Where to go in El Salvador, a 2-week itinerary of this small but sensational country

El Salvador is fast becoming a popular spot on the backpacker trail. In 2021, I spent two weeks there and had absolutely no idea what to expect. It turned out to be one of my favourite countries for both its wonderfully friendly locals and the ‘untouched’ feel it still possesses. From towering volcanoes to world-class surfing to coffee plantations as far as the eye can see, the smallest country in Central America is jam-packed with things to do. Read on for where to go in El Salvador.


Jump straight to:

  1. El Tunco

  2. San Salvador

  3. Santa Ana

  4. Suchitoto

  5. Ruta de las Flores


El Tunco ~ 2 days

If you want to take it easy, catch some waves, and socialise with other backpackers, this is the place to be. Keen surfers could definitely spend more than two days here! Be warned: it is fairly touristy so prices are considerably higher than in the rest of the country. And hey, you’re likely to spend most of your time with other gringos. But meeting other travellers could hardly be considered a downside! All in all, El Tunco has rightfully earned its place as El Salvador’s must-visit beach town.


San Salvador ~ 2 days

You only need one day to explore the historical centre in San Salvador, just make sure you avoid Mondays as everything is closed! The best way is to take a walking tour or hit the streets yourself. Stop by Catedral Metropolitana, Iglesia el Rosario, Palacio Nacional, Museo de Arte and Parque Cuscatlan to get your cultural fix.

Whether you’re a pro or new to diving, take a day trip from San Salvador to Lake Ilopango. This active volcanic crater lake is a really unique place to dive, with its warm fresh water,  cliffs of volcanic stones and majestic underwater statues.


Santa Ana ~ 4 days

Santa Ana is the best place to stay in El Salvador to use as a base for a wide variety of day trips. It’s also home to one of my favourite hostels where the family-run feel is a true home away from home. For the lowdown on activities, costs and how to get there by public transport, keep reading…


Salto de Malacatiupan

This impressive hot springs waterfall is a gorgeous place to sit in nature, enjoy the sun and take a dip in the very warm water.

Cost: Entry is just $1

How to get there from Santa Ana:

  • Start at Francisco Lara Pineda bus terminal in the city centre
  • Take the 210 bus to Atiquizaya ($0.50)
  • Walk to 5 de Noviembre Park (a few minutes from where the Atiquizaya bus drops you)
  • Take the yellow bus on 4a Calle to Salto de Malacatiupan ($0.50)


Santa Ana Volcano hike

El Salvador’s highest active volcano is actually a fairly easy hike. It takes about 1-1.5 hours depending on the speed of your group. There’ll be guides forming groups at the arrival point so just tag onto the next one due to leave. The views on the way up are great but the star of the show is the turquoise sulphuric crater lake at the top. Take plenty of water as it gets hot!


Entry to the national park is $6

Guide (obligatory) is $2-3 per person depending on group size

How to get there from Santa Ana:

  • Start at La Vencedora bus terminal
  • Take the 248 bus to ‘Tibet’ at 7:30am (£0.70) *this bus only runs once per day*


Tazumal Ruins

Some of the most impressive Mayan ruins in El Salvador, Tazumal is an archaeological site and small museum (all signs in Spanish here) which was a nice alternative to more popular historical sites.

Cost: Entry is $5

How to get there from Santa Ana:

  • Start at Francisco Lara Pineda bus terminal
  • Take the 218 bus to Chalchuapa ($0.30)
  • Walk to the Tazumal Ruins entrance (about 5 minutes away)

The locals are friendly and so willing to help in El Salvador. If you’re stuck with public transport at any point, ask somebody nearby and I guarantee they’ll do their best to assist you with the next leg of your journey. I felt completely safe on buses here and in terms of cost and ease of use, they’re the best buses in Central America.


Suchitoto ~ 1 day

A gorgeous little town to potter around for a day. It can be done as a day trip from San Salvador or you can stay overnight. Visit the plate museum (you’ve got to see this one to believe it) and have lunch overlooking Lake Suchitlan.


Ruta de las Flores ~ 5 days

Ruta de las Flores is a road surrounded by nature and coffee plantations in the west of El Salvador. Each town along the route has its quirks so you can split your time across them depending on your preferences.



Las Siete Cascadas hike 

A 3-4 hour hike that covers seven waterfalls of varying scale and grandeur. The fourth waterfall has to be scaled (yep, climbing up steep wet rock through the water!) to reach the final three. This was a really enjoyable half-day trip and best done with a group for both enjoyment and getting a better deal on the price. A guide is definitely necessary but no transportation is required – the guide will walk you from your accommodation to the start of the hike.

La Feria Gastronomica

Juayúa is famed for its weekend food festival so the town gets busiest on Saturday and Sunday. This is a free weekly event – just head along and buy something to eat from whichever food stalls take your fancy.




This outdoor activity centre contains a labyrinth and various ziplines, including ones that you ‘cycle’ or ‘surf’ across. Entry is $5 which gives you a $5 voucher to spend however you please inside.

Laguna Verde 

Walk or cycle (beware: it’s all uphill) to this pretty crater lake just outside of town. Bicycle hire costs $5 but if you’re not an avid cyclist, I’d recommend walking this one at a leisurely pace instead.



Coffee tour 

A coffee tour is the thing to do on your Ruta de las Flores trip. The best-flavoured coffees are grown at high altitudes which explains why this area in the highlands of El Salvador is famous for its plantations.


This town definitely has the most cafe and restaurant options so if you’d rather not cook, this is the place to stay!


I hope I’ve convinced you to include this underrated country when planning your trip to Central America!



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About The Author

Sophie Fern

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