The Getaway
Go Off the Beaten Path in El Salvador

Nestled in Central America, El Salvador frequently gets a bad rap in the news. Don't let that skew your opinion, as many places in El Salvador are quite safe - and stunningly beautiful. This country is a jewel for those seeking outdoor adventures. It goes beyond just jungle hikes - in El Salvador, you can stand on the lip of a volcano, splash in a caldera's waters, or explore ancient Mayan ruins.


01 Climb the Ilamatepec Volcano

Just under 30 miles away from San Salvador is Ilamatepec Volcano, also called the Santa Ana Volcano. The site features four volcanic calderas; a stone hollow formed when magma empties during an eruption. The smallest of these has filled with water, creating a beautiful crater lake. Ilamatepec last erupted in 2005, so bring thick-soled shoes and step carefully!

Laguna Ilamatepec inside Santa Ana Volcano. Santa Ana, El Salvador. benkrut / Getty Images

02 Explore the Joya de Cerén Ruins

Often called the Pompeii of South America, Joya de Cerén was a pre-Colombian farming community wiped out by a volcanic eruption. And like its Roman counterpart, layers of volcanic ash preserved the site remarkably well. Though much of the location remains an active archaeological site, the government maintains a section for outside visitors. Open eight hours a day; visitors are welcome to walk among these ancient buildings and imagine what life was like over a thousand years ago.

Maya homes Joya de Ceren El Salvador milehightraveler / Getty Images

03 Admire the Artistic Heritage of La Palma

Mural paintings on home

One of the most colorful cities in the country, La Palma, displays the influence of national artist Fernando Llort. Few walls in this town are without a mural painted his distinct, influential style. These murals are eminently Instagrammable, and the city also has workshops for those wanting to learn how to paint in this style. What's more, La Palma is quite near the Honduran border and a convenient starting spot for those wishing to make a day trip.


04 Visit the Living History of Suchitoto

Though many buildings in El Salvador have been damaged by war, earthquake, or ecological disaster, Suchitoto has managed to preserve its distinctive colonial architecture. Complete with restored buildings and extensive art collections, visitors are free to wander the grounds and take selfies against the impressive backdrops of classic Spanish fountains and gardens.

A frontal view of the cathedral at Suchitoto, El Salvador. edfuentesg / Getty Images

05 Watch a Show at the Teatro De Santa Ana

Located in the second-largest city, Santa Ana, the theatre is a gorgeous example of Salvadorean architecture. Visitors can join a tour of the grounds, or take in one of the many performances held throughout the year. Be advised that the main website is entirely in Spanish, so non-speakers may need a translator!

Santa Ana Cathedral and Theatre. Santa Ana, El Salvador. benkrut / Getty Images

06 Walk the Ruta de las Flores

This urban hiking trail is named for the profusion of flowers that bloom by the side of the road every year between October and February. Choose any section of the twenty-mile length, and expect some steep uphill walks! When you get tired, enjoy one of the many waterfalls or lagoons along the way; or relax with some traditional street food.

Volcanos of Cerro Verde National Park seen from Juayua. Juayua, Sonsonate, El Salvador. benkrut / Getty Images

07 Enjoy Miles of Gorgeous Beaches

Telling you where to go for a beach trip is impossible - El Salvador simply has too many wonderful options to single out just one. If you enjoy fishing, visit La Libertad and charter a boat. El Tunco is a famous destination for surfers and offers newcomers the chance to learn how to ride the waves. And if all you want to do is stretch out and relax, consider the Costa del Sol.

Beach in El Cuco El Salvador Judd Irish Bradley / Getty Images

08 Drink a Cup of Salvadorean Coffee

Yes, really! El Salvador is one of the world exporters of coffee and is famous among connoisseurs for producing high-quality beans. Many coffee plantations offer tours, frequently capped off with a coffee tasting for a truly farm to table experience. Even without a tour, don't neglect to sample the coffees offered in cafes across the country, often served with traditional sweet bread.

Hands holding fresh coffee crop helovi / Getty Images

09 Camp at El Imposible National Park

Its name literally means The Impossible Park, so who wouldn't want to camp here? You can hike the gorgeous trails for a day trip, or decide to immerse yourself in natural beauty by camping for a few nights. Don't worry about having to pack bulky camping gear if this option appeals - tents and sleeping bags are available for rent at the entrance. Be advised that the area is quite mountainous, so prepare for some challenging hikes to reach your camping spot!

El Imposible Forest National Park, El Salvador helovi / Getty Images

10 Purchase an Authentic Woven Textile

Colonial El Salvador was known for producing indigo, a rich blue dye. Though indigo has declined in popularity, the country has retained its colorful weaving tradition. Shops across the country feature beautiful hand-woven textiles, perfect as wearable art or wall hangings. If you want the full experience, the workshop at Arte Anil teaches about indigo as a dye, with participants walking away with their own hand-dyed garment.

A Salvadoran woman stuffs a decorative pillow, dyed with a natural blue indigo, at an artisanal clothing workshop on April 6, 2018 in Santiago Nonualco, El Salvador. For centuries the indigo, a natural deep blue dye extracted from the leaves of tropical plants (Indigofera), has been known by the native indigenous of Central America who used the blue tincture to color their fabrics and pottery. Due to the growing demand of natural-based products, clothing workshops have emerged in the country. Jan Sochor / Getty Images

11 Sample Traditional Food at Juayua's Food Festival

Juayua, a town along the Ruta de las Flores, hosts a food festival every weekend in the main plaza. Locals prepare traditional dishes such as pupusas, grilled beef, or savory rice, but more adventurous foodies can sample lizard, iguana, snake, and even guinea pig! For the freshest fare, visit around noon, and don't forget to try the drinks, too.

A fresh plate of pork and cheese pupusas at a restaurant DerekNeumeier / Getty Images

12 Help Sea Turtles

Add 'saving baby turtles' to your itinerary! Every evening, between August and November, giant sea turtles come ashore to lay massive amounts of eggs at Barra de Santiago. These eggs are dug up by volunteers and transferred to the safe hatchery, where newly-hatched baby turtles are released 45 days. The conservancy welcomes visitors' help in collecting eggs and guiding the turtles safely into the sea.

A sea turtle heads out for its first swim on a secluded beach in El Salvador, Central America. MrDamien / Getty Images

13 Visit the Iglesia El Rosario

The Iglesia El Rosario in San Salvador

The drab concrete exterior belies the profusion of color and light within this ultra-modern cathedral. Visitors are encouraged to come in the early morning or late afternoon to see the light at its best effect. Remember that this is still an operational house of worship, so walk respectfully. Believers and those with a sincere interest are welcome to attend services.


14 Enjoy the Healing Mud of Alegria

Located high in the mountains, many have made the pilgrimage to the local lake, La Laguna de Alegria. There, they cover themselves in volcanic mud believed to have healing properties, then rinse off by swimming in the nearby lake. Visitors are welcome to try this experience for themselves. The town is quite remote, so plan for an overnight stay.

Alegria Lagoon in El Salvador Avi_Cohen_Nehemia / Getty Images

15 Ride the Chicken Buses

A typical Central American transport "Chicken Bus" in Juayua, El Salvado

Yes, you will probably encounter chickens on these colorful buses! So named because they are used by locals to transport goods and livestock between towns, the buses also accommodate tourists. Fares are frequently quite cheap, usually no more than twenty-five cents per ride, and reach many remote places. Consider eschewing a car rental and travel like a local.


16 Swim Lake Coatepeque

Formed in a natural volcanic caldera, the waters of Lake Coatepeque are stunningly blue. Many visitors enjoy relaxing in the hot springs found along the edges of the lake, while others prefer to swim or fish. You can also charter a boat to take you to the island, Teopan, once considered sacred by the Mayans.

Landscape of the volcanic caldera Lake Coatepeque in Salvador seen from the boat lanabyko / Getty Images

17 Visit the Step Pyramids of Tazumal

Though Mexican sites may be more famous, El Salvador boasts its own Mayan ruins. Though they are no less beautiful, these sites are frequently much less crowded. Restored in the middle of the 20th century, Tazumel is a popular destination for those wanting to witness the architectural marvels of the Mayans.

Ancient civilization of Mayan Joey's Lens / Getty Images

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