Are you planning a trip to El Salvador? This guide will help you discover the best places to visit in El Salvador. Despite its small size, El Salvador boasts a wealth of culture and stunning landscapes. Situated in the heart of Central America, along the Pacific Ocean, it’s a must-visit destination.
El Salvador offers remarkable national parks, pristine, unspoiled beaches, enchanting waterfalls, serene lakes, picturesque mountain villages, and expansive coffee plantations, not to mention its awe-inspiring volcanoes.
The recommendations I provide are based on my personal experiences exploring El Salvador. The guys at Tunco Life tour agency, guided my wife and me, showcasing the best his country has to offer. You can find more travel inspiration on the Tunco Life website.
El Salvador’s diverse and majestic landscapes make it a magnet for tourists from around the world seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle, away from pollution and noise. If you’re a wanderlust in search of an unspoiled Central American gem, El Salvador is the perfect destination off the beaten path.
Here are 21 of the most beautiful and renowned places to visit in El Salvador for those eager to explore this hidden gem in Central America.
1. Cerro Verde National Park
If you have a love for nature, Cerro Verde National Park should be on your travel list. This park boasts three incredible volcanoes: Izalco, Santa Ana, and Cerro Verde.
Izalco and Santa Ana are the top choices for hiking enthusiasts, drawing the most attention in the country. On the other hand, Cerro Verde Volcano is more like a lush mountain adorned with thick foliage.
No matter which of these three volcanoes you explore, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape. However, if you make the journey to the summits of Santa Ana or Izalco, the panoramas become even more spectacular. Furthermore, from the peaks of these volcanoes, you can catch sight of the majestic Pacific Ocean and the stunning Lake Coatepeque.
2. The Chalchuapa archaeological site
The Chalchuapa archaeological site holds some of El Salvador’s finest Maya ruins. It’s a perfect spot to explore and learn about the Indigenous culture of El Salvador.
In this area, you’ll find remarkable sites like El Tazumal, Casa Blanca, Trapiche, Las Victorias, and a few more. These are among the top Indigenous ruins in the country.
You can find this archaeological wonder in the Chalchuapa municipality, just about 15 kilometers away from Santa Ana city.
3. Suchitoto and the Surrounding Area
The Suchitoto region offers an amazing experience, whether you’re here for a day or a longer stay. It’s where you’ll find the vibrant town of Suchitoto and the beautiful Lake Suchitlan. And don’t forget about the iconic Guazapa volcano, which isn’t too far away.
Suchitoto is a charming colonial town filled with rich customs and traditions. Its peaceful streets are still paved with cobblestones, and adobe homes stand as a testament to its history. And just a few kilometers away, you’ll discover Lake Suchitlan, El Salvador’s largest man-made lake.
In the Suchitoto area, your adventures can take you through the colonial town and around the stunning artificial lake. If you’re up for a bit more adventure, you can also explore the Guazapa volcano, which has its own intriguing history from the civil war era.
Best accommodations in Suchitoto
For an unforgettable stay in Suchitoto, I highly recommend the Casa 1800 Suchitoto. This charming boutique hotel captures the essence of the town’s colonial charm and natural beauty. Set within a beautifully restored 18th-century mansion, Casa 1800 offers comfortable and tastefully decorated rooms, each with its own unique character. Guests can enjoy stunning views of Lake Suchitlán from the hotel’s terrace, relax in the peaceful courtyard, and savor delicious Salvadoran cuisine at the on-site restaurant. The warm hospitality of the staff and the hotel’s proximity to Suchitoto’s cultural attractions make it the perfect choice for travelers seeking an authentic and tranquil experience in this picturesque town.
4. The San Salvador Historic Center/District
The San Salvador Historic District stands out as a top tourist destination in the country. What makes it so special? Well, it boasts iconic structures like the National Palace and the National Theater.
Additionally, it features stunning parks like Gerardo Barrios Plaza, Liberty Plaza, and Plaza Francisco Morazan. These squares have witnessed numerous significant historical events in the country’s past.
Furthermore, you’ll discover remarkable churches here, including the National Cathedral, El Rosario Church, and El Calvario Church. Undoubtedly, these three are among El Salvador’s finest churches.
In conclusion, without a doubt, the San Salvador Historic District ranks among the most exceptional places to explore in El Salvador.
Best accommodations in San Salvador
I highly recommend staying at the InterContinental San Salvador. This luxurious hotel offers an exceptional experience in the heart of San Salvador. With its elegant rooms, top-notch amenities, and excellent service, it provides a comfortable and memorable stay for both business and leisure travelers. The InterContinental boasts a beautiful pool area, exquisite dining options, and a convenient location near key attractions such as the National Palace and the Museum of Art. Whether you’re visiting for business or leisure, this hotel is the perfect choice for a delightful stay in San Salvador.
5. The city of Santa Ana
Santa Ana, the second largest city in the country, holds a special place among El Salvador’s top tourist destinations. The city boasts proximity to some of the nation’s finest attractions.
Within Santa Ana itself, you can embark on a journey through its downtown area, where the magnificent Santa Ana Cathedral and the enchanting Santa Ana Theater await your exploration. The city is also renowned for its delightful shopping experiences and delectable gastronomic delights.
Yet, the adventure doesn’t stop within the city limits. Venture beyond, and you’ll discover a treasure trove of tourist gems. For instance, the picturesque Lake Coatepeque, the serene Cerro Verde National Park, and the fascinating Chalchuapa archaeological site are just a stone’s throw away.
With its strategic location, Santa Ana serves as an ideal home base for day trips to these nearby attractions, making it a prime choice for your stay and exploration.
Best accommodations in Santa Ana
When seeking accommodations in Santa Ana, I highly recommend the charming “Santa Ana Inn.” This cozy and welcoming boutique hotel offers comfortable rooms, exceptional service, and a central location that puts you within easy reach of the city’s attractions and nearby tourist spots. With its warm ambiance and personalized attention, the Santa Ana Inn ensures a memorable and relaxing stay for travelers looking to explore this delightful city and its surroundings.
6. Santa Ana Volcano
Are you in search of outdoor activities during your trip to El Salvador? If so, make sure to include a visit to Cerro Verde National Park and take a hike up to the rim of the tallest volcano in El Salvador, Santa Ana.
One of the top attractions in El Salvador is the emerald crater lakes of Santa Ana Volcano. To reach this stunning location, plan for a hike of about 1.5 hours from the entrance of Parque Nacional Cerro Verde.
Santa Ana stands as the highest volcano in El Salvador, soaring to an elevation of 2,381 meters (7,812 feet) above sea level. The good news is that this hike is suitable for everyone, whether you complete it in 45 minutes or 2 hours. The trail initially leads you uphill through the forest, followed by a steeper, rocky section. The final stretch is relatively flat until you reach the rim of the crater.
For the Santa Ana volcano hike, you must be accompanied by a guide, even though you can embark on it alone. The entrance fee is $6, and the hike commences at approximately 1,850 meters (6,070 feet). You can arrange your hike at the entrance gate. While I had to wait briefly for the group to depart, after about 10 minutes, everyone found their own pace, and I never encountered my group again.
If you’re driving to Cerro Verde National Park, there’s a parking area available. Alternatively, if you prefer using public transportation, there’s a bus stop nearby. You can conveniently visit the Santa Ana volcano from San Salvador (1 hour), El Tunco, Libertad (1 hour and 15 minutes), or the nearby city of Santa Ana.
7. The town of Juayua
Nestled high up in the western region of the country, you’ll discover the vibrant town of Juayua. This charming little place takes center stage along the La Ruta de Las Flores tourist route.
Juayua has earned its reputation for the remarkable murals gracing its streets, masterfully crafted by talented local artists. But that’s not all – this town is famous for its delectable cuisine, a treat you can savor every day, with weekends being particularly special when the food festival comes to life. And let’s not forget about the top-notch coffee beans grown in this area, making Juayua a haven for coffee lovers to indulge in El Salvador’s finest brews.
Best accommodations in Juayua
For a delightful stay in the colorful town of Juayua, I highly recommend the cozy and welcoming Juayua EcoLodge. Nestled amidst the lush greenery of the western highlands, this charming lodge offers comfortable rooms and a serene atmosphere that perfectly complements the town’s relaxed vibe. Additionally, their friendly staff goes above and beyond to ensure a memorable experience. Plus, its proximity to the town’s main attractions, including the stunning murals and mouthwatering food scene, makes it an ideal base for exploring Juayua’s unique charm. Don’t miss the chance to immerse yourself in the local culture and natural beauty while enjoying a comfortable stay at Juayua EcoLodge.
8. Los Planes de Renderos
Nestled in the department of San Salvador, not far from the nation’s capital, lies the charming region known as Los Planes de Renderos. This picturesque area is shared among the municipalities of San Salvador, Panchimalco, and San Marcos.
In Los Planes de Renderos, you can bask in the pleasant climate and soak in the breathtaking natural vistas. Moreover, it’s an excellent place to revel in the great outdoors at the natural parks and savor the local cuisine at various eateries.
During your visit to this delightful area, I suggest the following activities. Spend your day exploring one of these splendid spots: Balboa Park, La Familia Park, or the enchanting Devil’s Doorway area. As the evening approaches, head to the El Mirador area for a taste of the local gastronomy, featuring a variety of authentic Salvadoran dishes. As an added bonus, you’ll be treated to awe-inspiring nighttime views of San Salvador and its surroundings.
Nestled along the vibrant La Ruta de La Flores tourist route, Apaneca stands out as yet another charming town. Perched high in the mountains at an elevation exceeding 1,400 meters above sea level, it boasts a tranquil and laid-back atmosphere.
Apaneca’s fame extends far and wide for various reasons, including the intriguing Labyrinth of Albania, its thriving coffee production, and the thrilling realm of extreme sports activities. Without a doubt, Apaneca ranks among the best places to visit in El Salvador.
10- El Tunco – Surfers’ Village
Undoubtedly, one of best places to visit in El Salvador is the small surf town of El Tunco. It’s a magnet for hot surfers from all over, drawing thousands to its picturesque coast to showcase their skills.
El Tunco consistently earns its spot among the top attractions in El Salvador. Even if you’re not a surfer, this place is a must-visit during your trip. Situated just 45 minutes south of the capital, San Salvador, near Libertad, it offers a unique blend of Southeast Asian backpacker vibes and Latin charm. While the village itself is modest in size, you’ll find a plethora of restaurants, bars, backpacker hotels, and souvenir shops scattered about.
Consider renting a scooter to explore the coastline, unveiling hidden gems, restaurants with endless ocean views, upscale hotels, delightful eateries, beach parties, waterfalls, and more. Exploring the boulevard and fish market in Libertad are also worthwhile experiences in El Tunco. Another charming coastal town nearby is El Zonte, reminiscent of El Tunco but with a more peaceful ambiance. On my journey through El Salvador, I chose El Tunco and Libertad as my base for a few days, allowing me to explore some of the country’s most beautiful attractions.
Best accommodations in El Tunco
When seeking the best accommodations in El Tunco, look no further than the enchanting “Casa del Sol.” Nestled along the picturesque coastline of El Salvador, this boutique beachfront hotel offers a tranquil oasis for travelers. With its charming bungalows, lush tropical gardens, and a sparkling infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Casa del Sol ensures a relaxing and rejuvenating escape. The attentive staff, delectable cuisine, and proximity to El Tunco’s vibrant surf scene make it an ideal choice for those seeking both serenity and adventure in this idyllic coastal town. Whether you’re a surfer, a sun-seeker, or simply in search of a serene getaway, Casa del Sol promises an unforgettable stay in El Tunco.
11- Ilopango Lake
Ilopango Lake, found close to San Salvador, is a lively volcanic crater lake. This lake sits in the regions of San Salvador, Cuscatlan, and La Paz.
Long ago, big volcanic explosions shaped Lake Ilopango. These eruptions rumbled from 410 to 535 AD and brought ruin to the Mayan cities nearby.
12- El Imposible National Park
Nature enthusiasts will find El Imposible National Park a must-visit spot. This vast protected area, the biggest in the country, sits high up in Ahuachapan.
The park offers ample room to discover and savor a wealth of plants and animals. It hosts a complete ecosystem, serving as a haven for various wildlife.
In this breathtaking natural haven, you’ll encounter more than 500 plant species and a wide array of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and butterflies.
Our next stop along the Pacific coast of El Salvador is Mizata, a peaceful coastal town with a focus on surfers. If you find El Tunco to be too crowded with tourists, Mizata might be more your style.
Mizata may not offer a bustling scene, but it provides the quintessential El Salvador vacation experience. It’s a laid-back, off-the-beaten-path destination that’s perfect for unwinding on the beach.
While Mizata is renowned for its surf breaks, it also hosts organized pool parties on weekends and attracts a vibrant, youthful crowd. Located approximately 45 minutes east of El Tunco, it’s conveniently situated on the way to the Ruta de las Flores, another popular attraction in El Salvador.
Best accommodations in Mizata
For the best accommodations in Mizata, I highly recommend checking out the charming beachfront bungalows and eco-friendly lodges that line the coast. These cozy and rustic options offer a truly immersive experience in this tranquil seaside village. You can wake up to the sound of the waves, enjoy breathtaking ocean views, and relish the peace and serenity of Mizata. Whether you’re a surfer or simply seeking a serene escape, these accommodations will provide you with the perfect retreat to unwind and connect with nature.
14. Lake Suchitlán: El Salvador’s largest lake
Just a short distance from Suchitoto lies El Salvador’s largest man-made lake, created in 1976 after the construction of the Cerron Grande dam.
The most popular activity at Lake Suchitlan is taking a boat ride across its serene waters. Wildlife enthusiasts can spot sloths, monkeys, and iguanas in the surrounding areas, while birdwatching is a favorite pastime for many visitors. For those seeking a more active experience, kayaking is also an option.
To arrange a boat ride, simply walk from Suchitoto to Puerto Touristico San Juan and ask a local fisherman to take you out on the lake. Don’t forget to bring some food and cold beers for a delightful day on the water.
Near Lake Suchitlan, you’ll find the impressive 13-meter (39 ft) Los Tercios Waterfall, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts. Just 2.5 miles down the road, you can soak in the natural beauty of the Agua Caliente hot springs.
If you have extra time, consider exploring the iconic Guazapa volcano, where you can also delve into El Salvador’s civil war history. When visiting Lake Suchitlan, I recommend booking a hotel in Suchitoto for a convenient stay.
15. Joya de Ceren
Joya de Ceren stands as a remarkable testament to Mayan history, remarkably well-preserved over the centuries. This ancient village witnessed a hurried departure in 640 AD as its inhabitants fled from the volcanic eruption of Laguna de Caldera.
With its deep cultural significance and striking landmarks, Joya de Ceren holds a unique place as El Salvador’s sole UNESCO World Heritage site. Nature’s awe-inspiring beauty surrounds this hidden gem, which was once buried beneath layers of volcanic ash, miraculously preserving the town’s integrity. It wasn’t until 1976 that this buried treasure was finally unearthed and revealed to the world.
16. La Palma
Exploring El Salvador wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the charming mountain village of La Palma. Situated in the Chalatenango department, this village boasts stunning natural scenery and a vibrant art scene. As you wander through the town, you’ll be captivated by the intriguing graffiti and murals adorning the walls.
La Palma gained fame as the place where the renowned artist Fernando Llort once taught. His use of vivid colors, childlike imagery, and religious themes deeply resonated with the people of El Salvador. Today, many of the town’s residents make a living by embracing his artistic style.
The town is home to numerous galleries and art workshops where tourists can immerse themselves in the rich artistic heritage of La Palma. Thanks to its mountainous terrain, visitors can also enjoy breathtaking views on safe hiking trails around the village.
Due to its proximity to the Honduran border, many travelers choose to stay in La Palma for convenience while exploring Central America. It’s an excellent destination for backpackers.
Whether you’re admiring the wall paintings, browsing Llort-inspired souvenirs, or strolling through the mosaic Central Park, a visit to La Palma is a must, especially for art enthusiasts.
Tazumal stands as a collection of unique step pyramids dating back to approximately 400 AD. Among them, the tallest pyramid, which is also the largest in the country, soars to an impressive 23 meters (75 ft) in height. Its autonomy persisted until the arrival of Spanish forces in El Salvador in the 1520s, leading to the defeat and exploitation of the local inhabitants.
For a fascinating glimpse into Tazumal’s history, visit the Stanley H. Boggs Museum, which houses artifacts unearthed during excavations. Inside the on-site museum, you’ll encounter a variety of items, including pottery, statues, and incense burners.
Among the museum’s treasures stands the notable Stone of Victories statue, providing unique evidence of a historical link between modern-day El Salvador and what is now Veracruz, Mexico.
18. Laguna Verde
Laguna Verde, a quaint lake tucked away off the beaten path along the Ruta de las Flores, lies hidden amidst the mountains. Your adventure begins in Quezalapa, where you have the option to rent dirt bikes or buggies.
Guided buggy tours offer an exciting journey through coffee plantations and local villages, lasting about 20 minutes until you reach the serene Laguna Verde. Regrettably, swimming is not permitted in the lake, but a small boat can ferry you across its waters.
For a different experience, consider renting mountain bikes to explore the lake and its scenic surroundings before returning to Quezalapa in your buggy. Apaneca Adventure Tours offers tours that many fellow travelers highly recommend.
19. El Mozote
This captivating village resides in the Morazán department, attracting historians who delve into its somber past. It was here that the El Mozote massacre occurred, claiming the lives of approximately one thousand civilians, orchestrated by the US Government-funded Atlacatl Battalion.
Today, the Monument De La Paz La Reconciliación stands as a poignant symbol of that tragic era and the dark chapter in El Salvador’s history.
For adventurous travelers visiting El Mozote, the options abound. You’ll find an array of enticing attractions, including the picturesque waterfalls of Llano del Muerto, Cascadas las Pilas, and Cascada la Olamina.
20. Ruta de Paz
The name “Ruta de Paz” translates to the “Path of Peace,” a beloved tourist route winding through the region most deeply affected by the civil war. Situated in the Morazán department, this area served as the epicenter of guerrilla activity during the conflict.
Along this path, travelers are treated to stunning mountains and charming colonial towns, with three primary stops at Perquin, Arambala, and San Fernando.
Perquin stands out as the most frequented of these stops, offering accommodations for tourists. If you’re keen on sightseeing, leisurely city strolls, and immersing yourself in the culture and history of El Salvador, Perquin is a must-add to your list of destinations.
This charming municipality also boasts its fair share of natural wonders, making it an ideal spot for nature enthusiasts and adventurous thrill-seekers.
For the best experience, consider embarking on a day trip to Ruta de Paz from either El Mozote or San Miguel.
21. The Gulf of Fonseca area
One more must-see destination in El Salvador is the Gulf of Fonseca region. This tri-national expanse of water offers islands to discover, the Conchagua Volcano to conquer, and beautiful beaches to unwind on.
You can hop on a boat and explore some of the islands in the area. El Salvador lays claim to Zacatillo, Meanguera, Conchagua, Conchagüita, and Martin Perez, all open for exploration.
Certainly, the Conchagua Volcano stands out as a top attraction in the Gulf of Fonseca. It boasts fantastic hiking and camping spots. Moreover, from the volcano’s lofty heights, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the Gulf and its islands.
If you prefer not to venture to the nearby islands or trek up Conchagua Volcano, you can simply relax and enjoy the numerous beaches in the vicinity.
Is traveling to El Salvador safe for me?
For many folks, the thought of traveling to El Salvador might raise some doubts. It’s no wonder they have concerns about its safety, given how the media has portrayed it negatively.
El Salvador may not be among the world’s safest places, but it’s not the crime-ridden land the media depicts. In truth, my own experiences confirm that El Salvador is quite safe for tourists in 2023.
Despite its previous reputation as an unsafe spot, El Salvador has transformed into one of Central America’s secure destinations. Its unfavorable image has rapidly changed in recent years, and more and more travelers are discovering this emerging hotspot.
A few things you should know before considering the best places to visit in El Salvador
El Salvador not only boasts breathtaking natural beauty but also welcomes visitors with its incredibly friendly and hospitable people. The infrastructure here is quite reliable, making it a breeze to get around. You can easily explore most of the country using a network of inner city and national bus routes. However, if you plan to venture beyond the city, renting a car is the most convenient way to reach the best attractions.
The country enjoys a predominantly tropical climate, and the optimal time to visit El Salvador is from November to March, which offers the driest weather and avoids the scorching heat of April before the rainy season from May to October.
El Salvador offers a plethora of options for shopping, with numerous local markets and sprawling shopping malls to cater to all your shopping desires. When it comes to dining, the choices are diverse. A must-try delicacy here is pupusas, which are traditional tortillas filled with a tasty mix of cheese, minced meat, zesty sauce, and various vegetables, with carrots and cabbage being the most common choices. Additionally, you’ll find dishes featuring rice, beans, pork, chicken, and a wide array of seafood along the coast.
Prepare for your stay in this charming country to surpass your expectations and shatter any preconceived notions you may have had. El Salvador is sure to leave a lasting and delightful impression on you.
Takeaway on the best places to visit in El Salvador
Certainly, some readers may have a different perspective on the destinations I’ve mentioned. It’s not that those I’ve listed don’t deserve their spot; it’s just that there are so many other worthy places to explore in El Salvador.
Despite its small size, El Salvador boasts numerous locations that could easily be classified as top-notch places to visit. Therefore, whenever you can, embark on a journey to one of these exceptional destinations in El Salvador and savor all the unique experiences they have in store for you.
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