15 Best Things to Do in El Salvador

Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador
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In the heart of Central America lies its smallest nation: El Salvador, a charming and beautiful destination.

It’s also the only country without a Caribbean Coast, but that doesn’t mean that the attractions are any less spectacular.

Lying adjacent to the Pacific, the country has a balmy tropical climate and gorgeous natural sceneries, making it ideal for wildlife photographers, outdoorsmen, and adrenaline junkies.

It’s also rich in indigenous culture and Spanish heritage for those who want to immerse themselves in history.

There really is something for the young and old alike.

So for your upcoming international getaway, why not make this country your top choice?

Here are the 15 best things to do in El Salvador:

Remember History at Puerta del Diablo

View of a Volcano From Puerta del Diablo
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While touring the wonders of El Salvador, it’s also important to understand the events that shaped the nation, even the grim and unsettling ones.

One of these reminders is Puerta del Diablo or Devil’s Door, a rather beautiful rock formation harboring dark secrets.

View of Puerta del Diablo
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Situated near San Salvador, this site was once the place where thousands of people were tortured during the civil war.

Today, locals and tourists alike come to the place to remember history and reclaim the beautiful place that was once defiled by corrupted figures.

View of Puerta del Diablo
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The two high rocks form an arch, and in between is a cavern structure where the term “Devil’s Door” originates.

Be prepared for a steep hike during your visit, but the views here are worth the strenuous trip.

Smell the Wildflowers Along Ruta de las Flores

Lake in Ruta de las Flores
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Nestled in the country's western highlands, the Ruta de las Flores is a favorite destination for those who want to get into the rural side of El Salvador.

Spanning 32 kilometers, the “flower route” is a road that brings you to some of the country's best sceneries and cultural hubs.

And of course, there are the pretty wildflowers on each side of the road from which it’s named after—native blooms of various species, colors, and appearances that give a magical feel to any traveler.

Falls in Ruta de las Flores
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You’ll pass vibrant towns like Apaneca, Nahuizalco, and Salcoatitán, so make sure to mingle with the locals and learn more about their cultures.

The route is also known for the many coffee plantations.

Make a stopover on one of these fields and try El Salvador’s finest beans; you can even buy a bag or two to bring home!

Bask in the Colonial Ambiance of Suchitoto

View of Suchitoto
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One of the most ancient and culturally significant towns in the whole country is Suchitoto, a vibrant municipality sitting near the banks of Rio Lempa.

It has been inhabited since the ancient Pre-Columbian times, but the signs of Spanish rule are evident in the cobblestone paths and colonial homes.

Still, the small town is a sight to behold for those who want to immerse themselves in historical architecture.

View of a Street in Suchitoto
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You can explore the more notable destinations within a day, including the immaculate Iglesia Santa Lucia church and the historical Teatro Las Ruinas.

Cascada Los Tercios is a stunning waterfall situated less than a mile from the town’s center.

It’s a favorite for visitors because of the elegant torrent of water falling over hexagonal columns of rock, making for an intriguing and otherworldly sight.

Set Up Camp at Bosque Conchagua

View of the Sea from Bosque Conchagua
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The gorgeous vistas of Bosque Conchagua are worth the trip to the southernmost end of El Salvador.

This coastal forest surrounds the Conchagua Volcano, so you can expect sweeping mountain views with the Pacific ocean gleaming in the background.

One of the top spots in the park is the viewing deck on Mirador Del Arbol, and here, you’ll have a breathtaking bird’s eye view of the islands on the Gulf of Fonseca.

If you want to reach the summit of the volcano itself, you can join a tour and ride a 4x4.

It’s the best place to take stunning landscape photos to share with your family.

And since the forest is far from bright cities and has an uninterrupted sky, you can set up camp and try astrophotography or simply lay back and enjoy the beauty of the night.

Immerse in the Local Culture of Santa Ana

A Boat in Santa Ana
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Santa Ana is the second-largest city in El Salvador, and it is a hub for religion and coffee making in the country.

It is an ideal location for those who want to see more of the culture and traditions of the nation, with picturesque churches, colorful festivals, and welcoming communities.

One of the most popular attractions here is the Catedral de Nuestra Señora Santa Ana, a neo-Gothic structure with an immaculate and intricately designed facade that is simply breathtaking.

 A Street of Santa Ana in El Salvador
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Another ornate and eye-catching building within the city is the Santa Ana National Theater.

Here, you can catch cultural shows and events, theater plays, and live concerts that highlight the rich heritage of Salvadorans.

All these are just within Parque Libertad, the main center of activity in the city—a sight to behold on its own with pristine statues, market places, and other historical structures surrounding it.

Tour the Ancient Complex of Tazumal

Mayan Pyramid of Tazumal
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Central America was once the empire of ancient civilizations, and one of the most prominent of these is the Maya.

They’ve left an intriguing imprint of their society in Chalchuapa: the Tazumal archeological site.

Ancient pyramids, intricate sculptures, and well-preserved stone markings dot the whole complex, most of which were built during 250 AD.

Archaeological Ruins of Cihuatan
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As an important ceremonial complex, the site is covered in artifacts and structures of huge significance to the Mayans.

You can explore the whole complex by joining a guided tour to get up and close to these manmade wonders.

For a more in-depth understanding of the objects and structures, visit the on-site Stanley H. Boggs Museum and learn everything you can about the destination.

Tour the Streets of San Salvador

Streets in San Salvador
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Upon landing on the country, the first destination is its vibrant and bustling capital: San Salvador.

It is the center of government, culture, and history in this nation, with many attractions within the limits for you to explore.

For history buffs, the San Salvador Historic Center is where you can learn more about the nation’s past and find artifacts from ancient civilizations.

You can also visit the Monument to the Divine Savior of the World, a majestic sculpture of Jesus Christ that highlights the Catholic background of Salvadorans.

Libertad Plaza is another sight to behold, and it has a marker of the starting point during the city’s expansion in the 1500s.

These are just some of the more popular attractions, so make sure you reserve a day or two during your trip if you want to see all that this city has in store.

Trek the Slopes of El Boquerón National Park

Crater in El Boquerón National Park
Jpyle490, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On the crater of San Salvador Volcano lies the peculiar El Boquerón National Park.

It is only a short drive from the capital city, but the scenery changes dramatically from a bustling urban metropolis to treacherous slopes dotted with pretty wildflowers.

There are few other places in the world where you can venture into a volcano crater and make it out unscathed; that’s why hiking El Boquerón National Park is a unique and must-try experience.

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You can even go to the very center and see yourself surrounded by the caldera everywhere you look.

Along the way, you’ll see the many exotic plant species endemic to the region, all blooming in shades of violet, hot pink, orange, and creamy whites.

See Well-Preserved Ruins at Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site

Ruins at Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site
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Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site frequently compared to other famous locations like Pompeii.

In 600 AD, the nearby San Salvador Volcano erupted, burying the whole farming village under hot ash and volcanic debris.

A Garden in Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site
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And much like Pompeii, the town was preserved in pristine condition because of the eruption.

Joya de Ceren has thus become a favorite location for those who want a glimpse of how life during the Pre-Columbian era was like.

Here, you’ll find ancient tools and implements, perfectly intact rooms, seeds and grains used for cooking, and ceremonial objects used by the Mayan peoples.

Ruins at Joya de Ceren Archaeological Site
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There are more than 15 structures open for tours, and archeologists think that are still others waiting to be excavated.

History buffs will have an amazing time here, so if you’re one, make sure the site is on your itinerary.

Swim the Cool Waters of Lake Coatepeque

Aerial View of Lake Coatepeque
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A few kilometers south of Santa Ana is the scenic Coatepeque Lake, another destination sitting on a volcanic crater.

Of course, its main difference with El Boquerón National Park is the large body of water flooding most of the caldera.

People in Lake Coatepeque
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Coatepeque Lake is a favorite by locals and visitors alike for the pristine waters and loads of water-related activities to try.

You can go boating, paddleboarding, and jetskiing near the banks of the lake.

View of Lake Coatepeque
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If you’re feeling adventurous, you can charter a trip with a local fisherman and try catching marine creatures like catfish,  zebra fish, and guapote who live in the lake.

Teppan Island lies on the lake’s southern edge, and it’s a great stop for landscape photography and short nature hikes.

Try to Hang Ten at El Tunco Surf Village

Since El Salvador lies on the western side of the Pacific, you can expect many beachside destinations that offer thrilling activities and panoramic vistas.

If you’re a surfing enthusiast, then you must visit El Tunco.

El Salvador is known as one of the best surfing spots in Central America, and El Tunco is the best place to ride the waves in the country.

Blown by the mighty winds of the Pacific, the waters here create large, perfect swells that challenge both beginners and professionals.

Be warned: if you’re coming here for a beachside trip expecting white sands and relaxing resorts, you’re better off heading to the other locations nearby.

El Tunco is a small town with rocky beaches that reflect the rough-and-tumble nature of surfing.

It’s definitely a beach for the sport, and you’ll have tubular time if you’re daring enough to ride the waves.

Cruise the Banks of Lake Ilopango

Boat in Lake Ilopango
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El Salvador has no shortage of crater lakes, and one of these is Lake Ilopango.

This destination is nearby San Salvador, and many ancient and present-day communities call the banks and slopes home.

And since it’s near the capital city, it has become a favorite for those who want to take a dip in its cool waters and enjoy the more comfortable temperatures of this altitude.

Boat in Lake Ilopango
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Diving and sailing are the more popular activities here, with some preferring to go fishing and try catching the aquatic creatures swimming in the depths of the lake.

Along the ridges surrounding the entire lake, you can go horseback riding, camping, and hiking to enjoy the breathtaking views.

You can also try El Salvador’s local cuisine like pupusas, mojarra frita, and soups in the restaurants located on the banks of the lake.

Explore the Jungles of Cerro Verde National Park

A Volacano in Cerro Verde National Park
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Cerro Verde National Park is a true tropical paradise: volcanoes, jungles, and exotic animals all abound in this scenic destination.

In fact, there are three volcanoes within the site, namely Izalco, Cerro Verde, and Santa Ana.

Santa Ana Volcano itself is popular for the bright teal waters on its crater, which contrast highly with the bleak volcanic landscape within the caldera.

A Volacano in Cerro Verde National Park
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But perhaps the most significant attractions of the national park are its cloud forests.

The high humidity of the area results in constant blankets of mists on the thick forests of the mountain slopes.

This phenomenon resulted in a unique ecosystem that is found in a few other places in the world.

You can join tours to these cloud forests and try to spot rare animals hiding within the misty canopies and moss-covered trees of the park.

Enjoy the Art Scene of La Palma Municipality

Near the borders that El Salvador shares with Honduras is the quaint village of La Palma.

It’s one of the art hubs of the country and the place where the celebrated national artist Fernando Llort taught.

Many of the residents follow his style, which consists of brights colors, bold lines, and religious and childhood themes.

These artworks are found on walls of houses, along the streets, and murals in important buildings of the city.

So when you’re here, you’ll find beautiful images in every corner you look.

There are also numerous galleries and stores where you can buy artworks and support the local economy and talented artists.

Join a Jungle Tour to El Imposible National Park

View of El Imposible National Park
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El Imposible National Park is the largest national park in the country, with more than 38 square kilometers of thick forests, small rivers, and scenic hills.

As one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, this park is highly protected to preserve the many endemic flora and fauna living within it.

View of El Imposible National Park
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You can join the tours that bring visitors to the best spots of the park, including crystalline rivers, beautiful wooden bridges, and lookouts that let you see high above the canopy.

Along the way, try to spot some of the extraordinary animals calling this place home.

You might find pumas and oncillas, colorful frogs, rare tropical butterflies, and black-crested eagles soaring high above the scenery.

Final Thoughts

Tropical wonders, gorgeous crater lakes, and a rich heritage that fuses both Mesoamerica and Spanish cultures—El Salvador is a country with so much in store.

So don’t let the reputation daunt you; the country is already becoming one of the premier destinations for tourists in Central America.

For your upcoming getaway, reference this list so you won’t miss the top spots of this vibrant country.