El Salvador is an emerging travel destination where international tourism is in its infancy. Due to a turbulent past, El Salvador struggled to attract visitors wary of its safety. After a new president was elected in 2019 and a massive crackdown on crime, El Salvador has blossomed into one of Central America’s safest and most beautiful countries.
El Salvador is a stunning country with large active volcanoes, towering ocean swells and beautiful tropical jungles that are an adventure seeker’s dream. Culture enthusiasts will love the city’s colonial architecture, surrounded by lush tropical jungles and an intriguing Mayan history. Pupusas are a must-try for foodies. Language, transit, and tourism infrastructure can still be barriers for some travellers embarking on their first few international trips. But there’s no need to worry as the locals are friendly and willing to help. El Salvador checks every box on the adventure travellers list, so find out the 20 things to do in El Salvador.
- El Salvador
- Top Tours
- 20 Things To Do In El Salvador
- 1- Drive the Rutas De La Flores
- 2- Surf in El Tunco
- 3- Hike The Santa Ana Volcano
- 4- Visit The Mayan Ruins In Chalchuapa
- 5- Visit The Santa Ana Cathedral
- 6- Hike the Las Siete Cascadas
- 7- Swim in the Chorros De La Calera
- 8- Eat Pupusas in Juayua
- 9- Soak In Salto De Malacatiupan
- 10- Splash Around At Cascadas De Tamanique
- 11- Hike to the Top of Devil’s Door
- 12- Try the Rainbow Slide at Picnic Steakhouse
- 13- Relax Along The Shore of Lago De Coatepeque
- 14- Check Out the San Salvador Volcano
- 15- Get Lost In Nature at Parque Nacional El Imposible
- 16- Visit El Espíritu De La Montaña Viewpoint
- 17- Visit Central America’s Largest Mangrove Forest
- 18- See Colonial Architecture in Suchitoto
- 19- Camp On The Side of the Conchagua Volcano
- 20- Visit A Coffee Plantation
20 Things To Do In El Salvador
1- Drive the Rutas De La Flores
The Rutas de la Flores is a picturesque drive in the country’s west, running along a winding highway from Sonsonate to Ahuachapán.
Out of the window, you can see colourful flowers that bloom from late November to February.
Outside of those months, the view changes to lush jungle and sweeping views of the valleys that shape this landscape.
Even though the flowers are only in bloom for four months, this route is one of the prettiest drives in the country, flowers or not.
The Rutas de la Flores can be done in a private car, your bus, or if you’re brave on the local chicken busses.
You’ll have a blast stopping at all the cute small towns along the way if you choose to drive.
- Ruta de Flores + Bike Zipline and Rainbow Slides
- Ruta de Las Flores Adventure, Relax at Hotsprings + 1930’s farm Coffee Tour
2- Surf in El Tunco
The tiny town of El Tunco on the Pacific shore of El Salvador has been a surfer’s paradise for years.
This surf town has attracted avid surfers long before the country became safe for regular tourists.
A long-standing history of surfing and beach town culture make El Tunco one of the best places to relax by the water while still staying close to Western comforts.
Surf shops in El Tunco book surf lessons each day at El Tunco beach or further down the coast if waves and weather allow.
Have a go at riding these monster waves and learn the basics of surfing in one of the most popular Central American surf spots.
The fun restaurants and bars in town serve both local and international cuisine.
- Explore Tamanique Waterfalls Complex + Surf City El Tunco Beach
- Day at exclusive club Costa del Sol Beach from San Salvador or Airport
3- Hike The Santa Ana Volcano
The Santa Ana volcano towers over the nearby Lago de Coatepeque, and hiking it is a challenging thing to do in El Salvador for active travellers.
You’ll hike through the lush jungle, along rocky mountain ridges and the smell the sulphur from the volcano gets stronger as you approach the top.
The hike is sweaty work and you can reward yourself with an ice cream from one of the vendors as a treat from from the sweltering heat and sun.
This 6.9 Km (4.2 miles) hike is a challenging adventure that is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Hire a car or take a bus to the Cerro Verde National Park entrance and join a guided hike to the top of the volcano.
- Santa Ana Volcano Tour Adventure Early Hike + Coatepeque Lake visit and swim
- Scheduled Fun Dive at Ilopango Lake in an active crater with Licensed Guide
4- Visit The Mayan Ruins In Chalchuapa
Chalchuapa is a quiet and otherwise unassuming town that is home to some of the most well-preserved Mayan ruins in all of El Salvador.
El Tazumal is the larger and more frequented of the two.
It has one large Mayan temple that visitors are free to explore at their leisure, it’s a good spot to chat with locals as many school groups and families are visiting.
Casa Blanca is the smaller of the two but is better kept.
Visitors aren’t allowed to climb on the structures but rather view them from afar.
This site also has very informative museums with key pieces of Mayan history highlighted in each exhibit.
Chalchuapa makes a great day trip from Santa Ana, and you can easily fit in both archaeological reserves on both visits.
- Combo Tour: Archeology in Cihuatan + Suchitoto Best Preserved Colonial Town
- Full Day Tour : Copan Ruins an Amazing Mayan Site from San Salvador City
- Combo Tour: Volcanoes, Lake and Mayan Sites including Joya de Ceren
5- Visit The Santa Ana Cathedral
The Cathedral is the jewel of this bustling city and attracts many local and foreign visitors.
In Parque Libertad, you will find many examples of colonial architecture, like the National Theater of Santa Ana, the Santa Ana City Hall, and, of course, the Neo-Gothic style Santa Ana Cathedral.
Visitors are welcome to go inside the Cathedral and attend a service or pay respects.
It’s important to keep in mind that this is a functioning church, and visitors should dress respectfully and remain quiet during services.
Recommended tour: San Salvador Half Day Guided Walking Tour
6- Hike the Las Siete Cascadas
Las Siete Cascadas is a must-see hidden gem near Juayua.
This hike isn’t well promoted, but you can find a guide through local hostels or word of mouth.
The adventure starts with a long descent into a jungle valley where you hike among gigantic waterfalls, local flora, and fauna.
Be prepared to get wet, as most of the hiking is through the waterfalls and rivers!
Each waterfall is more wonderful than the last.
Rappel up a waterfall and carefully hike under the cascades before finding a local clay reserve.
Most guides will allow you to use the clay to make an exfoliating face mask before continuing on to the last waterfall and the end of the journey.
A lot of tours in Juayua will add the next location on the list in conjunction with this hike, which can make for a truly unique and adventurous day.
7- Swim in the Chorros De La Calera
After working up a sweat hiking through the jungle, you can head to Chorros de la Calera.
These beautiful waterfalls and cool swimming pool look and feel like you’re visiting Ancient Mayan civilizations.
Although the pools are much more recent than Mayan times, the remoteness and lush jungle that creeps along the walls and into the pools give off a strong impression.
Jump from the rocks into the shockingly deep pools or explore the nearby hidden cave, looking for scorpions.
Whatever you choose to do while visiting these pools, it’s sure to be a trip highlight! Make sure to visit early in the morning to have the pools all to yourself for a while.
8- Eat Pupusas in Juayua
Juayua is such a gorgeous small town and is definitely worth visiting for a few days.
Besides the church and proximity to waterfall hikes, Juayua is very popular for foodies and, of course, the national dish of El Salvador, pupusas.
This small round grilled flatbread is stuffed with a variety of ingredients, usually cheese, beans, and meat, and is served hot with a side of cool coleslaw and a spicy watery dip.
You’ll quickly become addicted to the dish, but luckily, there are many pupuserias in Juayua to help with the craving.
Juayua has a weekly food festival in the Center of town on the weekends.
The festival doesn’t cost anything to enter, but it comes with a big budget and an empty stomach to try many El Salvadorian delicacies.
9- Soak In Salto De Malacatiupan
Combining a hot spring and a waterfall, Salto de Maacatiupan is a unique natural attraction to visit in El Salvador.
The hot water is heated by tectonic activity and soaking in the hot springs is relaxing after a hike or adventure.
Head down the river downstream to the beautiful waterfall pool, which you’re more likely to have to yourself.
The hot springs and waterfall are a short bus ride west from Santa Ana to Atiquizaya, where you’ll have to catch a local taxi to the hot springs.
10- Splash Around At Cascadas De Tamanique
The coast from La Libertad to El Tunco is a hotspot for surfers with a hidden waterfall along the highway that’s great for a quick day trip to escape the coastal humidity.
It’s a lush jungle hideaway you’ll enjoy discovering either on your own (a short bus ride up the highway from El Tunco) or book a guided tour.
A short hike in the forest brings you to this beautiful cascading waterfall where you can jump off the rocks and swim in the refreshing water.
11- Hike to the Top of Devil’s Door
Escape from the city by hiking to Devil’s Door, which is a towering rock face with sweeping views.
On a clear day, the views of the surrounding jungle and mountains make the hike to the top worth the hard slog.
If you’re planning on attempting the hike, bring sun protection and lots of water.
Devil’s door is a 45-minute drive from the city centre.
12- Try the Rainbow Slide at Picnic Steakhouse
You might have seen this colourful tourist attraction all over social media lately.
The rainbow slide at this local steak house has gained lots of attention and popularity on social media and has quickly sprung to the top of the must-do in El Salvador lists.
Picnic Steakhouse is just outside Santa Tecla and is easily reached by bus or taxi.
Although many report the food to be average, the tourist attractions and photo ops are what bring in the crowd.
Take a photo with dinosaurs and larger-than-life animals and blast down the rainbow slide on an inner tube.
Picnic is the perfect place for an evening of food, drinks, and fun in Santa Tecla.
Recommended tour: Bike Zipline, Rainbow Slide All Cafe Albania Activities Included
13- Relax Along The Shore of Lago De Coatepeque
Lago De Coatepeque is am ancient volcanic crater lake that is somewhere between 50,000 to 72,000 years old.
Framed by hills in El Salvador’s west, its scenic surroundings at the foot of the Santa Ana and Izalco volcanoes makes it a popular spot for a short overnight stay after hiking.
745 meters above sea level, Coatepeque means “Hill of Snakes” in Nahuatl.
Highlights of the lake include Teopán Island, which was a sacred site for the Mayans and Nahuatl-speaking cultures where ancient rituals were held.
Cerro Verde National Park is to the southwest of the lake.
The lake’s beauty draws visitors who are amazed at the changing shades of the water, from turquoise to blue-green caused by certain types of algae and minerals from the volcanic soil.
The water is popular for swimming, kayaking, jet skiing and other waterports.
You’ll also find hotels and restaurants around the lake, many with stunning waterfront views.
So if you’re looking for a relaxing spot in El Salvador, an escape to the lake is perfect.
14- Check Out the San Salvador Volcano
The San Salvador volcano is part of the Central American Volcanic Arc, which is a chain of volcanoes along Central America’s Pacific coast that are important to the region’s geological landscape.
It’s easy to visit from El Salvador seeing this volcano from the city will entice you to visit El Boquerón National Park.
Also known as the Quezaltepeque Volcano, this stratovolcano is formed of layers of rock, ash and lava from repeated eruptions during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The El Boquerón Crater is a major feature created during an eruption in 1917.
The volcano hike starts at El Boquerón National Park and although the volcano’s crater is not as active as the Santa Ana volcano, there won’t be as many people either.
The hike itself is a lot more challenging but this means you’ll have a lot less traffic on the trail.
The 6.6km (4.1 miles) and is a loop-type trail around the volcano and to the crater, where you’ll be immersed in lush green jungle vegetation and might even catch a glimpse of local wildlife.
Keep an eye out for snakes and although most are harmless, it’s a good idea to keep your eyes on the ground just in case.
It’s entirely possible to do this hike without a guide or tour, and it’s easy to take an Uber or local bus to the entrance. But I’d recommend trying a tour to be safe.
- Combo Tour: Colonial Route & Volcanoes of El Salvador
- San Salvador City Tour and El Boquerón National Park including Pupusa Tasting
15- Get Lost In Nature at Parque Nacional El Imposible
Parque Nacional El Imposible in the far west of El Salvador is an adventure seekers paradise.
This mostly untouched piece of land is teeming with life and is one of the most important nature reserves in El Salvador.
Venture out to this unique jungle paradise for hiking, camping and wildlife spotting.
As you hike through this 4,000-hectare tropical reserve, you may come across wild boars, small leopards (oncillas) and almost 300 different species of birds.
Camping is available in the park and is a great way to soak up the ambience.
16- Visit El Espíritu De La Montaña Viewpoint
The El Espíritu De La Montaña Viewpoint is in the same park as the Conchagua Volcano and is a great spot to admire stunning views if you’re not planning on camping.
The viewpoint offers sweeping views of the Gulf of Fonesca, Honduras and Nicaragua.
The bright blue water against the vibrant green jungle is a fantastic image to fill your social media feeds.
17- Visit Central America’s Largest Mangrove Forest
If you’re into nature and conservation, you’ll want to spend time discovering Bahia De Jiquilisco’s significant population of Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), which is a critically endangered species.
The bay’s extensive network of mangroves and estuaries provides one of the most important nesting sites in the Eastern Pacific for this species.
Local communities and organisations collaborate to protect, conserve and educate people about the threats faced by the Hawksbill turtles, which are poached for their beautiful patterned shells.
The mangrove forest is Central America’s largest and a great way to explore this UNESCO biosphere reserve is by kayak.
As you paddle along, try and catch a glimpse of sea birds.
Recommended tour: Monkey Sanctuary Reserve + Kayaking at Bahía de Jiquilisco + Lunch Included
18- See Colonial Architecture in Suchitoto
Suchitoto is a small lakeside town just north of San Salvador and one of the best places to wander around and admire colonial architecture.
The Santa Lucia Church from the mid-1800s is the jewel of the city that many people come to see.
Near the town, there are tons of fun activities like waterfall hikes, water sports and unique restaurants.
This makes Suchitoto the perfect place to stop for a day or two before heading on to the rest of El Salvador.
19- Camp On The Side of the Conchagua Volcano
Camping on the side of the Conchagua Volcano is one of the most unique experiences you’ll find in El Salvador.
The volcano’s most unusual feature is its viewpoints or “miradores” built on the edges of the crater, offering panoramic views of the Gulf of Fonseca, the Pacific Ocean and several islands.
They were strategically designed to provide a 360-degree vista for visitors to enjoy the views around the volcano to Honduras and Nicaragua.
After a day of hiking in the park and visiting the El Espíritu De La Montaña Viewpoint, snuggle up in a sleeping bag and watch the sun dip below the horizon.
When the stars come out to illuminate the sky, it’s the perfect place to fall asleep.
In the morning, enjoy the peaceful solitude of sunrise as it breaks over the land and illuminates the mountainous terrain.
20- Visit A Coffee Plantation
El Salvador punches way above its weight in the global coffee market.
The country’s volcanic soil is a fertile area for coffee to grow top-quality coffee with distinct flavours, ranging from sweet and fruity to more complex flavours.
So, if you’re a coffee drinker, make sure you join a coffee tour at a coffee plantation.
You’ll find the best ones around the volcano areas.
Don’t forget to take home a bag of freshly roasted coffee.