Choose from 24 Fun Things to Do in El Salvador
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December 11, 1981, is a day El Salvador will never forget. That was the day when American trained soldiers marched into the town of Mozote, and massacred over 800 civilians—half of which were children. As part of El Salvador’s brutal Civil War, the massacre was simply written off as a tragic byproduct of conflict, where leftist guerrillas must be suppressed, regardless of what it might cost. Today, the world has come to realize the slaughter was only of innocent civilians, and had no bearing, and nothing to do with, the rebels the government was fighting. When touring El Mozote Monument today, hear the stories of the lone survivor who escaped the village alive, and see the church where dozens fled just be to shot while inside. Outside the church is a powerful memorial with the names of those who were killed, and a silhouette statue of a family holding hands that rests in the “Garden of the Innocents.” A second memorial sits atop a hill just half a mile from town, where the same silhouette of the family holding hands is which looks out over the forests and valleys that housed such senseless slaughter.
While there is no cost to visit the memorials, it’s suggested to hire local guides who provide insight and personal stories, as well as purchase some of the crafts the villagers sell from their stalls. Reaching El Mozote requires a long, arduous drive, but is worth the effort for the dose of perspective you find when you trek all the way out here.
Address: Plaza de El Mozote, El Mozote, El Salvador
From $ 185
Strolling past the grey concrete arch of El Rosario Church, it’s hard to believe that the bleak, hangar-like building is a place of worship, and if it wasn’t for the single, featureless white cross rising from its entrance, you’d likely pass right by. Don’t be put off by its dreary façade, though – step through the church doors and you’ll be confronted by a startling wall of color. The inspired creation of artist Ruben Martinez, the arched walls are adorned with scrap-metal figures and feature dozens of stepped windows made of colored glass, which flood the open, pillar-less hall with a kaleidoscope of light.
Built in 1971, the church was as controversial as it was innovative, and today it remains among El Salvador’s most unique and memorable landmarks. El Rosario Church is also famous as the resting place of José Matías Delgado, or “Padre Delgado,” the father of Central American independence.
El Rosario Church is located in downtown San Salvador, by the Liberty Park. The church is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and closes for siesta from noon to 2 p.m.
Address: 6a Avenida, Parque Libertad, San Salvador, El Salvador
Hours: Daily 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (Siesta from noon to 2 p.m.)
From $ 20
The largest of El Salvador’s four national parks, El Imposible National Park is also home to one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems, offering refuge for a number of endangered animals and plant species. Set on one of the country’s most important historic trade routes, El Imposible (The Impossible) was named for its treacherously steep gorge that claimed the lives of many travellers and mules throughout the years.
Thankfully, since the building of a bridge across the pass back in 1968, exploring the park has been much easier and today the 3,800-hectare parklands are a prime spot for hikers - a sweeping landscape of riverside mangrove forests and rugged peaks soaring to heights of 1,450 meters. Wildlife spotting is another popular pastime with around 250 bird varieties found in the park, including rare species like Great Curassow, King Vulture, Turquoise-browed Motmot and black-crested eagles, as well as pumas, tigrillos, wild boars and a vast array of butterflies.
El Imposible National Park is located in southwest El Salvador, 120 km west of San Salvador and close to the Guatemalan border.
Address: Ahuachapan, El Salvador
From $ 90
With a trio of peaks set around the dramatic volcanic crater of El Boqueron, the wildflower covered slopes of El Boquerón National Park make a scenic hiking spot and at less than 30 minutes drive from San Salvador, it’s a popular choice for a day trip from the capital.
The main highlight of a visit to El Boquerón is the views, which look out over San Salvador and the distant Lake Ilopango and Izalco Volcano, and there are a number of lookout points to choose from. Walking trails run to the summits of El Boquerón, El Jabalí and El Picacho, the highest at 6,430 feet, and it’s also possible to hike down into the crater itself, a 1,600-foot deep caldera, measuring about 5 km in diameter.
El Boquerón National Park is located less than 20 km northwest of San Salvador and is open daily from 8am-5pm. Adult admission costs US $1.
Address: Calle al Parque Nacional El Boqueron, San Salvador, El Salvador
Hours: Daily 8am-5pm
Admission: US $1
From $ 28
For the better part of two decades, El Salvador was crippled by a brutal Civil War that left the country in tears. Entire villages were sent to slaughter, helicopters fell from the sky, and the sound of mortars striking their target was a constant reminder of the violence. Though the fighting ended in the early 1990s, Civil War stories and military relics live on inside this museum, including former military uniforms that date to the 18th century. Aside from the tanks, weaponry, and medals, the museum houses a number of items that have nothing to do with the military, like a massive, 3D, topographical map that shows all of El Salvador’s volcanoes, to the “Pope Mobile” that transported the Pope when he visited in 1981. Highlighting military in more modern times, there’s an interesting exhibit on the Salvadoran forces who recently served in Iraq, fighting alongside coalition soldiers from all different corners of the world. While the slant of the museum is decidedly pro military, it’s still an insightful, informative stop for learning El Salvador’s past.
Many exhibits are only in Spanish though guides are free of charge. The building itself dates to 1865 and is a beautiful sight in itself.
Address: 10 Avenida Sur Calle Alberto Sánchez, San Salvador, El Salvador
Hours: Open daily, 8am-Noon and 2-5pm.
From $ 25
Located in Los Planes De Renderos, Puerto del Diablo, or Devil’s Door, is made up of two striking boulders that reach for the sky. Looking between them gives the viewer a panoramic vista over the sights of El Salvador all the way to the Pacific. Devil’s Door is one of El Salvador’s most popular rock-climbing sites, with dozens of established routes for all levels of climbers. For the best views, climb the rock stairs to the top, where you'll rewarded with sights like the red-tiled roofs of the indigenous town of Panchimalco, Lake Ilopango to the left, the double peaks of the San Vicente volcano straight ahead, and beyond it, the Pacific Ocean (if you bring binoculars).
Visitors to Devil’s Door can opt to take a canopy tour, go zip-lining, explore the nearby caves, or even rappel down the cliff’s face. A visit to Devil’s Door is an easy way to escape the city noise of San Salvador for a half day, as it’s only a short bus trip to and from El Salvador’s capital city.
Insider’s Tip: Visit the marketplace below Devil’s Door before you head to the top. Fueling up with freshly made pupusas is a great way to prepare for the ascent.
Devil’s Door is about a 45-minute bus ride from San Salvador’s history city center. The natural attraction has several different routes and offers beautiful views from every direction.
Address: Panchimalco, San Salvador, El Salvador
From $ 49
A pre-Columbian Mayan farming village dating back to A.D. 600 and El Salvador’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the impressive ruins of Joya de Cerén were discovered in 1976 and have since become one of the country’s most visited archaeological sites.
Smothered by ash during an eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano, the buried village was preserved in near-perfect condition, earning it the nickname of the ‘Pompeii of the Americas’ and offering a unique insight into the life and culture of the region’s ancient Mayan communities. Today, the remains of around 70 structures have been uncovered at the site, 10 of which have been excavated and are open to the public, including storehouses, kitchens, workshops, a worship area and a temezcal (ceremonial bath).
The Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site is located about 3 km north of San Salvador and can be reached by public transport. The site is open every day except Mondays from 9am to 4pm, and adult admission is US$3.
Address: Carretera Panamericana (CA-1), San Salvador, El Salvador
Hours: Open every day except Mondays from 9am to 4pm
Admission: US$3 (adults)
From $ 41
The scenic mountain town of Apaneca is the second highest destination in the country. Its back roads, thick forests and fertile farms are a Mecca for eco-tourism and draw travelers in seeking to make an authentic connection with both the people and the land.
Outdoor enthusiasts can hike the trails of nearby Parque Nacional El Imposible, where secluded swimming spots and ancient Mayan remains make for a memorable trek through the El Salvador hillside. More intrepid adventurers can fly through the thick forest canopy on Apaneca’s infamous 2.5 kilometer-long zip-line, while the more laid-back folks head south to Finca Santa Leticia. This rural coffee farm near an historic archaeological park is a quick trip that offers travelers a chance to relax in well-kept bungalows overlooking the lush green plantation while sipping piping hot cups of coffee straight from local fields.
Travelers can get to Apaneca on the 249 bus, which runs to the north between Ataco and Ahuachapan and to the south between Juayua and Sonsanate. A one-way trip costs less than US $1.
Address: Apaneca, El Salvador
From $ 50
Built to replace the original, which was destroyed in a fire in the late 1880s, El Salvador’s current National Palace offers visitors a look at the politic, historical and national past. It is comprised of four main rooms and more than 100 smaller secondary ones, which provide visitors with a unique look at the historical, political and national past of this small South American country.
Travelers caution that many of the Palace’s rooms are now closed to the public despite the fact government offices haven’t operated here since the mid-1970s. But a tour of this famed landmark is still worth the stop, as the early 1900s furnishings and well-curated historical displays present a grander picture of the city’s colorful past. Be sure to check out the Salon Rojo, where the Foreign Ministry held its elaborate receptions; the Salon Amarillo, which once housed the president; and the Salon Rosado, which used to house the country’s Supreme Court.
The National Palace is located on Calle Rubin Dario. Admission to the palace is approximately $3. Tours are available both during daytime hours, as well as in the evening.
Address: San Salvador, El Salvador
Admission: $3 (adults)
From $ 25
The Monument to the Divine Savior of the World (Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo) is a monument located on Plaza El Salvador del Mundo (Savior of the World Plaza) in San Salvador City, El Salvador’s capital city. The monument is composed of a tall, four-sided concrete base pedestal that supports a statue of Jesus Christ standing on top of planet earth. The structure was designed by José María Villaseñor. This monument is a symbol that identifies and represents El Salvador and Salvadorans throughout the world—after all, the country’s name translates as “The Savior,” and Jesus Christ is its patron.
To study the sculpture in more detail, bring a pair of binoculars or a camera with a good zoom function. It’s hard to get to the sculpture directly, as it’s located in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout with no pedestrian crosswalk leading up to it. Once you’ve made it to the monument, taking a seat on the steps at its base is a nice way to relax from sightseeing and watch the city buzz by. You can also see the monument featured on the back of old banknotes and vehicle license plates.
The Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo is located near downtown San Salvador at the Savior of the World Plaza. The plaza is a grassy traffic island at a busy intersection, so there is no parking available. You can also travel by bus or taxi to the plaza, or walk 1.2 miles (2km) from the city center.
Address: Alameda Franklin Delano Roosevelt, San Salvador, El Salvador
From $ 61
Between 600 and 900 AD, some 12,000 Mayans inhabited a city in the Valle de Zapotitán dominated by a step pyramid. The grass-covered ruins of the pyramid and a large courtyard were discovered in 1977, and excavation of the site continues to this day.
The archaeological evidence suggests that San Andrés was a trading city, as well as the provincial capital. Goods from as far as Honduras, Belize and Mexico passed through the settlement. Residents remained in San Andrés to as late as 1200, and in 1658, the abandoned city was covered in volcanic ash from El Playón, preserving many of the site’s original structures.
Today, the archeological park includes a museum showcasing artifacts from pre-Hispanic and Colonial eras.
San Andrés is located 20 miles (33 kilometers) west of San Salvador along CA-1. The sign-posted turn off is near the Km 33 marker.
Address: El Salvador
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9am to 4pm
From $ 41
Built between 1911 and 1917, San Salvador’s magnificent National Theater is not only one of the city’s principal landmarks, but a National Monument and the oldest theater in Central America. Designed by French architect Daniel Beylard, the building is among the capital’s most notable works of architecture, with its stately Neo-classical façade giving way to lavish French Renaissance interiors, including a grand mural by Salvadoran painter Salvador Carlos Cañas.
Today, the 650-seat theater remains the heart of Salvadoran performing arts, hosting an ever-changing schedule of classical concerts, theater, folk music performances and art workshops.
The National Theater San Salvador is located in downtown San Salvador, opposite the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Address: Delgado Street and 2a. North Avenue, San Salvador, El Salvador
From $ 25
Founded in 1976, La Laguna Botanical Garden sits within a volcanic crater just outside the city of San Salvador. The sprawling gardens display more than 3,500 species of native and exotic plants, including 35,000 specimens inside the garden’s herbarium. The 7.5-acre (3.15 hectare) gardens are divided into 32 themed zones, with well-labeled collections including medicinal plants, ferns, orchids, desert plants and native vegetation.
The grounds also include a large playground for children and a cafeteria selling refreshments. Seating areas scattered around the gardens are perfect for picnicking or simply enjoying the fresh air and quiet — a welcome break from the noise of San Salvador. Keep an eye out for animal residents, including huge iguanas, fish, turtles and a variety of birds.
La Laguna Botanical Garden is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 9am to 5:30pm.
Address: Antiguo Cuscatlan, La Libertad, San Salvador, El Salvador
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5:30pm
From $ 70
Perched on a hilltop, overlooking the glittering waters of Lake Suchitlán, Suchitoto is among El Salvador’s most picturesque towns, a maze of timeworn cobblestones and well-preserved colonial architecture.
Suchitoto’s tranquil surroundings and laid-back pace of life make it a popular retreat for capital dwellers, as well as nurturing a lively arts scene, and the streets are dotted with artist’s workshops, galleries and cozy cafés. The town’s most famous landmark is the striking white Iglesia Santa Lucia, but the area is most celebrated for its natural assets, with the neighboring Suchitlán reservoir sheltering a large variety of migratory birds and nearby sights including the Los Tercios Waterfall.
Suchitoto is located in the Cuscatlán department of El Salvador, 47 km north of San Salvador.
Address: Suchitoto, El Salvador
From $ 48
A startling blue pool nestled beneath the peaks of the Cerro Verde, Izalco and Santa Ana volcanoes and fringed by sloping sugar and coffee plantations, Lake Coatepeque is among El Salvador’s most enchanting natural attractions, located on the cusp of the Cerro Verde National Park. At almost 6 km in length, this is the country’s largest lake, formed in the crater of an ancient volcano more than 50,000 years ago and nurturing a colorful population of catfish, guapote and zebra fish.
A tranquil holiday destination for both locals and travelers, the most popular activities at Lake Coatepeque are swimming and water sports, with sailing, kayaking, waterskiing and scuba diving all possible. Additional highlights include the hot springs dotted around the water’s edge and the island of Teopan, once an important place of Mayan worship.
Lake Coatepeque is located by the Cerro Verde National Park in west El Salvador, 12 km from Santa Ana.
Address: Santa Ana, El Salvador
From $ 65
Probably the city’s most notable landmark, the Santa Ana Cathedral was completed in 1913 after eight years of construction. Where many of El Salvador’s churches and cathedrals were build in the Spanish Colonial style typical of Latin American religious architecture, the Santa Ana Cathedral was inspired by the neo-Gothic cathedrals of Europe; today it’s considered among the most beautiful in Central America.
A statue of the Virgin of Santa Ana, the city’s patron saint, sits just within the cathedral’s entrance. Santa Ana is also considered the patron saint of difficult labor, and expecting women often come to pray to the saint. Newborn children are brought back to the virgin forty days alter as a symbol of thanks.
Santa Ana Cathedral is located next to the Santa Ana Theater, so plan to visit both in the same outing.
Address: 1 Avenida Sur y 2 Calle Poniente, Santa Ana, El Salvador
From $ 65
Even though the Civil War in El Salvador ended in 1992, it still feels current, ongoing, and real, at Perquín’s Museum of the Revolution. For one thing the guides who work the museum were onetime guerilla fighters—risking their lives in tunnels and jungles to fight for the rights of the poor. When visiting this moving, informative museum, see remains of the downed helicopter that killed Colonel Monterossa—the leader of the Atlacatl Battalion responsible for the El Mozote massacre. You’ll also find craters created by bombs supplied by the US military, as well as weapons used by guerrillas to battle the government army. As this section of country was pro-FMLN, it also housed the influential Radio Venceremos, which helped to spread the leftist message throughout the rural communities. Nearby, another site has hand-dug tunnels where guerrillas would hide in the hills, and visitors are welcome to climb in the tunnels to feel the cramped, dark sense of space guerrillas endured every day. While the drive from San Salvador to Perquín is lengthy—over three bumpy hours in total—it’s a journey that’s more than worth the reward for learning these tales from the war.
Many of the tour guides only speak Spanish, but some displays are in English and Spanish for reading about the events.
Address: Calle Los Heroes, Perquín, El Salvador
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 8:30am-4:30pm
From $ 185
With its trio of volcanic peaks encircled by lush jungle, a vast network of hiking trails and the nearby crater lake of Coatepeque, the Cerro Verde National Park presents one of El Salvador’s most startlingly beautiful landscapes.
The main pastime for visitors to the Cerro Verde National Park is hiking and its three volcanoes, Izalco, Cerro Verde and Santa Ana, are all easily accessible. The highest point is the 2,381-meter summit of Santa Ana, El Salvador’s highest and most active volcano, capped with four craters and a glistening green crater lake, but equally dazzling are the views from neighboring Izalco, nicknamed the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” for its near-continuous eruptions over 160 years. Another highlight is climbing the eponymous peak and hikers scaling the now-extinct Cerro Verde volcano will find the mountaintop cloud forest filled with colorful birdlife, including hummingbirds, jays and emerald toucanets.
The Cerro Verde National Park is located in west El Salvador, about 70 km west of San Salvador.
Address: Santa Ana, El Salvador
From $ 49
Located within El Salvador’s Cerro Verde National Park (Parque Nacional Cerro Verde), the Izalco Volcano is the highest in the country and the park’s most visually beautiful peak. It’s also one of the most challenging treks in the park; it takes visitors an average of three hours (one way) to reach the summit at 6,404 feet (1,952 meters).
A baby when compared to other Central American volcanoes, Izalco only formed in 1770 and didn’t stop erupting until 1966. It’s violent eruptions made the volcano a natural beacon for sea farers off the Salvadoran coast, earning it the nickname Lighthouse of the Pacific. These same eruptions were also responsible for sculpting the volcano’s near perfect conical shape, lunar-like and unvegetated, with a 820-foot (250-meter) wide crater at its summit.
Park officials strongly discourage visitors from trekking Izalco Volcano without a guide.
Address: Santa Ana, El Salvador
Hours: 8am to 5pm
From $ 49
Opened back in 1883, the National Museum of Anthropology is a fascinating stop for understanding the history of El Salvador and its people. Spread out over five different halls, it holds the treasures and ancient artifacts of pre-Columbian settlers, from the Maya and Olemec to Pipil tribes who inhabited the jungles and coasts. The halls are separated into five different categories, from agriculture and human settlements to religion, arts, and trade. See how native Salvadoran people once farmed and worshipped their gods, including an ancient altar of stone and petroglyphs carved into rocks. If you plan on purchasing local crafts when venturing outside the capital, this is a good spot to learn the facts behind traditional Salvadoran crafts, and gain an idea of what to look for when shopping in local villages. Arguably El Salvador’s most popular museum, the National Museum of Anthropology is a must for travelers in the city.
All museum exhibits are in Spanish, though museum guides who speak some English are available free of charge. When speaking with locals, the museum is also known as “Museo de David J Guzman,” an influential Salvadoran scientist who died in the 1920s.
Address: Avenida de la Revolución, San Salvador, El Salvador
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm
From $ 20