Wondering what to pack for El Salvador? Use this El Salvador packing list to decide what you will take with you plus what to wear in El Salvador!
Here’s everything you need to take with you so you, too, can have a fabulous time in El Salvador, but also a few things we wished we had brought (more bug repellant and sunscreen, please!) so you can avoid some of our mistakes!
I include items that you’ll want to take to beach towns, the mountain towns of the Ruta de las Flores, and the safety items I always take for trips to Central America.
If you’re still trying to decide what to bring to El Salvador or what you’ll want to wear, here’s my ultimate El Salvador packing list so you have an awesome and safe trip!
Good to Know: I have this list split up into a general El Salvador packing list of items for everyone, separate sections for what to wear in El Salvador for women and men, packing tips for El Salvador for plus-size travelers like myself, packing information for LGTBQ travelers, what technology to bring to El Salvador, El Salvador guidebooks (including what I used), and what you need to pack for backpacking El Salvador hostels.
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My Favorite Travel Booking Sites for 2022 & 2023
These are my favorite companies that I use on my own travels.
Find cheap flights with CheapOair.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For road trips and ground transportation, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find information and cruise reviews on Cruise Critic.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.
Store your luggage safely with Radical Storage.
5 Most Popular Tours in El Salvador
Heading to El Salvador? There are so many great things to see and do here! These are the five most popular Salvadoran tours and day trips to help you get started planning your trip!
What to Bring to El Salvador: Packing List Items for Everyone
El Salvador is a pretty straightforward place to pack for if you’ve traveled extensively in Central America, but if this will be one of your first trips to the region then you might be surprised at some of the items on this list!
Luggage Options: What Backpacks or Suitcases to Use to Pack for El Salvador
The first thing you need to decide is what kind of luggage you plan on taking with you, and this will be dictated by your travel style.
Only you can decide if you’re going to take a roller bag-style suitcase or if you’re going to backpack.
If you plan on traveling with only a carry-on, then you will need a minimalist packing style. However, if you are going to check a bag, then you can choose a larger suitcase that will hold a few more items.
Some things to consider when deciding between taking a roller bag or a backpack as your main piece of luggage:
Will you be staying in hotels or shared hostel dorms?
Will you be traveling by driver or using chicken buses?
Do you want to travel carry-on only or are you comfortable checking a bag?
Will you be staying in one or two locations, or will you be moving from place to place often?
Best Backpacks for El Salvador
I use a Bergans Skarstind 48, which I bought in 2018 to backpack the Caucasus, and its survived many trips over the years, including to El Salvador.
This style of backpack holds more than enough clothes to get through a week without having to do laundry, just with a little mixing and matching.
I can fit a week’s worth of clothing, two pairs of shoes (plus wearing a third on the plane), makeup, toiletries, a travel hairdryer, etc. all in this bag.
Note: Not all backpacks are carry-on sized. To make sure you can use your backpack as a carry-on, check the dimensions of the bags.
Best Roller Bags for El Salvador
During my first trip to Central America, I used an Osprey Sojourn 80L roller bag as my main suitcase.
However, it’s no longer in production. I also travel lighter than I did all those years ago. If I had to buy a new roller suitcase now, I’d go with the Osprey Rolling Transporter 40 Duffel Bag if I wanted something durable that will last for multiple trips.
About a year ago, I started using a Ricardo spinner suitcase similar to the Ricardo Beverly Hills Malibu Bay as my go-to for domestic travel.
I wish I’d used this in El Salvador instead of a backpack since we were mostly traveling by private car.
For the way we traveled in El Salvador – one main hotel location with day trips and a private car for traveling round-trip to the airport – a roller suitcase would have been more convenient.
So which is the best roller bag for El Salvador?
If you plan on traveling extensively around Central America, I would go with the Osprey Rolling Transporter 40 Duffel Bag. This way you have a bag that can stand extensive wear-and-tear.
If you plan on going to El Salvador as a stand-alone trip, I would get something chicer that you can use for all your trips. The Ricardo Beverly Hills Malibu Bay is a great option for this.
Best Day Packs for El Salvador
I have two go-to day packs for all my trips, and both are perfect for using as El Salvador day bags.
The Pacsafe Citysafe is great for cities because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets, like wire mesh sewn into the lining and an RFID pocket.
It also transitions to a night bag easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
It also has a laptop sleeve if you need to travel with your laptop.
However, this is an investment travel bag, and I don’t always want to travel with my computer.
Since I didn’t take my laptop with me, I used my Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack. This is my favorite budget day bag.
It was a steal for the price, and in the past six months, it has survived seventeen US national parks as well as my trips to Mexico and El Salvador!
It won’t last as long as my Citysafe (which is already in year five!), but it has more than proved its worth so far.
Organization (Bags within Bags)
If you aren’t a bags within bags person, you need to become one, at least when you travel. This will help tremendously when you’re traveling, whether you’re backpacking around El Salvador or staying at one luxury hotel.
I divide my stuff up into these bags and then organize these in my suitcase:
1-2 large packing cubes for clothes, bathing suits, and bathing suit covers
1-2 medium packing cubes for underwear, socks, pajamas
I have them split up like this: wet toiletries, dry toiletries, prescriptions and medications, small tech like cords and chargers, hair essentials, and makeup.
1 laundry bag that comes with the packing cubes to separate dirty laundry during the trip.
1 Canvas Tote Bag that can be used as a beach bag for beach days, for groceries, and as a go-to day bag for any day where you’re going to be taking it easy and don’t need a ton of stuff.
After 56 countries and 45 US states, I have settled on a system that works for me. I tweak it for the specifics of each trip, but generally, this system serves me quite well!
Toiletries & Skincare
You will want to take good care of your skin while you are in El Salvador! This starts with sun protection, but it doesn’t end there.
This list also includes travel eye care items, hair care, cosmetics, dental care, and more!
A small hairbrush. I use one like this, but get one that is right for your hair type.
Travel-sized hairdryer for those who need a hairdryer and are not staying in a hotel that provides one.
Seriously, no one loves their travel towel as much as I do. The fun stripes also make it perfect for enjoying a beach trip without feeling like you’re using a travel towel.
Hair products that are specific to your hair type.
Your Prefered Moisturizer, Night Cream, and Lotions since travel is brutal on your skin.
A Pair of Tweezers
If you wear glasses, bring a hard case for storing them. I travel with two pairs of prescription glasses and two pairs of prescription sunglasses.
This is because I’ve lost pairs of glasses twice while traveling, and not having a backup pair is asking for a disaster.
If you will be diving or snorkeling, you can’t wear glasses in the masks so bring disposable contact lenses. You might be able to buy one or two disposable pairs just for this purpose without investing in a full contact lens routine.
Laundry Detergent Powder if you will be traveling long enough to need to wash clothes in your sink. For me, this is usually if I’ll be gone more than a week. I put some in a ziplock bag to avoid bringing too much.
Something to deal with that special time of the month. If you have to deal with a period on the road, pack whatever you need depending on your preferences.
A Water Bottle with a Filter if you want to be able to drink the tap water safely. Do not drink tap water in El Salvador unless you use a filter.
First Aid Kit & Medications
Over-the-counter medication from pharmacies is pretty easy to find, so you don’t need to lug around everything you could need. Just make sure to bring a few basic items.
A basic medicine kit will include:
Your prescriptions, medications, contraception needs, and regular vitamins.
Anything you take weekly (for me this would be things like antacids).
Your OTC pain medicine of choice. I brought a small bottle of Ibuprofen.
After Bite for mosquito bites (even being extremely careful, you may end up with some if you have to go somewhere at dusk).
Small Baby Oil for sandfly bites. I hope you don’t need it, but if you do you will want it ASAP.
A travel-sized First Aid Kit
Bandaids which I used to stave off blisters in El Salvador.
Luckily I had them with me! After accidentally stabbing my thumb with my razor in the Lisbon airport and having to pretend like I wasn’t bleeding to death while eating a steak, I vow to never leave home without bandaids.
If you anticipate sleep issues from any time changes, I love having melatonin with me on every trip.
Sea-Band Wristbands if you get motion sickness and will be on boats, golf carts, or winding mountain roads.
What Documentation to Bring to El Salvador
You won’t need that many items, but there are a few documents you need to bring with you to El Salvador.
Your Passport as well as hard and soft passport copies. You need the passport to enter and exit the country, and copies in case you need to work with your embassy in the event your passport is lost or stolen. Put a hard copy in your luggage and email yourself and someone you trust a soft copy.
A Passport Holder to keep your passport from being damaged.
I also had a waterproof passport and cellphone holder that I used to protect my passport at pools, beaches, and hot springs.
Good to Know: If your passport gets wet, you can be refused boarding on your plane.
Your Driver’s License if you plan on renting a car or golf cart.
Vaccination records if you come from a country with a requirement for vaccines like yellow fever. I brought my COVID-19 vaccination card with me just in case.
Scuba Certification if going to scuba dive.
Your Travel Insurance Policy information. For my trip to El Salvador, I purchased travel insurance and emailed the policy information to my mother and husband in case they needed to access it on my behalf.
I’ve had several broken phones, a nearly stolen wallet, car rental accidents, etc, so I always prefer to pay for travel insurance just in case I need to use it.
It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’re going to be in destinations that are considered more dangerous, like San Salvador, or doing outdoor activities like hiking, scuba diving, and surfing.
Money: Cash and Credit Cards
Whenever you travel abroad, money can be one of the biggest concerns. Here’s what you need to bring with you to be able to access your money in El Salvador.
Credit Cards & ATM Cards
Bring your credit cards and bank cards as well as a hard copy in case they are lost or stolen, plus email yourself a soft copy just in case.
Your cards have the international toll number for you to call your company if there’s an issue.
You can give your companies a travel notice so they don’t suspect fraud and shut your cards off.
Make sure you bring at least two cards. Never travel with only one account or one card. You never know what can happen on the road.
Make sure your cards don’t have foreign transaction fees. Since I travel so often, I don’t use any credit cards that have this kind of fee. Ask your bank and credit card companies if you are unsure.
I also use Charles Schwab, which reimburses me for ATM fees I pay to other banks. This helped me save money in El Salvador because some of the bank fees were very high!
Since El Salvador uses the US Dollar (USD) as their official currency, you can bring cash with you before your trip if you’re coming from the USA.
You should bring a minimum of $12 in cash to pay the immigration fee when you enter the country.
Many places take credit cards, but having access to cash is important.
I used cash to pay for many expenses where I couldn’t use a credit card.
We needed cash to pay our driver, shop at artisan shops, eat meals at the Juayua Food Festival, entrance to the Termales de Santa Teresa, and for shopping at the Nahuizalco Night Market.
I used credit cards at our hotel, some restaurants, and some shops.
You can access ATMs in many towns – but not all towns. Starting with some cash at the beginning will make life easier.
Storing Your Money
I kept my cash (and my passport) in the backward-facing pocket of my Venture Pal 40L Lightweight Packable Daypack. Pair this with a wallet that RFIDsafe technology that blocks your cards and passport from being scanned.
Alternatively, you can use any wallet if your bag is something like the Pacsafe Citysafe since you can keep your money, passport, and credit cards in the inner pocket that has RFIDsafe technology.
I put a few small bills in the bag’s front pocket to use so I never flashed my cash in public.
I also don’t use a full decoy wallet, but you can make yourself one if you feel more comfortable.
What to Wear in El Salvador: Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories
I’ll admit that I would have been packing for El Salvador wrong if I hadn’t been to Mexico just a month before.
However, spending a few weeks on the Yucatan Peninsula reminded me of what it’s like to travel in this kind of heat and informed my clothing choices, and I loved all the items I took with me to wear in El Salvador.
The weather in El Salvador is hot, even oppressive at times, so you will want to plan accordingly.
Average highs are always in the mid-to-high eighties, with temperatures exceeding this often throughout the year.
If you aren’t used to the heat, you might be surprised at how many locals are wearing heavy items of clothing like jeans.
However, unless you grew up in a very hot climate, you’ll be happier in light clothing that breathes.
You also need to plan for the season you are visiting. El Salvador has two main seasons – the rainy season from May through October and the dry season from November through April.
Another thing to consider is that a lot of what you will want for clothing in El Salvador depends on the parts of the country you will be visiting.
For example, what to wear in El Salvador on a surf vacation in a beach town will look different than what you will want to wear in more conservative parts of the country.
So I have recommendations for every kind of trip, and then you can select only the items and amounts that make sense for your ultimate destinations and trip length.
What to Wear in El Salvador for Women
This travel packing list is designed for one week in El Salvador.
Take items off if you’re going for less time than that. Going for more time? You’ll want to do laundry while there.
Women in El Salvador dress more conservatively than in many other parts of Latin America, so you may find that flowy maxi dresses and fuller-coverage swimsuits are more comfortable to travel in.
Because I primarily spent time in more conservative towns, I was happy having a light jacket I could throw over my shoulders and dresses that were midi- and maxi-length.
Clothing for El Salvador
3-4 dresses if you primarily wear dresses when traveling (like me). I was happy in light dresses that were loose and didn’t stick on me when I was sweaty from the heat.
I brought two tank tops for sleeping in since I wore dresses out every day. If you plan on wearing short sleeve shirts during the day, I would get ones that have a loose fit and a higher neckline.
I brought a cropped denim jacket and it was a great option for on the ground as well as on the plane – which was freezing.
1 rain jacket if traveling during the rainy season
2 swimsuits for beach towns, hot springs, and pools. Pack a swimming suit even if you’re going to be mostly in towns because many hotels have pools.
Even in the more conservative towns, I felt comfortable in a high-waisted bikini.
If surf lessons are a part of your travel plans, you can ask the surfers at your company if they have any special requirements for what they want you to wear to the beach for your lesson.
1-2 swim cover-ups for the beach, pool, or thermal baths. This can be anything from a sarong to a specialized beach cover-up to a regular dress.
I have a black t-shirt racerback dress that doubles as my favorite beach cover.
Shoes for El Salvador
You don’t want to overload yourself with shoes in El Salvador.
I like to have three options. Two get packed in my suitcase/backpack and one extra can be worn on the plane.
Pro Tip: for hiking shoes and Birkenstocks, make sure you get them early and break them in. I learned this the hard way. Blister city.
Underwear and Socks
2-4 Bras, Bralettes, or Sports Bra depending on your planned activities
8 pairs of underwear or however many days you will be there plus one extra. Keep the extra pair in your carry-on luggage if you will be checking your suitcase – just in case!
2-3 pairs of bicycle shorts for wearing under dresses and skirts to stop chaffing
2-4 pairs of quick-dry socks for hiking days or days when you need to wear closed-toe shoes
Jewelry and Accessories
You should avoid taking important jewelry with you to Central America. I don’t travel with expensive jewelry, and I would avoid taking any sentimental irreplaceable jewelry with you.
I took this set of six pairs of hoops that are cute and versatile and easy to replace if I lose them. I selected the silver set, but the gold is really cute, too!
(I left a set behind on the Olympic Peninsula a few months later and I already replaced them).
I also wore two rings from James Avery that I wear every day, but I didn’t take any real jewels or anything expensive.
During my time in El Salvador, I bought some locally made jewelry and wore it with the jewelry I brought.
I also wore my Fitbit watch (which was a replacement for the one I left in Mexico), but it wasn’t essential.
I wouldn’t take a watch that looks expensive, but maybe something cute like this won’t be an issue if it doesn’t make it home.
What to Wear in El Salvador for Men
Here’s what men should pack for El Salvador for a week.
If you’re going to be there longer, plan to do laundry. If you’re going to be there for less than a week, take less of each item.
Clothing for El Salvador
7-8 lightweight shirts (think tank tops, quick-dry t-shirts, and fabrics that wick)
1 pair of long, breathable pants if you’re going to be hiking
1 tee shirt and shorts for sleeping
Shoes for El Salvador
Comfortable Closed-Toed Walking Shoes for hiking and walking around cities and towns.
Underwear and Socks
Jewelry and Accessories
Just like in the section above for women, I would caution you to not take valuable or irreplaceable sentimental jewelry to El Salvador. If you do have personal jewelry that you love, I would take replaceable pieces.
A hat for staying out of the sun.
An inexpensive watch (optional).
El Salvador Packing Tips for Plus Size Travelers
It’s hard to find El Salvador clothing for plus-size bodies in typical shops in El Salvador, which is something I have found to be true across Latin America.
I always pack a little more than my peers, because I know I can’t replace my wardrobe mid-trip.
Our clothing also takes up more room in our bags, so I tend to look like I pack more even when I am packing lighter than other travelers.
I shop Snag Tights for my chub rub shorts (and keep vaseline handy just in case!).
I don’t have recommendations for men’s plus-size travel clothing for El Salvador, but beware that they don’t see larger sizes often – even for men.
If you have questions about clothing in El Salvador for plus-size travelers, drop them in the comments and I’ll add my two cents!
El Salvador Packing Tips for LGTBQ Travelers
Where I have recommendations for what to wear in El Salvador, these are organized by gender so that I can link out to specific items, rather than a prescription for how one should dress for gender expression.
I hope you purchase the clothes for your trip that makes you the happiest and most comfortable, regardless of gender and expectations.
I am not an expert on LGTBQ travel in Latin America, so I cannot comment on how safe or unsafe travel is for LGTBQ travelers in El Salvador regarding clothing selection or any other matters.
I looked for a good guide to link to by trusted LGTBQ travel voices, but I couldn’t find an up-to-date one.
When I asked my circle of travel writing friends, Jose from My Normal Gay Life told me that he has family from El Salvador who mentioned to him that for some, El Salvador is “totally unsafe…, especially for Gays.”
If you are researching a trip and you are worried about your safety as an LGTBQ traveler, I don’t have any resources to link out to at this time, but I will add some if I find one down the road.
What Technology to Bring to El Salvador
Here’s the tech that I normally travel with. Some items I chose not to bring to El Salvador. If this is the case, I notate it.
I sometimes travel with a Nikon DSLR, but the combo of my iPhone12 and Sony ZV-1 are more than enough for my needs when I want to travel light.
I don’t travel with extra camera batteries, but if you want your camera to be your go-to and not your phone, it’s a good idea to pack extra batteries.
Computers & Tablets
I normally travel with my Macbook, laptop charger, and iPad.
However, I decided not to take these to El Salvador since I wasn’t going to need to work while there, and I wouldn’t risk having them lost or stolen.
Every time I travel with my laptop, it’s a risk, so I only do it when necessary.
Since I was traveling from the US, and El Salvador and the US both use the same plugs, I didn’t need to bring an adaptor.
If you are coming from a country that uses different outlets, you will want to bring a universal adapter.
I never travel ANYWHERE without a portable charger. Recharge it every night of your trip – it’s a safety issue!
There are some apps that you will want to have downloaded onto your phone before you leave for your trip.
Google Maps: Download the map for the country so that it will be available offline
Skype: Great for calling to get your bank cards unblocked
Facebook Messenger This is ninety percent of how I communicate these days
Instagram: Because aren’t we all basic at heart?
Adobe Lightroom Mobile: for photo editing
Podcast Addict or other Podcatcher: Looking for travel podcasts to inspire you? These are my favorite travel podcasts
Dropbox Mobile: for backing up cell phone photos
Your Airline’s Mobile App: so you can check in to your flight and check your flight’s status
Your Bank’s App: so you can check if there are issues while you’re out of the country
Guidebooks for El Salvador
I used this to plan my last trip to El Salvador, and I held onto it so I can use it for my next trip to Central America!
I bought the paperback version since I decided not to travel with my Kindle.
The nice thing about this book is it also covers nearby Central American countries.
Since many travelers coming to El Salvador will also visit neighboring Guatemala and Honduras or even combine El Salvador with Panama and Nicaragua, this means you’ll only have to carry around one guidebook to cover your trip.
Lonely Planet Latin American Spanish Phrasebook & Dictionary 9 for those traveling to El Salvador without a background in Spanish.
Packing Travel Tips for Salvadoran Hostels
Hostel life can save you money, especially in some of the pricier areas, but you’ll need a few more things with you to safely and comfortably stay in El Salvador backpack hostels.
Flip-flops or shower shoes are a necessity. I can’t imagine going to El Salvador without flip-flops, but it’s extra important if you’re in hostels using shared showers.
A Full-Sized Travel Towel because hostels don’t provide towels.
A headlamp for accessing your stuff in shared dorms after lights-out.
More El Salvador Travel Resources
More Central America Travel Guides
Will you be exploring more of Central America? Check out these travel guides:
Belize Country Guides
Before Your Trip to El Salvador – Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road.
I love World Nomads for traveling in Central America, and I happily recommend them.
It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be enjoying water activities, spending time on beaches, or visiting towns and cities where petty theft occurs.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads as far back as 2016, and I happily recommend them.
If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.