Thinking about visiting El Salvador? I may be biased, but I think you should. I loved it!
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America which makes it easy to get around. I also love the fact that it isn’t overrun by tourism yet. In fact, my tourist sightings were so limited that I would point to my friends and say “Look! A tourist!” every time I spotted one.
Be sure to take advantage of this charming country now while it’s on the up and up. It isn’t as dangerous as you may think. I almost didn’t come here after reading my government’s travel warning, but I am glad that I did. There was security everywhere, and I never once had a scary moment in my 10 days of staying in what some call the “the most dangerous city,” San Salvador. That image is slowly changing for the better, and more backpackers are starting to take a peek. If you decide to do so as well, I can assure you that you’ll meet super friendly locals who really want you to enjoy their country! I even made two new friends. (Hola Jose y Cecy!)
When you’re ready to go, here are my top 10 spots to check out in El Salvador!
1. Ruta de las Flores
The “flower route” is formed by 5 small towns that are all within close driving distance of one another: Apaneca, Juayua, Ataco, Nahuizalco, and Salcoatitan. You can do a day trip to visit a few of them, or base yourself in Juayua – the most well known spot with the largest food market. These pueblos host food festivals over the weekend which draw a local crowd, so be sure to schedule your visit on Saturday or Sunday to see all the action. There is no shortage of food stalls, artisan crafts, and music.
Juayua also has waterfalls located just outside of town that you can walk to or take a tuk-tuk for $3 each way. Entrance is free and there’s plenty of security. Perfect for a dip!
2. San Salvador
El Salvador’s capital has many sides. I stayed in the upscale district of La Zona Rosa because I felt safe and there was a good hostel. There are two local museums (art and anthropology) within walking distance and plenty of food options. ($0.40 street food pupusas? Yes, please!) The $0.30 inner-city buses give easy access to downtown where there are churches, a theatre, and a massive food market. Taxis cost approximately $7.
If you like nature, head to the botanical garden. If you like to shop, there are massive centers that boast brands such as Zara, Carolina Herrera, and yes, Starbucks. If you like to party, head just outside of town to Paseo del Carmen. The street is closed on Saturday night and pedestrians come for cheap eats and local artisan crafts before heading out to the bars and nightclubs. There is no shortage of things to see and do in El Salvador’s capital.
Where to stay: La Zona Hostal for budget stays ($10/night) or the Sheraton
3. La Puerta del Diablo
I love it when I discover a place that has a lot of local tourism, and Puerta del Diablo is just that spot. After some easy hiking to a viewpoint and lots of snacks, my friends and I drove to a viewpoint to watch the sun set over San Salvador. (Btw, everyone here wears jeans, even for hiking! This photo is me attempting to fit in. Still in running shoes, though…)
This town is soop cute! Its cobblestone streets and white church make it adorably picturesque. Some consider it the cultural capital of El Salvador, and there is plenty of local art to be discovered. Try to go on Saturday or Sunday for the weekend festivities!
5. Santa Ana
The second largest city in El Salvador couldn’t be more different the capital. It’s much smaller and easier to navigate, so you can basically walk everywhere. Check out the church, theatre, and plaza. Also use it as a base to check out the Santa Ana volcano and the nearby ruins!
Where to stay: La Casa Verde – hands down my favorite hostel EVER!
6. Cerro Verde National Park and Santa Ana Volcano
There is a daily bus that leaves from Santa Ana at 7:40am that takes you directly to Cerro Verde National Park. From there, join the daily hike at 11:00am to climb the volcano. A guide and security escort are mandatory so it’s easiest to join the tour. The hike is about 4 hours roundtrip, and the view of the crater lake at the top is priceless!
7. Tazumal Ruins
These Mayan ruins are small but impressive and only cost $3 to visit! Buses head there frequently from Santa Ana, and it’s only a 20-30 minute trip outside of the city.
8. Joya de Ceren
This UNESCO World Heritage Sight is different than seeing Tazumal because everything is covered, roped off, and well protected, but if you’re into ancient civilizations, it’s worth a visit. According to UNESCO, “The archaeological site contains the remains of a pre-hispanic farming village that was covered by a volcanic eruption in the seventh century AD.”
9. Parque El Imposible and the 7 Waterfalls Tour
El Salvador is no stranger to beautiful landscape and national parks. If you are a swimmer and adventure seeker, be sure to look into this full day tour of jumping off cliffs and climbing behind waterfalls. (It’s still on my list to check out!)
El Salvador has A LOT of surfer tourism, and El Tunco is proof of that. Backpackers flock to the small coastal town for endless waves and nightlife. I don’t recommend this beach for laying out or swimming. I heard that El Cuco near Honduras is “the most beautiful beach” and perfect to chill at. If you want to hang with the locals, however, head to La Costa del Sol. You can rent a rancho with your friends for the day and chill out. Take your pick of the many beaches that El Salvador has to offer!
So there you have it. My top 10 picks for El Salvador. I really hope these tips and stories help to open your mind so that you can discover the true beauty of this country. I found it to be such a wonderful place to explore, and I’d love to go back again one day!
What did I miss? Would you ever visit El Salvador?