Planning a trip to El Salvador? This is your guide to visit the most beautiful places in the country. El Salvador may be a small nation but it is rich in both culture and geography. This stunning ‘must-visit’ destination sits in the heart of Central America on the Pacific Ocean.
El Salvador boasts incredible national parks, long stretches of breathtaking beaches, enchanting waterfalls, marvellous lakes, mountainous areas with picturesque views, a plethora of inland attractions like the vast plains of coffee plantations and of course volcanos.
All the El Salvador tourist attractions listed are based on my own experiences traveling in El Salvador. Salva the owner of the tour agency, Tunco Life guided me around and showed the best his country had to offer. Have a look at the Tunco Life website for more inspiration about traveling to El Salvador.
Thanks to its majestic and diverse landscapes, El Salvador has become a melting pot for tourists from different parts of the globe who wish to get away and explore the unknown. For wanderlusters looking for the perfect escape away from all the noise and pollution, El Salvador would be a great unspoilt destination off the beaten path in Central America.
Here is a little recap video of some of my adventures in El Salvador.
Stay connected when traveling to El Salvador. Here is a guide to buying a sim card in El Salvador for tourists.
Amongst a long list of possible tourist destinations to visit in El Salvador, here are 19 of the most beautiful and famous places for anyone interested in exploring this side of Central America.
Related: 24 Best Places to Visit in Honduras!
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1. El Tunco - Surf Village
Undoubtedly one of the most famous places to visit in El Salvador and that for a little surf town. El Tunco is all about surfing and thousands of surf fanatics flock to the El Salvador coast to show off their skills.
El Tunco is always listed among the best things to do in El Salvador, but even if you are not into surfing you don’t want to miss this place when visiting El Salvador.
El Tunco is located just 45 minutes south of the capital San Salvador on the coast near to Libertat. It feels like a mix of the uncomplicated backpacker vibe of Southeast Asia mixed with a Latin vibe. The village itself is pretty small, but there are restaurants, bars, backpacker hotels and souvenir shops everywhere.
Try renting a scooter to go around the coast to discover hidden gems, restaurants with endless ocean views, fancy hotels, lovely restaurants, beach parties, waterfalls and more. Also visiting the boulevard and the fish market in Libertat are cool things to do in El Tunco. Another lovely little town on the coast of Libertat is El Zonte, similar to El Tunco, but much less crowded.
On my trip to El Salvador I made El Tunco and Libertat my base for a couple days from where I visited some of the most beautiful places to visit in El Salvador.
Where to stay in El Tunco
If you are traveling El Salvador on a budget I recommend Hotel Mopelia. It has affordable private rooms as well as dorm rooms, fast WiFi, a swimming pool and a lively bar with more than 50 different craft beers from around the world.
If you are looking for a great mid range hotel then head over to the town of El Zonte and stay at the Palo Verde Hotel. A lovely and quiet boutique hotel with Bali vibes.
If you looking to splurge I can recommend the Acantilados luxury hotel with an amazing infinity pool looking over the pacific ocean.
2. Mizata - Hidden Gem Coastal Town
We stay on the Pacific coast for our next El Salvador tourist attraction: Mizata. Just like El Tunco a sleepy coastal town catered towards surfers. But when you think El Tunco was too touristy then head to Mizata.
There is not much going on in Mizata, but this is where you find the ultimate El Salvador holiday feeling. Very laid-back, off the beaten path and the ultimate place to chill on the beach in El Salvador.
The surf breaks in Mizata is what most people come for, but there are also organized pool parties in weekends and there is a cool young crowd that gathers here. Mizata is located about 45 minutes East of El Tunco on the way to the Ruta de las Flores, another famous thing to do in El Salvador.
Where to stay in Mizata
One of my favorite places to go in El Salvador is Nawi Beach House. This hotel is located directly on the beach and has an incredible laid-back vibe. Some rooms face the ocean and have porches. Highlight of the hotel is the big infinity pool with attached beach bar. Nawi Beach House organizes pool parties every month.
3. Suchitoto - Colonial town
Consider starting your trip to El Salvador by exploring this cool area and if possible spend a day or two there and combine it with another amazing places to visit in El Salvador: Lake Suchitlan.
Suchitoto is a historical sleepy yet colorful town with picturesque views of the mountainous area around Lago Suchitlán. The little municipality has great colonial architecture and marvellous historic landmarks, but it is also a great place to go for outdoor activities.
This colonial town still has arty-crafty cobblestone streets and adobe homes. If you’re looking to learn some history you should visit the 18th century Santa Lucia Church. If art is what you’re after, make a point of visiting the Centro Arte para la Paz which is a museum and convent.
This little charming town has very friendly and welcoming locals. Aside from its old town vibe and laid-back ambiance, you should try to do a Indigo Art (Arte Añil) workshop. You will learn how to use natural colors and create your own colorful t-shirt. You can find the Arte Añil workshop right on the corner of the main square opposite the Tourist Office.
Where to stay in Suchitoto
I can recommend you Casa 1800 Suchitoto with the most amazing views over Lake Suchitlan. The attached restaurant serves delicious food. This colonial boutique hotel is one of my secret El Salvador travel tips. Great place for lunch.
4. Lake Suchitlán - the largest lake in El Salvador
Only a stone’s throw away from Suchitoto you can find the largest (man-made) lake in El Salvador. The lake was created after the construction of the Cerron Grande dam in 1976.
The most popular thing to do in Lake Suchitlan is of course a boat ride across the lake. Visitors can also see wildlife in the surrounding areas like sloths, monkeys, iguanas. Bird watching is also very popular when visiting Lake Suchitlan. If you are looking for more active tours in Lake Suchitlan then try kayaking.
You can arrange a boat ride yourself by walking down from Suchitoto to Puerto Touristico San Juan and ask one of the local fishermen to take you around. Bring some food, cold beers and I am sure you have a great day out on the lake.
Not far away from Lake Suchitlan is the 13 meter (39 ft) Los Tercios Waterfall for anyone seeking a dose of the outdoors. About 2.5 miles down the road from the waterfall are the hot springs of Agua Calienter that are rich in natural beauty.
If you still have some time left, venture a little further away and explore the iconic Guazapa volcano. Here you can also learn much more about El Salvador’s civil war history.
When visiting Lake Suchitlan I recommend you booking a hotel in Suchitoto.
4. San Salvador Historic Center
San Salvador is not only the capital but also the economic, cultural and political center of El Salvador.
The infrastructure is still haphazard even though it’s been under repairs. This may be attributed to scars from earthquakes and previous wars. Definitely not all of the areas in San Salvador are worth visiting, but the historic center surely is a tourist attraction worth adding to your El Salvador things to do list.
There’s an easy-going atmosphere in this densely populated city and tourists are often shocked to find laid-back locals and a relatively slow pace to the city. The historic center has a captivating appearance in one magisterial metropolis – a blend of colonial structures and 21st-century modern architecture.
Some of the best places to visit in San Salvador are: the iconic National Palace, National Theater, National Cathedral, Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, El Calvario Church.
The Iglesia El Rosario is one of the most remarkable places to go. Ugly from the outside, impressive from the inside.
Additionally, the historic district has amazing plazas like the Gerardo Barrios Plaza, Liberty Plaza, and Plaza Francisco Morazan.
Is it safe to visit San Salvador? Well let me tell you that I launched my drone right in front of the cathedral on the main square. I found it completely safe and locals were super friendly.
Despite being a majestic metropolis, you will only be a few hours away from dignified natural beauty this country has to offer. This makes San Salvador also a great base when exploring any tourist destination around the country. There are gorgeous volcanoes, stunning crater lakes, and parks just around the corner.
Where to stay in San Salvador
Hotels in San Salvador are not really cheap, but you can find some good ones for about $50 per night and up. Best area to stay is in and around San Benito where the nightlife, restaurants, etc. are located.
I can recommend you Hotel Villa Serena San Benito. Very simple, but affordable compared to other hotels and in a good location.
5. Santa Ana Volcano - Popular El Salvador Activity
Are you looking for outdoor activities on your El Salvador trip? If the answer is yes then you need to visit Cerro Verde National Park and hike up to the rim of the highest volcano in El Salvador: Santa Ana.
Undoubtedly one of the best places to see in El Salvador is the green crater lakes of the Santa Ana Volcano and to get there you will need to hike up for about 1,5 hour from the Parque Nacional Cerro Verde entrance.
Santa Ana is the highest volcano in El Salvador at 2,381 metres (7,812 ft) above sea level, but don’t worry everyone can do this. It does not matter if you do it in 45 minutes or 2 hours. The hike first goes uphill through the forest and then follows a steeper rocky part. The last bit is a little more flat until you reach the crater rim.
You can do the Santa Ana volcano hike by yourself but you must be accompanied by a guide. The entrance fee is $6 and the hike starts at around 1,850 meters (6.070 ft). Hike can be appointed at the entrance gate. I had to wait a little for the group to depart, but after 10 minutes everyone chooses their own pace and never saw my group anymore.
There is a parking spot if you drive up to the Cerro Verde National Park. There is also a bus stop if you like to use public transport. You can visit the Santa Ana volcano easily from San Salvador (1 hour) El Tunco, Libertat (1 hour 15 minutes) or from the nearby city called Santa Ana
6. Cerro Verde National Park - Hikes with breathtaking views
The above mentioned Santa Ana Volcano is located in the Cerro Verde National Park, but there is more to Cerro Verde National Park than the spectacular Santa Ana volcano.
In fact there are 2 more volcanoes: Izalco and Cerro Verde. This amazing place to visit in El Salvador is also called Los Volcanos National Park.
These volcanoes in the Cerro Verde National Park are home to some brilliant flora and fauna and tourists also enjoy various activities such as guided bird-watching, horseback riding, numerous walking trails and viewing platforms with views over the Santa Ana and the Izalco volcanos. But also over the beautiful Lake Coatepeque and Ruta de las Flores.
The Cerro Verde volcano is generally considered to be the most popular and this is why the park is named after it. It’s more of a mountain that boasts of one of the country’s few cloud forests as it’s covered with dense vegetation.
The volcanoes have a long history of eruptions. Izalco was once known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” due to its 200-straight years of eruptions until the 1960s. Santa Ana is the most active of them all, with steam constantly rising from one of its craters - sulfurous lagoons.
7. City of Santa Ana - Historical city vibes
This is the second-largest city and a top tourist destination in El Salvador. It offers tourists an urban appeal with a tranquil environment.
Santa Ana’s early 20th-century neo-Gothic cathedral, elaborately decorated theatre, and picturesque main square get lots of tourists. The aforementioned theatre is called Teatro de Santa Ana and the main square is known as Parque Libertad. Sometimes visitors can enjoy a live performance at the theatre – this would be a great experience for art lovers.
Lastly, the City of Santa Ana is an ideal location to stay in and take day trips to explore various tourist spots around the country. Some great locations that you can venture to outside the city include scenic Lake Coatepeque, Ruta de las Flores, Chalchuapa archeological site and of course the Cerro Verde National Park.
Any coffee lovers in the house? Santa Ana, being home to the biggest coffee industry has so much to offer you. While here, don’t forget to visit downtown Santa Ana and enjoy the gastronomy and sample local brews as you do some shopping. Visiting a coffee plantation is one of the best things to do in El Salvador.
8. Joya de Ceren - UNESCO World Heritage Site
Joya de Ceren is an extraordinarily well preserved Mayan village. The village was abandoned in a rush in 640 AD as the people who once lived there were fleeing from an eruption of Laguna de Caldera.
Joya de Ceren boasts of a rich cultural heritage and has stunning landmarks. It is the only UNESCO World Heritage site in El Salvador.
This paradise of breathtaking natural wonders was buried in volcanic ash. As a result, the city was left hidden but intact. The town was discovered much later – in the year 1976.
9. La Palma - Backpackers favorite
Your trip to El Salvador wouldn’t be complete without visiting this quaint mountain village. La Palma is located in the Chalatenango department of the country. It boasts a gorgeous and natural landscape as well as a vibrant art scene. As you walk through the city you’ll take note of the fascinating graffiti and murals on the walls.
La Palma is famous for being the town where the celebrated artist – Fernando Llort – taught. He used bright colors, childish images, and religious themes to capture the hearts of the El Salvadorans.
There are numerous galleries and art workshops where tourists can pass their time as they soak in the town’s beautiful artistic heritage. Today, many of the town’s residents make a living by practicing his artistic style.
Thanks to its mountainous topography, visitors can enjoy picturesque views on the scenic hiking routes around La Palma that are safe for tourists.
This town is pretty close to the Honduran border so many visitors choose to stay here for convenience when on a trip around Central America. La Palma is a great place to visit in El Salvador for backpackers.
From the wall paintings and town murals to workshops, old-fashioned Llort-inspired souvenirs, and the mosaic Central Park, a stop at La Palma is definitely worth it, especially for art lovers.
10. Tazumal - Archeological site
Tazumal is a cluster of unusual step pyramids that was established around 400 AD. The highest of these pyramids (and the largest in the country) reaches up to a height of 23 meters (75 ft). Its self-governing status lasted until Spanish forces moved into El Salvador in the 1520s, after which the local people were defeated and exploited.
The Stanley H. Boggs Museum displays artefacts that were uncovered during the excavation and is a fascinating place to go. Visiting this on-site museum gives you a glimpse of Tazumal’s past.
Some of the artefacts displayed here include pottery, statues, and incense burners.
One of the most notable items in the museum is the Stone of Victories statue. This artefact provides rare evidence of a connection between modern-day El Salvador and what is now Veracruz, Mexico.
11. Juayua - Ruta de las Flores
This town is located on the western side of the country in the hilly countryside. It’s perched in and between the hills of the country and tourists can expect to enjoy picturesque views and a cool breeze.
Juayua offers a plethora of natural attractions. The small town of Juayua is part of the astonishing La Ruta de Las Flores (Flower route), a very famous tourist attraction in El Salvador. I promise this route is going to captivate your heart.
From Juayua you can hop on the route of the Seven Waterfalls as well and visit several beautiful waterfalls. One of the best places to visit in Juayua is the Los Chorros de La Calera waterfall.
Thanks to its gastronomy which you can taste daily, this town is a paradise for foodies. You shouldn’t miss the weekend food festival – the Gastronomica Fair – where tourists go on a palatable culinary adventure.
Additionally, the area produces some of the best coffee beans in the country. Sample this in Juayua.
Lastly, Juayua is also well-known for the magnificent murals painted by local artists that can be found all over the town.
Where to stay in Ruta de las Flores
If you decide to explore the Ruta de las Flores and its many cool things to do and places to visit I recommend you finding a base for 2 or 3 nights. There are many hidden gems around these mountains villages and accommodation is affordable.
A highly recommended Ruta de las Flores hotel is Hotel Juayua. Get yourself a room with a view and enjoy absolutely breathtaking views over the volcanos of El Salvador all the way to the ocean.
Hotel Juayua has a swimming pool as well and we are talking about $50 per night only. Hotel Juayua also offers Temazcal ceremonies in their own sweat iglo.
12. Sonsonate - Ruta de las Flores
Make sure that the majestic city of Sonsonate is on your El Salvador itinerary. Sonsonate is also located on the Ruta de las Flores.
Sonsonate features a gorgeous landscape with vast plain lands, charming old-world neighborhoods, and a tranquil ambiance all through the city. Visitors here get to enjoy the most enchanting views.
While in Sonsonate, don’t miss out on learning the history of the city and check out its train and transport heritage in Railway Museum Plaza. If you have some extra time on your hands, pass by the Sonsonate Cathedral and say a prayer before embarking on an exciting adventure to Parque Aquatico Escudo.
13. Laguna Verde - Mountain Lake
A small lake located off the beaten path on the Ruta de las Flores. Laguna Verde is hidden away up in the mountains. The adventure of visiting Laguna Verde already starts in Quezalapa where you can rent dirt bikes or buggies.
Buggy tours are guided and lead you through coffee plantations and through local villages for about 20 minutes until you reach Laguna Verde. Unfortunately swimming is not allowed in Laguna Verde, but there is a little boat that can take you out.
You can also rent mountain bikes and bike around the laguna and the surroundings before you hop back in your buggy and drive back to Quezalapa. I joined one of the tours of Apaneca Adventure Tours and I would highly recommend them to you.
14. Cafe Albania - Adrenaline Park
Another amazing place to visit in El Salvador and located on the Ruta de las Flores is a small little adventure park. Cafe Albania sounds like a coffee place or may be a coffee plantation, but instead we are talking about zip lining, a swing and more.
Cafe Albania is an adrenaline park and one of the coolest things to do in El Salvador. There are three zip lines, a free-fall swing, a maze and an elevated bike track. The views of the surrounding are pretty spectacular up here.
If you are not into any of these adventures you can enjoy a drink and a meal with a view in their restaurant overlooking the valley. Cafe Albania is definitely one of the best places to visit in El Salvador for cool Instagram photos.
15. Nahuizalco and Cascada la Golondrinera - Indigenous heritage
Also on the Ruta de las Flores you can find the village of Nahuizalco, one of the Pueblos Vivos in El Salvador. Pueblos Vivos means lively villages in English and basically is a designated tourist destination in El Salvador by the government.
It is a cute little town with a main square, a cathedral, coffee places, live music and souvenir shops. A typical laid-back touristy town in the mountains. Nahuizalco is where you will find most indigenous people of El Salvador.
The Museo Comunitario Nahuat Pipil is a must visit when traveling to Nahuizalco. It will tell you all about the dark past of this hill station and the massacre that occurred here in 1932, when around 20.000 indigenous people where killed in 1 month.
The entrance to the museum is free and visiting only takes you about 10 minutes, but be prepared for a heavy story.
One of the best things to do in Nahuizalco is visiting the nearby Cascada la Golondrinera. This hidden waterfall is one of my best kept El Salvador travel tips. Hidden away from mass tourism, even my guide had never been there. Tours to the Golondrinera waterfalls are hard to find, but where there is a will there is a way.
You start a short hike at a local village nearby guided by a local. The hike follows a path down to the river which you will be crossing until you hit a small narrow canyon. Here you will enter the river and walk through the canyon for about 10 minutes until you hit the hidden Cascada la Golondrinera.
A secret but beautiful place to visit in El Salvador! Don’t miss out on this one.
16. San Miguel - 3th biggest city
This is El Salvador’s third largest and most populated city and is located on the eastern side of the country. Despite not being very well developed, it’s a popular tourist destination in El Salvador.
This gorgeous city hugs the country’s small eastern coast, offering close proximity to several beach towns with some of Central America’s best surf. The San Miguel coastal locale is a major center of trade that has some of the country’s high-quality seafood.
In November, the town hosts a fun-filled festival – the San Miguel Carnival – that’s one for the books and among the best things to do in El Salvador in November. The festival is full of color, lights, fantastic food, and thrilling rides.
Don’t forget to wear light clothes as this is the hottest destination in the country especially during summer.
There are a bunch of outdoor activities available around the city such as hiking along the highly active San Miguel Volcano and the nearby San Vincente volcano that has some of the country’s most challenging trail-less hikes. Be ready to enjoy the breathtaking views from the peaks of these volcanos.
Its historical downtown offers some noteworthy landmarks such as the 19th-century Cathedral and Francisco Gavidia Theatre to the San Miguel Market and the bustling Avenida Roosevelt. This is one of the best places to go in El Salvador for nightlife.
17. El Mozote - Dark history
This fascinating village is located in the Morazán department. Historians are fond of exploring this village with a grim history. This is where the El Mozote massacre took place where about one thousand civilians were killed by the US Government-funded army called the Atlacatl Battalion.
Monument De La Paz La Reconciliación has now become a symbol of that tragic period and the dark side of the history of El Salvador.
If you’re visiting El Mozote for adventure, you’ll be spoilt for choice as there are numerous attractions. Some beautiful places to visit are the waterfalls of: Llano del Muerto, Cascadas las Pilas, and Cascada la Olamina.
18. Ruta de Paz - Civil War History
The name “Ruta de Paz” translates to “Path of Peace.” This is a popular tourist route that winds through the area hit hardest by the civil war. The path is located in the Morazán department which is the former nucleus of the guerrillas during the war.
Tourists encounter beautiful mountains and quaint colonial towns with three main stops along the route. The stops are at Perquin, Arambala, and San Fernando.
Perquin is the most popular among these stops and even has accommodation for tourists. If you’re into sight-seeing, city walks, and getting to know the culture and history of El Salvador, then Perquin is definitely adding to your list of places to go in El Salvador.
This delightful little municipality also has a fair share of pleasant natural wonders that make it an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventurous thrill-seekers.
Ruta de Paz can best be visited on a day trip from either El Mozote or San Miguel.
19. Conchagua Volcano - Ultimate adventure
Last but not least the Conchagua Volcano all the way in the most southeastern point of the country. If you hike up to the top you will be rewarded with one of the best views imaginable. Conchagua Volcano surely deserves a spot on this list of best places to visit in El Salvador.
Unfortunately due to weather conditions I was not able to visit myself, but it has been on my list for years. Camping on top of Conchagua overlooking the Gulf of Fonseca that borders Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador.
Waking up with sunrise views of the islands of Conchaguita, Meanguera, Zacatillo and Tiger Island will be an unforgettable El Salvador travel experience.
Is it safe to travel to El Salvador?
For most people, the idea of visiting El Salvador seems a bit questionable. You can’t blame them for thinking that El Salvador is unsafe for tourists as the media has put this country in a really bad position.
El Salvador doesn’t rank amongst the world’s safest countries but it neither is the “crime-filled” state that the media paints it to be. As a matter of fact, El Salvador is very safe for tourists in 2021 and that is based on my own experiences.
I sincerely invite you to watch my series of Instagram stories in my highlights. You will see me road tripping through El Salvador without any issues.
Despite previously having a reputation as an unsafe country, El Salvador is now one of Central America’s safest countries to visit. The country’s distasteful reputation has changed rapidly over the recent years and more and more tourists are discovering this up-and-coming travel destination.
Things to know when traveling to El Salvador?
Apart from its gorgeous natural wonders, El Salvador has super friendly and very hospitable people. The infrastructure is also pretty good so getting around is easy. It’s easy to navigate through the majority of the country via a series of the inner city and national bus routes. If you’re planning to venture outside the city, I recommend you to rent a car. It is the easiest way to get to the best places to see in El Salvador.
The country has a predominant tropical climate. The best time to visit El Salvador is from November through March. This is the driest time and you’ll avoid the worst heat of April before the rains start in May and last till October.
There are numerous local markets and giant shopping malls where visitors can find whatever it is that they want to buy in El Salvador. The dining options are also quite varied. One famous delicacy found in El Salvador is pupusas. These are classic tortillas stuffed with a mixture of cheese, minced meat, spicy sauce, and a variety of vegetables (carrots and cabbages are the most commonly used.) Other foods include rice, beans, pork, chicken, and lots of seafood at the coast.
Expect that your stay in this pretty country will exceed your expectations and will help you break all the misconceptions you have.
My experiences traveling to El Salvador
As you have seen, El Salvador condenses so many brilliant places within its borders. With its civil war over two decades ago, tourists from all works of life are now discovering the array of tourist attractions in El Salvador.
I arrived by bus from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. I first spent some time in the capital San Salvador before I moved on to the Pacific Coast were I found it hard to leave. As said in the above explore the villages in Libertat and find your favorite one.
The Ruta de las Flores I explored by car for a couple days and enjoyed the tranquil temperatures and amazing adventures in the rolling green hills. Never did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable on my trip to El Salvador.
My El Salvador travel tips in short: eat Pupasas, chase waterfalls, conquer big waves, enjoy the sunsets, sip coffee, climb volcanos and meet the friendly local people.
I hope all the above tips for traveling to El Salvador were helpful. Let me know if you have any additional questions, please leave me a comment below and I am more than happy to help answering your questions.
Enjoy your trip to El Salvador!
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