How to Plan Your Trip

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Before Your Trip

Epilogos Charities, Inc. wants you to have a safe trip to El Salvador and to be as comfortable as possible in San José Villanueva (SJV) This information will help you plan your travel and know what to expect when you arrive.

Contact Information in El Salvador

  • Graciela Martinez, Executive Director and the Epilogos Charities, Inc. staff will be your hosts in El Salvador.
  • Epilogos Charities, Inc. is located in San José Villanueva, La Libertad, El Salvador
  • A telephone is available to Epilogos Charities, Inc volunteers for emergency purposes only. Please let friends and family members know ahead of time that you may not be able to contact them.
  • There is internet access near the volunteer house for a small fee. There may also be internet service at the retreat center. You may be able to purchase cell phone minutes in San José Villanueva, but this is not guaranteed.

Medical

  • Travel to developing countries may pose health risks. Make an appointment with a travel clinic prior to your departure to determine which vaccinations and medications are recommended during your stay in SJV.
  • Visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn the most up-to-date information regarding medical travel recommendations.
  • Be aware of mosquitoes. Use bug repellent and wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. There is no malaria danger in SJV, and you do not need to take anti-malarial medication. However, dengue fever is present and can be transmitted by mosquitoes.
  • If you have health problems, including allergies, notify your group leader.
  • Bring any prescription medications in their original bottles. This will avoid problems at customs. Bring an adequate supply of all prescription or over-the-counter medications for the length of your stay. There are no pharmacies in SJV and no refills will be available.
  • Drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated. Gatorade powder or bottles (available for purchase locally) are recommended.
  • Minors must have a letter signed by a parent/guardian which authorizes two adult group members to approve any necessary medical treatment during the trip.
  • If you feel unwell at any time during the trip tell your group leader immediately.

Safety and Transportation

  • While you are in El Salvador your transportation will be provided.
  • Do not wear open-toed shoes outside the retreat center.
  • Take precautions when working on specific projects (masks, hard hats, gloves on the job site). 
  • To minimize the risk of crime, always stay with the group. No one is allowed to walk alone anywhere. Do not display cash or other valuables.
  • When we take trips to outlying areas we will be accompanied by a village escort.

Language

Spanish is spoken in El Salvador. Very few people speak English in the village of San José Villanueva. Each group should have at least one volunteer who speaks Spanish. We recommend bringing a Spanish phrase book as well.

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Luggage

  • Please pay attention to airline rules in regard to luggage weight (usually 50lbs maximum per checked bag). Checked bag charges now apply on most airlines.
  • Label your luggage with your ID information and attach a distinct ribbon in order to easily identify and claim your bags
  • If possible, minimize the amount of personal items you pack. Many visitors check one personal bag and one bag containing donations for Epilogos Charities, Inc.

The Airport in San Salvador

  • Adhere to international airline guidelines concerning pre-departure times. Epilogos Charities, Inc. cannot be responsible for your airport transfers if you miss your groups flight.
  • Upon arrival, before retrieving your luggage, you will pass through immigration. Find the line designated for non-residents of El Salvador. You will need $10 USD in cash for a temporary visa as your papers are checked.
  • Collect your bags and proceed to customs.
  • An Epilogos Charities, Inc. driver, holding a sign, will be waiting outside the terminal for you.
  • Be mindful of your wallet, purse, backpack, and luggage.
  • As you leave the airport, if approached by hawkers, say a polite but firm "NO". To the beggars (who will likely be small children) say, "No, lo siento". ("I am sorry"). Making a purchase or giving money will attract a crowd.

Passport

  • Make sure your passport is valid! If your passport expires within 6 months or less from the end of your trip you must renew your passport before you travel.
  • Make three copies of your passport. Bring one copy with you. Leave two copies in the U.S. with separate people.

Money, ATMs, and Credit Cards

  • The U.S. dollar is the local currency.
  • At least two weeks before your trip send a check to Epilogos Charities, Inc. to cover airport transportation, room, board and expenses, plus any additional donations and expenses. (You will receive an invoice from Epilogos outlining your charges).
  • We recommend bringing an additional $75 to $150 for souvenirs, tips, and/or meals out.
  • Remember the $10 airport fee.
  • Bring cash in small denominations, no larger than $20 ($1s and $5s are recommended)
  • ATM machines are only available in major shopping centers in San Salvador
  • One credit card may be useful for emergencies. Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted, but Discover is not. Advise your bank or card company that you will be travelling in El Salvador since they will see unusual activity and may shut you down.
  • Traveler's checks are not used

Weather

  • May through October is the rainy season. Bring a light raincoat, poncho, or umbrella.
  • November through April is the dry season. Prepare yourself for dust. Bring plastic bags to protect electronic gear.
  • Throughout the year temperatures range from 65-95 degrees. The sun is very strong. Protect yourself with appropriate clothing, hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses.

Accommodations

  • Most visitors will stay at the nearby Ayagualo Retreat Center. Rooms are shared; each room has a private bath with hot water. Occasionally groups will stay in the village of SJV. This will be a communal living experience with very basic accommodations. Volunteers sleep on bunk beds or cots and share two toilets and two cold showers.
  • Sheets, a light blanket, pillow, and towels will be provided for all volunteers. If you bring your own, we'd appreciate you donating them before you leave. Bring your own shampoo and soap.
  • The town (and local roosters!) wake up early and mornings are generally noisy. You may want to bring earplugs!

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Water

  • Local water is not potable. Bottled water is provided by Epilogos Charities, Inc.
  • Use bottled water for drinking and brushing teeth.
  • The volunteer house has running water a few hours a day. There is no hot water in the house.

Food

  • Food and water-borne illness are the most common causes of illness for travelers. Caution is key.
  • Breakfast and dinner will be served at the Ayagualo where proper food precautions are taken. Arrangements will be made ahead of time for lunch provisions.
  • Meals will be American fare with some traditional Salvadoran dishes. If you have any food allergies or dietary preferences, please note this on your application and remind your group leader when you arrive in the village.
  • Do not eat raw food. Only eat fruit that you have peeled yourself.
  • Villagers may offer you food. It's fine to say, "muchas gracias, pero no tengo hambre". (Thanks, but I am not hungry)
  • Bring power bars and granola bars for snacking.
  • You may experience diarrhea as your intestinal bacteria changes from American to Salvadoran. Please follow your travel physician's advise on when and how to treat diarrhea.

What to Bring

  • PASSPORT, PASSPORT, PASSPORT!!! As noted above, check the expiration date.
  • Clothing: it is likely to be warm and sunny. Dress modestly. You may want to bring shorts for hanging around the retreat center. However, you will generally wear long pants outside. T-shirts are fine for all. Females should dress modestly (avoid short skirts, bare midriffs, etc). Tank tops are acceptable if they are not revealing. Pack enough clothes to last the length of your visit. Bring one outfit that would be appropriate for going out to dinner.
  • 2 pairs of work gloves
  • Backpack or fanny pack
  • Water bottle - 2 is a good idea
  • Medications (over-the-counter and prescription)
  • Sunscreen with high SPF
  • Insect repellent
  • Hand sanitizer - pocket size ideal
  • Powdered Gatorade or other sports drink
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • 2 pairs of comfortable shoes, good for walking. Work boots or hiking boots should be broken in before you arrive. Sandals and flip-flops may be worn at the retreat center only.
  • Cell phone for when you are in the USA airport. USA cell phones will not work in El Salvador.
  • Copy of airline information
  • Useful gifts for the community: art and school supplies, OTC medications, toothbrushes, fun items for children (small games, colorful hair ties, friendship bracelets, cards, bubbles, etc.)
  • Notebook or journal

If you have further questions, please contact the Epilogos Charities, Inc. volunteer board. Have a safe trip and a wonderful experience! When you return, send us a paragraph or two about your time with the people of San José Villanueva so that we can share your memories with others. We look forward to your visit!