Clouds covering part of the Izalco Volcano and jungle in El Salvador

Things to do in  El Salvador

Central America’s hidden gem

The smallest country in Central America is also one of its most mysterious and enigmatic—just like the misty cloud forests, smoky volcanoes, and black-sand surf beaches that it has become known for. If you’re looking for slow-paced things to do in El Salvador, dig into the country’s colorful cultural heritage by exploring its historical cities, mural-covered towns, and ash-preserved Mayan ruins. Don’t leave without trying the coffee, which is some of the best in the world.

Top 15 attractions in El Salvador

Lake Coatepeque

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One of the largest lakes in El Salvador, the turquoise-hued waters of Lake Coatepeque are found between Santa Ana and Cerro Verde National Park. Part of an ancient volcanic caldera, the lake was formed during a series of explosive eruptions more than 50,000 years ago. It’s now a popular spot known for its scenic views and watersports.More

El Rosario Church (Iglesia El Rosario)

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From its modern shape to its main altar placement, El Rosario Church was a controversial project in the 1960s, designed by Salvadoran architect and sculptor Rubén Martínez, under the supervision of Pope John XXIII. Featuring stained-glass windows that cast colorful hues down on the parishioners, this Catholic church is active throughout the week.More

National Theatre of El Salvador (Teatro Nacional de San Salvador)

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The National Theatre of El Salvador takes center stage among the buildings defining the country’s capital. Designed by French architect Daniel Beylard with a neoclassical facade and adorned with lavish French Renaissance interiors, this performance center is as captivating as the shows it produces for crowds capped at 650 seats.More

Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)

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San Salvador’s Metropolitan Cathedral is an imposing white Roman Catholic Church built in the mid-1880s in the heart of the historic district. The cathedral’s interior is adorned with images depicting the city’s patron saint, the Divine Savior. Sadly, this cathedral was also the site of a tragic event when dozens of people were stampeded to death during Archbishop Oscar Romero’s funeral. Today, the church serves as a place of worship for local and visiting parishioners.More

Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site

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The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site is a pre-Columbian Mayan farming village that dates to AD 600. Smothered by ash during a volcanic eruption of Laguna Caldera, the buried village was preserved in near-perfect condition, earning it the nickname “Pompeii of the Americas.”More

Cerro Verde National Park

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Cerro Verde National Park is an impressive volcanic site located 40 miles (64 kilometers) from San Salvador. A lush jungle with a network of hiking trails, the landscape embraces three volcanic peaks and a serene crater lake. From the oft-erupting Izalco and highly active Santa Ana to the extinct Cerro Verde, volcano views are the hallmark of the park.More

El Boquerón National Park

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A short drive from the bustling streets of San Salvador, El Boquerón National Park is a natural wonderland at the top of an ancient volcano. One of El Salvador’s most popular hiking destinations, El Boquerón offers incredible views over the capital city and is also home to El Boqueróncito, a tiny volcanic crater at the center of the main crater.More

National Palace

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One of San Salvador’s most important landmarks, the National Palace of El Salvador stands proud on Plaza Gerardo Barrios at the heart of the capital’s historic center. Bringing together neo-Gothic, neoclassical, and Renaissance architectural styles, the national monument was originally built in 1866 and reconstructed in the early 20th century.More

Santa Ana Volcano (Volcán Ilamatepec)

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Surrounded by the cloud forests of Cerro Verde National Park, Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec) is the biggest volcano in El Salvador—and at 2,381 meters (7,812 feet) above sea level, it’s also one of the most popular to climb. Offering spectacular views and hiking routes, plus a peek into the turquoise crater lake at the summit, Santa Ana is an adventure lovers’ dream.More

Monument to the Divine Savior of the World (Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo)

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The Monument to the Divine Savior of the World (Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo) is a monument located on Plaza El Salvador del Mundo (Savior of the World Plaza) in San Salvador City, El Salvador’s capital city. The monument is composed of a tall, four-sided concrete base pedestal that supports a statue of Jesus Christ standing on top of planet earth. The structure was designed by José María Villaseñor. This monument is a symbol that identifies and represents El Salvador and Salvadorans throughout the world—after all, the country’s name translates as “The Savior,” and Jesus Christ is its patron.To study the sculpture in more detail, bring a pair of binoculars or a camera with a good zoom function. It’s hard to get to the sculpture directly, as it’s located in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout with no pedestrian crosswalk leading up to it. Once you’ve made it to the monument, taking a seat on the steps at its base is a nice way to relax from sightseeing and watch the city buzz by. You can also see the monument featured on the back of old banknotes and vehicle license plates.More
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Devil's Door (Puerta del Diablo)

Devil's Door (Puerta del Diablo)

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Located in Los Planes De Renderos, Puerto del Diablo, or Devil’s Door, is made up of two striking boulders that reach for the sky. Looking between them gives the viewer a panoramic vista over the sights of El Salvador all the way to the Pacific. Devil’s Door is one of El Salvador’s most popular rock-climbing sites, with dozens of established routes for all levels of climbers. For the best views, climb the rock stairs to the top, where you'll rewarded with sights like the red-tiled roofs of the indigenous town of Panchimalco, Lake Ilopango to the left, the double peaks of the San Vicente volcano straight ahead, and beyond it, the Pacific Ocean (if you bring binoculars).Visitors to Devil’s Door can opt to take a canopy tour, go zip-lining, explore the nearby caves, or even rappel down the cliff’s face. A visit to Devil’s Door is an easy way to escape the city noise of San Salvador for a half day, as it’s only a short bus trip to and from El Salvador’s capital city.More

Suchitoto

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Colonial architecture stands tall in the hilltop town of Suchitoto. The cobblestone streets provide a contrast to its jungle surroundings, weaving together El Salvador’s lakeside scenery with historic remnants from the mid-1800s. It’s a picturesque town where locals escape from the busy capital to lounge on the shores of Lake Suchitan.More

Santa Ana National Theater (Teatro Nacional de Santa Ana)

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The pastel-hued, neoclassic facade of the Santa Ana National Theater is a prominent part of Santa Ana’s historical center. Just as impressive on the inside, the theater was funded by local coffee growers in an ongoing rivalry with the capital, San Salvador, and has been a core part of the city’s cultural scene since curtains up in 1912.More

Santa Ana Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Ana)

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This neo-Gothic-inspired cathedral lies in El Salvador’s second-largest city’s main square—and with one look, it’s no surprise the Santa Ana Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Ana) took eight years to complete. But don’t be fooled, its inside is just as impressive, filled with massive pillars and cascading chandeliers that line the way up to its traditional, ornate Catholic altar.More

Izalco Volcano

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Also known as the Lighthouse of the Pacific, Izalco Volcano, which formed in 1770, is the youngest volcano in El Salvador. One of three volcanoes in the Cerro Verde National Park, Izalco is also the park’s most challenging volcano to climb, with hikers who brave the steep slopes rewarded with plenty of fumaroles—steam vents—and epic views.More

Top activities in El Salvador

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All about El Salvador

When to visit

Spring is undoubtedly the best time to visit El Salvador—especially if you are heading to the Ruta de las Flores (Route of Flowers) region and want to see it in all its floral glory. The most popular time of year to visit is the summer, while the warm and dry winter season tends to be better suited to enjoying El Salvador’s abundance of outdoor activities, including surfing and hiking volcanoes.

Getting around

There are a few different ways to explore El Salvador, most of which depend on your budget and how much time you have. Private drivers are the best way to get around, but taxis, ride-sharing services, and tourist shuttles are also great options. Local buses tend to be slower than traveling by private car or shuttle, but they can be worth it for the fun factor alone.

Traveler tips

Most visitors to El Salvador skip the capital, San Salvador, and head straight to El Tunco on the western coastline or up to Santa Ana and spend their time around the northwest. If time allows, the city of Suchitoto is well worth a visit, as is the southeastern coastline, where you’ll find wide, empty beaches along the Pacific Ocean. Nature lovers also won’t want to miss Montecristo National Park, where the monkeys and wildlife give Costa Rica a run for its money.

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People Also Ask

Is El Salvador worth visiting?

Yes, it may be less visited than other Central American countries, but there are still lots of things to do in El Salvador. While El Tunco has long been one of the region’s best-kept secrets, the rest of the country is opening up to tourism. Highlights include volcano hikes, Mayan ruins, great food, and warm, welcoming residents.

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What is El Salvador best known for?

El Salvador is best known for its pupusas, coffee, world-class surf, and volcanoes. It’s also one of the most affordable countries in Central America for tourists, plus there’s an array of things to do in El Salvador, including seeing spectacular coastline and visiting the Ruta de las Flores region.

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What is the most visited place in El Salvador?

El Tunco is one of the most visited places in El Salvador and has long been a popular stopover spot for visitors making their way overland from Guatemala to Nicaragua. Just across the Guatemala-Honduras border, Santa Ana is another great tourist hub, offering historic architecture, steamy volcanoes, and Mayan ruins.

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How many days do you need in El Salvador?

The ideal length of time spent in El Salvador is between seven to 10 days, with your time split between El Tunco, Santa Ana, and the Ruta de las Flores region. If time allows, though, there’s plenty more to see, from Suchitoto to Alegría and Montecristo National Park.

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Is it safe to travel to El Salvador?

El Salvador has a reputation for being unsafe to travel to, but things have changed a lot over the last decade. Still, parts of the country and the capital are best to avoid—especially without a local guide and after dark. However, many destinations are tourist-friendly.

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Does El Salvador have nightlife?

Yes, but it’s rather limited. Most of El Salvador’s nightlife scene is in San Salvador and El Tunco, where many Salvadorans party on weekend trips. In many other parts of the country, including Santa Ana, you’d be hard-pressed to find evening entertainment past 9pm.

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