While neighboring Guatemala tends to outshine this small, Central American country, El Salvador offers an exciting range of cultural and outdoor activities for the adventurous traveler. Explore ancient ruins, beautiful small towns, volcanoes, and beaches–and discover your new favorite food: the pupusa.
- Safety: El Salvador is, unfortunately, known more for its high murder rate than for its beautiful sights and culture. While tourists are not the targets of violent crime, you should still exercise caution while traveling there. Do not display expensive items like jewelry and watches and carry only the cash you need while you are out. Avoid traveling at night and only walk around after dark in well-lit, crowded places. Go hiking with a guide and other people.
Located on a lake amidst verdant mountain slopes, Suchitoto is one of El Salvador’s most picturesque colonial towns. A whitewashed church, Iglesia Santa Lucia, crowns the tree-lined main square, while cobbled streets and colorful buildings stretch across town. An hour from the Guatemalan border in western El Salvador is Juayua, where every weekend the town turns into a festival of flavor as it hosts a popular food market.
El Salvador may only have one UNESCO Heritage Site, but Joya de Ceren is one of the most significant Maya archaeological sites. Once a farming village, it was buried beneath ash in a volcanic eruption 1,400 years ago before it was accidentally rediscovered in the 1970s. Speaking of volcanoes…
…they’re great for hiking–as long as there are no eruption warnings, of course. Join other locals and tourists on the daily guided hike up El Salvador’s tallest volcano, Volcan de Santa Ana, near the city of Santa Ana.
Bonus: After your hike, grab some dinner and a cold Suprema beer at one of the lakeside restaurants on the nearby Lago de Coatepeque.
The coast of El Salvador, situated on the Pacific, is renowned for its many choice surfing spots. The beach town of El Tunco is firmly on the surfing and backpacking trail and is suitable for beginners and experienced surfers. Or, you know…just people who just want to hang out at the beach.
And finally, the best of all: delicious, delicious pupusas. Made from masa (corn flour), stuffed with a variety of fillings and then shaped into a disc and fried, pupusas are El Salvador’s national dish. They are served topped with curtido, a mildly pickled cabbage slaw, and salsa. Fillings include any number of things, but you’ll often see them cheese, refried beans, meat, and/or loroco, which is a local herb. I took a great pupusa-making class at El Gringo in Suchitoto, where they teach you how to properly fill and shape these tasty treats. Just make sure you explain to your friends back home what they are, or they might think you’re a bit strange for going on about how much you love to eat pupusas.
Want to know more about traveling in El Salvador? Check out these handy guidebooks!