Unless you’ve never seen any ruins of anything anywhere, El Salvador’s best-publicized archeological sites (San Andrés, Joya de Cerén, and Tazumal) will almost certainly disappoint. The “let’s just cover the whole thing in concrete” style of archeological restoration (or, perhaps more accurately in this case, reconstruction) employed by early archeologists has left Tazumal’s main structures looking more like a 1970s parking garage than a 2,500 year-old Mayan relic. Joya de Cerén, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, might be a must-see attraction for true archeology fanatics, but the ruins – a small collection of clay and adobe structures housed behind fences and underneath large steel structures designed to protect them from the elements – aren’t much to look at. Nearby San Andrés is more akin to general expectations of what a Central American archeological site should look like, but it’s still perhaps more enjoyable as a picnic spot than as a true “tourist destination.”
Fun Alternatives: The generally un-publicized ruins of Cihuatán in the municipality of Aguilares, an hour north of San Salvador, have more historical ambiance than San Andrés, Joya de Cerén, and Tazumal.
The indigo workshop at the ruins of Casa Blanca, in Chalchuapa, a short walk from Tazumal, is another fairly interesting alternative.
Tourist traps? Hardly any....El Salvador is a really authentic place and people are among the friendliest I've met, especially with tourists, allways willing to help. The Mercado Cuertel and the Handicrafts market sell many typical things, vendors expect you to bargain so it's up to you to get the best price for what you'll buy.
I must agree with some of the other reviews, that El Salvador doesn't have many of the typical tourist traps. People are so friendly and welcome tourists that it's actually quite the opposite. Wherever you go you'll be treated like royalty. Keep also in mind that as of january 2002 El Salvador adopted the US dollar as their currency so prices will be quoted in colones (the old currency) and US dollars. Basically everyone welcomes the dollar and colones are not circulating very much.
I believe the biggest tourist trap is to hear people advicing not to come here. El Salvador has been off the tourist guides for a long time, because of civil war that ended in 1992....the country is back on it's tracks but not the guide book editors or people who came here before that time and never came back! El Salvador is Central America's best kept secret and a great place to explore, especially if you like nature, sun and surf, adventure, etc.
Do not try to go by yourself to any place I mention. I don't care where you are. try to be as safe as possible. When traveling by taxi you can always negociate the price. They know you're a tourist by the way you dress, walk, talk, or where you're going. Anywhere you go around the world there is always someone that will try to take advantage of you. Ask the waiter or the hotel people where is safe and how much it will cost to get there.
One of the great things about El Salvador is that because is has been off the tourist map for so long, there are very few classic tourist traps. Most of the tourist industry there are so happy to see Americans that you are treated like royalty. Standard things to watch out for though are Taxis (always ask price to your destination before getting in); handicrafts-- my Salvadoran wife helps me with purchases; when she doesn't I pay double always and sometimes 10 times. If possible find out from a Salvadoran what the price should be. Salvadorans are the friendliest people on earth, and will be happy to help you, just ask outside the store.