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 or end of your trip through El Salvador. Book one or two nights, visit the historic center, explore nice neighborhoods and eat in delicious restaurants. In this article I’ll tell you more about the best things to do in San Salvador, including tips for trendy neighborhoods, hotels and restaurants, so that you can get the most out of your stay.
- Best things to do in San Salvador | 20 tips
- Cultural things to do in San Salvador
- Things to do in and around San Salvador
- Mini travel guide San Salvador
- More about El Salvador
Best things to do in San Salvador | 20 tips
Explore the historic center
One of the things to do, when you are in San Salvador, is to visit the historic center. What used to be a place to avoid back in the days, is nowadays an area where you can spend a nice morning or afternoon. Stroll around the squares of Plaza Gerardo Barrios and Plaza Morazán and take a look at landmarks such as the national palace, Iglesia el Calvario and the national theater of San Salvador.
Along the way you will pass markets, street art and an interesting mix of colonial buildings and modern architecture. It is also a nice way to observe daily city life. Now that the center is safer, different types of people find their way to the center again. Don’t forget to take a picture with the life-size El Salvador letters.
You can easily visit the center of San Salvador and its things to do on your own. But do you want to learn more about the history of San Salvador? Then I recommend exploring the center with a guide. This is an overview of interesting city tours.
Visit Iglesia el Rosario
Everywhere in Central America you come across churches. But the church Iglesia el Rosario in the center of San Salvador is one of the things not to be missed because of its special architecture and style. What appears to be a gray concrete shed from the outside, makes you marvel at the design, colors and light on the inside.
Rubén Martínez, one of El Salvador’s most famous architects, broke all the rules for the construction of a Catholic church in 1964 and created a unique yet controversial structure. He designed a modern church, in the shape of a bridge, made of only concrete, iron and lots of colored pieces of stained glass. Please note: It is not possible to visit the church during a mass.
Learn about Óscar Romero in the cathedral
The cathedral of San Salvador dominates Plaza Barrios. It is interesting to walk in and visit the tomb of Óscar Romero. This El Salvadoran archbishop, who devoted himself to the less fortunate, spoke out against social injustice and violence, amid the escalating conflict between the government and left-wing parties, during the civil war. In 1980, he was shot by an assassin during a mass. Something that caused a lot of disbelief among the local population. More than 250,000 people attended his funeral. No one was ever convicted for the crime but investigations lead to important politicians who had ordered the killing.
Romero still plays a major role in the society of El Salvador and you will encounter him in various places throughout the country. Pope Francis Romero canonized Romero in Rome in 2018.
In 1997, the well-known El Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort created a beautiful facade for the Cathedral of San Salvador, consisting of 2700 painted tiles. This work of art could be admired for years, until an archbishop ordered its destruction in 2012.
Discover the San Benito district
The nicest neighborhood of San Salvador is Colonia San Benito, which is part of the Zona Rosa. There are not a lot of things to do in this part in San Salvador, besides enjoying a great meal and drink. You you will find numerous restaurants, wine bars and lunchrooms, which are located around the Bulevard del Hipodromo and Calle Circumvalacion in San Salvador. And everything is within walking distance of each other. Book a night at Nico Urban Hotel and find yourself in the heart of San Benito. At the bottom of this article you will find more hotel tips for San Salvador.
Visit volcano crater El Boqueron
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.
El Boqueron is located at an altitude of 1700 meters. It is therefore cooler here than in the city. The largest crater has a diameter of 1.5 kilometers and a depth of 550 meters. El Boqueroncito, or the little Boqueron, is the smaller volcanic crater that lies within it. It would once have been a lake, which was turned into a small crater by the 1917 eruption.
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.
Cultural things to do in San Salvador
Meet Fernado Llort at El Arbol de Dios
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.
In San Salvador you can visit the Fundación Fernando Llort – El Arbol de Dios – a small museum with a shop and workshop where his work is honored. One of the things you definitely have to do in San Salvador if you are interested in art.
Get inspired by modern art – cultural things to do in San Salvador
I always like to get inspired by modern art and in San Salvador there is the Museo de Arte. During your visit you will get to know pieces of art by Maurico Mejía, Bernabé Crespín, Zelie Lardé and José Mejia Vides:, among others. All artists I had never heard of, what made my visit even more interesting. And of course there is also work by Fernando Llort to be seen. The museum includes temporary exhibitions that are worth checking out.
Learn about history at the Museo Nacional de Antropología
Are you interested in history? Then you should visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología (MUNA), one of the cultural things to do in San Salvador. In a few rooms you will be taken on a journey through the history of the country. You will learn more about pre-Columbian El Salvador, the time before Spanish colonization. There is room dedicated to pre-Columbian musical instruments, and a special exhibition about death, rituals and ceremonies during ancient time. Very educational. More information can be found on the website.
Things to do in and around San Salvador
Visit Joya de Cerén – cultural things to do in San Salvador
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 this archaeological site today, walking along the excavations, being able to observe the different layers of lava from the volcanic eruptions. This, among other things, allowed the buildings to be perfectly preserved, just like in Pompeii.
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.
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 along the beautiful streets for hours, pass colored houses and flowers, have a chat with the locals and enjoy the lovelya tmosphere. Are you curious about Suchitoto? In the next article you will find everything you want to know about Suchitoto in El Salvador, including tips for things to do, hotels and restaurants.
Suchitoto, is only 1.5 hours away from San Salvador, and you can easily go for a day tour, if you are short of time. Here you can book a day trip from San Salvador.
Mini travel guide San Salvador
Tips for restaurants in San Salvador
San Salvador is a modern and trendy city with many nice restaurants, lunchrooms, wine and cocktail bars. And there is nothing better than enjoying a drink and great meal after exploring the many things to do in San Salvador. For a nice quick lunch, go to Delikat, Soya Nutribar or Silvestre cafe. Are you looking for a fancy dinner? Then you want to book a table at El Xolo or Il Bongustaio. For great wine and cocktails you have to go to Gula, Nomada or Leonor.
Do you want to find more tips for restaurants, wine bars and lunchrooms in San Salvador? Check out my article with restaurants in San Salvador.
Nightlife tips San Salvador
I’m not much of a clubber when I’m traveling but in San Salvador I went out with friends several times and had the best time ever. Besides that, I think it is good to know that you can go out very well and safely in San Salvador. Do you like a real club vibe? Superb is a club for the young, rich and famous people of San Salvador. There is fast valet parking and an incredible amount of staff inside to provide table service, while running around with bottles of champagne. Just keep in mind that the music is often techno and EDM.
Opposite Suberb you will find a completely different world in La Gitana. Here countless people are dancing around high tables, with their cool boxes filled with beer, while a DJ is playing the latest Latino hits from a speaker that is just a little too loud. Also nice to walk in, have a drink and maybe go for a little dance.
Tips for hotels in San Salvador
In San Salvador there are different types of hotels; From large hotel chains to small boutique hotels. These are my tips for hotels, where I personally have spent one or more nights. All central places to easily visit the various sights of San Salvador.
Nico Urban Hotel – San Salvador
Are you in San Salvador for a longer period of time? Then I recommend staying at Nico Urban Hotel. My personal favorite place. This boutique hotel has 6 spacious rooms, half of which have a private terrace and garden. The decoration is modern and the service; As you are used to from a boutique hotel – nice and personal!
Nico Urban Hotel is located in Colonia San Benito, one of the nicest areas of the city with numerous restaurants and bars. Keep in mind that the San Benito district is a popular place for party people. You will hear some music from your neighbors in the weekend for sure.
Check out current prices and availability at Nico Urban Hotel here.
Barceló – San Salvador
A hotel where I have been coming for years (mainly for work) is hotel Barceló. An icon in the city! Hotel Barceló is huge and consists of countless floors with hundreds of rooms. A bit old-fashioned but maybe that is what makes it nice. The rooms are spacious and comfortable, with views of the city and mountains. There is a great breakfast buffet, bar, coffee shop, swimming pool and small fitness center.
Hotel Barceló, is centrally located on the outskirts of Colonia San Benito, within walking distance of all restaurants and bars. Highly recommended for a first night in San Salvador.
Check the latest prices and availability at Barceló San Salvador here.
Hyatt Centric San Salvador
One of the better hotels in San Salvador is the Hyatt Centric San Salvador. A type of hotel that I do not often recommend because of its size and business vibe. But for this Hyatt I like to make an exception, because everything is just right. There are different types of rooms with comfortable beds and walk-in showers. And the art on the walls is really nice for a hotel chain.
Check current prices and availability at Hyatt Centric in San Salvador here.
The Hyatt Centric has a restaurant, bar, fitness center and spa. Something that can be both a disadvantage and an advantage is the location. The Hyatt is located in a shopping center, located on the highway, surrounded by other shopping centers. Great if you are passing through and use San Salvador as a stopover. Less convenient if you want to see something of the area by foot. The Hyatt Centric is a great place to finish your trip through El Salvador, for example.
Looking for more hotels in San Salvador? Here you will find a comprehensive overview.
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.
Transportation around San Salvador
San Salvador is centrally located to the coast, volcanoes and mountains. You can reach lovely towns such as Suchitoto and Santa Ana, La Ruta de las Flores and the beach already within 1 hour. It is easy to rent a car and make a road trip that way. Don’t want to rent a car? Then of course you can also book transportation, travel from destination to destination and go for nice tours along the way. Here you will find more information about transportation from San Salvador to Santa Ana and the surrounding area. Recommended if you want to go on a day trip, for example.
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.
Tours in San Salvador
Looking for tours? This is an overview with tips for tours in San Salvador:
El Salvador is a hidden gem with beautiful beaches, shimmering lakes, volcanoes you can climb, national parks and pretty colonial villages. In the next article you will find the best things to do in El Salvador.
More 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 San 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 article you will find more inspiration and tips.