El Salvador travel guide, including map of El Salvador, top El Salvador travel experiences, tips for travel in El Salvador, plus the best colonial towns and hik

Lively and incredibly friendly; packed with volcanoes, rich forests and craggy mountains; fringed by golden beaches and first-class waves which would satisfy the most adventurous surfers and sun-worshippers – El Salvador is a perfect one-stop destination. Most people have a love-hate relationship with the capital, San Salvador, but recent rejuvenation projects are drawing more visitors in. And beyond the city there are many compelling reasons for a visit.

The northern hills around El Poy and Perquín are a haven for trekkers; Cerro Verde National Park offers dramatic, horizon-filling landscapes filled with hot springs and countless waterfalls; a challenging scramble across the smoking cinder cone of Izalco volcano is rewarded by beautiful views over Lago de Coatepeque; and who could resist the draw of a national park called El Imposible? Oft overlooked Mayan ruins abound. Among the most spectacular is Joya de Cerén. Dubbed the “Pompeii of the Americas”, the site boasts a Mayan village once buried under layers of  volcanic ash from a nearby eruption. The perfectly preserved wattle and daub houses, complete with a Mayan steam room, or temazcal, and the ceremonial headquarters of a shaman, secure Joya de Cerén a place among the continent’s most intriguing archaeological sites.

To the south, long, sandy beaches prized by surfers for decades stretch along the Costa del Sol to the Gulf of Fonseca, dotted with islets and bays to explore. In the west, wander through coffee plantations, soak up the beauty of the Ruta de las Flores or simply laze around, watching the daily display of Pacific sunsets.

Wanderlust recommends

  1. Visit the haunting Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña in Perquín
  2. Gallop off into the sunset on a horseriding trip in the rolling hills near Juayúa
  3. Try to resist the intricately carved wooden chests at craft village La Palma near the Honduran border
  4. Potter around the colonial town of Suchitoto
  5. Hike around the wonderfully named El Imposible – a mountain forest in the west that’s great for bird-watching
  6. Shop for souvenirs in the Mercado Cuartel in San Salvador
  7. Learn to surf on the black sand beaches of Playa El Tunco
  8. Step back in time: visit the the Tazumal ruins for a glimpse into Mayan life
  9. Save room for some pupusas, delicious maize-flour tortillas filled with shredded pork or cheese and black beans; the national dish of El Salvador

Wanderlust tips

Women should try to avoid cat-calls; if you ignore them, the men usually lose interest.

If you’re interested in a longer stay, you can volunteer to teach English or learn Spanish at Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad.

City centres can be dangerous places to be at night, especially the capital San Salvador. Exercise caution and seek local advice.

I wish I’d known…

Wanderlust web intern Thomas Rees on the thing he wished he’d known before he arrived:

“Watch out for some of the fiendishly similar place-names. A slip of the tongue and a mistake by a bus-driver saw my planned trip to La Palma end in a three-hour round trip between Las Palmas and San Salvador. Not to be recommended!”