El Salvador Travel Guide
Welcome to El Salvador, the captivating gem of Central America. Despite its petite size, El Salvador is packed with scenic beauty, from towering volcanoes and azure beaches to lush coffee plantations and impressive Mayan ruins.
Dive into the country's vibrant culture, tantalizing cuisine, and witness the resilient spirit of its people. Our travel guide will take you through the must-see highlights, best time to visit, and everything you need to know to explore this enchanting land safely and effortlessly.
Capital city: San Salvador
Currency: US Dollar since 2001 when it replaced the colón.
Electricity: Power voltage is 115 Volts. Power sockets type A and B.
Languages: Spanish is spoken by the majority of the population.
Fun fact: Despite being the smallest country in Central America, El Salvador has 23 volcanoes and is known as the “Land of Volcanoes”.
10 Handpicked Highlights of El Salvador
Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site
Unearth the secrets of a pre-Hispanic farming community at the Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site. In 1976, a buried civilization dubbed the “Pompeii of the Americas”, was discovered beneath layers of volcanic ash.
Not only did this site reveal homes, communal baths, workshops, and even crop fields impeccably preserved, but also an intriguing collection of ceremonial items, including urns for ashes, which offer insights into their spiritual and ritualistic practices. A visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site provides an intimate understanding of the agricultural practices, diet, and social structures of the Mayan civilization.
Santa Ana Volcano (Llamatepec)
The Santa Ana Volcano, known locally as Llamatepec, rises over 2,381 meters, making it the highest volcano in El Salvador. A challenging yet rewarding trek takes you through coffee plantations, cloud forests, and rocky landscapes.
At the summit, marvel at the turquoise crater lake – a stark contrast to the ashy slopes – and the panoramic views of Cerro Verde and Izalco volcanoes. The geological and biological diversity within the Santa Ana Volcano National Park also offers excellent bird-watching opportunities.
Nestled in a volcanic caldera, Coatepeque Lake is a geological marvel with deep blue waters that change hues throughout the year due to varying mineral concentrations.
The lake, flanked by dense forests and steep slopes, boasts rich biodiversity, inviting you to enjoy activities like swimming, jet-skiing, and fishing. Boat tours to Teopan Island, a significant pre-Columbian archaeological site and home to the Mayan god Teotipa, add to the allure of this idyllic spot.
El Tunco, a coastal village named after its iconic boulder shaped like a pig (tunco in Spanish), is an international surfing hub. With consistent waves, El Tunco hosts several international surf competitions.
Beyond the surf, the village hums with a bohemian vibe, teeming with yoga retreats, street art, lively bars, and beachfront restaurants serving fresh seafood. Don’t miss the magical sunsets, where the setting sun casts a warm glow over the Pacific.
Ruta de las Flores
Stretching over 36 kilometers between Sonsonate and Ahuachapán, the Ruta de las Flores gets its name from the wildflowers lining the highway. The route connects picturesque colonial towns like Juayua, famous for its weekend food festival, and Ataco, renowned for its vibrant murals and coffee plantations.
Each town, set amidst volcanic landscapes and coffee farms, has a unique charm. Indulge in local cuisine, explore artisanal markets, and immerse yourself in Salvadoran culture.
San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, is a pulsating blend of the old and new. While the colonial architecture of the historic center tells tales of the past, modern shopping malls and thriving eateries echo the city’s contemporary side.
Notable landmarks include the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace, and Iglesia El Rosario, known for its stunning stained glass. For an insight into the country’s turbulent history, the Museum of the Word and Image is a must-visit.
Immerse yourself in El Salvador’s rich past at Tazumal, located in the town of Chalchuapa. The ruins date back to 5000 BC and are a testament to the engineering and architectural prowess of the Mayans.
The site’s largest pyramid, Structure B1-1, stretches skyward over 24 meters. The onsite Stanley Boggs Museum houses fascinating artifacts, including intricate jade figurines and ceremonial urns.
Montecristo Cloud Forest
Known for its elfin forests wreathed in perpetual mist, the Montecristo Cloud Forest offers an enchanting wilderness experience.
Nestled in the Trifinio Biosphere Reserve, this ecosystem is teeming with biodiversity, housing elusive animals like spider monkeys, pumas, and over 300 bird species. As you traverse the forest’s winding trails, the eerie silence is punctuated only by the call of exotic birds and the rustle of leaves.
Step back in time in Suchitoto, a colonial town known for its cobbled streets and red-roofed houses. Overlooking Lake Suchitlán, this cultural hub is home to the country’s first art center, Centro Arte Para La Paz, housed in a former convent.
The center showcases local and international art, as well as peace-related exhibits. Suchitoto also hosts an annual arts festival, drawing artists, performers, and visitors from around the world.
Discover the charming town of La Palma, nestled in the cool heights of the Citalá mountain range. This art-centric town is known for its vibrant murals and handcrafted goods that reflect the distinct style of Salvadoran painter Fernando Llort – simple lines and bright colors depicting everyday life and nature.
Participate in art workshops, browse local artisan shops, or explore the verdant trails leading to scenic overlooks for a truly immersive experience.
El Salvador's Geography & Landscapes
Despite being the smallest country in Central America, El Salvador boasts a diverse geographical profile that offers nature lovers a multitude of scenic landscapes to explore:
Pacific Lowlands: Running along the coast, this area is characterized by sandy beaches, mangrove forests, and fertile plains perfect for sugarcane, coffee, and cotton plantations.
Central Plateaus: Home to most of El Salvador’s urban settlements, including the capital, San Salvador, the region is known for its volcanic landscape, including the impressive San Salvador Volcano.
Mountain Ranges: The country’s northern and eastern regions are marked by two parallel mountain ranges with peaks reaching over 2,000 meters, providing hiking opportunities and breathtaking views.
Volcanic Lakes: El Salvador is dotted with crater lakes, including the famously beautiful Lake Coatepeque and Lake Ilopango, which provide opportunities for boating and watersports.
Protected Areas: Numerous national parks, such as El Imposible and Montecristo Cloud Forest, preserve the country’s rich biodiversity, offering birdwatching, hiking, and wildlife spotting.
Best Time To Go To El Salvador
El Salvador’s tropical climate generally divides the year into two distinct seasons:
Dry Season (November – April): Also known as the ‘summer’ period, the dry season is considered the best time to visit El Salvador. Tourists can enjoy outdoor activities, explore national parks, and experience the country’s vibrant festivals without the threat of rain.
Rainy Season (May – October): Referred to as the ‘winter’ or ‘green season’, this period sees short daily downpours, usually in the afternoon, but mornings can be sunny and warm. The rainy season rejuvenates the lush landscapes and offers a more tranquil travel experience, with fewer tourists around.
Do note that El Salvador can be visited year-round, but it’s always wise to check the weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
Traveling in El Salvador
While El Salvador has seen significant improvements in safety over recent years, travelers should still be mindful of their surroundings. Here are some safety tips:
- Avoid displaying expensive belongings, like jewelry or high-end electronics, to not attract attention.
- Keep a close eye on your possessions, especially in crowded areas and on public transport.
- Try not to travel alone at night, and avoid secluded areas.
- Make copies of important documents, like passports and travel insurance.
- Stay informed about the political situation and avoid areas of civil unrest.
- Stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun, especially during outdoor activities.
- Use registered taxis or trusted ride services for transportation.
- Keep emergency numbers handy and know the location of the nearest embassy or consulate.
- Check travel advisories regularly.
- Be aware of your surroundings when swimming in the ocean, as currents can be strong.
Getting to & Around El Salvador
Traveling to El Salvador usually involves flying into Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport, located near the capital, San Salvador.
The airport is well-served by several major airlines, providing links to other Central American countries, the US, and Europe.
Inside the country, bus services are the primary mode of public transportation, with the routes being extensive but often crowded. Companies such as Pullmantur, King Quality, and Ticabus provide long-distance bus services.
Taxis are common in urban areas, and ride-hailing apps like Uber are available in larger cities. Car rentals are an option, but driving in El Salvador can be challenging due to traffic and road conditions.
El Salvador offers a variety of accommodations to fit all travel styles and budgets. The capital, San Salvador, is home to international hotel chains offering modern amenities, while smaller towns and beach areas often have budget-friendly guesthouses and hostels.
Eco-lodges and boutique hotels can be found in areas of natural beauty, providing unique stays in serene surroundings.
On average, a mid-range hotel room can cost around $50 to $100 per night, while budget accommodations can be as low as $10 to $20 per night. As always, prices can vary based on location, season, and the level of comfort desired.