably best to drink bottled water and avoid ice or food washed with tap water throughout your visit to the region.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.