Best Things to Do in El Salvador
Cities and Towns
San Salvador, El Salvador’s Capital City
Though the capital of this amazing country has a tarnished past, you can’t travel to El Salvador without visiting. San Salvador has changed dramatically over the last few years and continues to emerge as one of Central America’s most exciting capital cities.
Epic cathedrals, sprawling parks, exciting food markets and a rejuvenated city centre make San Salvador a must.
Read More | Check out our San Salvador City Guide.See the Guide
With access to many activities on this list, Santa Ana is a perfect city to base yourself in for a few days. Grab a delicious street snack and kick back in the bustling main square while gawking at the surrounding architecture. Check out the old colonial theatre, visit the oddly beautiful ruins of an old school, and marvel at the gothic cathedral — an oddity in this part of the world.
Santa Ana City Guide
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To use a mountain of tired, yet appropriate, clichés: Suchitoto is a charming colonial village surrounded by lush and vibrant jungles overlooking a vast blue lake. Some compare Suchitoto to Antigua, Guatemala. But that’s inaccurate. Suchi, as locals call it, is small and quiet. Less polished.
People tend to love or hate Suchitoto. They find there’s not enough to do or that it’s inexplicably one of their favourite places in El Salvador.
I’m in camp #2. See our complete guide to Suchitoto.
Learn Tragic History at El Mozote
In December of 1981, during the Salvadoran Civil War, the military massacred over 800 civilians in the town of El Mozote. The town is now the site of a heart-wrenching and moving memorial to those killed.
A sobering experience, visiting El Mozote is important for anyone visiting El Salvador. To appreciate how far the country has come since those times.
Relax in the Highland Village of Alegria, El Salvador
Take a break from El Salvador’s typical high temperatures in the highland village of Alegria. This high-altitude colonial village is a picturesque break from the typical tourist trail. The quiet village, surrounded by jungle and occasionally blanketed in clouds, is famous for two things: coffee and the Alegria Lagoon.
Climate, altitude and volcanic soil make this region perfect for growing excellent coffee. And the brilliant blue crater lake on the outskirts of town is a beautiful place to relax.
Surfing El Salvador
Arguably the best surfing in Central America, this is the reason many come to El Salvador. With varying breaks along the entire coastline, it’s no surprise the country regularly hosts international competitions.
El Salvador surf beaches are found everywhere, like the world-famous Punta Roca El Salvador. Head to the La Libertad region — the aptly-named Surf City — for a good sampling. Here you’ll find something for every skill level, beginners and professional athletes alike.
Check out El Tunco, El Zonte or El Sunzal for a bunch of really great surf schools.
Relax in El Salvador Hot Springs
Given the scope of volcanic activity in El Salvador, it’s no surprise to find hot springs. Two of the most convenient and relaxing spots to soak in the thermal pools are Alicante and Santa Teresa, near Ajuachapan.
Here you’ll find a selection of pools of varying sizes and temperatures to suit your comfort level. It’s the perfect way to relax and restore your body after a long day of hiking or a few too many cervezas.
The Ruta de las Flores
El Salvador’s “Route of Flowers” is a stunning display of colour during the months of November through February, when the entire landscape is in bloom. But the flowers are a mere bonus.
The Ruta de las Flores is a stretch of road dotted with wonderful villages each with their own unique activities and vibes. Hike waterfalls, relax in hot springs, shop at artisan markets, celebrate unique festivals and wander the cobbled streets of El Salvador’s coffee country.
Read More | Explore the Ruta de las FloresSee the Guide
Take an Indigo Course
At the Casa Blanca complex near Santa Ana, you can take a multi-week course in indigo production and fabric work. Learn the process of producing the natural dye and the fascinating methods of dying fabrics and art pieces.
Short, crash courses are available for a day visit. But for the full experience, you can sign up for the intensive workshop.
Get Lost in the Labyrinth at Cafe Albania
On the outskirts of Apaneca, you’ll find Cafe Albania, home to the great El Salvador labyrinth. Lose yourself through the maze of cypress trees, planted and grown over many years for this very purpose. Reach the tower in the centre if you can, then try to find your way back out — it’s trickier than you might think.
Other activities on-site include zip-lining and even cycling on the cable high above the labyrinth.
Carnaval de San Miguel
The city of San Miguel, while the third-largest in the country, is often little more than a transit hub for most visitors. And while we would suggest giving it a chance there’s one time of year that’s better than any other.
In the final week of November, San Miguel hosts Carnaval, a massive celebration of colour and food and music and dancing in the streets.
Go Cliff Jumping at the Tamanique, El Salvador Waterfalls
A short bus ride from Playa El Tunco you can go cliff jumping at the Tamanique waterfalls.
Make the long hike down the jungle hillside to the mountain stream flowing in the valley. Relax and soak in the cool water shaded by the high cliffs, grab that perfect Insta shot under the falls, or leap from one of the cliffs into the plunge pools below.
Any activity like this must be undertaken with a local guide or tour, as cliff jumping can be incredibly dangerous. Especially if you don’t know what’s below.
Hike the Santa Ana Volcano
Aside from surfing, this is arguably the most popular draw for adventurers visiting El Salvador.
Hike along gorgeous jungle trails through Cerro Verde national park along the base of the volcano. When the tree line breaks, continue along the craggy mountainside to the edge of the gaping crater. And marvel at the sulphurous steam rising from the almost artificially-coloured lake below.
Read More | How to Hike Santa Ana VolcanoGet the Guide
Release Baby Sea Turtles
One of the most unique and incredible things to do in El Salvador is helping to release baby sea turtles. In El Zonte, from September to November, head to La Mision Hatchery in the late afternoon to join in the releasing of the tiny flappy-legged reptiles. Watch them flop desperately through the wet sand as they battle the incoming surf, finally making their way to begin their new life in the sea.
Use Bitcoin in El Salvador
“Spending money” isn’t something you’d typically see on a travel guide, but it is in El Salvador. In the summer of 2021, President Nayib Bukele announced that the country would be officially adopting Bitcoin as legal tender.
The cryptocurrency had been used for some time already, specifically in El Zonte — dubbed “Bitcoin Beach.” Now, businesses across the country accept both US dollars (the other official currency) and Bitcoin. So load up your wallet with Satoshi’s and spend away. Welcome to the future!
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Ride El Salvador’s Famous Chicken Buses
No trip to El Salvador is complete without riding the famous chicken buses. These old school buses from the USA are repurposed for regular local transport. They’re outfitted with loud, pumping sound systems, flashy paint jobs, chrome accessories and all kinds of unique and almost tacky decorations.
You won’t have to look hard to experience these unique rides, as they’re the most common form of cheap transport around El Salvador.
Bolas de Fuego – The Fireball Festival
This is as incredible and absurd as it sounds. Bolas de Fuego is an annual event where people run through the streets at night, throwing fireballs at one another. Held in August, in the town of Nejapa, it’s one of the most unique experiences you can have in El Salvador.
People take tightly-wrapped balls of fabric, soaked in kerosene, lit on fire and have a literal fireball fight in the streets. It’s epic chaos and simply fascinating to observe.
Salto de Malacatiupan – The Hot Waterfall
Hot springs are nice and all. But a hot spring waterfall? Next level.
Not far from Santa Ana, you’ll find Salto de Malacatiupan. This small river is fed from hot springs and crashes dramatically over a series of rocks and small cliffs. It’s a brilliant spot to spend some time and take a dip in the wild. Cliff jumping is optional, of course, but leaping into a river of hot water is a sensation hard to beat!
Always check with locals before doing any cliff jumping, just to be safe.
The Cristo Negro Festival
Experience an exciting festival with an interesting element. Each January, in Juayua, the festival celebrates Cristo Negro, a “Black Jesus” statue from the cathedral in town.
With a full belly from the weekly food festival, sit back for the colourful pageant parade and get ready for the chaos. As the night unfolds, men run through the streets with fireworks blasting from their makeshift bull costumes. People scatter and run in a mix of laughter and mild concern.
When the bulls run out of Roman candles, a proper — and very impressive — fireworks display closes the night.
Check Out the El Salvador Beaches
“Bitcoin Beach” El Zonte
El Zonte is easily one of the best beach towns in El Salvador. Just a few years back Zonte was all but unknown to visitors. These days it’s arguably one of the most popular. With the early adoption of Bitcoin, this once sleepy town helped pave the way for the national adoption of the cryptocurrency. As a result, ‘Bitcoin Beach’ has become one of the most popular spots in the entire country.
Read More | The Complete Guide to El ZonteSee the Guide
El Tunco – Backpacker Beach Vibes
If you’re backpacking El Salvador in any capacity, there’s little doubt you’ll visit the backpacker playground of El Tunco. Known for its phenomenal breaks, ’Tunco draws in surf aficionados from across the globe.
Even if you aren’t a surfer, there are plenty of activities in and around town that will keep you thrilled for days. Yet somehow, El Tunco has managed to keep a comfortable balance of having a little of everything while retaining the small-town beach charm.
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Disconnect at Isla de Tasajera
Located across the bay from the tip of Costa del Sol, Isla Tasajera is effectively cut off from the rest of the country. Minimal services, limited electricity and almost non-existent wifi make Tasajera the perfect spot to take a break from everything else. The only traffic here is the occasional pick-up truck taxiing people along the sand roads between communities.
The apparent endless stretch of untouched beach doesn’t hurt much either.
El Salvador Mayan Ruins
Casa Blanca, El Salvador
Perhaps not as epic as others in the region, El Salvador has some significant Mayan ruins of its own. That is, what we can see. Casa Blanca is a museum of Mayan history in El Salvador on the site of some excavations. Here you’ll find an informative display of ancient local history as well as a few interesting dig sites.
Not far from Casa Blanca (above) is Tazumel. This is a much larger and distinctly Mayan complex with some fascinating artifacts on display. What’s truly incredible is that, from many studies, the entire area beneath the region — now covered with roads and buildings, was once a sprawling Mayan city.
Joya de Ceren
Joya de Ceren is unique from many other Mayan ruins in the sense that isn’t a larger city. That is, rather than large pyramids, this was once a small farming village.
Known as the Pompeii of the Americas due to the town’s destruction by a volcanic eruption, this site is a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day lives of pre-Columbian villagers.
Mayan Ruins of San Andres
Halfway between San Salvador and Santa Ana are the Mayan ruins of San Andres. Often overlooked by foreign visitors, this archeological site is one of the most significant in El Salvador.
Covered by volcanic ash during the eruption of Ilopango, these ruins are still being excavated from beneath their grassy tombs.
El Salvador Parks
The Volcanoes of Cerro Verde El Salvador
Like volcanos? Cerro Verde National Park, not far from Santa Ana, has three of them. The park is made up of a dense jungle plopped between three towering volcanoes: Izalco, Santa Ana, and Cerro Verde, the park’s namesake. This conservation area is full of twisting hiking trails, beautiful scenery and stunning viewpoints — from Lake Coatapeque on one side, all the way to the Pacific on the other.
Ecotourism at El Impossible National Park
El Impossible National Park is a sprawling expanse of tropical jungle on the western edge of El Salvador. Nearly untouched by the modern world, this park is the perfect place to get a breath of fresh, clean air and experience the tranquility of the rain forest.
Hike the rugged terrain to clear rivers, stunning waterfalls and hidden swimming holes. Keep an eye out for the unique wildlife and plant species as you explore the landscapes. Then spend the night and fall asleep to the sounds of the jungle.
Camp on the Side of Conchagua Volcano
Want to camp on the side of a volcano overlooking the ocean? Who wouldn’t? Conchagua Volcano is on the far Southwest side of El Salvador, overlooking the Gulf of Fonseca.
Conchagua recently made headlines when President Nayib Bukele announced plans to build Bitcoin City at the volcano’s base. It’s a bold move that could be huge for the region. Though it’s still a long way off.
For now, visitors will have to settle for the nearby beaches, incredible hiking, and arguably the best views in El Salvador.
Kick Back at a Relaxing Lake
Lago de Coatapeque
This stunning lake in an old volcanic caldera is one of the highlights of a trip to El Salvador. The almost-fake looking colour of the water shifts throughout the year. Yet nobody seems to fully understand why. Due to the lake’s thermal springs, the water at Coatapeque is significantly warmer than an average lake. This makes swimming a much more enjoyable experience.
Take a boat trip to one of the tiny islands, ride jet skis, go paddleboarding, kayaking, or simply sit back at one of the over-water patios and enjoy a cold drink.
Located on the outskirts of San Salvador, Lake Ilopango is the largest lake in the country. Its proximity to the capital makes it a convenient place to spend the day. Things to do at Lake Ilopango include relaxing at the lakeside park, swimming in the warm water, scuba diving, fishing and boating.
Unlike Coatapeque, Ilopango doesn’t have the mysterious blue hue, though Ilopango has some interesting features of its own. In the centre of the lake is the peak of a lava dome. Formed from an underwater eruption in the 1800s, Islas Quemadas — the Burnt Islands — are a reminder of what lies beneath.
Sample Delicious El Salvador Coffee
With its tropical climate and rich, volcanic soil El Salvador produces some of the world’s best-tasting coffee. And while you can sample some of their incredible bean juice at some hip cafe in San Salvador, why not go straight to the source?
There are several spots to do a coffee tasting in El Salvador, but the greatest concentration is in the western side of the country. The region south of Santa Ana and along the Ruta de las Flores has a ton of coffee plantations with fantastic tours.
You can’t skip a visit to El Salvador without experiencing pupusas. The quintessential Salvadoran snack is not only dirt cheap but incredibly tasty and filling. A corn flour dough is stuffed with a filling, typically a combination of cheese, beans and meat, and cooked on a griddle.
Crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside, they’re served piping hot with a fresh tomato sauce and a delicious cabbage slaw called curtido.
Visit the town of Olocuilta, which has over a dozen pupeserias in one condensed area along the highway.
The Juayua Food Festival
A food festival every weekend. Need I say more? Sure, why not.
Every single weekend Salvadorans flock to the village of Juayua for an incredible culinary experience. Food stalls line the streets selling everything from massive grilled prawns and delicious roast rabbit to custom cocktails that will knock you sideways.
Read More | Experience the Juayua Food FestivalSee the Guide
And So Much More…
Check back often as we’ll be updating this post whenever we discover more amazing things to do in El Salvador!