El Salvador is a small country that’s located in the very center of Central America. Known for its beautiful beaches, national parks, volcanoes, and relaxed visa requirements, it’s becoming quite a popular travel destination. While El Salvador has experienced some violent years, its civil war and political unrest are decades in the past. This doesn’t mean that you can let your guard down, as you need to exercise caution whenever you travel abroad, but you don’t necessarily have to worry about extreme violence on your trip to El Salvador.
If you’re looking for adventure and learning more about local culture, there are plenty of top things to do in El Salvador that will help you achieve those goals. From hiking in the national parks to looking at world-renowned pieces of art, there are so many activities in El Salvador.
Wondering what to do in El Salvador?
To help you narrow your focus, here’s a list of the best places to see in El Salvador.
1. Visit El Salvador’s Capital City, San Salvador
So, our checklist of what to see in El Salvador starts with the most prominent city in the country. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the hustle and bustle of El Salvador’s daily life, you’ll want to visit San Salvador. After Guatemala City, San Salvador is the largest city in Central America. In San Salvador, you’ll find a delightful mix of old and new buildings. Because the region is prone to earthquakes and has a history of violent war, you’ll see some evidence of this destruction as you walk the streets. If you decide to visit El Salvador’s capital city, it’s best to stick to the touristy areas, as the farther away you get from these patrolled streets, the higher the risk of running into inter-gang violence.
2. Visit the Artistic Hub, La Palma
National artist Fernando Llort taught in the town La Palma, which is located northwest of San Salvador, about a two-hour drive. Thanks to Fernando Llort’s bold work utilizing religious themes, childish images, and fun colors, the people of El Salvador became enamored with the art. Now, La Palma is a nationally recognized artistic hub, and many of the city’s residents create their work following Llort’s style. On your trip to La Palma, you can spend your time looking through galleries and workshops, shopping for souvenirs, and relaxing in Central Park.
3. Take a Trip to Colonial Suchitoto
You’re a history buff and looking where to go in El Salvador to explore ancient stuff? You’re going to want to make time to go visit Suchitoto while traveling to El Salvador. This quaint town is known for being one of the few remaining cities in El Salvador that still boasts stunning colonial architecture. In Suchitoto, you can explore panoramic views and cobblestone streets or go to the Museo de los Recuerdos. For a small admission fee, you can enjoy the museum’s architecture and well-kept grounds. Take a chance to admire the classical fountains and robust art collection that are exclusive to the museum. If you want to spend time outdoors, be sure to visit Los Tercios Waterfall, a 39-foot tall waterfall, and the Agua Caliente hot springs, which are located in Suchitoto.
4. Visit Mayan Ruins in Joya de Cerén
Many Central American countries are home to Mayan village ruins, and in this country they make for some must-see El Salvador sights. Joya de Cerén is one of the ruins located in El Salvador, but it’s astonishingly well preserved. The town was abandoned in 640 CE as Laguna de Caldera, a nearby volcano, erupted. The volcanic eruption ended up with the ancient place being buried in ash, but this helped to preserve the village perfectly. In 1976, the town was discovered and excavated, allowing tourists and locals to see the city.
5. Relax in Santa Ana
Unlike exploring other El Salvador sights, a visit to Santa Ana is relatively calm. Santa Ana boasts stunning architecture and artsy activities. From the neo-Gothic cathedral to Parque Libertad (main square), there are so many sights to see in Santa Ana. If you’re a lover of the arts, you’ll want to check Teatro de Santa Ana’s program so that you can view a live performance in the decorated theatre.
6. Hike Ancient Step Pyramids
In Tazumal, you can fully immerse yourself in history. The cluster of step pyramids of Tazumal was founded in 400 AD. The tallest pyramid reaches a modest height of 75 feet. There is a museum on the site of Tazumal, where you can look at artifacts that were discovered during the excavation of the city to get a glimpse of what life was like in the past.
7. Visit Lake Coatepeque
If you love to swim in pristine waters, take a trip to Lago de Coatepeque, or Caldera Coatepeque, during your time in El Salvador. Nearly 72,000 years ago, a series of violent volcanic eruptions and subsequent collapses created one of the largest lakes in the country. The lake is a volcanic crater. Once you arrive here, it’s easy to make sure why this lake is one of the top tourist destinations!
8. Be at One with Nature in Cerro Verde National Park
If you’re outdoorsy, you’re definitely going to want to visit Cerro Verde National Park, known officially as Parque Nacional Los Volcanes (Los Volcanes National Park). The park is home to three different volcanoes, including the popular Cerro Verde volcano, Izalco volcano, and the Santa Ana volcano. The hiking trail known as the Window to Natural trail will take you through the park’s oldest forest where you can witness the centuries-old flora and fauna, take in all the wildlife and admire the views.
9. Visit Rua de las Flores
If you’re in El Salvador between October and February, you’ll want to visit La Ruta de las Flores (Route of Flowers). This 20-mile stretches out a mountainous road that is lined with seasonal flowers at this season.
10. Visit Port City La Libertad
Visiting El Salvador couldn’t be finished without taking a trip to La Libertad. El Salvador’s small port is named after its independence from Spain. It’s also home to El Salvador’s prime beaches that are known for shore fishing and surfing. You can pay a nominal fee to get out on the water to go fishing. After your activities, be sure to refresh yourself with La Libertad’s famous ceviche.
11. Relax on the Beach of Costa del Sol
Located just 30 minutes from the airport in San Salvador, the beach of Costa del Sol is the well-known tourist destination. There are three different sections of the beach, each as perfect as the next one. Costa del Sol is perhaps the most popular of the three sections, and it’s lined with tourists and all-inclusive resorts.
12. Head to El Tunco
If you’re a surfer, visit El Tunco. It’s here that the waters are perfect to catch a big wave. Surfing here is one of the most favored free things to do in El Salvador. You can also take surf classes in El Tunco if you’re looking to get into the sport.
13. Take a Walk Through History in San Miguel
San Miguel is El Salvador’s third-largest city. It is home to noteworthy landmarks and historical architecture. Some of the most prominent and well-known landmarks include a 19th-century cathedral, San Miguel Market and Avenida Roosevelt. The food scene in San Miguel is something you won’t want to miss either—they’re known for their high-quality seafood.
14. Enjoy the Calm Waters of Playa El Cuco
Playa El Cuco offers calmer waters than some of the other beaches in El Salvador, making it a family-friendly beach destination. At the beach, you’ll find plenty of locals and tourists playing beach volleyball and soccer, eating at seafood restaurants and shopping the vendor huts.
15. Walk the Path of Peace
The Ruta de Paz is one of the most popular stops of a tourist’s itinerary when they visit El Salvador. The path is located in the former hub of the guerrillas during El Salvador’s civil war, and as such, was highly damaged during the war. While many of the buildings bear scars of the war, it is strikingly beautiful and interesting to learn all about the history that happened here.
If you’re looking for a historical, scenic, and fun place to visit in Central America, then El Salvador definitely fits the bill. It is jam-packed with all sorts of fun things to do on your trip and astonishing places to go, and you’re sure to not be disappointed. Have fun!
Got any more places to visit in El Salvador for us to add? More top El Salvador things to see? Let us know below in the comments, and thanks for reading!