17 Top Things To Do In El Salvador in 2024

Cazzy Magennis
Written By:
Cazzy Magennis
Last Updated:
January 24, 2024
Planning a visit to the beautiful (but small) El Salvador of Central America? Then check out my guide on the top things to do in El Salvador right now...
El Salvador

Despite spending less than 2 weeks here, I really loved El Salvador!

So much so, it made the list of our favourite backpacking destinations around the world.

El Salvador is actually the smallest country in Central America wedged between Guatemala and Honduras.

It’s a country of volcanoes, beauty and a reputation for violence in the past.

But that shouldn't worry you.

A stop here should be on every Central America backpacking itinerary and we are going to inspire you with the top things to do in El Salvador!

Need somewhere to stay? Check out our guide on where to stay in El Salvador
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Top Things To Do In El Salvador

Let's get down to business! This guide will cover all the best things to do in El Salvador as well as a few final travel tips.

1. Hiking the Santa Ana Volcano

couple at santa ana volcano

This was probably my favorite thing to do in all of El Salvador. 

The Santa Ana volcano is one of many incredible volcanoes that you can hike in the country, and is known for its stunning blue/green crater lake that’s in the middle of the crater (which you can see once you reach the top). 

This is one of the top tourist attractions in El Salvador, so of course you can expect many other groups to be hiking here and also some crowds at the top (although the earlier you go, the less there will be).

Whilst you don’t need to be in excellent physical condition, it can be somewhat demanding and will take around 2 hours to walk up from the trailhead.

I’ve written about my experience climbing the Santa Ana Volcano and how you can visit without a guide.

However, booking an organized tour does have its benefits. With this full day tour you’ll have all transport and entrance permits included. You’ll also get to visit Lake Coatepeque along the way.

Those who want zero crowds can head on this private early-morning tour. Given it’s a faster-paced rhythm up (to get there before others), you’ll want to make sure you’re in decent physical condition for this tour.

The Santa Ana Volcano is located within the Cerro Verde National Park, and the trail is open from 8:00am until 4:00pm daily (which is the same for all other hikes in the Los Volcanes National Park region).

Book your Santa Ana Volcano Hike right here!

2. Take a coffee plantation tour

coffee making in el salvador

El Salvador is one of the best coffee regions that you can visit in Latin America, and they really do produce some amazing coffee.

I am a coffee fanatic, so I was actually very excited to come to Central America in general to taste all the amazing coffees.

The coffee of El Salvador is my second favorite in the region (Nicaragua has to be first!).

One of the best ways to get immersed in all things coffee is to take a tour around a plantation. We highly suggest heading on this full-day coffee plantation tour where you will learn about how the coffee is made and of course brew your own cup! You’ll also get to visit the stunning town of Ataco too.

Those who simply want to drink the good stuff without a tour can also find numerous coffee shops throughout Santa Ana.

Some of the very best are located around the Parque Libertad, such as Santein Café and Tostao Coffee Bar.

Book your awesome coffee tour right here

3. Visit The Mayan Ruins of Tazumal and Joya De Cerén

Tazumal Mayan Ruins

So everywhere in Central America has its own batch of Mayan Ruins, and El Salvador is no different.

Now, I’ll be upfront and say we personally didn’t visit the Mayan ruins. We planned too, but I’d already seen about 5 sets and the capital of the Mayan world: Tikal, and just didn’t feel like seeing any more.

However our writer George did, and has pitched in his thoughts here!

If you want to see Mayan ruins that are completely uncrowded (as in you could be the only ones there), then you will love the ruins in El Salvador.

Joya de Cerén is definitely the most popular of the two, however I found that actually Tazumal was pretty impressive.

Here you can see a well-preserved pyramid, along with all kinds of cacti and green plants around (which make for a great photo op). Tazumal Ruins are located within the town of Chalchuapa, and are open from 9:00am until 4:00pm, Tuesday through to Saturday.

Both sites are easy to reach from Santa Ana via chicken bus, which leave frequently near the Bus Terminal de Francisco Lara Pineda. You’ll want the 218 Bus, which leaves from around 10a Avenida Sur (just ask a local for the exact bus stop since it can be tricky to find - you’ll find many speak good English here).

So whilst you can see many pyramids throughout Central America, I think these are a great opportunity to experience the ancient Mayans' fine work without the crowds.

We highly suggest booking this full day tour, where you’ll visit both Joya de Cerén and Tazumal. As well as having a knowledgeable guide teach you about both sites as you walk around, you’ll also get to stop for a scenic lunch at Lake Coatepeque.

This fantastic tour takes you to ALL the Mayan ruins in El Salvador

4. Visit the Santa Ana cathedral

santa ana cathederal

Santa Ana is a really underrated city, and is full of architectural delights and local gems.

It’s the second biggest city in El Salvador (after San Salvador), and it’s actually quite cute.

There is a lovely square that’s got a great pizza restaurant, and is also home to the beautiful Santa Ana Cathedral!

Also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady Saint Anne, this neo-Gothic church is known for its incredible exterior and imposing twin towers.

It’s definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

The Santa Ana Cathedral is located next to the Parque Libertad, and is open all days of the week from 6:00-11:45am, and then from 3:00-6:00pm.

5. Surf at El Tunco

el tunco el salvador

El Salvador is home to some of the best surfing in the world, and it’s got something both for the beginners and pros out there.

Head to the beaches of El Tunco and El Sunzal for an amazing time surfing. It costs roughly $20 for a lesson and a days board rental.

El Tunco itself is also a backpacker hub, so it’s got lots of great restaurants and bars. 

The weekend is when this place really comes to life with fantastic parties and live music!

It’s worth heading to La Guitarra at least once, where you can watch live music whilst sipping on cocktails next to the Pacific Ocean.

We stayed in a place called the Casa De Mar hotel which was right on the beachfront and had the best surf break in the area literally in front of it!

The beaches are the most touristy part of El Salvador, so if for some reason, you are really concerned about safety, then this is one of the safest places to visit in El Salvador.

Ps, I suggest El Tunco because it’s where we went, but there are plenty of other beautiful beaches in El Salvador including La Libertad, Costa Del Sol and much more.

If you’re in San Salvador and don’t have much time (but want to visit the beach), then we highly suggest heading on this awesome day tour. Here you’ll have all transport sorted to and from El Tunco, where you’ll also get to visit the incredible waterfalls of El Tamanique.

Be sure to check out: The Best Hotels In El Tunco

6. Visit the waterfalls of El Salvador

There are a variety of waterfalls in El Salvador that are worth visiting, and I love waterfalls, so that’s why they’ve made it on my list of top things to do in El Salvador!

The Tamanique Waterfalls are one of these, which are easily visited from El Tunco with a day trip. 

You can head here with this organized tour, or you can rent a moped for the day and visit them yourself independently. It’s a 30 minute hike, however you can swim in the waterfalls which makes it worth the trip.

Alternatively, if you’re staying in San Salvador then you can also head on this day tour to the falls which includes all transport.

Then there is the Seven Waterfall hike which is for those who love chasing waterfalls and hiking!

One of them is located in the incredible town of Juayúa and the other one is in the Parque Nacional El Imposible.

Juayúa is the main base for visiting the waterfalls, and here you’ll literally visit seven waterfalls which are all stunning in their own right.

Some of them are more difficult to reach and you will need to use ropes, so be careful and remember to bring solid hiking shoes with you!

We didn’t visit waterfalls in El Salvador, because it kind of takes a lot to impress us waterfall-wise nowadays (we’ve seen A LOT), but actually I regret not visiting some of the waterfalls here.

This post from Champagne roads will fill you in on ALL the waterfalls in El Salvador, even the ones the guide books don’t mention.

She spent 3 months in El Salvador and had seen around 20, so I think it’s a great resource!

Oh, and you can fly a drone legally in this country, which means you’re going to catch some pretty awesome shots.

If you can, rent a car and you’ll get to see much more of the waterfalls and the unseen El Salvador.

Take this tour to visit some of the BEST waterfalls in El Salvador

7. Visit the Ruta De Flores

Juayúa, El Salvador

The Ruta de Las Flores is a winding route of about 20 miles that goes through coffee plantations, brightly colored colonial towns and colonial architecture. 

The five main towns on the Ruta de Las Flores include Salcoatitán, Nahuizalco,  Apaneca, Ataco and Juayúa.

You can get buses from each place to the next, and there are a variety of hotels and hostels along the way. It’s also easy to get here from San Salvador, and you can see the numerous options here on Moovit.

If you want to see the true natural beauty of El Salvador, then this is the place to be.

Now if you’ve only got time to visit one small town, then make it Juayúa! It’s definitely one of the best places to see along the Ruta de Flores, and one of those must-visit gems in El Salvador.

Whilst you can visit independently, sometimes taking an organized tour will make everything much more simple. We recommend this day tour from San Salvador, which includes private transport as well as extra time at the thermal hot springs of Santa Teresa.

You can also head on this alternative group tour, which includes visits to food markets, novel activities in each town as well as round-trip transport from the capital.

8. Go shopping in the capital

san salvador square

San Salvador is actually quite a commercialized city, and it’s home to the biggest shopping mall in all of Central America.

So, if you’ve got some spare cash or need some new clothes, then be sure to hit the Metrocentro and shop until you drop! 

They also have some cool arcade shops and cinemas, so you can also chill here and have a touristy day!

If you’re thinking of things to buy in El Salvador as a present or gift, then this is also a good alternative place to find them. Here you can find everything from coffee to novel domestic goods.

The Multicentro is open from 7:00am-9:00pm all days of the week.

Before or after the mall we recommend taking a city tour too (where you will see many of San Salvador’s top highlights). On this half-day tour, you'll have all logistics sorted as you visit impressive sites such as La Iglesia Rosario as well as the Catedral Metropolitana.

Take this half day tour to see the best sights in San Salvador

9. Visit the San Salvador Volcano

San Salvador Volcano
Source: Wikipedia via Diego Brito

The San Salvador Volcano is another incredible peak which is located in the El Boquerón National Park. 

It’s located just outside of the capital, and you can visit the “peak” by heading to the park and then on a 15-20 minute hike upwards to the summit.

You’ll get to see a crater, which is fairly green and it’s probably not the type of crater you’re picturing in your mind (not like the Santa Ana crater).

But it’s easy to hop in an uber to the entrance and walk up! It’s got beautiful views of the city, and it’s definitely one of the top things to do in San Salvador!

You can also fly a drone over to get some cool shots.

It’s important to note that the volcano hiking path (as well as the El Boquerón National Park in general) is open from 8:00am until 5:00pm daily.

You can head on this day trip where you’ll hike to the summit, which also includes Pupusa Tastings and a city tour of the capital.

You can also go with a tour if you’d prefer!

10. Explore Lake Ilopango

This is another one of the great things to do in El Salvador. 

Actually, Lake Ilopango is more like a beach. I say that because it’s got little “beaches” around it and the locals all flock there like it’s the beach (temperatures are pretty hot year-round which makes it perfect for sunbathing).

There are lots of restaurants to dine by the lake, and you can rent a boat and have a romantic boat ride on the lake too!

Located east of San Salvador, it’s a really cool place to explore for the day. You can get there and back via Uber for around $8 which isn’t bad!

There is a random little waterpark by the lake too, which I think is mainly for kids, but if you’ve got children, then this is a pretty good place to take them.

You can also visit Lake Ilopango with this guided tour, where you’ll take kayaks out around the lake and enjoy the awesome volcanic landscapes and wildlife.

11. Explore the colonial town of Suchitoto

san salvador cathederal

This is El Salvador's equivalent to the Antigua of Guatemala, except much smaller and much less touristy. 

There aren’t exactly many accommodation options up in Suchitoto, so most people opt to explore the colonial town on a day trip from the capital.

You’ll find that they’re pretty good value tours too, which include all transport and visit various attractions with your own local guide.

But, if you wish, you can go there yourself, either by Uber or by taking the local chicken buses from San Salvador. I would ask your hotel to guide you on what buses to get!

Suchitoto is full of cute churches, colorful buildings and a nice market too! 

It’s also close to another beautiful lake, so it’s definitely worth visiting for a day to see both attractions.

You can also head here on this half-day trip from San Salvador if you have less time free, where you’ll visit the main highlights such as the Saint Lucia Church and the House of Crafts.

Suchitoto is located roughly 50 km north of San Salvador, and can be reached in around an hour and a half using public transport.

Take this awesome valued tour to Suchitoto

12. Swim at Lake Coatepeque Caldera

lake in santa ana

So, when you hike the Santa Ana volcano, you’ll see this incredible lake from the views at the top. 

It’s a vast lake and a beautiful place to visit, either after your hike or just on a day trip!

You can get there via chicken bus or taxi, and it’s only an hours drive from Santa Ana.

There are lots of lovely restaurants around the lake for a bite, and you can also swim or rent some kayaks and spend the day relaxing at the lake.

You can stay overnight (or for a few days) to enjoy the more relaxed setting. Captain Morgan Hostel is the perfect place to stay, offering both private rooms and dorm beds. They also have an on-site bar, garden and sun terrace right on the lake.

If you like to have everything sorted for you in advance, then you can head on this day tour from Santa Ana, where you’ll also hike the volcano and have all transport included.

Are you staying in San Salvador? Then you can join this convenient tour, where you’ll spend plenty of time at Lake Coatepeque (including both hotel pick-up and drop-off).

13. Eat Pupusa


Pupusas are one of the most common and popular foods you can find in El Salvador - and you’ll find people selling them on the streets everywhere!

It’s basically like a round bread type thing stuffed with either cheese and beans, or mince and cheese. I’ve had both and they’re delicious!

They typically cost around $1 for 2 although I’ve seen 3 or 4 for $1 too. If you want a quick lunch, or a quick snack, then you have to eat pupusas!

They’re also really good when you want food after a night of drinking. A little lady sells them on the streets of El Tunco at like 2-3am haha (perfect for reducing those day-long hangovers!).

You’ll also want to head to Pupuseria Tita at least once whilst in Santa Ana, who are highly-renowned for their tasty pupusas. They’re open from 5:00pm until 9:00pm, Tuesday until Sunday.

14. Visit the El Imposible National Park

 El Imposible National Park
Source: Wikipedia via ElmerGuevara

Literally meaning “The Impossible Natural Park”, this region already has an awesome name, so it’s worth visiting!

It’s a great spot for hiking and camping, and if you’ve got a spare night or two, you should definitely get your hands on a tent and spend time here.

The surroundings of El Imposible National Park are beautiful, so be sure to bring your camera fully-charged with you!

It’s best to visit during the week as it’s less busy. The region is open for both hiking and camping all hours of the day, all days of the week (except when it’s closed on Sundays).

Btw, it’s steep walking, so it’s not for the faint hearted.

There are 3 main trails: Cerro Leon (8 km), Los Enganches (11km) and Piedra Sellada (8 km).

You can opt to visit with a tour, or you can make a DIY trip on your own.

It’s free to camp and you can rent tents at the entrance (I think), and it’s $6 to enter the park.

Transport to and from will be via chicken buses and won’t cost more than $1.

You can also join an organized tour in order to save yourself the hassle. On this day trip you’ll spend time exploring various breathtaking waterfalls, which are perfect for a quick cool-off from the hot El Salvadorian sun.

The El Imposible National Park is located close to the Guatemalan border, with the closest city of Santa Ana roughly 2.5 hours away.

You can do an organised tour here to save hassle.

15. Visit San Andrés, El Salvador

theatre in santa ana

San Andrés is a pre-columbian archaeological site that’s really worth the visit, and therefore easily makes our list of top things to do in El Salvador.

This is one of the largest pre-Hispanic archaeological sites in the country, and is only 45 minutes from San Salvador.

As a result it’s a worthwhile day trip to do from the capital, and you can use either  Uber or chicken buses to get there.

Or, you could rent a driver for the day to take you there amongst other sights in the area.

If you’re in San Salvador, then we recommend joining this day tour where you’ll visit San Andrés ruins, as well as the ruins of Tazumal and Joys de Cerén.

Those up for more adventure can instead head with this action-packed tour that also visits numerous volcanoes and Lake Coatepeque!

16. Camp at Conchagua

Conchagua Volcano
Source: Wikipedia via Raúl Arias

This is a great area of natural beauty and one Bradley and I missed out on. 

Actually most of the research is in Spanish on Google, so it’s hard to get exact information, but this is a wonderful place to camp.

It’s better to visit Conchagua via car and actually some people opt to sleep in their car rather than camp, but that’s up to you.

Conchagua Volcano is the only one that is located in the coastal plains of El Salvador, which offers a completely different setting compared to the rest further in-land.

There is a viewpoint here called Soul of the mountain, which is said to offer some of the most beautiful views in all of El Salvador!

The owner of the “viewpoint” organizes a tour that costs $10 for transport to and from and entrance to the viewpoint, which isn’t bad.

He is called Luis Diaz and his contact number is +503 7824 7766. You can gain more information via him!

Conchagua Volcano is located right in the extreme south-east of El Salvador, close to Honduras. The closest city to the region is San Miguel, which is around an hours drive away.

17. Chill at The Santa Teresa Hot Springs

san salvadr historic centre

When it comes to El Salvador attractions, this should easily make the list. 

However the Santa Teresa Hot Springs is actually quite an undiscovered hidden gem of El Salvador, and it doesn't make it on many of the backpacking itineraries or lists of things to do in El Salvador. But it should!

I love a good hot spring, and there is actually a “luxury” resort area here called the Santa Teresa Park which offers you the unique opportunity to appreciate the largest Ausol in Central America.

Here you can also see the magic pool, trail of the lagoons, the romantic pool as well as the blue lagoon, which all together make the hot springs of Santa Teresa the main tourist destination in the West of El Salvador.

These are beautiful hot springs, all well organized, and I REGRET NOT KNOWING ABOUT THEM!

I wish I had gone, but even when I did my initial research, this wasn’t on the list of things to do in El Salvador, so if you go to El Salvador, please go and tell me what you think!

You can head on this day tour from the capital, which includes pick-up and drop-off and gives you plenty of time to really relax at this underrated site.

The Santa Teresa Hot Springs are located close to the city of Ahuachapan, and are open from 8:00am until 10:00pm all days of the week.

So there you have it, my guide on the top things to do in El Salvador! I hope this guide has given you some inspiration to the many amazing and different things there are to do in El Salvador.

It’s truly an undiscovered country that’s slowly but surely rising in popularity, so if you can, visit before it becomes overly backpackery (not a word but I like it haha), and so you have it all to yourself (and whilst there are no drone laws!!)

On that note, be sure to check out our guide on the best travel drones.

Why visit El Salvador?

El Salvador is often overlooked by backpackers but it shouldn’t be.

It’s home to the stunning Santa Ana volcano, amazing waterfalls and natural beauty, and some of the best surf in the world, that’s consistent all year round!

Simply scratch the surface and you’ll soon discover a country with amazing places to visit, people to meet and beauty to discover.

square in san salvador

Is El Salvador safe to visit?

Yes. I am well aware of the reputation that El Salvador has for having one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Which it does, or did.

But the people of El Salvador are actually very much aware of this reputation too. And whilst there is no denying there is violence in the country (just like there is in any country), it doesn’t target tourists.

I have to say, I didn’t feel uneasy for a single minute in El Salvador, and Bradley and I used chicken buses to get from place to place and it felt safe.

The people were friendly, and not once did we feel threatened.

So I can say that it’s safe, or it was for us. Just take normal precautions such as don’t walk around alone at night, don’t get drunk and put yourself in a vulnerable position (especially at night), and don’t flash the cash or expensive jewelry.

Also ,don’t get involved with drugs.

Follow those rules and you will have a fuss free and wonderful experience in El Salvador!

When is the best time to visit El Salvador?

The dry season or summer of El Salvador runs between November and April, so I would say this is the best time to visit.

The wet season runs from May and October.

Bradley and I visited in February and the weather was dry and super warm. El Salvador is a very warm country and the temperature sits at around 33-35 degrees Celsius every day.

Read Also: How To Plan A Trip

How to get to El Salvador?

As I mentioned before, El Salvador is actually quite a small country. You could get from one end to the other in around 4-5 hours.

This means there is only one airport in the country and that’s located in the capital: San Salvador.

You can get flights to San Salvador from a variety of locations, and if you’ve been visiting Mexico or Guatemala, you can get flights for around £60.

If you’re flying from England or the USA the chances are you will have a stopover somewhere before you land in San Salvador.

For those travelling by bus/on land, you can get to the beaches of El Salvador easily by shuttle bus from Guatemala. You can also get to the capital too.

If you want to go to Santa Ana, you will have to leave from Guatemala city, not Antigua as no direct shuttles go to Santa Ana from there.

If you’re coming from the other end (Honduras or Nicaragua), you can use Tica bus to get to San Salvador!

santa ana volcano

Visa Requirements for El Salvador

El Salvador is part of the C4-4 agreement (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua). This agreement gives tourists 90 days to travel in any of the 4 countries. NOT EACH COUNTRY ( a common mistake).

You can request a 30 day extension, which gives you 120 days in the 4 countries.

If you're from Australia, Belgium, Lavtia, or Croatia you are required to purchase a visa card on arrival which is $10 and lasts 30 days.

You can find more information here.

How long do I need to backpack El Salvador?

Since it’s such a small country, you don't need a lot of time to see everything. I would say 2 weeks is suffice, but you could take it slow and do 3, especially if you are surfing.

You could do it a lot quicker if you’re only making a few stops! I know people who spent less than a week here but I don’t think that’s enough time to get to know the country and truly appreciate its beauty and check off all the top things to do in El Salvador!

Where to after El Salvador?

El Salvador is usually part of a full Central America backpacking list, so depending on whether you’re going north or south, it would make sense to visit Guatemala afterwards, or Nicaragua!

Both countries are amazing, and if you have time, you should definitely visit both. To date, I haven’t visited Honduras as it wasn’t really safe at the time, but I will return and visit it in the future - don’t worry!

Hotels In El Salvador

The hotel industry in El Salvador is nowhere near as big as other countries, so for that reason, I’m going to list a hotel recommendation for each area I visited!

You can find the best accommodation in San Salvador here.

The equipment we use when travelling

In case you're wondering what cameras we used for these photos.

  • Canon G7x Mark II: Brilliant little point and shoot, video recording for creating travel videos and vlogging camera. A great all-in-one when you don't want to carry lots of equipment.
  • Tripod: We carry a travel tripod to take some pictures together or get unique shots.
  • Memory cards: I use 64G sandisk, sometimes sandisk gold for my drone footage.
  • Mavic Pro Drone: Our baby mavic is high quality, worth a lot of money and worth it for the beauty it captures. There are more new drones out, but this is honestly perfect.

If you’ve got anything else you think I should add to my list of the top things to do in El Salvador, then please comment below.

Happy travelling!

Disclaimer: Fully research your destination prior to travel, or any products prior to purchase. We can accept no responsibility for anything you experience as a result of the information found on this website. Some posts may contain affiliate links, which means we receive a small commission for some purchases, at no additional expense to you. Read more here
Some images courtesy of Deposit Photos.
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