El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and one of the region’s least visited. El Salvador is a hidden gem with beautiful beaches, shimmering lakes, volcanoes you can climb, national parks and pretty colonial villages. Not to mention the waves; they belong to the best in the world. But what should you include in your trip to El Salvador? This is my personal El Salvador itinerary, including the best places to visit, things to do and tips for places to stay and transportation. Enjoy and get inspired to visit El Salvador.
El Salvador itinerary – discover tips and destinations for your visit!
San Salvador (2 nights) – Start of El Salvador itinerary
Start your El Salvador itinerary in San Salvador. San Salvador is not only the capital of El Salvador, but also the economic, cultural and political heart of the country. Despite, its beautiful location, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, it is a city that doesn’t sound very appealing to many people. A pity, as San Salvador has so much to offer and is worth visiting, especially at the beginning of your trip through El Salvador.
Visit the old center and observe buildings such as the cathedral, the palace, the national theater and the Rosario church. In the different museums you can learn more about archaeology, modern art or El Salvador’s famous artist Fernando Llort. San Benito is one of the nicest neighborhoods to stay in with fine restaurants, lunchrooms and wine bars. Book a night at Nico Urban Hotel and reserve a table at El Xolo, one of Latin America’s best restaurants.
Curious? In the next article you can read more about what to do in San Salvador with tips for places to visit and your stay.
Hotels San Salvador
Suchitoto (2 nights)
From San Salvador you want to travel to Suchitoto, one of the most beautiful destinations in El Salvador. This small colonial town is located on Lake Suchitlán, which provides beautiful views. You can stroll around the streets for hours, past colored houses and flowers, have a chat with the locals and enjoy the lovely atmosphere.
You want to spend a full day here to enjoy the village and take many pictures. At the end of the day you want to head to the harbor and take a boat trip at Suchitlan lake to enjoy a stunning sunset. Don’t forget to try the pupusa, the national dish of El Salvador. In the evening when it cools down, you will see countless stalls with local people preparing their pupusas in front of you. Are you traveling car? Try to include a stop at the waterfall Los Tercios in your El Salvador itinerary. It is famous for its unique formation.
In the next article you will find the best things to do in Suchitoto in El Salvador, including tips for activities, tours, waterfalls, hotels and restaurants.
Tips for hotels in Suchitoto El Salvador
Santa Ana (1 or 2 nights)
From Suchitoto continue your El Salvador itinerary in the direction of Santa Ana, the second city of El Salvador and the capital of the province. Along the way you can make a stop at two archaeological sites: Joya de Cerén and Tazumal.
Tazumal is known for its great Mayan pyramid and is considered the most important and best preserved ruin in El Salvador. The pyramid was used as a temple and consists of several platforms, connected by long staircases. During your visit, you can walk around and observe the temple from different sides. Along the way you will come across a number of small structures and a former ball court, which played an important role in Mayan life.
Tazumal is located in the middle of the town Chalchuapa, near the border with Guatemala, and is part of a larger archaeological complex. Do you want to visit Tazumal from Santa Ana? You can easily book a tour here.
Joya de Cerén
Joya de Cerén is also called the Pompeii of El Salvador. This former Maya community was destroyed by a large eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano around 600 AD and completely disappeared under the lava. Multiple eruptions of other volcanoes followed over the years. You can visit the archaeological site today, walk along the excavations, being able to observe the different layers of lava from the volcanic eruptions. In the museum you will learn more about the people who lived here. Do not expect spectacular Mayan temples or ruins here. It is the story and history that make your visit to Joya de Cerén worth the visit.
Do you want to visit Joya de Cerén during your el Salvador itinerary? Check prices and availability and book an interesting archaeological tour from San Salvador here.
Cerro Verde (1 or 2 nights)
You can choose to find a hotel in the city Santa Ana or spend the night in a unique setting in nature at Casa 1800 Cerro Verde during this El Salvador itinerary. Or do a combination of both. Casa 1800 Cerro Verde, located on the Cerro Verde volcano, is one of the most beautiful hotels in El Salvador. From the restaurant but also from your own room you look straight out over the Santa Ana volcano. You can also walk to a platform during sunset where you enjoy the most magical sunset.
Cerro Verde is an inactive volcano, located 2030 meters above sea level. The crater is eroded and covered by a thick cloud forest. Cerro Verde is part of El Salvador’s Los Volcanes National Park, which consists of five volcanoes: Santa Ana, Izalco, San Marcelino, Coatepeque, and Cerro Verde. Cerro Verde offers one of the most beautiful views of the Santa Ana Volcano and Lake Coatepeque. And when it is clear, you can even see the coast and Guatemala with volcanoes such as Fuego, Acatenango and Pacaya in the distance.
Wat to read more Santa Ana? In the next article you will find a city guide with many things to do in Santa Ana El Salvador.
Santa Ana volcano hike
Today is going to be one of your highlights in this el Salvador itinerary, as you are going to hike a volcano. Where in some countries you have to hike for hours to reach the top of a volcano, in El Salvador you can reach the top of Ilamantepec volcano, better known as the Santa Ana, within 1.5 hours. With 2300 meters, Santa Ana is the highest volcano in the country. At the top you look straight into the crater, which consists of a beautiful green crater lake. Moreover, on a clear day you have an amazing view of the surroundings. But the way up is also worth it. Of course there are a few steep parts, but the walk is doable for anyone with a normal physical condition.
Do you also want to hike the Santa Ana volcano? A guide is mandatory. You can book a tour here, leaving from Santa Ana or Casa 1800 Cerro Verde.
Coatepeque lake (1 night)
It is nice to spend the night at Coatepeque lake after your hike to the Santa Ana volcano. This crater lake, located in the Los Volcanes National Park, was created more than 70,000 years ago and is one of the largest lakes in El Salvador (26 km2). You can enjoy the views, take a boat trip and eat delicious fish in one of the surrounding restaurants.
Hotels around Coatepeque
Ruta de las Flores (3 nights)
From Coatepeque lake you can continue to one of the most beautiful itineraries you can make in El Salvador La Ruta de las Flores – the flower route. This route runs from Sonsonate to Ahuachapán and is known for its many coffee fields, waterfalls and small villages with flowers, murals, markets and little shops.
In the surroundings you can go on an adventurous waterfall hike where you see 10 different waterfalls in 2 hours, drive by buggy to Laguna Verde, a lake surrounded by mountains and lots of greenery or cycle above the coffee plantations. Don’t forget to visit one of the factories and learn more about coffee.
Take your time for this route. In this El Salvador itinerary, I’m focusing on the highlights. You could easily spend a week around La Ruta de las Flores and sleep in different hotels. In the next article I will tell you everything you want to know about La Ruta de Las Flores in El Salvador, with tips for things to do, tours, transportation, hotels and restaurants.
Finish your El Salvador itinerary at the beach ( 2 or 3 nights)
Finish this El Salvador itinerary with some well-deserved time at the beach on the Pacific Ocean, known as one of the very best places in the world to surf. There are several good beaches, each with its own atmosphere. My personal favorite is El Zonte, because it is quiet and super nice. In the morning the surfers are in the water early and apart from surfing not much happens. There is a wide and beautiful black sand beach where you can take walks, visit caves, drink cocktails and enjoy the lovely vibe. And while you are there, maybe go for a surf lesson? The people on the coast do nothing else than surfing and are happy to share their knowledge and passion with you. Or just rent a board yourself and enjoy the great waves.
Hotels along the coast
Make sure to book your stay at Palo Verde. This wonderful hotel with swimming pool and restaurant is located on the beach and is one of the first sustainable hotels in El Salvador. Trust me, a place you don’t want to leave anymore. Curious about a stay at Palo Verde? In the next article you can read everything you want to know about this sustainable surf hotel, including the story of a passionate entrepreneur.
And then it is time to finish your El Salvador itinerary in San Salvador. Or, if you have more time and want to see more of the country, then continue your El Salvador itinerary towards the south.
Extra tips for El Salvador itinerary
Conchagua volcano (2 nights)
In the southeast of El Salvador, near the border with Nicaragua, there is the Conchagua volcano. And from the viewpoint Mirador Espíritu de la Montaña, you can observe this 1200-meters high inactive volcano. But once at the top, it’s not just the volcano you see, on the platform you have a 360 degree view of the Gulf of Fonseca, overlooking the islands of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Of course you have to be a bit lucky with the weather but wow, this view will leave you speechless.
The Conchagua volcano can be easily reached by four-wheel drive. It is possible to spend the night at the top or book a hotel in La Union. Do you want to visit the Conchagua volcano? Check the prices and availability and book your tour here. In this article you can read more about visiting the Conchagua volcano.
Bahia de Jiquilisco (1 or 2 nights)
From La Union you can continue this El Salvador itinerary towards Bahia de Jiquilisco, the largest mangrove area in Central America. Bahia de Jiquilisco is an area with small islands, bays, canals, sandy beaches, forests and a freshwater lagoon. There are numerous national and migratory birds, many of which are endangered species. It is also an important breeding ground for turtles, including the hawksbill turtle, an endangered sea turtle species that emerge here annually between August and January and nest along the banks. The best way to explore the nature reserve is by boat. You sail quietly through the channels, along the mangrove, where you observe birds and occasionally see a turtle head sticking out of the water. Along the way, you will stop at the islands for a swim and a walk on the beach.
Make a reservation at Puerto Barrillas. You sleep in comfortable cottages right on the water. And from your cottage you immediately board the boat for a beautiful trip. Do you want to visit Bahia de Jiquilisco? You can book a tour to Bahia de Jiquilisco here.
Mini travel guide El Salvador itinerary
Traveling in El Salvador – transportation and tours
Because El Salvador is a small country, travel distances are relatively short. From the capital you can be within 1.5 hours at the coast, in colonial villages, on the edge of a beautiful lake or in a national park surrounded by volcanoes. You can see a lot in a short time. There are several ways to explore the country. For example, you can book hotels at a number of destinations and make trips from here or rent a car and make a tour through the country.
Curious about tours during your El Salvador itinerary? This is an overview with tours and things to do in El Salvador:
- City tour San Salvador
- El Boqueron
- Archaeological tour – Joya de Cerén & Maya temple Tazumal
- Tour to Suchitoto
- Hike to the Ilamantepec – Santa Ana volcano
- Cerro Verde + Izalco volcano
- Conchagua volcano
- Volcanoes, Coatepeque lake & Ruta de las Flores
- Ruta de las Flores Full Day
- Ruta de las Flores Full Day + hotsprings
- Buggytour Apaneca + Laguna Verde
- Bahia de Jiquilisco
- More tours in El Salvador
Need a rental car for your trip to El Salvador? Use Rental Cars to search and compare your car rental options. A quick and easy tool and no need to have up multiple tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. They also have great discounts and cancellation policies.
Hotels in El Salvador
In every country I look out for the most beautiful and unique place to stay. Interior design, a nice atmosphere, a lovely setting and good service are important topics for me, when choosing a hotel. In addition, I like to support the locals and love a sustainable approach around a hotel. Are you curious about my favorite hotels in El Salvador? In the next article you will find an overview of the best boutique hotels in El Salvador.
More about El Salvador
Did you enjoy reading this article with tips for your el Salvador itinerary? El Salvador is a small country in Central America with so much to offer. Let me take you on a journey along the most beautiful destinations and things to do in El Salvador. In the next article you will find my El Salvador travel guides with lots of inspiration and tips.
- Best things to do in El Salvador
- Best things to do in Suchitoto
- Things to do in San Salvador – a comprehensive travel guide
- Santa Ana city guide
- Conchagua volcano – everything you want to know
- Ruta de las Flores – everything you want to know
- Boutique hotels in El Salvador
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