Best Places to Visit in El Salvador
El Salvador is a destination rich in geography and culture. Located in the heart of the Central American region, this small country boasts incredible national parks, beautiful beaches, lots of interior landscapes, and relatively relaxed visa requirements. Although El Salvador retains its outdated reputation as an unsafe country, it is actually one of the safest countries in Central America.
Due to the intense civil war that has been going on for more than 20 years, tourists of all backgrounds and interests are quickly discovering the many attractions this country has to offer. Have a look at our list of the Best Places to Visit in El Salvador and make your trip enjoyable.
10 Best Places to Visit in El Salvador
Let’s explore the top 10 Most Beautiful and Best Places to Visit in El Salvador:
1. San Salvador
San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador. Located in the Central Highlands, it is the second largest city in all of Central America (after Guatemala City). Despite its size, tourists are often surprised by the relaxed, easy-going vibe of the locals and the relatively slow speed with which they arrive in the city. While the infrastructure has flourished for over a thousand years, it has still been damaged or missed, and earthquakes and wars have left scars all over the city.
From the crumbling remnants of original Spanish colonial buildings to the massive disparity between rich and poor, San Salvador has a long way to go. Violence continues in the city but is concentrated in the poorest neighborhoods, away from the tourism sector, where inter-gang violence is high.
One of the most unique aspects of San Salvador is its location. Despite being the country’s largest metropolis, visitors are only minutes away from awe-inspiring natural beauty. From spectacular volcanoes and stunning crater lakes to some of the best parks in the country, natural beauty is always at hand. Located up to four hours from any point in the country, San Salvador is an ideal starting point when exploring El Salvador.
2. La Palma
A two-hour drive northwest of San Salvador, La Palma is known as the town where national artist Fernando Llort taught. Using bright colours, childlike depictions and religious themes, Llort won the hearts of the people of El Salvador and made La Palma a nationally recognized arts destination. Even today, the vast majority of residents practice Llort’s artistic style for a living.
Due to its proximity to the Honduran border, many tourists choose to stay in La Palma for convenience. However, with numerous galleries and workshops, visitors should definitely spend some time immersing themselves in the city’s beautiful artistic heritage. From murals and city murals to workshops, quirky Llort-style memorabilia and mosaic Central Park, La Palma is definitely worth a visit.
Suchitoto is one of the few towns in Salvador that still preserves its colonial architecture. With its relaxed vibe, beautiful scenery, and quaint cobbled streets, this town is one of the most charming in the country. One of the most popular sites in Suchitoto is the Museo de los Recuerdos Alejandro Cotto ($4 entry fee). Here, visitors can explore beautiful grounds, colonial architecture, scenic views, and classical fountains. This museum (open daily) also has one of the most impressive art collections in the country and is like a small town in itself!
For those looking for a great place to get outside, head to the 39-foot Los Tercios Falls, Agua Calienter Hot Springs (4 miles down the road), or the nearby tourist-friendly towns of Palo Grande, El Sitio, and La Mora. all full of natural beauty.
4. Santa Ana
Santa Ana is El Salvador’s second largest city and compared to San Salvador, Santa Ana offers its visitors an urban appeal in a slightly quieter setting. Its early 20th-century neo-Gothic cathedral, beautifully decorated theater, and the picturesque main square (Parque Libertad) have caught the attention of tourists, making Santa Ana a (more) worthwhile day trip.
For those seeking a more in-depth experience in Santa Ana, the aforementioned Teatro de Santa Ana is a great visit inside and out and still hosts occasional live performances. If you’re an art lover, be sure to check out her schedule while you’re in town!
Built around AD 400, Tazumal is an unusual group of stepped pyramids, the tallest of which reaches 75 feet in height (the largest in the country). Its autonomous status lasted until Spanish troops entered El Salvador in the 1520s, after which the local population was conquered and exploited.
The on-site Stanley H. Boggs Museum is a fascinating visit, displaying artifacts found during the excavation. From incense burners to pottery and statues, the remains discovered by Boggs are a glimpse into Tazumal’s past.
Perhaps the most striking item in the museum is the Victory Stone statue, an artifact that provides rare evidence of the connection between present-day El Salvador and now Veracruz, Mexico.
6. Lake Coatepeque
Lago de Coatepeque or Caldera Coatepeque is a lake in the middle of the crater. At 10 miles in diameter, it is one of the largest lakes in El Salvador. Formed about 72,000 years ago by a series of violent eruptions and volcanic collapses, it remains one of the country’s most beautiful natural attractions today.
You can choose from a variety of water sports, from jet skis and scuba diving to fishing and paddle boating, and the clear waters are ideal for swimming. Other lake activities include ferry trips to Teopan Island (located in the center of the lake), motorboat cruises and full lake tours and lake tours ranging from $20/half hour to $50. Admission to the lake itself is free.
7. Cerro Verde National Park
While this park is home to three spectacular volcanoes (Isarco, Santa Ana, and Cerro Verde), the latter (and namesake) is generally considered the most popular. With one of the few “cloud forests” in the country and a great hiking trail, visitors should plan a (minimum) day to visit this national park.
A hike, or La Ventana a la Naturaleza (Nature’s Window Path), takes visitors through the oldest forest in the park, through the centuries-old trees along the way and through the crater. Also home to wonderful flora and fauna, guided bird watching, horseback riding tours, and views of two other volcanoes, a visit to this park is unforgettable.
While Cerro Verde hasn’t erupted in over 2500 years, the other two volcanoes have a long history of eruption. Izalco was once considered the “Pacific Sign” due to its 200-year continuous volcanic eruptions (until the 1960s). Ironically, Santa Ana is one of the most popular climbs in the country, the most active of the three, with steam rising constantly from one of its crater’s sulfur lagoons. The park costs $1 and a local guide is highly recommended.
8. Costa del Sol
Costa del Sol, a sandy beach just 30 minutes from San Salvador Airport, is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction. This expansive beach is divided into three sections (San Marcellino, Los Blancos, and Costa del Sol) and is a popular spot for sporting events, vacationers, locals, and all-inclusive resorts.
One of the highlights of the area is a mangrove boat tour at the mouth of Jaltepeque. Located 56 kilometers away, the reserve is home to a variety of birds and fish. A 3-hour boat ride from La Puntilla will take you through the mangrove tunnels and where the country’s longest river, the Rio Lempe, meets the Pacific Ocean.
Another popular attraction in this highly touristy area is Atlantis Waterpark. Activities include slides, swimming pools and floating rides.
9. El Tunco
El Tunco is one of the most popular northern beach towns for tourists. Named after the ‘pig-shaped’ rocks on its shores, this is a rugged and rugged area unsuitable for swimming…but a surfer’s dream comes true. For those who want to get into the water, local surf shops can offer surf lessons and surfboard rentals.
Since El Tunco is such a popular tourist destination, it’s also a great place to meet other travelers and exchange stories. It offers numerous entertainment options along with numerous boutiques, restaurants and cafes. One of the best nightlife spots on the North Shore, just asks the hotel reception for the best place to go while in town.
10. San Miguel
The country’s third largest and most populous city, San Miguel is a popular tourist destination, but somewhat less developed. In the historic downtown area, from the 19th-century cathedral and Francisco Gavidia Theater to San Miguel Market and lively Roosevelt Avenue (great nightlife!)
It hugs the country’s small east coast and is also close to several beach towns with some of the best surfing spots in Central America. A major commercial hub, the coastal area of San Miguel also offers some of El Salvador’s best seafood. One of the hottest places in the country… Don’t forget to wear cool clothes during the summer months when temperatures reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit!
Besides surfing, there are many other outdoor sports in the city. Nearby Mount San Vicente offers some of the most challenging trail hiking in the country (a guide is recommended – available from the town’s mayor), while the extremely active Mount San Miguel offers breathtaking views… no reliable guides, so there should be no reports of bandits hiking on the mountain. One of the largest lakes in the country, Lake Olomiga offers less strenuous excursions, recreational nature walks and local boat tours.
Hope you like our choice of the best places to visit in El Salvador. If you think there are some more beautiful places to visit in El Salvador, we should cover them. Write us below in the comment box.