Traveling in El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and is often overlooked by travelers due to its history of civil war, however it is perhaps the most accessible, diverse and affordable countries in Central America. Visits to Mayan archeological sites, active and dormant volcanos, pristine rainforest and world class surfing all within hours of its cosmopolitan capital San Salvador, El Salvador has the convenience to allow you to explore without the distance to make you tired.
Highlights to traveling in El Salvador include the artisan town of Suchitoto, climbing volcanos in Cerro Verde National Park, visiting Mayan sites such as Tazumal, Casa Blanca and Joya de Cerén, and enjoying a pupusas throughout the country. In 2001, El Salvador adopted the US Dollar as its official currency, making travel from North America convenient and affordable. And although security ranks high in concerns for visitors, the national and municipal security forces are present throughout El Salvador to ensure that crime remains low currently.
21,040 km2 / 8,124 sq mi
6,134, (2009 estimate)
Some great photos of El Salvador.
Useful information and recommendations for visiting San Salvador
Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador - Located in the historical center of San Salvador, this cathedral was completed in 1999 and visited twice by Pope John Paul II. Archbishop Oscar Romero is laid to rest in the basement of the cathedral after he was assassinated while celebrating mass at La Divina Providencia in 1980 and has become both a pilgrimage and tourist attraction.
National Palace - Built between 1866 - 1870 with materials imported from Germany, Italy and Belgium, this building was the seat of national government until 1974 at which time it became a national historic landmark. It is currently open to public tours and is next to the Catedral Metropolitana.
Iglesia El Rosario - With an arched roof and modern design, this cathedral in San Salvador is the one to see on a sunny day. The sun illuminates the church through hundreds of unique stained glass panes bringing a surprising contrast from the exterior along Plaza La Libertad. The concrete and metal sculptures depicting the stages of the cross are beautiful if not concerning at times. Padre Delgado, the father of Central American independence is interned here.
Volcan de San Salvador - Also known as El Boquerón, this stratovolcano last erupted in 1917 and is a short drive up a well paved road from San Salvador. Visitors can walk a crater rim trail to various view points to see el Boqueroncito which formed after the lagoon inside the crater evaporated in the 1917 eruption. The highest point is El Picacho at 1,960 meters.
Villa del Angel - A budget friendly and inviting hotel conveniently located near Galerias Escalon and Plaza Beethovan with clean modern rooms and helpful staff. There is secure parking and wifi available throughout the hotel.
Hilton Princess - One of the largest and most modern hotels in the capital city. They provide full services at reasonable prices.
Hotel Meson de Maria - Located in the San Benito area, this hotel offers free parking, wifi, clean rooms and a garden courtyard for a more budget friendly price. The National Art Museum is only 500m away.
El Pupusadromo de Olocuilta - This is the end all and be all of pupusas in El Salvador. Whether you are arriving at 2am from the airport or just want to leave the capital for a great affordable meal, this is where you need to go.
Cafe Cafe - Also known as Restaurante Roberto Cuadro, this is the best Peruvian cuisine in El Salvador. Whether you are enjoying fresh ceviche or grilled seafood and steaks, the overlook from the patio of San Salvador is almost as good as the food.
EC Tours - Edwin will guide you with local knowledge and kindness through the many unique attractions in San Salvador. Bookings can be made here: EC Tours Contact
Useful information about visiting Santa Ana
Teatro Nacional de Santa Ana - Constructed in 1910, this theater is the center of cultural arts in Santa Ana. Entrance fee is US$1.50 to hear the local symphony perform and the ballroom has been restored to its former glory.
Tazumal - Located north of Santa Ana in Chalchuapa, it is the largest pre-Columbian site in El Salvador. Consisting of the largest pyramids in the country, over 10 sq km of area has been investigated suggesting that the residents had spiritual and trade connections as far away as Mexico. Be sure to visit Casa Blanca nearby with its excavation showing the eruption of Ilopango in the 5th century AD.
Lago de Coatepeque - An inland lake formed within a volcanic Caldera, it is one of the largest lakes in El Salvador. There a few hotels and but multiple restaurants providing scenic views of the lake to choose from. Hot springs are located around the lake however the locations are difficult to find and they are primitive.
Quinta Torino - Located on the Isla Teopan, this is a private residence available on a daily or weekly basis. Built with consideration of the former Mayan communities of the island, the residence also provides access to the local sports club.
Casa Verde - This hostel is a favorite with travelers. Large rooms, fun common areas, roof top patio and swimming pool all encompassed with wifi and good natured people make this a top choice for budget friendly visitors. A full kitchen is available for cooking in if you decide not to try the local cuisine.
Los Horcones - Located in the central plaza, this is where the cities college students and trendy adults visit. With a bar and restaurant downstairs serving pizzas and live music upstairs if you are brave enough to climb the crowded wooden staircase, if you are looking to mingle with the locals this is a top pick.
Street venders - Santa Ana has a large amount of locally owned street carts located near the central plaza to choose from. They mostly all make similar sandwiches but the fact that they are open 24/7 makes it a great option whenever you need a snack.
Upon arrival to the lake district, there are multiple locally operated restaurants overlooking the lake serving a variety of fish and local fare at reasonable prices.
A commercial center in the south of the country
Laguna de Alegria - A quaint mountain town is the stepping stone to this volcanic lake which is considered one of the most beautiful locations in the country. Visit just after the rainy season for the most water in the lagoon. There is a small school within the crater along the banks of the lake. The town of Alegria is well worth a day visit. Look for the pedestrian steps on the west of town or stroll through the streets observing the historic buildings and pupusarias.
Volcan de San Miguel - A steep stratovolcano towering to the height of 2,130m, this is a hike for the long suffering. It is an average 9 hour hike but offers astounding views of the coastline and surrounding farm areas. Arrange for police escort at least a week in advance.
El Cuco - About 30 minutes from town is the small beach community of El Cuco. The town offers some great surfing at all levels as well as kayaking, paddle-boarding and fishing. You can catch a boat to explore the coastal islands or travel to Nicaragua.
The town of San Miguel is filled with hotels offering hourly rates. If passing through you are best to go to El Cuco or Alegria as those smaller towns provide more comfortable settings.
Hotel Villa San Miguel - Probably the best value in San Miguel for price, cleanliness and security. Modern rooms with air conditioning, a swimming pool and centrally located in town.
La Tartaleta - Serving breakfast, lunch and a variety of desserts to satisfy your cravings, this is a popular eatery in town.
Don Beto - A Mexican restaurant serving burritos, steaks and roasted chicken. A fun place to enjoy a family dinner.
The commercial and finance district of San Salvador
Paseo El Carmen - A pedestrian street lined with restaurants, shops and attractions such as the palace of fine arts and Parroquia Nuestra Señora del Carmen. The area has become a popular nightlife spot in the city with both locals and foreigners. Hostels are opening up nearby to provide accomdation within walking distance of the Paseo and other major shopping centers.
Ecoparque El Espino - Along the foothills of the Boqueron volcano, this small natural area will allow you to enjoy a variety of flora and fauna such as pine, coffee and flowers. The park has 3 hiking trails and multiple mountain bike trails. One of the trails has a site called "El Infiernillo" which is a small thermal opening that is monitored for volcanic activity.
Los Chorros - A small natural oasis just outside Santa Tecla, there area a variety of waterfalls that feed into swimming pools for children and adults. The landscaping is impressive and the site hosted Miss Universe 1975. Reconstruction after the 2001 earthquakes has been completed and it is a refreshing location outside the traffic of Santa Tecla.
LDS Temple - A new temple with beautiful architecture and gardens located along Avenida El Espino. There is a security gate to enter but no entrance fee.
Marriott Courtyard - This is a modern hotel located at La Gran Via, a modern mixed use development in the commercial. With clean rooms, restaurants located in the lobby and nearby, this hotel has all the amenities you'd need for business travel to San Salvador.
Juancito's Mango Inn - Situated right on Paseo El Carmen, Juancito's provides private ($20) and shared ($15) rooms so close to the nightlife that you might not get to sleep too early! Decorated in vibrant tropical colors and soothing common areas (including a porch swimg), this is a great budget option to consider.
Santa Carmela Patio Bar - Located on Paseo El Carmen, this has become a favorite in the area not only for their hamburgers and pizzas but also the great service and live music.
Palermo Bistro - A contemporary italian and pizza with freshly made sauces and extensive wine selection.
La Pampa Argentina - Along the road to El Boqueron, the mix of Salvadorian and Argintine cuisine compliments the great views of San Salvador and the surrounding mountains. It will take some time to drive there and service times have been noted as long but the experience will be worth it if you want to relax outside the rush of the city.
Located north of Santa Ana in Chalchuapa, it is the largest pre-Columbian site in El Salvador.
Consisting of the largest pyramids in the country, over 10 sq km of area has been investigated suggesting that the residents had spiritual and trade connections as far away as Mexico. Be sure to visit Casa Blanca nearby with its excavation showing the eruption of Ilopango in the 5th century AD.
While the sites in Chalchuapa are the most prominent Mayan sites in El Salvador, there are other sites that are equally as appealing to visit. San Andrés, located along the highway between Santa Lucia and Lourdes, the site contains multiple Mayan structures and a well curated museum. Cost is US$3.00 for foreigners. Joya de Ceren is near San Andrés and is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in El Salvador. Containing remains of a pre-hispanic farming village that was covered in by volcanic ash, it is sometimes called the Pompeii of Latin America.
The nearest beach town to San Salvador and Santa Tecla.
El Puerto de La Libertad - Containing a boardwalk, amphitheater and restaurants, this is the Malecon of El Salvador. There is a nice park with playground equipment and venders selling fresh seafood and crafts. Within walking distance is a shopping center with a Biggest, Mister Donut and a Super Selectos.
Surfing - La Libertad has Central Americas best right hand break and is considered the surfing capital of El Salvador with many surf shops, repair services and surf competitions held here. The main break extends from the La Punta to the town boundary, about 800m although most rides do not last that long. Most foreign visitors stay in Playa El Tunco, a small surf village north of La Libertad and contains many affordable hostels and restaurants.
Parque Nacional Walter T Deininger - Located south of town, this park contains both Caducifolio () and Galería (evergreen) forests. An 11km hiking trail loops through the park allowing you to see Torogoz, El Salvador's national bird.
Hotel Pacific Sunrise - Centrally located in town, clean modern rooms within walking distance of the towns other attractions make this hotel appealing if staying in La Libertad. Free parking and a swimming pool are available.
Tropical Surf Lodge - Oceanfront property on Playa El Cocal just north of town. The hotel offers affordable clean rooms in a setting that is natural and peaceful. Surfboard rentals and airport transfers are available.
Casa Miramar - Located on the beach of El Tunco, this hotel owned by a Salvadorian family provides comfortable rooms with air conditioning, a natural common area, swimming pool and hammacks and the best beach views in town. Parking and wifi available.
Biggest - This is the largest fast food restaurant and is located in the center of town.
The best location for restaurants is in El Tunco, a small town about 10 minutes drive to the north of La Libertad. There you can choose from crepes to burritos to seafood with the livliest nightlide in the area. 3-4 of the restaurants have beach views which provide lovely sunsets while relaxing to the sound of the surf.
Outside of San Miguel, an up and coming beach community.
Surfing - Some the best and least used surfing in the country occurs in El Cuco. Playa El Esteron offers gentle surfing and many of the hotels will provide lessons for a reasonable fee.
Stand Up Paddleboarding - Playa Intipuca offers some amazing opportunities to paddle through mangroves and see ocean waves in the distance.
Chaparrastique - Nearby is El Salvadors most active volcano. There is a rough road leading towards the top but hiking is more enjoyable. Various locations provide for geothermal activities such as hot springs and cooking food.
La Tortuga Verde - Possible the best place to stay in El Cuco and Playa Las Esteron. Beachfront with fantastic waves, friendly staff and nice rooms, the hotel has a swimming pool, turtle rescue, on-site pelicans, surfboard rentals and is operated by a few expats who will give you a good laugh. Internet is available for a small fee.
Azul Surf Club - A modest hotel south of town owned by an American. The rooms are basic and the prices can be a little high for what you get.
Hotel Miraflores - A newer hotel with clean rooms and views from a cliff overlooking the beaches of the area. Swimming pool and restaurant on site and wifi available.
The town of has a few local restaurants serving typical cuisine. If you choose to stay in any of the hotels listed above your best option for food is with one of the hotel restaurants. They provide quiet settings and quialiy food.
Cerro Verde National Park
A national park containing 3 volcanos
Cerro Verde - A dormant volcano filled with lush vegetation. The road to the park entrance brings you to the summit where there is a small zip line, a local eatery and some snack stands, a exclusive hotel now in ruins which you can tour and see Izalco from the patio and childrens playgrounds.
Izalco - A Stratovolcano next to the Volcan Santa Ana. Once called the "Lighthouse of the Pacific" due to its continuous eruptions from 1770 to 1958, its most recent eruption was in 1966 shortly before a new hotel was completed within the park (which is now closed). Visitors can climb the peak with guidance from police and guides organized at the Cerro Verde main park buildings. Buses are available to/from Santa Ana on a daily basis.
Santa Ana - The tallest volcano in El Salvador at 2,381 meters above sea level, hiking to the crater lake is a hike through jungle and volcanic alpine terrain. The summit contains 4 calderas with a lake in the center which you can see boiling water on occasion. It is a 4 hour round trip hike from the Cerro Verde parking lot accompanied by knowledgable guides and police officers.
Although most visitors come for dat visits from San Salvador and Santa Ana, there are a handful of seasonal accomadations along the slopes of the volcanos that consider themselves guest ranches.
Historic cobblestoned town in the hills above Suchitlan Lake.
Iglesia Santa Lucía - Built in 1853, the church is the focal point of the historic town, facing onto a plaza where residents gather in the cool evenings. The church is one of the best examples of post-colonial architecture in El Salvador and you'll often find the nuns visiting with town residents in the plaza.
Cascada Los Tercios - A unique geologic waterfall made up of hexagonal columns of rock. Water flows over them between May and November however it is worth a visit to see the rock formations even in the dry season. The waterfall is located 1.5km from town and there is a small scramble through rocks and trees to see the best view of the falls. Salto El Cubo and Los Limones are other waterfalls in the area worth visiting.
Turicentro Puerto San Juan - Along the banks of Lake Suchitlan down the hill from town is a small tourist center. Although there are some swimming pools, restaurants and craft sellers the main attraction is a boat tour around the lake. For a small fee you'll get your own private tour explaining birds, islands, the history of the lake and anything else from the friendly captains. Try to go in the early evening as the sunset is best from the water.
Cinquera - A guerrilla stronghold during the civil war, this small town is a short drive from Suchitoto. Historical markers include touring through a guerrilla encampment and kitchen designed to disperse smoke to avoid detection. The Cinquera Forest provides 5,320 hectares of protected terrain with various hiking trails and lookout points.
Ciudad Viejo - Just 9km from Suchitoto, this archeological site is the original capital city of El Salvador founded in 1528. Foundations of the buildings are located there including the first Catholic Church in the country.
Los Almendros de San Lorenzo - This historic hacienda has been restored by the former ambassador to France and his partner to provide one of the best hotel experiences in El Salvador. The decor is unique and personal, the cuisine is gourmet, traditional Salvadorian and French influenced and has two interior courtyards perfect for relaxing to the sounds of jazz while browsing through the personal library of the owners. An inviting swimming pool, a balcony with views of Lake Suchitlan, air conditioning, wifi and within a block of the Central Plaza all make this a must visit location.
El Gringo Hostel - Located a few blocks from the main plaza in a quiet residential street, this hostel provides for affordable comfort. Owned by "El Gringo" who relocated to Suchitoto from California, this hostel is better know for their Tex-Mex food and quality liquados (try the banana!).
Posada Blanca Luna - Near the central plaza, this hotel offers a midrange accommodation to traveler. Nearby art galleries and restaurants make staying here easy and a pleasure while in Suchitoto.
La Lupita del Portal - At the main square near the cathedral, this locally owned eatery provides both meat and vegetarian dishes and delicious juices at great prices. Typical plates are BBQ, Latin and bakery items.
Restaurante Villa Balanza - An open air restaurant with great steaks and seafood. Located next to Parque San Miguel, this provides for a pleasant stroll back to your accommodation after your meal in this scenic town.
Los Almendros de San Lorenzo - As noted in the description above, it is well worth an evening dining at this location while in Suchitoto.
El Salvador Travel Links
Here are some links that we've found useful in planning our travels in El Salvador.