San Salvador Cathedral seen from Plaza Libertad, El Salvador

Things to do in  San Salvador

Taking things one pupusa at a time

Over the years, El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, has been rocked by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, civil war, and a shady rep amongst travelers, who often overlook it in favor of other tourist attractions. But give it a chance, and you’ll find a shiny and welcoming cosmopolitan city filled with historical, cultural, and natural wonders—from world-class museums to nearby volcanoes and the Pompeii of Central America, Joya de Cerén. Add in designer shopping malls, some of the country’s best hotels, and a buzzing nightlife, and you’ll soon see why El Salvador’s capital city is also its best-kept secret—with endless things to do.

Top 15 attractions in San 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

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

El Imposible National Park

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Contrary to the name, it is possible to see El Salvador’s El Imposible National Park. While its moniker comes from a steep gorge, which created a deadly, often impossible route for traders to cross, a bridge was built in 1968, making this dazzling yet fragile ecosystem much more accessible to travelers.More

Lake Ilopango

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A volcanic caldera close to San Salvador, Lake Ilopango is one of the largest lakes in the country. Warm water invites people to discover underwater features like volcanic rock formations and caves, while small, rocky islands play host to birds and marine life searching for a quiet spot under the sun.More

National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología Dr. David J. Guzmán)

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Opened back in 1883, the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología Dr. David J. Guzmán) is a fascinating stop for understanding the history of El Salvador and its people. Spread out over five different halls, the museum—also known as MUNA—holds the treasures and ancient artifacts of pre-Columbian settlers, from the Maya and Olemec to Pipil tribes who inhabited the jungles and coasts. The halls are separated into five different categories, from agriculture and human settlements to religion, arts, and trade. See how native Salvadoran people once farmed and worshipped their gods, including an ancient altar of stone and petroglyphs carved into rocks. If you plan on purchasing local crafts when venturing outside the capital, this is a good spot to learn the facts behind traditional Salvadoran crafts, and gain an idea of what to look for when shopping in local villages. Arguably El Salvador’s most popular museum, the National Museum of Anthropology is a must for travelers in the city.More
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La Laguna Botanical Garden

La Laguna Botanical Garden

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Founded in 1976, La Laguna Botanical Garden sits within a volcanic crater just outside the city of San Salvador. The sprawling gardens display more than 3,500 species of native and exotic plants, including 35,000 specimens inside the garden’s herbarium. The 7.5-acre (3.15 hectare) gardens are divided into 32 themed zones, with well-labeled collections including medicinal plants, ferns, orchids, desert plants and native vegetation.The grounds also include a large playground for children and a cafeteria selling refreshments. Seating areas scattered around the gardens are perfect for picnicking or simply enjoying the fresh air and quiet — a welcome break from the noise of San Salvador. Keep an eye out for animal residents, including huge iguanas, fish, turtles and a variety of birds.More

Top activities in San Salvador

Santa Ana Volcano and Lake - An Unforgettable Journey
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Maya Route Tour | El Salvador Mayan Sites including Joya de Cerén
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All about San Salvador

When to visit

While the best time to visit San Salvador is during El Salvador’s dry season (between November and April), it’s also an excellent year-round destination, with plenty of indoor attractions, museums, and shopping malls to keep you cool and dry during the hot, wet summer months. The capital is busiest over Christmas and New Year, as well as Semana Santa when many Salvadorans return home to see their families and join the celebrations.

Getting around

San Salvador is surprisingly easy to get around for a pretty big city—the second-largest in Central America. Although traffic can be a little hectic, the public bus system is pretty good and affordable, and there are excellent connections from San Salvador to the rest of the country and across Central America. If you prefer to travel in cabs, there are also many taxis and ride-share cars around the city; just make sure you opt for licensed ones, particularly if you’re traveling at night.

Traveler tips

San Salvador is one of the few places in the country that offers travelers a deeper insight into El Salvador’s past, present, and future. The Museum of Words and Images (MUPI), the Art Museum of El Salvador, and the National Museum of Anthropology (MUNA) are all good places to start, while other destinations like Iglesia El Rosario tell a very different story. It’s also well worth taking a city tour, where a local guide will take you to all the capital’s best sights while filling you in on all the things a guidebook can’t.

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People Also Ask

Is San Salvador worth visiting?

San Salvador is worth visiting, especially if you’re interested in history, culture, or shopping. A great starting-off point for exploring the rest of the country, San Salvador has the nation’s best museums and art galleries—including lots about the civil war—as well as other must-see attractions like the National Theater, the National Palace, and La Laguna Botanical Garden.

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How long do I need in San Salvador?

Most travelers to San Salvador spend a few days in the city, which is long enough to visit the museums, the palace, the cathedral, the botanical gardens, and the nearby Boquerón Volcano. Home to some of the best hotels in the country, San Salvador can also be a good base for travelers wanting to visit nearby tourist attractions like Joya de Cerén, Suchitoto, El Tunco, and Santa Ana.

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What is San Salvador known for?

The capital of El Salvador, San Salvador is probably best known as the jumping-off point to get to El Tunco and the surf beaches on the Pacific Coast. However, there’s more to this city than the transport links. It’s also home to excellent museums, mega malls, fascinating architecture, and awesome pupuserías serving up El Salvador’s national dish.

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How should I spend a day in San Salvador?

While some people could spend a whole day in San Salvador shopping in the many mega malls around the capital, there are plenty of other things to keep everyone happy, from nature lovers to history enthusiasts and, of course, foodies. A good day might start with a trip to the Art Museum of El Salvador and the National Museum of Anthropology (MUNA), involve lots of Salvadoran coffee and pupusas, and maybe a trip up to the top of El Boquerón volcano to check out the epic views.

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Is San Salvador safe for tourists?

Like many other Central American capital cities, San Salvador doesn’t have the best safety reputation. However, if you follow common sense like keeping your valuables out of sight or, even better, leaving them in the hotel safe—and avoid certain parts of the city, especially at night, San Salvador is pretty safe for tourists.

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Where is the best neighborhood to stay in San Salvador?

As with most Central American urban areas, certain places are better than others, and some—like Soyapango, Apopoa, and Mejicanos—are probably best avoided at all costs. The upscale neighborhood of Escalón is especially popular with travelers, while Colonia San Benito is also a good option.

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Frequently Asked Questions