5 Tips for Traveling in El Salvador Spending Only Bitcoin

Even though President Bukele has made the cryptocurrency legal tender, it isn't super easy for visitors to get by on bitcoin alone. But with a few tricks, it's possible and fun.

AccessTimeIconFeb 9, 2022 at 3:54 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 3:48 p.m. UTC
Layer 2

When we chose to leave Italy to travel to El Salvador using only bitcoin, never touching cash or even using a credit card, we really didn't know if it would be possible. We were prepared to fail miserably in our purpose and do it in a matter of days.

Instead, the 45 days of our mission flew by, we traveled everywhere in the country, from the most touristy areas to the most remote and isolated ones, and we managed to do it while fully enjoying the bitcoin standard, as only in the small Central American nation it is possible to do.

Laura Nori is a community manager for the Desmos Network, a blockchain for building user-centric social networks. Riccardo Giorgio Frega hosts the Bitcoin Italia Podcast.

In our travels we have met so many people who have come to El Salvador to see what is happening, and we know that many others, maybe just by reading the reports of our adventures in the mainstream magazines or on our blog, are thinking of doing so. The news of President Nayib Bukele’s bitcoin law has gone worldwide, and this is a beautiful country, rich in history, culture and with beautiful landscapes and beaches. Even though the oldest and most valuable cryptocurrency is now legal tender in El Salvador, it isn't super easy for visitors to get by on bitcoin alone. But with a few little tricks, it's possible and fun.

Here are the five things we learned after exploring it all.

Rent a car with BTC

The country is tiny, and this is a valuable feature. In just a few hours' drive, you can go from the sunny beaches of Bitcoin Beach, a surfer's paradise, to the lush mountains around Sushitoto, to bathe in the waters of its majestic lake.

Or experience the mesmerizing chaos of the capital San Salvador and, in the same day, visit the beautiful Santa Ana, with its volcanoes and coffee plantations.

There is a problem though. Public transportation in the country is spotty, poorly organized and very slow. It’s not an ideal solution (although a very charming one).

The best option is to rent a car. If the big international companies like Budget and Avis have not yet adapted to the BTC revolution, the country is full of small private rentals. Use Google to find them: They are everywhere. Many of them will be very happy to accept bitcoin, and you will find that they will do so at extremely competitive prices. A car gives you maximum freedom and all of El Salvador in the palm of your hand.

(Riccardo Giorgio Frega/Laura Nori)
(Riccardo Giorgio Frega/Laura Nori)

Plan ahead

By no means expect everyone in El Salvador to accept bitcoin. The law is brand new, and citizens and businesses are free to choose whether or not to offer this option to their customers. Hotels especially seem to be the most reluctant to adopt the innovation, especially in less touristy locations. It is therefore essential to call ahead and ask. Use the internet to choose hotels that interest you in your chosen location and simply call them until you find one that is willing to accept bitcoin. It is also a great way to knock the rust off your Spanish!

Try the pupusas

The same standard should be applied to restaurants. By no means expect everyone to be willing to serve you in exchange for bitcoin. Again, you will have to ask in advance. But don't be intimidated, they will all respond politely, and it will be a great way to get to know the locals.

Paradoxically, the most popular and cheapest restaurants have often proven to be the most open to innovation. Even the owner of the most shabby dive bar will most likely have a smartphone with the Chivo wallet in his pocket and rather than lose a customer will be happy to let you try to pay with it. The national dish is pupusa, which is a skillet-cooked tortilla that is delicious and cheap. Not to be missed.

Warning: If you are off the beaten path, most likely you will be the first bitcoin-only customer, so be prepared to have to teach yourself how to make a transaction. They often have no idea. It's part of the game and don't forget that we are all pioneers in this revolution!

Find any excuse to talk to locals

The best thing about traveling in El Salvador using only bitcoin is that it will force you to frequently talk to the locals. Don't be shy!

Remember that even though BTC is legal tender, the bitcoin expert is you. Tell those you meet on your trip about this technology. They have received very little education so far and talking to those who know the most about it is important to them. We have received so much gratitude from locals after sharing what this technology allows them to do and what the benefits of total financial independence can be.

Adapt to their routine

Especially in the less touristy areas, the pace of life in El Salvador is totally different from that of Europe or the United States. People here wake up early in the morning and go to bed very early at night. Don't expect great nightlife, be prepared to have dinner very early and see the streets of the cities already semi-deserted after 8 p.m. Although it is no longer unsafe to travel at night, nightlife is only possible in the more wealthy or touristy areas. Try to tune into these rhythms of life to see the truest part of El Salvador and live elbow to elbow with the locals. Plus, the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular just about everywhere. You should definitely not miss them.

There are many who ask if it is safe to travel in El Salvador today: It is. But visitors should exercise due caution and show the respect that one should always have when traveling and dealing with different cultures. We never felt in danger or found ourselves uncomfortable.

On the contrary, we got along so well that we decided to stay longer, so much so that today, more than two and a half months later, we are still in the country.

Come visit El Salvador on a journey funded by bitcoin and be part of a historic moment.

(Riccardo Giorgio Frega/Laura Nori)
(Riccardo Giorgio Frega/Laura Nori)


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Laura  Nori

Laura Nori is community manager at the Desmos Network.

Riccardo  Frega

Riccardo Giorgio Frega is the creator of the Bitcoin Italia Podcast.