13 Exciting Things to Do in El Salvador (in 1 Week)

Sharing is caring!

El Salvador was one of the last countries in Central America I had not yet visited. I have flown through it several times, but never stopped. While looking for somewhere to go for my yearly birthday trip, a cheap flight to El Salvador called out to me. Ignoring the naysayers, I am so glad I gave this small country a chance. There are so many amazing things to do in El Salvador that you can easily spend more than 1 one week there. I can see myself returning again and again, especially since there are often cheap flights direct from Los Angeles. For a full rundown of everything we did, read our one week itinerary

Read on to learn more about what we did during our one week visit and what we wished we had time for!

Where is El Salvador?

El Salvador is a small country in Central America, bordering Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua. It is said to be one of the most densely populated countries in the region with over 6 million residents. That said, outside of the major towns, it doesn’t feel like it is densely populated, with large portions of the country a rural landscape. The country is also quite small, making it easy to cover large distances relatively quickly. 

Is El Salvador Safe?

The first thing everyone said to me when I told them I was going to El Salvador for my birthday was “is it safe there?” Before my visit I wasn’t quite sure how safe it really was, but all reports I had read and heard were that it changed quite a bit in recent years and that it was safe.

El Salvador has had a bad reputation for having one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Which it did. But that is changing.

In recent years there has been a major crackdown on gang violence which has changed the dynamic of the country in many ways. There are reports of human rights abuses in this crackdown, which I don’t know enough to speak on.

What I do know is that I didn’t feel uneasy or unsafe for even one second in El Salvador. I was traveling there with my female friend and our two children. We rented a car and drove all over the country at night, in the early morning and throughout the day. The people we encountered were nothing but friendly and welcoming. 

The mood of the country right now, after re-electing their president is one of hope and excitement of a positive future. 

How to Get Around El Salvador

If you have time to spend leisurely exploring El Salvador, you can easily get around by using local transportation and chicken buses (old US school buses converted to brightly decorated public buses). While this is the super cheap option of getting around the country, it will mean a lot of waiting and walking as they are not always super convenient and typically come only ever half hour. 

Another option is to hire a car and driver for the time you would like one. This is probably a good idea for people who plan to stay in one area most of the time and take only a few day trips around the country. Additionally, many hotels offer shuttle bus services to and from the airport if needed. 

Lastly you can also rent a car and drive yourself. This is what we did on our visit and what I personally feel is the best way to see the country.  Overall, the infrastructure is pretty good with more and more newly paved roads every day. Google maps works decently however you do need to pay attention as it can take you down dirt roads and is not the best in the capital San Salvador. And for the most part Salvadorans follow typical traffic rules. I found this to be a great way to get around in a quick and easy way and would highly recommend it if you are confident driving on rural roads and in big cities. 

Weather in El Salvador

While El Salvador can be visited all year round, the best time to travel is from November to April. This period is the dry season with the least chance of rain. That said, it does get hot during this time as well, so you should be prepared for 80s to 90s even in January and February. April to October is the rainy season, which means that it could potentially rain every day. Compared to nearby countries like Costa Rica, it rains a lot less here.

If you plan to spend time in the mountain areas, it does cool down quite a it at night, so bring a long sleeve, even if the projected day time temperatures are quite hot.

What to Pack for El Salvador

Depending on where you’re going and when you are visiting, you can typically get by with very little here. For our week long trip, we each had only small “personal size” backpacks and that was plenty! In general, swimwear for the beach and hot springs, airy quick drying clothes that wick away moisture as it is hot and can be quite humid. We love our wool clothes for this. Don’t forget a long sleeve or hoodie for the cool nights in the mountain areas. Additionally, bug repellent, sun screen, a hat and hiking shoes if you plan to hike any of the waterfalls or volcanos.

If you have children with you who are picky eaters, bring plenty of comfort food snacks. You will find some basics like pringles, takis, lays and oreos in the more touristy areas, but often your only option are more local  brands and flavors. 

Where to Stay in El Salvador

One of the biggest questions for visitors to El Salvador is where to stay. This is a tough one since the country is so small, it is relatively easy to stay in one place and make day trips around. That said, I highly recommend moving around the country to really experience the different areas and vibes of the towns.

For a one week itinerary, I would recommend choosing a hotel near the beach for a few nights, a hotel along the Ruta de las Flores for a night and then a hotel on the lake for a few nights. If you have more time, you can add on a stay in Suchitoto or San Salvador. 

Airbnb accommodation is really growing here, with some fantastic options available. For most of these options, it will be important to have your own transportation.  Additionally, booking hotels online will result in a much higher tariff than if you arrive to town and find a place yourself. Obviously this feels risky to many, but if you can find a hotel you like, email or call them for the best deals. 

Things to Know When Visiting El Salvador

There are a few things that you should know before venturing to El Salvador including visas, money and phone services.

Entry Requirements

For US and Canadian citizens flying into the country, you can enter El Salvador for 90 days with a $12 “Tourist Card”. This can be purchased upon arrival with cash or credit card. 


El Salvador uses the US dollar as their national currency. They are also the first country in the world to have BitCoin as a national currency. To be honest I do not understand how BitCoin works, but you will see options all over the tourist areas offering BitCoin as an option. 

Cash is still king in El Salvador even though more and more places do take cards. You will often find better rates when paying with cash, so always carry enough with you just in case!


English is not widely spoken, so prepare in advance by learning basic phrases in Spanish and download Google Translate to use when you are offline. If you have basic Spanish you can get by decently, but the better your Spanish, the more you will get out of your interactions with locals. If you are worried about your level of Spanish, consider taking day tours to get the most of your visit. 


Top 13 Things to Do in El Salvador

Take Surfing Lessons

One of the major attractions for tourists to El Salvador are it’s beautiful Pacific Ocean coastline that is renowned for surfing. With several cute towns to base yourself, such as La Libertad you are bound to find your vibe. The most popular surfing towns at the moment are Playa el Tunco and Playa el Zonte. Both towns are similar with a laid back backpacker feel, however in my opinion, the beach is better at El Zonte, while there are more accomodation and food options in El Tunco. We loved both areas and would recommend staying and or visiting both areas if you have time.

For those looking to try their hand at surfing, this is one of the best places to try it. We took lessons with Los 3 Hermanos, but had also tried to book with Del Mar Surfing School in El Zonte and had talked to the instructors at the El Dorado Surf Resort about lessons there. The best bet is to show up, walk around either town checking out prices and availability.

Our lesson was $45 for one hour with a private instructor per person. Del Mar had quoted us the same price for a 2 hour lesson, but unfortunately they were already booked up the day we had available. 

Whether you are a water lover or not, visiting the Pacific Coast is one of the top things to do in El Salvador and well worth making time to experience.

Experience El Salvador’s Waterfalls

There are many beautiful waterfall trails and hikes around the country that are well worth checking out. From El Tunco, many visitors head to Tamanique Waterfalls where you can cliff jump and even rappel a bit! While visiting these waterfalls you will get a sense of the various types of flora and fauna that exist in this country. Other waterfall hikes to consider include: Las Siete Cascadas, which I have heard is quite challenging!

The one we had hoped to have time for, but didn’t was Chorros de la Calera. You need a guide to enter these waterfalls to help protect the environment. You can find a guide for both these falls and for Las Siete Cascadas in the nearby town of Juayua. 

Another option near to Ataco is Cascadas De Don Juan , which is a simple 2 minute walk from the parking area, making these waterfalls the most accessible in the country. 

Eat Pupusas

One of the most popular foods in El Salvador is of course the pupusa. There is even a National Pupusa Day holiday in El Salvador, which takes place on the second Sunday in November. While these thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese, beans, veggies or meat are amazing and found everywhere there are also plenty of other Salvadoran dishes to consider during your visit. Fried cassava (yuca), seafood like ceviche, fried fish or even lobster and so much more.

If you love pupusas as much as we do and want to check out the home of pupusas, head to Olocuilta which is only about 15 minutes from the airport. This town is the home of the pupusa and well worth a stop. If you try the stalls closest to the highway, expect to pay premium prices. If you have time, take a wonder around and hit up some of the spots a little more inside the town for the best prices. 

When eating your pupusas don’t forget to try it with the curtido and red salsa that comes with it. I prefer it without the salsa, but with the curtido, which is a vinegar like cabbage slaw that is delicious!

If you want to seek out all the pupusa places, head to Izalco to see pupusas made in the traditional clay pot. 

While we didn’t get to try all the deliciousness of pupusas, the few places we would be happy to return to more than once include these:

Explore la Ruta de las Flores 

One of the top things to do in El Salvador for tourists and locals alike is to take a scenic drive along the Ruta de las Flores, or “Route of Flowers.”  This is a picturesque journey that winds visitors through the western highlands of El Salvador and in towns like Juayúa, Nahuizalco, Apaneca, and Ataco. Each of these towns has their own vibe, with cobblestone streets, local markets and of course delicious food to try. Depending on which one you are in, you can enjoy the colorful murals, handicrafts, and local cuisine. Some of our top things to do in El Salvador along the ruta de los flores is:

  • Eat pupusas at Esmeralda in Juayua
  • Get your adrenaline going in Apaneca (read more below)
  • Check out murals in Ataco
  • Juayúa food festival on the weekends

Where to Stay: We loved our accomodation in Ataco at Casa degraciella Boutique Hotel

Hike Santa Ana Volcano

One of the most popular things to do in El Salvador is hike a volcano. Often called the land of volcanoes, it makes sense that it is a top thing to do here. One of the easiest to hike is Santa Ana volcano, also known as Ilamatepeq. Heading up this active volcano is a thrilling adventure that offers stunning views of nearby Izalco Volcano and a glimpse into El Salvador’s volcanic landscape. You will be wowed when you see the steaming green crater lake at the top of the volcano. 

Information changes quickly for this popular hike, but at the time of writing (March 2024), it is required to have a guided escort up the volcano. While people do attempt to go on their own, we highly recommend taking a local guide as this is an easy way to give back to the local economy and help support the locals. 

At the time of writing, you can go with a guided group for $3 per person at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. approximately. Essentially, the guides will go when they have about 20 people. Alternatively, you can pay for a private guide. We paid $10 per person to go at 7:30 a.m. If you are not reliant on the chicken bus or public transport, I highly recommend going early before the day tours arrive and before it gets too hot out. If you do this, you will need to pay extra for the private guide. 

Additionally, there is an entrance fee for everyone over 12 years old which is $6 per person.

Park staff check your bags to ensure you are not bringing alcohol and cigarettes up as both are prohibited. 

Soak in Hot Springs

Santa Teresa Hot Springs

During our visit we saw a few hot springs options popping up, but the most popular at the time of publication is Termales of Santa Teresa. This facility pumps in natural hot spring water into their man made pools up a small hillside. The higher you go, the hotter the pools typically. During our visit in the heat of the day, many of the pools were actually quite cool, with only a couple very hot ones. This was perfect for our visit, but if you go on a cold day, you may be a bit disappointed with some of the cooler pools. Entrance was $10 for adults and $5 for kids 12 and under. To be honest, this is a good deal, as you can spend as long as you like here. 

We highly recommend heading for the natural spa area and forking over another $10 (and $5 for kids) for the mud bath experience. Here you get in a natural sauna for 5 minutes to open your pores before covering your body with therapeutic mud. You let it dry, then get in the sauna again for 5 minutes before walking down to a hot pool to wash it all off. We all had so much fun with this unique experience and found it was well worth visiting.

There is also another hot spring down the road called Alicante, which is a bit cheaper to get in. We didn’t have time to visit this one as well, but will next time. Additionally, there is construction happening next to Santa Teresa which looks to be another hot spring and hotel experience.

Note: Bring a towel and a wet bag for your swimwear.

Get Your Adrenaline Pumping at Cafe Albania

While an adventure park isn’t something that is typically on my radar when traveling, it was all over social media so we decided to add it to our to do list. And, I will say, it is a fun stop if you are doing the Ruta de las Flores or staying in the area like we were. The cafe is located less than 20 minutes from the town of Ataco. Additionally, this is also a good combo with the Santa Teresa Hot Springs if you are venturing up to this area for just a day trip. 

Essentially, Cafe Albania continues to expand, but overall, they provide a variety of adrenaline pumping activities for people to experience. For $40 you can try your hand at all activities including the labyrinth maze made out of hedges. If you aren’t super adventurous, you can purchase just the activities that you want to do. My 13 year old did it all, while I stuck to the tame options like the steep rainbow slide and the butterfly swing. There is also a cafe here if you need to grab a snack.

Overall this is fun spot, but to be honest, social media has helped expand this business. If you don’t have a lot of time, don’t feel like you are totally missing out!

An alternative for just the rainbow slide is Picnic Steakhouse which is closer to San Salvador. We did not go there, but it is the first rainbow slide and the one that sent this activity viral!

Visit Lago de Coatepeque

One of the most surprising spots on our trip was Lake Coatepeque. I had seen only a few mentions of people staying here, so didn’t quite put it on my radar for more than lunch after our volcano  hike. I wish we had an extra day and we would have loved to have spent it here. This stunning crater lake is surrounded by lush hills, offering everything from swimming, kayaking, jet skis or simply enjoying the panoramic views.

There are a number of hotel options here from budget to higher end. Additionally, many places here still cater more to the local population, so you will find yourself right in the middle of many family gatherings, chatting and eating away the day!

If you don’t end up staying here at the lake, many of the hotels offer a day pass to enjoy their swimming pool and facilities that you can check out. 

Where to Stay:

Hotel Cardedeu

Captain Morgan Hostel

Colonial Town of Suchichito

We didn’t have time to make it to Suchitoto but it was on our list. One of the top things to do in El Salvador on our list is to explore colonial towns like this with its cobblestone streets, classic colonial architecture and vibrant art scene. Here you can visit art galleries, the local markets and the nearby lake. This is top of my list for our next visit.

While you are here, you can also make a day trip to San Sebastian, which is known for its textiles and weaving. 

There is also Lake Suchitlán in the area that is well worth a visit. 

Seek out Local Artisan Crafts

Cooll things to do in El Salvador is to check out local artisansOne of the best things to do in El Salvador while driving around the country is to look out for local artisan crafts. In towns like Concepción de Ataco, there are specialized stores where artists can sell their wares. We loved Axul Artesania in Ataco and ended up buying a ton of stuff. This cool shop is connected to coffee shop with a beautiful outdoor space to chill out for a while. Additionally, you will see weavers making textile fabric that can be purchased inside.

Other artisan works to look out for include indigo dyed materials and fabric, textile weavings, wood carvings and more. We were on the hunt for an indigo dying workshop but didn’t quite have time to make that dream come true. Next visit!

Camp At Conchagua

Looking for something a bit different? What about camping at the Conchagua volcano. This volcano is located in the far east of El Salvador, with stunning views of the Gulf of Fonseca and its islands. This has recently become a bit of a popular day trip or 2 day tour from El Tunco. If you wish to do a tour, we highly recommend this one

You can also visit independently without a tour, but you will need to make some advance preparations. First you will need to message CODECA (Coordinating Association of Communities for the Development of Cacahuatique) on Whatsapp (+503 7484 9950). Here you can make a reservation for a campsite, organize transport and rent camping gear if you do not have your own. There are only a small number of campsites available, so you will need to book this in advance.

View of Izalco while hiking Santa Ana volcano

Visit Mayan Ruins

For history buffs, one of the top things to do in El Salvador is to explore the ancient Mayan ruins at Tazumal and Joya de Cerén. The Tazumal Ruins are one of the largest pre-Columbian archaeological sites in El Salvador, while Joya de Ceren is known as the “Pompeii of the Americas” due to its well-preserved structures.

We did not have time to visit on this trip, but heard that the ruins were very cool. I often find it interesting to visit these places as a country is just developing tourism as you can really get a closer look into how these ruins were built. 

Take a Coffee Tour

Did you know that El Salvador is a producer and exporter of coffee? Yep, and here you can take a tour of coffee plantations to learn more about the production process from bean to cup, whilce also sampling some delicious roasts!

We have done coffee tours in Costa Rica and Guatemala, so we did not do it here, but have heard that it is a really fun thing to do in El Salvador. The place that was highly recommended to us was El Carmen Estate located just outside of Ataco. They have a one hour tour that costs around $6 that provides a basic overview. For those wanting a bit more, you can take the 3 hour tour which includes coffee tasting for $25. The estate also has accomodation options if you want to stay on a real coffee farm a bit outside of town. 

One Week Itinerary Suggestion

El Tunco Beach

If you have only one week in El Salvador, I would suggest 3 nights at the ocean to explore the various beaches, take surfing lessons and just take in the vibe of the towns. Be sure to eat Mi Sazon Tacos for Taco Tuesday!

After a few days at the beach, you can head to either Cerro Verde for a night to hike the Santa Ana Volcano or spend 2 nights at Lake Coatepeque where you can easily drive to the volcano for an early morning hike. Spend the rest of your time here, enjoying the lake.

Lastly, head to the Ruta de las Flores for 2 nights to experience the thrills of Cafe Albania, the cute town of Ataco and exploring the other areas along this popular route.

If you have more time, or don’t need/want as much time at the beach or at the lake, consider a night in Suchitoto to soak up the colonial charms.

Wrap Up

El Salvador is a beautiful country that is currently still a hidden gem off the beaten path, but I feel like it will soon become the next Guatemala! As such a beautiful place to explore, stunning beaches and coastlines to visit, unique volcano hikes to experience, archeological sites and delicious cheap food it is bound to find its way up to the top of more travel wish lists. 

If You Enjoyed This Post, Sign Up To Receive Posts By Email or…

  • Join us on Facebook for regular updates and related articles
  • Check us out on Instagram to see what we are up to in photos
  • Follow us on Twitter for links to great travel articles curated just for you
  • Or share this post with others by pinning on Pinterest!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.