El Salvador is not your typical Central American country. Being the only nation in Central America that does not have a Caribbean coast, El Salvador has a distinct culture.

Mix that with a compact landscape sprawling with volcanoes, tropical jungles, and ancient Mayan ruins, and you begin to see that there are plenty of fun things to do in El Salvador.

When it comes to exploring the landscape, El Salvador’s small geographical terrain is unique, boasting 20 active volcanoes that can be seen from any point in the country.

The lush rainforest is home to distinctive wildlife, which includes margays, long-tailed otters, and El Salvador’s national animal, the turquoise-browed motmot.

El Salvador is home to some of the world’s most intact and preserved Mayan architecture, thanks to the structure being covered by thick layers of volcanic ash.

But before you pack your bags, let’s run through a few of the best things to do in El Salvador.

Best Things to Do in San Salvador

San Salvador City Monument in El Salvador

Most people are unaware that El Salvador is the southernmost boundary of the Mayan empire. Although not as popular as the ruins of Yucatán in Mexico, El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, is home to a series of intriguing archeological sites, monuments, and a volcano.

The capital also boasts stunning colonial architecture spread across several colorful villages and towns. Here are two of the best El Salvador tourist attractions in the capital. 

San Salvador City Tour

full-day city tour will take you through the highlights of San Salvador, seeing you explore the grand Metropolitan Cathedral, El Rosario Church, and the National Theater.

Your tour ends with a daring visit to the El Boquerón Volcano, located in a national park just 16 miles from the city.

If you don’t have much time in El Salvador, a half-day tour of San Salvador is a great way to see the best city highlights in just four hours. You’ll see all the landmarks, discover the city’s main residential areas, and visit the crafts markets to buy souvenirs.

Flowers Route Adventure 

Hand Painted Mural in El Salvador

Take the colorful Flowers Route tour and explore some of the best places in El Salvador. The nearly 20-mile route traverses through colonial towns with cobblestone streets and old coffee plantations. 

These quaint towns boast vibrant murals, art worlds, and handmade crafts. Nahuizálco city is known for producing wicker and tule handicrafts, while Apaneca is the highest village in El Salvador, popular for its coffee plantations.

Top Things to Do in El Salvador

The rest of El Salvador is just as vibrant and loaded with adventures and activities as the capital. Here are a few more of the best places to visit in El Salvador that you can explore during your trip.

Mayan Route Tour

Tazumal Ruins in El Salvador

Get a glimpse of life in ancient Maya with an exploration tour through notable heritage and archaeological sites, like Joya de Cerén.

This UNESCO-listed agricultural village is still intact despite being 1,400 years old, thanks to being preserved under 14 layers of volcanic ash.

Then explore San Andrès Archaeological Park, the largest pre-Hispanic center in the country, boasting the popular Acropolis — an elevated square with pyramids and houses.

You’ll also visit the largest pyramid in the country, Tazumal. The site boasts an artifact-rich museum, showing evidence of active trade between Tazumal and places like Panama and Mexico.

Santa Ana Volcano Hike 

Santa Ana Volcano Crater Lake in El Salvador

Take a scenic hike to the largest stratovolcano in the Santa Ana department, also called “Ilamatepec.” This volcano has been active since the 16th century. Keep your eyes peeled for the volcano’s emerald sulfurous crater lake. 

Afterward, you’ll head to Lake Coatepeque, one of the ten largest crater lakes in El Salvador. Here you’re welcome to swim, fish, take a mini boat ride, jet ski, or simply take in the beautiful views. 

Old Town Suchitoto Tour

Immerse yourself in El Salvador’s eclectic culture with a half-day tour of Suchitoto.

Walk along the cobblestoned streets, marvel at the colonial architecture, and visit art galleries like the Ruins’ Theater and House of Crafts. Then enjoy excellent views at Lake Suchitlán, the largest body of water in the country.

Tamanique Waterfalls

Waterfalls in Nature in El Salvador

Grab your swimsuit and hiking shoes, and enjoy a fun-filled day trip to Tamanique Waterfalls Complex. Made up of four crystal spring waterfalls, the complex is reachable after a short but steep hike.

Spend your time chasing waterfalls, swimming, rock climbing, and jumping off cliffs (into the water, obviously). Then head to Playa El Tunco, a beach ideal for surfing, sunbathing, and all things fun-in-the-sun.

San Salvador Rainbow Slide & Bicycle Zipline

If you’re an adrenaline junkie, this rainbow slide and bicycle zipline tour is right up your alley. Enjoy a thrilling ride on the slopes of the San Salvador Volcano; this colorful giant rainbow slide is perhaps the most Instagram-famous attraction in El Salvador. 

You’ll also travel to Cafe Albania, where you can hop on a bicycle zipline and see the sweeping views of Apaneca’s lush vegetation.

Guided ATV Tour

Laguna Verde is one of Apenca’s most gorgeous sites to explore. The green lake is part of a volcanic chain on the Apenca Mountain range and is well-known for its stunning lakeside accommodations and lodges.

Take a Laguna Verde ATV tour and explore the best of El Salvador’s lush rainforest while learning about its ecology from your expert guide.

San Miguel “Chaparrastique”

San Miguel Volcano in El Salvador

Go on an epic adventure trekking up the Chaparrastique, San Miguel’s towering active volcano that experiences occasional minor ash explosions and emissions. 

If you’re a hiking and nature buff, climbing the Chaparrastique is the best way to see stunning and picturesque views of El Salvador’s third largest city.

Santa Teresa Hot Springs

If you want a fun yet relaxing activity in El Salvador, take a trip to Santa Teresa hot springs to blow off some steam. This hot water geyser is the largest in Central America; the property also features several hiking trails, swimming pools, and a big turquoise pond.

El Imposible National Park

Go on a forest adventure and enjoy hiking, spotting gorgeous flora and fauna, discovering hidden waterfalls, and jumping off cliffs at El Imposible National Park.

El Salvador’s largest national protected area, the park is a sanctuary for the country’s wildlife and a great place to immerse yourself in nature.

Pupusas Tasting Tour

Pupusas in El Salvador

One thing you should not miss out on while visiting El Salvador is trying the national dish, pupusas – chunky corn tortillas stuffed with meat, cheese, and other fillings. This local delight is said to be created by the indigenous Pipil tribe over 2000 years ago.

The Peace Route Tour

If you’re a history buff, the Peace Route tour will take you through a 13-hour in-depth exploration of the El Salvadoran civil war and how it has shaped the country today. 

You’ll also pay tribute to the heroes at Mozote Memorial Site, where war veterans will walk you through their efforts to rebuild their communities.

The tour continues to the Museum of the Revolution, where you’ll hear testimonies from people who witnessed the war’s key moments.

Beach Tour at Surf City

Ride on some of the best swells the Pacific Ocean has to offer at El Salvador’s most prestigious surf beaches. Take a beach tour and learn about the country’s world-famous surfing culture from your guide before heading into the ocean to catch some waves.

Spend the rest of your day sunbathing, or retreat to a beachside bar and enjoy a delicious cocktail. 

Coffee Plantation & Thermal Spa Tour

Coffee Plantation in El Salvador

Coffee is big business in El Salvador, but more than that, it’s been part of the country’s culture and lifestyle since the late 1800s. On this day tour, you’ll learn about coffee-making and why the beans produce distinctive coffee with a spicy citrus taste.

Spend the rest of your day shopping and exploring the vibrantly painted murals in Ataco Village before heading off to the serene thermal waters of Alicante. Hop in and relax your body and mind while enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

What to Do in El Salvador: Travel Guide

South American Carnival in El Salvador

San Salvador is the largest city in El Salvador. You’ll find many of the country’s political, cultural, educational, and financial centers here.

But luckily, the city is home to plenty of touristic places in El Salvador, from national museums to monuments, cathedrals, and handicraft markets.

But after spending a day or two exploring the capital, head either west to the coffee-rich department of Santa Ana or east to San Miguel, home of the epic Chaparrastique volcano.

And if you’re visiting in November, the colorful and vibrant San Miguel Carnival is not to be missed.

Best Things to Do in El Salvador | Wrapped Up

El Salvador boasts a peculiar culture and landscape that vividly sets it apart from other Central American countries. While others may view this as a negative for avid travelers and explorers, this country is a hidden gem.

You’re sure to embark on many off-the-beaten-path day trips and excursions while traveling El Salvador.

From a series of stratovolcanoes scattered across the country to a deep tropical rainforest harboring unique flora, fauna, and the best surf spots along the Pacific Ocean.

Prepare for your next destination in Central America; read about the best things to do in Belize.

Essential Info: Logistical Tips and Tricks to Book your Trip

BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Kayak. These are two of the sites I use the most due to their exhaustive search on several websites and airlines around the world. They usually bring the cheapest fares.

BOOK YOUR ACCOMMODATION
If you’re looking to save money by staying at a hostel, HostelWorld has the largest inventory of hostels. On the other hand, Airbnb offers a wide variety of rooms and apartments at affordable prices. (Get $40 off your first Airbnb booking with this link.)

For hotels, guesthouses, and other types of accommodation, I also recommend Booking.com. They usually have the cheapest fares for guesthouses and hotels. I always book my hotels with Booking.com.

DON’T FORGET YOUR TRAVEL INSURANCE
Travel insurance with comprehensive coverage will protect you against unexpected events like theft, cancellations, injury, and illness. I use World Nomads and highly recommend it.

If you’re a nomad and travel often or long term, then SafetyWing could help you save a lot of money on travel insurance.

FIND THE BEST TOURS AT THE BEST PRICES
If you’re looking for the best day-tours and cheapest ticket entrances to local attractions, I recommend checking Viator, as they have the largest selection of attractions, passes, and activities all around the world.

BOOK YOUR LOCAL TRANSPORTATION AHEAD OF TIME
Bookaway
 offers the easiest and most accessible way to book overland transportation with local operators; be it by bus, train, ferry, plane, mini-van, or even private transfers.

OTHER TRAVEL AND MONEY-SAVING TIPS?
Lastly, check out my resources page for some of the best products and companies to use for your trip. If you like saving money (like I do!), then this page will help.

The Best Things to do in El Salvador | The Land of Volcanoes
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