El Salvador is not your usual tourist destination. This smallest country in Central America is known as ‘the land of volcanoes’, due to its frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. El Salvador has suffered a history containing too much pain for its size and as a result, many tourists choose to skip it when exploring Central America. I guess I am one of the brave backpackers, haha! From the 15th to the 28th of February I was fortunate enough to travel in El Salvador.
In this post I am sharing about my time in the three destinations I explored: San Salvador, El Tunco and Santa Ana Volcano.
The capital city, San Salvador (which means ‘holy saviour’), exceeded all of my expectations. It is beautiful, clean and safe. I would say its location is its greatest asset because its within easy reach to many attractions like the Pacific Ocean, mountains and volcanoes.
Where I stayed in San Salvador
The leafy suburb of San Benito is probably the best area to stay in, mainly because its pleasant to explore on foot. It’s a popular and trendy neighbourhood where you can find restaurants that accommodate any kind of budget, shopping malls, bars and supermarkets which are all within walking distance.
I stayed in San Salvador for 5 nights, in a lovely apartment which was shared with our host. Our private double room was R 280 / 20 USD pn.
What to do and see in San Salvador
If you want to feel the city’s energy while learning about El Salvador’s history, then exploring downtown San Salvador should not be missed. This district is the country’s political, economic and religious center. Although the original buildings of the Spanish colony have been destroyed over the years, the area has been beautifully renovated.
Like in many cities, there are a few free walking tours available in San Salvador which are available in English and Spanish. So, be sure to join in on one of the informative sightseeing tour experiences while in this city.
Below are a few of the important buildings/monuments:
1. San Salvador Cathedral is absolutely amazing, I was memorized by the beautiful stained windows and chandeliers.
2. The National Theater is the oldest and most luxurious theater in Central America.
3. The statue of former President Gerardo Barrios stands in the middle of the square.
El Tunco is a small surfers town just 40 minutes away from San Salvador. A short comfortable bus ride which costs R 20 / 1.5 USD pp will get you from San Salvador to El Tunco. This town gets its name from the huge rock in the Pacific Ocean that used to resemble a pig, so El Tunco means ‘The Pig’.
In El Tunco, I experience a special kind of beach vibe and witnessed some of the best sunsets that El Salvador has to offer. Playa El Tunco isn’t a gorgeous powder white beach like the many I have explored on this trip. The sand here is black because its composed of volcanic minerals and lava fragments.
What to do in El Tunco
1. Surfing – Playa El Tunco is a great beach that is not overcrowded and offers some excellent waves for surfing. People come from all over the world to ride the El Tunco surf. Therefore, the most popular thing to do is to have a surf lesson. If you’re up for the experience, you’ll be happy to know that lessons cost about R 300 / 20 USD for 45 minutes including surfboard hire.
2. Soak up the stunning sunset – Literally every night there’s a spectacular explosion of colours across the sky and the whole town heads to the beach to see it. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the sun sink below the horizon.
Santa Ana Volcano
El Salvador’s highest (2400 m above sea level) and most active volcano was my 4th volcano hike in Central America. One of the things that fascinate me the most about Central America is how the volcanoes are surrounded by such lush vegetation. Yes, Santa Ana offers some beautiful panoramic views but the highlight of hiking up is the stunning turquoise lake that sits in the center of the crater. Isn’t it spectacular?
Getting to Santa Ana Volcano
From Santa Ana: We stayed in the nearby city of Santa Ana and took a chicken bus from La Vencedora bus station at 7:30 directly to Cerro Verde National Park, where the hike starts.
From San Salvador: The capital city is approximately 80 km away from Santa Ana Volcano and day tours start from R 700 / 50 USD pp.
From El Tunco: El Tunco is just over 100 km from Santa Ana Volcano and day tours start from R 1000 / 70 USD pp.
If you don’t have many days to explore El Salvador, booking a day tour from San Salvador or El Tunco is the best choice. However, the cheapest option is to take a bus from San Salvador and spend two nights in Santa Ana then visit the volcano independently the following day. The city of Santa Ana has several beautiful attractions too.
Hiking up Santa Ana volcano
There is only one hike per day, which leaves at 11 am and you are required to hike up with an official guide. Because there are 3 different charging points, we paid a total cost of R 130 / 9 USD pp.
The hike itself isn’t too difficult and took me about 3 hours to get to the top. What I enjoyed most about this hike is that it also offers amazing views of Coatepeque Lake as well as Izalco volcano. Once we made it to the crater, we spent about an hour enjoying the views of the green lagoon which gets its colour from the mix of bacteria and sulphur. I have honestly never seen anything like this!
Although my favourite memory of El Salvador is the Santa Ana Volcano hike, I’d love to go back to make more special memories. This country has so much more to it than what the media portrays. The food is great, and the natural beauty is astounding!
I hope this post has convinced you to visit El Salvador.
Tell me, which country are you afraid to visit and why?
Thank you for reading,