Things to do in El Salvador

Juaya waterfalls Los Chorros De Callera Stingy Nomads
El Salvador Juaya waterfalls, Los Chorros De Callera

Traveling El Salvador backpacking was a great experience. The people were very friendly, helpful and honest. Transport is cheap, I loved the jungles and natural beauty, good cheap coffee is plentiful and we loved the national street food, papusas! There is plenty to explore around this small country; hiking up volcanoes, swimming under beautiful waterfalls and surfing awesome breaks.

What to do in El Salvador

  • Ruta de Las Flores – flower route winding through lush mountains, picturesque colonial towns and coffee plantations
  • Parque Nacional Montecristo – A cloud forest bordering Guatemala and Honduras, filled with rare animals and exotic plants.
  • Go surfing! – There are some amazing surf spots at La Libertad, El Sunzal, El Zonte and El Cuco
  • Parque Nacional Los Volcanes – Hike to the top of this spectacular volcano
  • Los Chorros – Swim in the pools under amazing waterfalls after hiking arround the jungle.
  • Mayan ruins – go to Tazumal and San Andrés
  • Suchitoto – visit the culture capital of El Salvador, very popular backpacker spot
Apaneca-coffee-fincas-stingy-nomads
Coffee fincas on the Route de Las Flores around the town Apaneca.

Best places to stay in El Salvador

Surprisingly accommodation in El Salvador was slightly more expensive than it’s Central American neighbors. Dormitory beds in nice backpacker hostels vary between $10 and $13 and a double room in a hostel is 30-$40. Budget hotel rooms with good ratings start at about $30. Search in Booking from this website, read reviews  and choose highest ranking possible, we try not to stay in anything ranking less than 8.

AirBnB has some very good deals in El Salvador, you can stay in a room in someones house starting at $16 for the room or rent an entire apartment for as low as $22. Your first time using AirBnB? use The Stingy Nomads AirBnB voucher and get $44 discount on your AirBnB booking!

El Zonte-Esencia Nativa, $10 dormitory, nice hostel on the beach, no kitchen.

La Palma-some hotel, $10

 

Food in El Salvador

  • It was all about pupusas, this traditional Salvadorian dish is a handmade corn tortilla stuffed with cheese  and refried beans and sometimes other fillings. These delicacies go for about 40c each and you need 2 or 3 for a meal, they are served in pupusarias usually only open in the mornings and evenings.
  • Streetfood with rice, chicken and vegetables with a coke usually goes for about $2 during lunch. Since this is coffee country, coffee is very cheap, I bought 200g of good ground coffee for $1.5.
  • Meal at cheap restaurant $4.50
  • Meal at mid range restaurant $15
  • Mcmeal at McDonalds $6.00
  • Local Beer $1.50 at a bar
pupusas El Salvador
Pupusas, these cheese filled delights – top budget food in El Salvador

Transport in El Salvador

  • Travelling by chicken bus, these old US school buses is the best way of transport similar to Guatemala it costs a dollar per hour or less. The chicken buses in El Salvador where not as extravagantly painted as in Guatemala, many still sporting their original yellow colour with less entertaining touters, singers and preachers than in neighbouring countries.
  • Taxi stop fee $5, $3 per km
  • Want reliable private transfer service ($20) from the El Salvador International Airport to the city of San Salvador? Prefer to get picked up at the airport by a private taxi ? Your driver will be waiting with a sign!

El Salvador Budget

We traveled El Salvador on a tight backpacker budget of $21 per day each, comfortable holiday style travel you can double this so about $45 per day per person.

Places to Visit in El Salvador

Ruta de Las Flores

The Ruta de Las Flores is a winding route of about 40km through brightly coloured colonial towns and many coffee plantations. Wildflowers  growing along the road are responsible for the name.

  • The flowers are in bloom between November and February.
  • The Ruta officially begins in Sonsonate, which is easily reachable from La Libertad, the main beach town and transportation hub for El Salvador’s beach area. The route then winds through the towns Apaneca and Ataco ending in Ahuachapan.

Getting around the Ruta de Las Flores

From Juyayua we explored the route by chicken bus, take bus 249 and 53. Check with your hotel, but bus 249 takes you  around the route to all the towns on the ruta.

Juayua

Juayua is the biggest town on the route and most people use this as base for exploring the area, there are however some great place to stay in the surrounding towns and moving around is not too hard. This is the most touristy town around (it is still quiet) and an awesome place to explore the Rutta de Las Flores from.

  • Amazing pupusas
  • supermarkets if you need to buy supplies
  • ATM
  • Loved the bakery Pasteleria y Cafeteria Festival
  • Don’t miss Feria Gastronomica the “food festival” very popular event in the central square of Juayúa. Traditional dishes served by local restaurants.
  • Main attraction – Iglesia de Cristo Negro (Black Christ Church) located on the main square,  named because of the statue’s colour.

Accommodation in Juayua

  • We loved staying in Hotel Juyayua, awesome location, nice dorm rooms for $10 and doubles available for $35 beautiful views, swimming pool, clean, friendly and helpful management.
  • For more about this awesome little town see this Guide to visiting Juyayua.

Los Chorros De Callera

  • The highlight of the small town Juayua were the amazing waterfalls, Los Chorros De Callera located about 40 minutes’ walk from town. We ended up walking here almost every day. The water is crystal clear and very nice and refreshing.
  • Do the 7 waterfalls hike, this 6 hour hike starts in town and takes you through coffee fincas and pristine tropical forest, with spectacular mountain and volcano views – you can see all 3 volcanoes Izalco, Ilamatepec and Cerro Verde during the hike. Remember to wear swimming clothes, you pass by many waterfalls ending at Los Chorros De Callera. The hike can be done as a tour with a guide through some hostel including a nice 20m rappelling! Price $14
  • Do the Ruta de Las Flores by public transport from town.
Juaya waterfalls, Los Chorros De Callera
Juaya waterfalls, Los Chorros De Callera

Apaneca

  • The next stop on Ruta Les Flores, small town, cobbled stone streets, quick to explore by foot.
  • Two nearby crater lakes, Laguna Verde (5km from town) and Laguna de las Ninfas (3km from town) are nice to hike to, well marked trails.
  • Hillside coffee farms surrounding the town are really nice.
  • Good accommodation in Apaneca

Nahuizalco

Worth a stop if you make a day of the route, we did it by chicken bus not too hard.

  • Nice church
  • apparently some waterfalls outside the town you can explore

Salcoatitán

  • This town survives on the coffee industry.
  • Cafe La Casona has excellent coffee, good selection of local coffees, worth visiting if you are a caffeine junkie.
  • Festival bakery bakes amazing baguettes.
  • the town has 2 nice churches
  • Accommodation – Cien Fuegos Cafe y Hostal, excellent family run place, great location from $30

Concepción de Ataco

  • Very nice little colonial town
  • Beautiful murals
  • couple of handi craft shops
  • Good coffee!
  • Climb the La Mirador de la Cruz nice view of the whole town.
  • Treat yourself! Casa Degraciela Hotel Boutique Maybe the best place to stay on the whole flower route.
walking-around-ruta-de-las-flores-stingy-nomads
Alya walking around the Ruta de Las Flores.
  • Want to visit the coffee plantations along the Flower Route and visit all 5 towns on our route Nahuizalco Salcoatitán,  Apaneca, Ataco and Juayua on a full-day tour from San Salvador. Get picked up at your hotel ! ($39)

The Montecristo National Park

The park is known as El Salvador’s most breathtaking wildlife sanctuary, hosting a wide variety of flora and fauna. The high humidity allows the development of orchids, bromeliads, mosses, fungi, lichens, and ferns. The rich diversity of mammals living here include howler monkey, spider monkey, the Anteater’s two fingers, wild rabbit, Gray Squirrel, red squirrel and Porcupine.

The park is located about 10 km from the city Metapán. The highest point in the park is known as ‘El Trifinio’ where the borders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala converge. It is a steep 9km hike through lush cloud forest to get to this peak.

Accommodation

  • Hostal El Limo – Fully equipped wooden cabins in nature, fully equipped kitchen, swimming pool, zip-lining close by!
howler-monkey
Hearing these howler monkeys in the trees are unreal, they sound like big gorillas!
  • Must obtain permission to enter the park at least one day ahead from the park authorities in advance using the form available on the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (MARN) website.
  • The entrance fee is $6 USD per person and $1.15 per vehicle per day.
  • Camping is permitted in campsites the park.
  • The summit trail is closed from May to November.
  • Hiking without a guide is prohibited beyond the immediate camping and cabin areas.
  • You can only enter the park gate between 7am and 11am.

The Santa Ana volcano

The Santa Ana Volcano, also called Lamatepec is one of three volcanoes in  Parque National Los Volcanes. It is a large stratovolcano located in the Santa Ana department of El Salvador. At 2,381 metres above sea level, it is the highest volcano in the country. Reaching the top you are rewarded with spectacular views of the moonlike landscape around the crater, the bubbling turquoise crater lake, the nearby lake Coetepeque and the neighbour Izalgo volcano.

  • The bus from Santa Ana leaves at 7:30am for Cerro Verde (Santa Ana volcano).
  • The volcano is the highest peak in El Salvador and was a fairly easy 40 minute hike that anyone of good health should do without problems under an hour.
  • It is compulsory to do the hike with police escorts, muggings were apparently common.
  • Getting to the volcano and back from Santa Ana and doing the hike cost a total of $7 – the return bus cost $2 (3 hours each way), the guides and police escort $4 and the park entry $1.
Santa Ana volcano in Parque National Los Volcanes.
Santa Ana volcano in Parque National Los Volcanes.

Santa Ana

Santa Ana is the second largest city in El Salvador, most tourist come here to visit the Volcano Park or use it as a base to explore Chalchuapa, the Maya ruins at Tazumal or the Ruta de las Flores. We loved small towns in El Salvador, but did not enjoy the cities including Santa Ana, it was dull and polluted. There are some sites if you spend a day or 2 in the city; the impressive Catedral de Santa Ana, Parque Libertad a chill square with nice flowers and the crazy lively market of Mercado Colon.

We stayed in Casa Verde an amazing hostel where we spent most of our time in the city. If you go to the volcano I would recommend rather staying in one of the budget places close to the volcano and walk around in this beautiful area than in the bland, polluted city, spending all time in the hostel and doing day trips.

Surfing in El Salvador

El Salvador is well known for its amazing surf. The country is filled with world class right point breaks all over the coast  as well as fun and occasionally heavy beach breaks.  The waves are most consistent during the wet season (between May and Oct), but March and April also see great waves with less rain.

Surf spots in El Salvador

El Tunco is the main surfspots on the ‘Gringo Trail’ surf gets crowded, it is the place to go for surf, party, and relax at the pool side.

Sunzal (near El Tunco) is is a easy, rolling pointbreak. The softer sloping waves are very good for longboarding and learning to surf.

La Libertad, Punta Rocka is the classic El Salvador point break, a hollow steep wave. Many territorial locals, inside section known as La Paz is ok for beginners.

Punta Mango is a powerful right hander, only accessible by boat.

Playa Las Flores, beautiful beach with very long, consistent right point break.

El Zonte, nice but shorter wave, great place to start because lot of white water.

Playa El Zonte

We arrived on the surf coast of La Costa del Balsamo together with the biggest swell to hit in 20 years.  The nice sandy beaches we saw in pictures were no more, the beach was covered in big boulders, the big swell passed but conditions were still not great and the next day the second monster swell arrived.

The power of the ocean is just unreal, thousands of massive rocks washed out and covered the beach, it was heart breaking to see many of the hotels, restaurants and shops took quite a beating with walls being demolished. Playa El Zonte looks like a nice, tiny town, the surf break is so close to where we stayed you can roll out of your bed and start paddling.

The level of destruction and size of the boulders the swell brought was unreal
The level of destruction and size of the boulders the swell brought was unreal. El Salvador travel guide

Suchitoto – a nice colonial town

Located in the mountains of El Salvador ‘Suchi’ is a nice, small, well restored Spanish colonial town with only a hand full of tourists around. We enjoyed walking through the cobble stone streets lined with trees and flowers through out town. Relaxed vibe in cool local restaurants, cafes, bars and pupuserias. This picturesque town is a popular weekend getaway for locals.

Things to do in Suchitoto

The main sites are

  • The town square
  • Lago Suchitlán
  • Los Tercios waterfall.

We did short hikes in the forest surrounding the town and found a couple of  waterfalls.

How to get to Suchitoto

Bus No 129 from San Salvador (Terminal de Oriente)

Accommodation in Suchitoto

Difficult to find budget accommodation to book online, some reasonable walk in accommodation. Prices can sometimes be negotiated if you stay for more than a night.

  • Hostal Los Sanchez, friendly hostel run by 2 brothers. Cheap, nice place, great host, unfortunately no wifi and no website to contact them.
  • Vista al Lago Hostel, amazing view over the lake, friendly host, basic hostel. $30 for double room with amazing view.
  • Villa Balanza $20.00 for a double room, wi-fi, kitchen,  lake views
  • Casa de la Abuela, very well rated hostel, not cheap for El Salvador, but can book online.

 Our last night in El Salvador was spent in the town of LA PALMA,  we walked up the highest peak in El Salvador from here, the walk was up a road all the way to the top, where you can find a sign indicating the border with Honduras.

"Suchitoto,

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