Our Complete guide to things to do in El Salvador. Cities and National Parks to visit, volcanoes to climb and waves to surf. Cultural highlights, tips on food and accommodation.
What to do in El Salvador
- Ruta de Las Flores – flower route winding through lush mountains, picturesque colonial towns and coffee plantations. See our Complete Guide for Exploring the Ruta de Las Flores
- 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
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!
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
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.
Towns on the Ruta de Las Flores
The route meanders through 5 small coble stone street towns little towns Juyayua, Apaneca, Nahuizalco Salcoatitán and Ataco.
- Juayua is the biggest town on the route and most people use this as base for exploring the area
- Budget accommodation – Hotel Juyayua, awesome location, nice dorm rooms beautiful views with a swimming pool.
- Apaneca, next stop on Ruta Les Flores is a small town with cobbled stone streets surrounded by coffee farms
- Nahuizalco, not much more than a church to see in this little town.
- Salcoatitán, great coffee shops and 2 nice churches in town
- Concepción de Ataco, very nice little town with some handy craft shops, beautiful murals and more excellent coffee shops.
How to get 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.
Los Chorros De Callera
Beautiful waterfalls, located about 40 minutes’ walk from Juyayua. Amazing place to swim in the crystal clear water.
Can reach by public transport from town
Spectacular views of waterfalls on the seven waterfalls hike that you can start here
- 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.
- 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.
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 nearby sites
- The Mayan ruins at Tazumal
- The Ruta de las Flores
- Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec)
We loved small towns in El Salvador, but did not really enjoy the cities including Santa Ana.
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
- The crazy lively market of Mercado Colon.
When it comes to accommodation there are some top places in the city.
- Stay in style
- The highly rated Courtyard by Marriott San Salvador, great location everything according to Marriot’s international star luxury
- Mid Range
- Prefer a beautiful art deco, boutique hotel? Extensive garden, outdoor lounge area and modern design, excellent value at Nico Urban Hotel
- Stay on a budget
- La Zona Hostel, our favorite hostel in Central America, great location, awesome vibe, amazing staff
The Santa Ana volcano (Ilamatepec Volcano)
The Santa Ana Volcano, also called Ilamatepec 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.
- Full day tour to Santa Ana volcano including AC transport and guide.
Tip 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.
Tazumal Mayan ruins
El Salvador is known for the numerous ruins of prehistoric cities scattered all over the country. The most important archaeological site is the ancient Mayan city of Tazumal, located about 60 km (37 miles) from the capital. Go on a archaeological tour of El Salvador Mayan ruins
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.
- On a budget – go to the vibey Canegue Surf Hostal, between surfing swing in a hammock in the garden
- Medium budget – Hotel Michanti, awesome surfers hotel, nice rooms, great breakfast, good facilities
- Treat yourself – Puro Surf Hotel Stay in beautifully designed luxury, super comfort and outstanding customer service.
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, there is walk in accommodation available if you walk around. Prices can sometimes be negotiated if you stay for more than a night.
- On a budget: Casa de la Abuela, well rated hostel, can’t find much cheaper to book online.
- Medium budget – Mayan Grouper, very popular, highly acclaimed, big rooms, nice views of the lake
- Treat yourself – Los Almendros de San Lorenzo one of the top boutique hotels in the country, beautiful place, excellent location
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.
El Salvador Packing Items
Travel Security Money Belt
Nobody will know you have money on you! Travel Security Money Belt
Coffee is cheap in El Salvador, make awesome espresso! The Aeropress is probably the best, rugged, light and portable device to have in your backpack for making top notch espresso style coffee! First thing I pack!
Thermo Guard dive/swim vest
Super light to pack, 0.5mm neoprene, not just lycra keeps you warm swimming and diving, protects you against the sun. Light to pack in your backpack. Mares Men’s Thermo Guard 0.5mm
Swinging in a hammock you will need a good book. I am so glad I had a kindle!
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The strong half of Stingy Nomads, a nomadic aquaman that would be happy to spend all his life in the water diving, surfing and spearfishing but often has to compromise with Alya and go hiking instead. Campbell is responsible for all our marine adventures and following them with write-ups. He loves traveling, braai (BBQ in South Africa), red wine and spending the day in a wetsuit.