15 good reasons to visit El Salvador

I’ve written extensively about our adventures in El Salvador over the last couple of weeks, and have enjoyed hearing from others who have ventured to this small and much over-looked country. Before I move on to the many other highlights of our Central American journey I wanted to collate some of our best memories into one photo post.

So here, after a very careful selection process, is a selection of our highlights of El Salvador:

Santa Ana

One of El Salvador’s biggest cities, Santa Ana is a very pleasant place to explore on foot. The most impressive building in the city is surely the Theatre, with its immaculately restored lavish interior – we oohed and aahed our way around the cavernous interior of this 100 year old architectural masterpiece, built on the profits of the nearby coffee plantations. The cathedral in the main square is also worth a look, while most visitors to the city will enjoy getting lost in the narrow alleys of the street market.

Parque Nacional Los Volcanes

The best day hike on our whole trip, this 4 hour walk took us to the crater rim of a volcano that last had a major eruption only 5 years ago. The effort is rewarded generously by the incredible view into the crater when you reach the top. More on our climb in my Volcan Santa Ana post.

La Ruta de las Flores

We could have spent much longer along the Ruta de las Flores. Dotted with pretty villages and a gentle laid-back vibe, it is a part of the country that really does deserve many more visitors than it currently receives.

Our no. 1 highlight was without doubt the swim in the cascading waterfalls of los Chorros de la Calera, a easy and pleasant hike from Juayua.

Beyond our fun splashing in the waterfall, the pretty towns along the route make for a very pleasant day of hopping on and off the regular buses, and in and out of the many cafes along the way.

San Salvador

The big uncompromising capital lived up to its name, and while it will never be described as an attractive city, there is enough here to warrant a visit for at least a day.  Perhaps the most famous stop in San Salvador is the tomb of Archbishop Romero, assassinated at the start of the 12 year bloody civil war and now buried below the city’s cathedral.

The central municipal market is well worth exploring. It’s hard to pinpoint where it starts and where it ends, as it seems to spread without any sort of order throughout the city’s streets. The noise and the smells of the market compete for your attention at all times.

Suchitoto

Our home for Christmas, this picture-perfect colonial town in the north of the country will surely become the hotspot of El Salvador’s nascent tourism boom. Small enough to cover on foot in a short gentle stroll, peaceful and safe, Suchitoto is set above the wonderfully picturesque Lake Suchitlan. The town also has arguably the best hotels in the country, with a handful of high quality yet affordable boutique hotels.



For hikers Suchitoto offers some great trails. One walk (more of a scramble) is just out of town at Los Tercios, a geological oddity that consists of a wall of strange hexagonal rocks. It’s an impressive waterfall in the summer by all accounts, but for our arrival we were able to admire the rocks without the distraction of running water.

On Christmas Day we hired a motor boat to take us across Lake Suchitlan and over to the tiny village of San Luis del Carmen. A quiet lane winds its way along the hillside, and we followed this for around 5km until we reached San Francisco Lempa from where a car ferry took us back to Suchitoto. Not a long walk, but in the intense heat of the day it was enough.

Other images of Suchitoto:


La Libertad
On our way out of the country to Guatemala we stopped briefly at the Pacific port of La Libertad. Once a very rough town at the centre of the gang wars, there is a real effort here to spruce the place up and create an environment that is more appealing to families and tourists.

El Tunco
Further along the coast are the surf beaches. Here we stopped briefly before catching a shuttle to Guatemala. We saw more tourists here in an hour than we had seen during the previous week – so this is where they hang out!

We left El Salvador with many happy memories and with a feeling of satisfaction at having taken the opportunity to spend some time in this little visited corner of Central America.

Author Information

Freelance travel writer

20 Responses to “15 good reasons to visit El Salvador”

  1. I saw those same rocks at the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland as well! I like the legend behind the Causeway – an Irish giant, Fionn McCool, built the causeway so he could go to Scotland to fight the giant there, Benandonner. But Fionn fell asleep before he got to Scotland, so Benandonner went looking for him. Fionn’s quick witted wife saw Benandonner coming and covered Fionn with a blanket, disguising him as a baby. When Benandonner saw the size of the “baby”, he was terrified and fled back to Scotland, destroying the causeway behind him.

    Are there any legends behind the Salvadorian version?

    February 7, 2011 at 11:26 am
  2. I would like to add Perquin to your list, it’s a small village in the hills behind San Miquel. During the revolution, this village was a very strategic place for the FMLN. It is still possible to visit the old camps.

    February 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm
  3. Penne, would you believe as a Brit I’ve never been to Giant’s Causeway? I saw these rocks and thought “I must go there now!” Yes, there are many legends about these strange stones. And no, I can’t remember them :-( Maybe a Salvadorian can help us here?

    Nicolas, thanks for the comment. Yes, I would have liked to visit Perquin – I’ve heard much about the FMLN museum there and the chance to see so much of the legacy of the war. Have you been? The whole of the east of the country will have to wait for another trip…

    February 7, 2011 at 7:46 pm
  4. I think 5 reasons to visit El Salvador would have convinced me a visit is in order, but now I am definitely sold after 15.

    February 8, 2011 at 9:36 pm
  5. Great list! It’s a country I’ve also overlooked when I think about Central America (have so far only visited Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama) but your posts on the country have certainly made me reconsider. Thanks for sharing!

    February 9, 2011 at 3:48 am
  6. Thanks Ted and Rebecca – look forward to reading your stories from El Salvador when you finally make it there!

    February 9, 2011 at 6:57 pm
  7. JB #

    I really loved my time in Suchitoto (make sure to have a chat with El Gringo there), Juayua (you didn’t mention the amazing open market food festival they hold each weekend there – yummy!), and yes, El Tunco. But, I would also include Tacuba as a gateway to the national park (the name of which eludes me at the moment). Great hikes there. People generally say very unsavory things about La Union, but I think it is unfairly denigrated.

    February 9, 2011 at 11:10 pm
  8. Thanks JB. So many things to mention – yes, I met El Gringo over a beer in El Necio – fascinating guy. Arrived in Juayua on a Monday – sorely regretted missing the food festival, it sounds spectacular! Tacuba – Park El Imposible? Another one to add to the next trip… when were you there?

    February 9, 2011 at 11:57 pm
  9. JB #

    Yes, I think it was El Imposible. Did a great hike (guided by Manolo) which included a number of waterfall jumps. I was there sometime around July 2010.

    By the way, the ruta de las flores has some wonderful street art, some of which you can see here:
    http://www.lengthytravel.com/street-art-el-salvador/

    February 10, 2011 at 3:01 am
    • Alex #

      JB, great forum I am originally from El Salvador and its good to hear that many of us have not discounted in traveling and seeing the beauty that this country has.Sure crime surge in many cities just like Baltimore, D.C and other cities in the States. I was traveled to Ruta de las Flores, and had the pleasure of taking a short hike in bosque El Imposible, I did get there by renting a vehicle.

      this year (2013) I am planning on taking another trip there and want to hike and long distance hike in El Impossible. Do you have any ideas how I can get there with our renting a vehicle?

      January 13, 2013 at 7:01 pm
  10. Interesting! I’ve overlooked El Salvador as a possible destination due to the highly publicized gang violence. Just like any other place, though, I’m sure it has interesting places and “don’t-go-near places” as well.

    How would you compare it to Guatemala, which I’m familiar with, safety-wise?

    Thanks for the virtual tour :)

    February 16, 2011 at 2:25 am
  11. Hi Rich and thanks for stopping by. From our own experience we can only say that we had no trouble in either Guatemala or El Salvador. Sure, there are more police in El Salvador and you’ll see a lot more men with guns, but if that’s the price of keeping the gangs out of your part of town…. for the visitors both countries have their own distinct but highly rewarding reasons to go.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:36 am
  12. A great list indeed! Many of the same reasons we decided to move here from America. Thanks for the nice tour and the great insights.

    May 23, 2011 at 5:22 am
  13. Thanks Nanelle :-) I hope you enjoy life in El Salvador

    May 23, 2011 at 7:52 pm
  14. Jessica #

    Great list! As the proud daughter of Salvadorans, I try to make a trip to my beloved El Salvador as often as I can (usually every other December)…the place is spectacular for the Holidays!! Thanks for this fantastic forum and I wish you continue visiting the “pulgarcito” of the Americas, tiny but very beautiful indeed!

    August 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm
  15. eernesto #

    i was born in el salvador. to be exacly san salvador. i know every part of el salvador. my favorite beach in el salvador is la cuesta del sol. its a great beach.. its a nice list.

    January 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm
  16. A.A.A.G #

    I would like to add La Costa De El Sol to your list plus El Rio Lempa and this legend of El Rio Lempa has a legend of a pretty girl who turned into a mermaid plus La Plaza Merliot wich is a great mall with American Style shopping and yes I am 100% Salvadorian.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:59 am
  17. Debra #

    Thanks for this post! I am very nervous that my daughter and two other female photographers want to travel here with only one male in the group. If they hire escorts do you think it is risky? They are not staying in a hotel. I will write back when I know the names of the cities.

    January 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm
    • Thanks Debra. My information is now 3 years old so I would advise getting some more recent information, but from our experience in Dec 2010 a local guide did make us feel a lot safer. I’d stress that very little crime goes on against foreigners, and most takes place in the places that as a visitor you’d have no reason to go to.

      January 5, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Suchitoto, slow food and the lake | What's Up El Salvador - May 23, 2011

    [...] the highly recommended trip to Suchitoto and Lago Illopango. Bloggers recommend it, travel sites recommend it, friends recommend it, and we wanted to see Whats Up in Suchitoto, El Salvador! Vulture soars [...]