El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and one of the region’s least visited. But that will soon change, as the security situation has finally improved. 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. El Salvador is a country where you can still walk around a Mayan temple by yourself and be on the edge of a volcano crater with only a few other visitors. But what to do in El Salvador? In this article you will find an overview of the most beautiful destinations and best things to do in El Salvador, including tips for hotels, tours, transportation, safety, and culinary and cultural experiences. I am sure El Salvador will be on your bucket list after reading this article.
- Best things to do in El Salvador | 30 destinations and tips
- Scenic things to do in El salvador
- Active things to do in El Salvador
- Cultural things to do in El Salvador
- Mini travel guide El Salvador
- Hotels in El Salvador
- More about El Salvador
Best things to do in El Salvador | 30 destinations and tips
Suchitoto is 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 can also get acquainted with the blue gold of El Salvador, Indigo. At Arte Iñil, beautiful products are sold and different workshops take place. Do not forget to visit the waterfall Los Tercios because of its special formation. And of course you have to try the El Salvadoran pupusa. In the evening when it cools down, you will see countless stalls with local people preparing their pupusas in front of you.
Suchitoto is a wonderful place to stay in El Salvador. 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
Ruta de las Flores – best things to do in El Salvador
One of the most beautiful itineraries you can make in El Salvador is 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
Each village has its own atmosphere and things to do. And the surroundings offer waterfalls and lakes, that you can reach in an adventurous way. Take your time for this route. Even though the distances are short, there is a lot to do and experience.
Curious about La Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador? I loved this area so much that I ended up spending a full week here. 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.
Tips for hotels along La Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador
Santa Ana volcano hike
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. At 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. You walk through a misty forest and pass special trees and plants. Of course there are a few steep parts, but the walk is doable for anyone with a normal physical condition. The Santa Ana volcano hike is one of the top things to do in El Salvador that you should not miss.
Do you also want to hike the Santa Ana volcano? A guide is mandatory. You can book a tour here.
Enjoy the Pacific Coast
A visit to the beach of El Salvador should not be missed in this list with tips and things to do. You will find 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 and visit caves.
Hotels along the coast
A stay at hotel Palo Verde makes your trip complete. 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. Are you looking for a party vibe? Then you want to book a hotel in El Tunco.
Scenic things to do in El salvador
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. 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. You can drive to the top by car, take short walks, visit an orchid garden and go for some bird watching.
Try to make a reservation at Casa 1800 Cerro Verde, located on the Cerro Verde and 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. Are you curious about other unique hotels in El Salvador? In the next article you will find an overview of the best places to stay in El Salvador.
Cerro Verde can be reached from Santa Ana. Read more about the best things to do in Santa Ana in El Salvador here.
Curious about the most beautiful viewpoint in El Salvador? 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. It is one of the things to do, that you should not miss, when visiting El Salvador.
The Conchagua volcano can be easily reached by four-wheel drive. It is also possible to spend the night at the top. 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.
Viewpoints & chairs of Casa 1800
If you see something about El Salvador on Instagram, there is a good chance that you will come across the chairs of Casa 1800. And that is for a good reason. Casa 1800 has managed to claim some of the most beautiful viewpoints and build a restaurant and boutique hotel around them. From a platform, including a big wooden chair you can take great shots of the Santa Ana volcano, Lake Suchitlán, the Izalco volcano and the valley around Ataco. You can even explore El Salvador by going on a special chair route, where you stay in all Casa 1800 hotels. Casa 1800 is one of the best things to do in El Salvador if you want to spend the night in lovely boutique hotels or if you just want to take great pictures.
Hotels Casa 1800
This is an overview of Casa 1800 hotels in El Salvador:
I stayed in 3 of the 4 Casa 1800 hotels myself. In the next article you’ll read more about my stay at Casa 1800 in El Salvador.
When you are in El Salvador you should definitely visit the Lago de Coatepeque. 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. It is recommended to book a hotel on the lake, so that you can fully enjoy the surroundings. Lago de Coatepeque, is half an hour’s drive from Santa Ana.
Hotels around Coatepeque
Lago de Suchitlán
Lake Suchitlán is one of the largest lakes in El Salvador with 135 km2. It was artificially created in 1976 along with the construction of the Cerrón Grande Dam, which was to provide electricity to the area. Today Lake Suchitlán is an important reserve for fish and birds. Especially early in the morning and at the end of the afternoon, when it is not so hot, numerous birds can be seen here. In the harbor of Suchitoto – Puerto Turistico San Juan – it is easy to find a skipper and rent a boat.
Tip: One of the best things to do in Suchitoto in El Salvador is to take a boat trip on the lake around sunset. The sky becomes truly magical.
The Izalco volcano
Another volcano that you can climb in El Salvador is the Izalco. This volcano is located at an altitude of 1950 meters but is more difficult to reach because you first have to walk all the way down to climb up again. And then of course the same way back. A guide is also required here. Don’t feel like a steep climb? Then you can also book a tour where you enjoy views of both the Cerro Verde and the Izalco volcano.
Because of its location, the Izalco volcano is also called the “The lighthouse of the Pacific”. The erupting volcano is said to have served as a landmark for ships for years up to 1966. The black-colored cone volcano is the youngest in the country with a height of 1950 meters.
Bahia de Jiquilisco
When you think of the largest mangrove forest in Central America, you may not immediately think of El Salvador. Yet Bahia de Jiquilisco, with 100,000 hectares, is the largest mangrove area in the region. You will find 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.
Discover the bay and surroundings
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. If you’re lucky and get here on a clear day, the peaks of the volcanoes rise above the mangrove in the distance. Along the way, stop at one of the islands for a swim and a walk on the beach with hundreds of pink crabs. Impossible to photograph them because as soon as you take a few steps closer, they disappear under the sand.
Do you want to visit Bahia de Jiquilisco? You can book a tour to Bahia de Jiquilisco here.
Hotel tips Bahia de Jiquilisco El Salvador
Are you planning to visit Bahia de Jiquilisco? Then you want to spend the night at Puerto Barrillas. You sleep in comfortable cottages right on the water. From your cottage you immediately board the boat for a beautiful trip
From Puerto Barrillas you can visit a private sanctuary for monkeys. They have been rescued from captivity and now live here in freedom. With your visit you support this local project.
El Boqueron volcano
Less than a 20-minute drive from the center of San Salvador, on top of the San Salvador volcano, is El Boqueron national park. This volcano caused an eruption in 1917 that destroyed large parts of the city. Today you can visit the inactive volcano, which consists of two craters. And it is definitely one of the things to do in San Salvador during a morning or afternoon. There are hiking trails, surrounded by pine trees and flowers, that allow you to view the crater from different sides. It is also a popular place for the locals, especially on weekends.
There are numerous restaurants with views over San Salvador on the road up to the volcano. I recommend Pampa or Picnic where you can enjoy tasty dishes in an outdoor setting surrounded by fountains, a slide and photo spots. Do you want to visit El Boqueron? Here you will find a number of tours from San Salvador.
Active things to do in El Salvador
One of the best things to do when you are around La Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador is to visit Laguna Verde. This lake is surrounded by mountains and lots of greenery and is located near the village of Apaneca. It is a nice place to walk, picnic or take a boat trip. But the road to get there is probably the most fun. With a buggy you drive from Apaneca, through villages and past coffee plantations, to the lake within 20 minutes. Of course together with a guide who accompanies you during the buggy tour. Even if you are not that adventurous, this trip is highly recommended!
Do you also want to go on a buggy tour? Here you will find prices and availability. Want to read more about Laguna Verde? Continue reading in my article about the best things to do around La Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador.
The waterfalls route – adventurous things to do in El Salvador
Do you want to see 10 different waterfalls in 2 hours? Along La Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador you can make a spectacular hike along waterfalls: La Ruta de las Siete Cascadas. With a local guide you walk through a tropical area with flowers and trees, through the river past seven waterfalls. The highlight is the ascent of a 55-meter high waterfall. Yes really, you climb over the rocks of the waterfall, with your bare hands and your shoes on. Quite nerve-racking but once you are at the top, you actually want to go back and do it again. After the hike of the seven waterfalls, you’ll continue the trail past coffee plantations to the three waterfalls of Chorros de la Calera. Here you can take a dip and cool off a bit from the sweaty hike.
La ruta de las siete cascadas & Chorros De La Calera are part of La Ruta de las Flores in El Salvador, an interesting route along coffee fields, waterfalls and small villages with flowers, street art, markets and nice shops.
Surfers have known their way to El Salvador for years and that makes perfect sense. El Salvador is one of the very best places in the world to surf. The weather is always nice, the water warm and 95% of the year there are perfect waves. It won’t surprise you if I tell you that one of the best things to do when you are in El Salvador is to take a surf lesson. Or just rent a board yourself and enjoy the great waves. The people on the coast do nothing else than surfing and are happy to share their knowledge and passion with you. Of all the surf lessons I’ve taken in my life, I had the best lesson and the most fun here.
You want to go surfing in El Tunco or in El Zonte. If you choose El Zonte, book an overnight stay at Palo Verde, a hotel that is all about surfing and sustainability. You can book a surf lesson with the Alex Novoa.
National park El Imposible
Looking for a place to go hiking in El Salvador? Then take a look at tours in the Imposible National Park, a large tropical forest known for its great diversity of flora and fauna. You will find idyllic rivers and gorges surrounded by greenery. With 4000 hectares, it is also the largest national park in the country. Imposible means impossible and refers to the dangerous canyon that took the lives of many farmers and mules, who transported coffee to the port of the Pacific Ocean. It is also the habitat of wild bears, countless birds of prey, butterflies, cougars and other felines. Of course they are not easy to spot, but the fact that they live there says something about the environment where you are.
It is good to know that you have to walk quite a bit to see the most beautiful places in the park. You also need a special permit to enter the park and a guide is mandatory. It is therefore important to plan your trip in time. Keep in mind that it is warm so dress lightly and bring plenty of water.
Cultural things to do in El Salvador
A visit to the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador, should not be missed. What used to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world is now a great place where you can enjoy yourself as a tourist. Visit the old center and observe buildings such as the cathedral, the palace, the national theater and the el 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.
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
Santa Ana city
Santa Ana is the second city of El Salvador and the capital of the province. The city is a good starting point for amazing volcano tours in the surroundings, a visit to Lake Coatepeque and the Mayan ruins of Tazumal. But the center is also worth exploring. On the central square called Parque Libertad, you will find a number of beautiful buildings including the cathedral, which is also on the Unesco World Heritage List, the town hall and the national theater. It is nice to sit on a bench to observe daily life and schedule a lunch at Simmer Down, a lovely place on the plaza, with tasty pizzas and pastas.
Curious about Santa Ana? In the next article you will find a city guide with many things to do in Santa Ana El Salvador.
Learn more about coffee
Did you know that El Salvador exports fantastic coffee? There are many coffee plantations along La Ruta de las Flores and it is recommended to visit one of them. And where you have many tours around coffee plantations in a country like Colombia, in El Salvador you can visit small factories as well, showing you a different part of the process. The quantities are smaller than in the surrounding countries but due to the high quality, El Salvador can compete well with its neighboring countries.
During a visit you will learn more about the process: From the moment the beans are brought in to the moment of export. And of course you can also taste coffee yourself afterwards. Check out one of the tours here.
Meet Fernando Llort – cultural things to do in El Salvador
From the first moment I was introduced to his work I was impressed. Fernando Llort is one of El Salvador’s most important artists and even seen as the national artist. His art colors the country’s official logos. Fernando Llort’s work can be described as colorful, folkloric and a bit childish. It is sometimes compared to that of Miró and Picasso.
Fundación Fernando Llort – El Arbol de Dios, located in San Salvador is a small museum with a shop and workshop where his work is honored. The town of La Palma also plays an important role. For years, Fernando Llort lived here and taught the locals how to make money by creating art. If you are interested in art, looking for the works of Fernando Llort is for sure one of the things you want to do in El Salvador
Curious about what to do in San Salvador? In the next article you will find a comprehensive guide to San Salvador.
Tips for archaeological things to do in El Salvador
Many people think that Mayan ruins can only be seen in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. But El Salvador also has a number of archaeological sites. Perhaps less spectacular than Tikal, Copán and the Mayan temples in Mexico, nevertheless worth a visit. Especially if you are interested in history. Moreover, there is a good chance that you are one of the few visitors walking around here. Here are a few tips for archaeological things to do in El Salvador.
One of the things to do in El Salvador if you are interested in Maya history is to visit Tazumal. This Mayan pyramid is located in the middle of the town Chalchuapa, near the border with Guatemala, and is part of a larger archaeological complex. 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. There would be tombs under the pyramid.
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 was an important Mayan settlement between 100 BC to about 1200 AD. Do you want to visit Tazumal from Santa Ana? You can easily book a tour here.
Joya de Cerén
One of the other things to do in El Salvador if you are interested in archaeology is to visit Joya de Cerén, 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 this archaeological site today, walking 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 you want to visit Joya de Ceren? Check prices and availability and book an interesting archaeological tour from San Salvador here.
What makes Joya de Cerén special is that it is the only ruin complex where houses (made of clay) of the local population have survived. Most Mayan complexes contained temples that belonged to the elite. The site therefore provides a unique view of daily life from that time. Unesco even declared it a World Heritage Site in 1993.
Joya de Cerén was accidentally discovered in 1976 and there is still a lot of research to be done. Only 5% has been excavated. 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. Joya de Cerén can best be visited from Santa Ana or San Salvador.
Try the pupasa
The pupusa can call itself the national dish of El Salvador and there is even a national pupusa day, taking place on the second Sunday in November. A pupusa is a type of flatbread, made with cornmeal or rice flour. It is filled with ingredients that you choose yourself, such as cheese, beans, chicken, meat, loroco, pumpkin and much more. And you eat it together with curtido (a fermented coleslaw), sauce and of course with your hands. Everywhere in El Salvador you will find pupuserias and stalls on the streets that prepare pupusas right in front of your eyes. I love it!
Mini travel guide El Salvador
Best time to visit El Salvador
El Salvador can be visited all year round. However, the best time to travel is from November to April. That is the dry period with the least chance of rain. Keep in mind that it can get very hot in parts of the country during the months of March and April. April to October is the rainy period, meaning there can be some heavy showers at the end of the day. But compared to countries like Costa Rica, it rains considerably less in El Salvador. On the coast, temperatures are warm all year round. In the mountains it is cooler and temperatures can drop considerably, especially in the evening.
Unfortunately, El Salvador does not have the best reputation when it comes to safety. For years El Salvador was even one of the most dangerous countries in the world. This was mainly because of the ruling gangs and involved violence. But this has changed and El Salvador became so much saver.
Of course, safety also has to do with your own travel behaviour. Just like in any other Central and South American country, you have to pay attention, look after your belongings and don’t stroll around the suburbs of a city you don’t know. Especially not at night. Today (April 2023) there is absolutely no reason anymore to not visit San Salvador. Local people are friendly, helpful and only too proud to show you their country.
Note: El Salvador is a country I visited several times over the years. Even when the safety situation was challenging, there have been always parts in El Salvador that you could visit easily and very safe. It is important to always be well informed before you go out.
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.
Interested in traveling around El Salvador? You can find my tips for an El Salvador itinerary here.
Curious about tours in El Salvador? 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.
Are you curious about El Salvador? I love traveling through El Salvador and would love to convince you to pay a visit too. Do you have questions? Please send me an email or message on instagram.
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 and things to do in El Salvador? 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 articles you will find my El Salvador travel guides with lots of inspiration and tips.
- 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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