If there’s one thing to be said, it’s, “Don’t skip El Salvador!” The past few years, I have fallen more and more in love with this little country. Despite the stereotypes of El Salvador not being safe, I have never met a single person there who wasn’t ready to bend over backwards with hospitality. With that being said, make the most of your exotic trip! Below are 12 things in El Salvador you HAVE to see.
1. The Santa Ana Volcano
Hiking the Santa Ana Volcano is one of the most popular tourist activities in El Salvador. It’s an absolute do-not-miss. The hike itself was a mere hour, hour and a half, to reach the top. Once there, you can peer down into the beauty of the volcano. A teal green acid lake is nestled in the center, bubbling with hot springs from beneath that reach the temperature of a whopping 135.5°F (57.5°C). It hasn’t erupted since 2005, but it’s invigorating to think it could still blow at any moment.
Lake Coatepeque is a large crater lake in El Salvador, just beside the Santa Ana Volcano. I stayed here the night before our hike, but wish I could’ve relaxed longer. I watched the sunrise over the serene lake at Captain Morgan Hostel. A few birds called out and roosters crowed. We also had the option of taking out any of the paddle boards and kayaks free of charge, but unfortunately we were too short on time.
3. Casa 1800 in Suchitoto
Suchitoto is a colorful little town bursting with culture. Hidden inside the alleyways is this oasis called Casa 1800. From the rocking chairs nestled in front of the river to swings soaring through the trees, you’ll have plenty of photo opps. Don’t forget to enjoy a nice glass of wine or a pupusa pizza for lunch.
4. Try A Pupusa
Pupusas are a cultural dish in El Salvador made with a thick corn tortilla and various vegetables, meat and cheese that are cooked into it. They are continuously inventing new flavors. My favorite was a simple cheese and jalapeño pupusa. Once you get the tortilla, you rip it a piece off with your hand and use it to pinch a healthy scoop of curtido (fermented cabbage relish). Enjoy the explosion on your tastebuds!
The Santa Teresa Hot Springs are enjoyed by many tourists and locals alike. I took the plunge and booked a suite for one night here (although it was only about $50 USD). This price includes your accommodation, access to all of the public hot springs, as well as dinner and breakfast at the lodge. It’s an absolute must after a day spent hiking the volcanoes!
6. Surf Party in El Tunco
El Tunco is a beautiful little surf town and quite often, the main driving force of tourists who visit El Salvador. You can find surfing and Spanish lessons, plenty of shopping and jaw-dropping sunsets. Don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes, El Tunco is known for their crazy parties on the weekends!
7. Ruta de las Flores
Ruta de las Flores is a beautiful region connected by a single road, hence the name Ruta de las Flores. This is one of the safest areas in all of El Salvador, connecting Juayua, Nahuizalco, Apaneca, Salcoatitán and Concepción de Ataco. The best time to visit is obviously when the flowers along the route are blooming. This is between November and February. However, I went in September and still found the area to be lovely.
8. Santa Ana Cathedral
The Santa Ana Cathedral is….wait for it…a cathedral in Santa Ana. No, but really, this is one of the most important religious temples in the entire country, at least for the Catholic faith. Its ornate architecture allows for a spectacular place to explore, even for those visiting who aren’t religious. Many like to plan to arrive during mass, which adds a layer of culture to your experience.
9. Do A Coffee Plantation Tour
I’ve been all over the world, but believe me when I say this: El Salvador has the BEST coffee. There are plantations all over, where you can learn more about the local practices they do to get the flavors they achieve. I ended up touring El Carmen Estate, which was amazing. I paid $6 for a private 1.5 hour tour through each and every step of the coffee-making process. Don’t skip out on the chance to become a local coffee expert.
10. Visit the Mayan Ruins of Tazumal and Joya de Ceren
Forget Cancun, El Salvador is the spot to explore Mayan history! The Tazumal ruins are considered to be the best preserved ruins in the entire country of El Salvador. Located in Chalchuapa, the entrance fee to this site is a mere $3 USD. Take a look around the temple to find the Samurai warrior and ancient pottery museum. Joya de Ceren is a pre-Columbian Mayan farming village. In the seventh century AD, this entire town was blanketed by a nearby volcanic eruption. Now, you can tour to find clues about what once existed before the natural disaster.
11. Relax in La Libertad
La Libertad is a serene beach town nearby El Tunco. Take in the quiet and bring relaxation back to your vacation. You can even find incredible AirBnbs like the one I stayed in above for a mere $50 USD per night. However, if you want to stay relaxed, I recommend not getting your drone stuck in a palm tree, like I had. Pro Tip: Go to Neto’s Restaurante for dinner. I had the best jalapeño steak and the biggest Pina colada of my life there.
12. Check out a Food Festival in Juayua
Juayua is a region you’ll already be exploring if you’re planning on checking out the Ruta de las Flores. Each weekend, this town comes alive, connecting locals through exotic food and zesty music at their weekly festival. When I pulled up in Juayua, I didn’t even need the location of the food festival to find it. Every street we turned down, a new family, couple, or hungry man was spotted walking toward the hub. This was one of the best spots to try the local cuisine out.
I hope this quick guide gave you a good starting point for your El Salvador adventures. If you plan on renting a car to get around, I recommend checking out A Midnight Drive in El Salvador. Happy adventuring!
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