Travel Destinations

El Salvador Travel Guide 2018: What You Need to Know

El Salvador
Written by Jane Sophia

Today, our holiday destination is El Salvador, a small Central American country. Central America is one of the most neglected and unfavored tourist destinations in the world in spite of possessing extraordinary geography that is so diverse that every Central American country, in spite of snuggling to close to each other differs in terrain and landscape.

Where is El Salvador?

Here is it is pointed in red in the world atlas.

El Salvador Map

When the same is expanded, here is how it looks.

El Salvador Map

As you can see, El Salvador is a peninsula that is sandwiched tightly between two other Central American countries namely Honduras and Guatemala. Salvador faces the Pacific Ocean on its west.

How to reach El Salvador?

There is an international airport in its capital San Salvador that receives flights from various parts of the world.

Since El Salvador is a landlocked country on three sides, it is easily accessible by road from other Central American countries.

Important cities in El Salvador

  • San Salvador-the capital
  • Santa Ana
  • Sam Miguel
  • Soyapango

Soyapango El Salvador

Looks more like an Indian city

  • Mejicanos

El Salvador tourist attractions.

The list of sightseeing attractions in El Salvador is quite long. Beaches, surfing spots, volcano hiking, lovely lakes and wildlife safaris are the major tourist attractions in El Salvador.

The words ‘El’ and ‘San’ frequently occur in the names of places and people in Salvador. This implies, the country was under the rule of Spain for long and the Spanish influence has stayed for good in the language of the nation, the food, and the culture.

El Salvador terrain is mountainous and that too volcanic. It has wonderful beaches on the Pacific Ocean. Beaches offer great facilities for surfing, swimming, and other water sports.

Rainforests that hide gems of waterfalls, thick coffee plantations on the way, beautiful birds are scattered across the nation.

The mountains offer excellent summer getaways. Calderas attract big tourist crowd.

Volcanoes of El Salvador

There are 23 volcanoes in El Salvador and all of them are said to be active. This means, there are a handful of lovely looking calderas too.

Look at the breathtaking Coatepeque Caldera.

Coatepeque Caldera, El Salvador

The same is viewed aerially below. The background mountain is the Izalco volcano.

Izalco volcano

Close-up of the Izalco volcano

Izalco volcano, El Salvador

Look the erupting San Miguel volcano

San Miguel volcano, El Salvador

The eruption was captured in 2013. This volcano is located very close (15 km) to the big city of San Miguel.

The largest  volcano is Santa Ana and it is located very close to the Izalco volcano.

 River Rio Lempa

River Rio Lempa

Out of the 300 odd rivers that flow through it, the longest is Rio Lempa that originates from Guatemala and joins the Pacific in El Salvador after running for 420 km.

Lake Ilopango

Lake Ilopango

As it appears, it is a crater lake that contains pure water. From the image above, you cannot visualize the lake’s true size which is 11 km in length and 8 km in width. Wow! That’s a massive lake in El Salvador.

Two other lakes that are worth seeing in El Salvador.

  • Lake Coatepeque
  • Lake Güija
  • What to see

Ahuachapan hot water springs.

Ahuachapan is about 100 km from San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador where there are five natural hot water springs. The most beautiful of them is the Valdivieso, a crater actually with a width of 20 meters in dia. The presence of sulphur gives a greenish blue color to the water.

Beaches in La Liberated, El Salvador

La Liberated is a strange name for a region in El Salvador. This place has got the best beaches that are highly popular among surfers. Among various spots where surfers throng, La Punta is known to for 10 feet waves.

Black sand beach in La Sunzal

This is another beach in El Salvador’s La Liberated region that the surfers indulge in surfing.

El Tunco beach

This El Salvador beach also wears black sand. The town abutting this beach offers cheap accommodation.

Costa del Sol beach

The color of the sand is a unique beige. Here, the accommodation range is quite big that includes beach cottages and beachfront luxury villas.

Other beautiful beaches in El Salvador are:

  • Los Blancos
  • El Zonte
  • San Marcelino
  • El Cuco (black sand beach)

So, it is obvious that beach buffs should head straight to La Liberated region to hit the water as most of the best beaches are located in this coastal region. Because of the favorable waves that are conducive to surfing, the La Liberated region in El Salvador is called the ‘mecca of surfing; of course there 10 other beaches in the world that carry the same name.

  • Visiting Suchitoto

Suchitoto is a small town in El Salvador. I wonder why it is included in the itinerary of the most of the guided tours in El Salvador. The only attraction is Lago Suchitlán which is an artificial lake, quite a large lake it is where you can take a boat ride watching the migratory birds in close quarters.

Lago Suchitlán

 

 

  • Watersports

Apart from water surfing, there are other water sports are played in the El Salvador beaches.

  • Stand Up Paddleboarding
  • Parasailing
  • Water skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Jet skiing
  • Tubing

Adventure activities in El Salvador

Since there is no dearth of (Volcanic) mountainous terrains in El Salvador, hiking such lush green mountains to reach up to the peak to have a peep in the crater is a popular adventure sport. Of all the volcanoes, the dangerous Santa Ana volcano somehow attracts a large number of hikers. Once on top, the view of the Pacific ocean and neighboring Honduras and Guatemala is stunning.

Parque Nacional Montecristo cloud forest walking is supposed to take your breath away. The thick tropical forest is habitat to myriad wildlife. The video below would urge forest lovers to immediately pack and visit the rainforest.

  • Cerro El Pital mountain hiking.

Cerro El Pital

This is an enchanting adventure activity for the tourists in El Salvador. It reaches up to a height of nearly 9000 feet, housing great fauna.

Beach surfing, El Salvador.

El Tunco Black sand beach, El Salvador

Black sand beach, El Salvador

It is not the black sand that attracts the tourists but the ideal conditions offered by the waves for surfing.

It seems surfing alone is the prime reasons for the tourists to visit El Salvador. I would cite the range of food cooked by the Salvadorans can also be attributed to the tourism flourish in El Salvador.

El Tunco surfing town is just 35 km San Salvador, the capital. When the entrepreneurs saw the tourist crowd swell during weekends, they saw it a great business opportunity and started building hotels and offered rooms at an affordable price to lure more tourists from all parts of El Salvador and also from the neighboring Central American countries.

5 more surfing beaches.

The adventurous surfers found out two more surfing beaches when they saw the crowd in El Tunco started spilling over to nearby beaches.

  • El Zonte
  • Punta Roca
  • El Sunzal

The waves get real big but great for surfing. Look at this thrilling video of El Sunzal surfing.

  • La Bocana-black sand beach

La Bocana-black sand beach

  • Bocanita

All the five surfing beaches are located in the La Liberated region of El Salvador. The black sand in these El Salvador beaches is not a surprise. After all, it is home to volcanoes and more volcanoes.

Wildlife, El Salvador

  • Furesa Animal Sanctuary

You can spot the shy toucans that resemble the hornbills.

hornbills

Apart from Central American bird watching, adventure lovers can test their guts in zip lining sports.

  • Turtle watching in El Salvador

Strangely, the sea turtles seem to like Pacific shores of El Salvador. There are 4 very rare species of turtles live here.

  • Hawksbill Sea Turtle
  • Leatherback turtle
  • Green sea turtle
  • Olive Ridley

The wildlife scene in El Salvador would entice every animal lover to make an exclusive trip with all their high-end professional video cameras and other bird watching gears.

Here is why:

Well, we have seen the beautiful toucans are found in abundance in Salvador, Other beautiful birds that can be spotted are:

  • Turquoise-browed Motmot

Turquoise-browed Motmot

This beautiful bird deserves a better name. Motmot is not at all a fancy name but I suppose it is too late for the bird to apply for a name change.

  • Quetzals

Quetzals

  • Brown pelicans

We have all seen only white pelicans but never a brown pelican-right? Here is how it looks.

Brown pelicans

  • Kingfishers
  • Herons
  • Egrets
  • Macaws

Animals section

  • Nine-banded Armadillo

Nine-banded Armadillo

Oh, I have never seen even a photo of this mammal; must be endemic to Central America?

I noticed quite a lot of bat species have made El Salvador as their safe habitat. I think the availability of abundant food in the Rainforests must be the reason for their proliferation.

The Eating scene in El Salvador

Well, the cuisine is all Spanish in El Salvador. However, there are more unique dishes cooked in El Salvador than in entire Spain. The natives of El Salvador (Lenca and Pipil) before the Spanish reign offer their own contribution to the overall food and collectively, it is called the Salvadorian cuisine.  Of course, due to a big flux in tourism to this country, cuisines from various countries too have made their presence. Counties such as far away Japan, Chili, Italy, Peru, China, and German are offering their national cuisine in Salvador. This indicates the tourism to this small Central American country is at its flourishing best.

The most popular and ubiquitous dish that is served everywhere in El Salvador is the Pupusa that is made of maize which seems to be the staple of El Salvador. Pupusa is better understood if called Tortilla.

Pupusa

Salvadorian Cuisine

It is eaten plain with other seafood delicacies as well as stuffed with cheese or meat.

Loroco as a taste enhancer.

Loroco is an edible flower that is liberally used in various forms in the Salvadorian cuisine.

Loroco

Of late, due to demands from tourists from various parts of the world, the pupusa is now sold with shrimp stuffing! What an exotic dish!

Some of the names of the foods that you will find on the Salvadorian menu cards are given below. They will come in handy when you travel to El Salvador.

  • Salsa Roja-a tomato sauce with garlic and onion
  • Curtido-an accompaniment that goes with pupusa. It is made of cabbage, carrot, and onion. In El Salvador, it is known as cabbage relish.

Curtido

  • Yuca Frita-Yuca means the cassava root also known as the arrowroot.Yuca Frita

The cassava root is widely eaten in various forms in the south of North America. Frita means ‘fried’. So, this is a dish of fried cassava root and is eaten by dipping the fried root in curtido.

  • Panes Rellenos– a chicken sandwich but a large one
  • Chicharron with pepesca-it is a combination of two meats-pork and fish. Both the meat are fried. I wonder how the pork and fish get together on a plate!

Here is one more flower that is used in the Salvadoran cuisine.

Izote flower

Izote flower

  • Carne Guisada-beef slices cooked in tomato gravy. The Salvadorans eat their favorite tortillas with Carne Guisada.
  • Ceviche de Camaronesthe name doesn’t throw any light on its ingredients-right? It is surely an exotic dish, a typical Salvadoran food where shrimps are cooked with tomato puree, lemon, and orange!
  • Pacaya Plantaah, here it is, a flower again but this time the flowers of a palm tree are harvested well before the full bloom (inflorescence).

Pacaya Planta

Seafood in El Salvador

The Salvadorans are fond of seafood like any other Central American. Their most loved seafood is the ‘clams’.

Seafood in El Salvador

They also eat crabs, octopus, squids, and snails! The squids in Salvador appear similar to shrimps.

squids

Staying options in El Salvador

Well, surfing being the main tourist attraction, the most sought-after neighborhood to stay in El Tunco as there are more than 5 excellent surfing spots in El Tunco. The surfers are from different cities and countries with varied affordability.

To meet every category of traveler’s need, El Tunco hotels and lodges address different wallet sizes.

Tunco Lodge is in good demand in El Tunco area.

Santa Ana volcano is in the itinerary of every tour operator. They somehow convince the tourists to stay overnight to really experience the early morning crisp and healthy weather. The best hotel in this locality is Hostel Casa Verde.

More Staying Options:

Since you would be spending some time in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador, you can inquire about availability of room in Hostal Cumbres del Volcan.

For wealthy travelers, there are quite a lot of beachfront luxury resorts. Even in this category of hotel, El Tunco offers several resorts. Try staying in Mandala Eco Villas that offer superb accommodations right on the beach.

In spite of such great beaches, there are no overwater bungalows in El Salvador but you can locate a few tree-houses in San Salvador.

Another neighborhood in El Salvador where you can find cheap accommodations in El Sunzal, one of the favorite surfing beaches. TryEl Balsamo for a short stay in La Liberated region of El Salvador. Another hostel that offers accommodations and dormitories for less than $10 a day is Sunzal Point Surf Lodge and Retreat.

Joan’s Hostel’s furniture is inviting. It is located in  Jardines de Guadalupe La Libertad SV, CP 1502, San Salvador, El Salvador

Hotel Las Magnolias, San Salvador, El Salvador is built amidst lush green landscape and the price is also very affordable.

Hotel Las Magnolias

It is located within the heart of San Salvador city.

Oh, quite a lengthy travel guide to El Salvador, a Latin American country facing the Pacific Ocean.

About the author

Jane Sophia

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