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Things to Do in El Salvador

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El Rosario Church (Iglesia El Rosario)
28 Tours and Activities

Strolling past the grey concrete arch of El Rosario Church, it’s hard to believe that the bleak, hangar-like building is a place of worship, and if it wasn’t for the single, featureless white cross rising from its entrance, you’d likely pass right by. Don’t be put off by its dreary façade, though – step through the church doors and you’ll be confronted by a startling wall of color. The inspired creation of artist Ruben Martinez, the arched walls are adorned with scrap-metal figures and feature dozens of stepped windows made of colored glass, which flood the open, pillar-less hall with a kaleidoscope of light.

Built in 1971, the church was as controversial as it was innovative, and today it remains among El Salvador’s most unique and memorable landmarks. El Rosario Church is also famous as the resting place of José Matías Delgado, or “Padre Delgado,” the father of Central American independence.

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Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana)
21 Tours and Activities

The national cathedral of El Salvador may not offer the same old-world architectural charms—like ornate stone work and detailed religious statues—of its European counterparts, but the iconic white Roman Catholic church is still a stunning monument and homage to San Salvador’s deeply religious roots.

Once the site of a violent massacre where some 40 people were killed during a stampede at the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero, today the iconic structure offers a bit of peace and tranquility for visitors to this capital city. The white façade gives way to a colorful interior, where images of the Divine Saviour and a four-column bladcchino bless the main altar. Travelers can spend a moment in quiet contemplation, light a candle, and take in the massive paintings that depict moments in the life of Christ while on a visit to the nation’s most famous cathedral.

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National Theatre of El Salvador (Teatro Nacional de San Salvador)
18 Tours and Activities

Built between 1911 and 1917, San Salvador’s magnificent National Theater is not only one of the city’s principal landmarks, but a National Monument and the oldest theater in Central America. Designed by French architect Daniel Beylard, the building is among the capital’s most notable works of architecture, with its stately Neo-classical façade giving way to lavish French Renaissance interiors, including a grand mural by Salvadoran painter Salvador Carlos Cañas.

Today, the 650-seat theater remains the heart of Salvadoran performing arts, hosting an ever-changing schedule of classical concerts, theater, folk music performances and art workshops.

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National Palace
16 Tours and Activities

Built to replace the original, which was destroyed in a fire in the late 1880s, El Salvador’s current National Palace offers visitors a look at the politic, historical and national past. It is comprised of four main rooms and more than 100 smaller secondary ones, which provide visitors with a unique look at the historical, political and national past of this small South American country.

Travelers caution that many of the Palace’s rooms are now closed to the public despite the fact government offices haven’t operated here since the mid-1970s. But a tour of this famed landmark is still worth the stop, as the early 1900s furnishings and well-curated historical displays present a grander picture of the city’s colorful past. Be sure to check out the Salon Rojo, where the Foreign Ministry held its elaborate receptions; the Salon Amarillo, which once housed the president; and the Salon Rosado, which used to house the country’s Supreme Court.

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Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site
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16 Tours and Activities

A pre-Columbian Mayan farming village dating back to A.D. 600 and El Salvador’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, the impressive ruins of Joya de Cerén were discovered in 1976 and have since become one of the country’s most visited archaeological sites.

Smothered by ash during an eruption of the Laguna Caldera volcano, the buried village was preserved in near-perfect condition, earning it the nickname of the ‘Pompeii of the Americas’ and offering a unique insight into the life and culture of the region’s ancient Mayan communities. Today, the remains of around 70 structures have been uncovered at the site, 10 of which have been excavated and are open to the public, including storehouses, kitchens, workshops, a worship area and a temezcal (ceremonial bath).

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El Boquerón National Park
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17 Tours and Activities

With a trio of peaks set around the dramatic volcanic crater of El Boqueron, the wildflower covered slopes of El Boquerón National Park make a scenic hiking spot and at less than 30 minutes drive from San Salvador, it’s a popular choice for a day trip from the capital.

The main highlight of a visit to El Boquerón is the views, which look out over San Salvador and the distant Lake Ilopango and Izalco Volcano, and there are a number of lookout points to choose from. Walking trails run to the summits of El Boquerón, El Jabalí and El Picacho, the highest at 6,430 feet, and it’s also possible to hike down into the crater itself, a 1,600-foot deep caldera, measuring about 5 km in diameter.

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Santa Ana Volcano (Volcán Ilamatepec)
11 Tours and Activities

The star attraction of the Cerro Verde National Park is also its most menacing – the Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec), El Salvador’s biggest and most active volcano, last erupting as recently as 2005, when the force of the eruption flung car-sized rocks for more than 1.5 km.

Scaling the 2,381-meter peak of Santa Ana is a popular challenge for hikers, a 1.5-hour trail climbing up from the scenic San Blas Plateau and affording spectacular views of the neighboring Coatepeque caldera and Izalco volcano. From the summit, the views span the entire National Park, but equally impressive is the otherworldly terrain found at the top of the volcano and hikers can walk around the rim of the crater, looking out over the four nested calderas and an emerald green crater lake.

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More Things to Do in El Salvador

Cerro Verde National Park

Cerro Verde National Park

13 Tours and Activities

With its trio of volcanic peaks encircled by lush jungle, a vast network of hiking trails and the nearby crater lake of Coatepeque, the Cerro Verde National Park presents one of El Salvador’s most startlingly beautiful landscapes.

The main pastime for visitors to the Cerro Verde National Park is hiking and its three volcanoes, Izalco, Cerro Verde and Santa Ana, are all easily accessible. The highest point is the 2,381-meter summit of Santa Ana, El Salvador’s highest and most active volcano, capped with four craters and a glistening green crater lake, but equally dazzling are the views from neighboring Izalco, nicknamed the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” for its near-continuous eruptions over 160 years. Another highlight is climbing the eponymous peak and hikers scaling the now-extinct Cerro Verde volcano will find the mountaintop cloud forest filled with colorful birdlife, including hummingbirds, jays and emerald toucanets.

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Lake Coatepeque

Lake Coatepeque

12 Tours and Activities

A startling blue pool nestled beneath the peaks of the Cerro Verde, Izalco and Santa Ana volcanoes and fringed by sloping sugar and coffee plantations, Lake Coatepeque is among El Salvador’s most enchanting natural attractions, located on the cusp of the Cerro Verde National Park. At almost 6 km in length, this is the country’s largest lake, formed in the crater of an ancient volcano more than 50,000 years ago and nurturing a colorful population of catfish, guapote and zebra fish.

A tranquil holiday destination for both locals and travelers, the most popular activities at Lake Coatepeque are swimming and water sports, with sailing, kayaking, waterskiing and scuba diving all possible. Additional highlights include the hot springs dotted around the water’s edge and the island of Teopan, once an important place of Mayan worship.

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Santa Tecla

Santa Tecla

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3 Tours and Activities
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Suchitoto

Suchitoto

2 Tours and Activities

Perched on a hilltop, overlooking the glittering waters of Lake Suchitlán, Suchitoto is among El Salvador’s most picturesque towns, a maze of timeworn cobblestones and well-preserved colonial architecture.

Suchitoto’s tranquil surroundings and laid-back pace of life make it a popular retreat for capital dwellers, as well as nurturing a lively arts scene, and the streets are dotted with artist’s workshops, galleries and cozy cafés. The town’s most famous landmark is the striking white Iglesia Santa Lucia, but the area is most celebrated for its natural assets, with the neighboring Suchitlán reservoir sheltering a large variety of migratory birds and nearby sights including the Los Tercios Waterfall.

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Cerron Grande Dam (Suchitlan Lake)

Cerron Grande Dam (Suchitlan Lake)

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Suchitlan Lake, the vast body of water created by the Cerron Grand Dam, is the largest fresh water reserve in the county. Visitors flock to this protected wetland in hopes of spotting some of the diverse species of birds and fish that call Suchitlan home. Built in 1973, the reservoir supplies energy to nearby towns, as well as water for irrigation, livestock and local residents. The dam stretches some 90 meters high, across nearly 800 meters, providing travelers with uniterrupted 306-degree views of incredible El Salvador landscapes.

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