Home » I’ve been to every country in Central America; here’s why El Salvador is my favourite

I’ve been to every country in Central America; here’s why El Salvador is my favourite

written by Sarah Scimmi August 2, 2017
El Salvador volcano

El Salvador is full of coastal surprises, magical wonders to wander, warm hearts and welcoming people.

I went to El Salvador on a whim. After signing a contract for a grown-up job, I had 18 days of freedom to roam. I found a cheap flight to the capital San Salvador departing the next day and, knowing a few friends who went raving about epic waves and a breathtaking interior, I bought it. Best decision ever.

Nestled between Guatemala and Honduras, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. It is often skipped over by travellers – it has a well-known history of civil war and lesser-known reputation for secluded beaches, lush landscapes, and welcoming locals.

As a single female traveler, I was nervous when I left. By the end of my too-short trip I considered leaving my job (before I’d started) and staying. Not only did I feel safe, but I felt welcomed into a little country with a big heart.

Local in Suchitoto El Salvador

Local in Suchitoto

Of course, exercise caution as you would in any other Central American country but don’t be wary of going. When you travel to El Salvador, bring your sense of adventure and leave the countries past behind.

El Tunco is a great introduction to El Salvador

My first destination in El Salvador was El Tunco, a small town about 45 minutes from the airport in the country’s capital, San Salvador.

Known by surfers for a steady and sizable point break, this town has so much more to offer than just waves. Take one day to wander the streets and be sure to say todo bien to locals passing by – the relaxed Salvadorian way of saying hi and meaning everything good?

El Tunco El Salvador

El Tunco

Cheap eats are found on every street with vendors selling their national dish, the tasty pupusa. For those wanting to splurge, Loroco Bistro has wood-fired oven pizzas with a twist – the chef makes dough from corn meal, his mother’s recipe. And by splurge, I mean relatively. Each savory and saucy pizza is $5-10.

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With other activities like yoga, aquatic wild life tours, stand up paddle boarding, a fun night life and day treks nearby you can easily spend two weeks in El Tunco. For those chasing waves – Sunzal Point has a stellar point break and the most relaxed line up.

El Tunco beach El Salvador

Sunset at El Tunco’s beach

The best part of the day is when the sun sets with locals and travellers alike gathering on the beach playing football or enjoying a beer.

SEE THE BEST OF EL SALVADOR (INCLUDING EL TUNCO) ON THIS EPIC 8-DAY TRIP

Ancient ruins off the beaten path

After visiting historic Mayan sites in Guatemala and Honduras, I was surprised to visit each of El Salvador’s many ruins and have the room to wander, dipping into each corner and crevice, having Indiana Jones moments without my imaginary adventure spoiled by a massive crowd.

I first visited a ruin often regarded as the Pompeii of the Americas, Joya de Ceren. It is an archaeological site featuring a pre-Columbian Maya farming village remaining almost unspoiled under layers of volcanic ash. After evacuating, repopulating then evacuating a last time near 590 AD, Joya de Ceren is amazingly preserved and wasn’t discovered until 1976.

RELATED: 5 (MORE) REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT EL SALVADOR

Tazumal offers a totally different experience. An important ceremonial area by 600 AD, it is fully excavated exposing a temple pyramid and other ancient Mayan architecture.

Tazumal ruins El Salvador

Tazumal ruins

Close to Tazumal is Chalchupa, a town existing for at least 3200 years and an excellent example of welcoming Salvadorian culture. Take a few hours in Chalchupa to wander the same ancient roads once travelled by Maya people and you will wonder why you ever hesitated before visiting El Salvador.

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A small adventure with breathtaking rewards: Las Cascadas, Tamanique

I went to El Salvador to surf, and despite great waves, Las Cascadas was the highlight of my trip. Located near the small traditional Salvadorian town of Tamanique, Las Cascadas is a short hike down a valley with prolific waterfalls, cliff jumping and serene natural pools.

We took a different route hiking back up through local farmland, exposing a landscape of rolling hills and a glimpse of real Salvadorian life.

Hiking El Salvador

Hiking near Tamanique Waterfalls

The best part about Las Cascadas is being surrounded by the lush beauty of El Salvador’s interior and appreciating the magic of the natural world in peace. I did not see a single other traveller during my visit.

VISIT 4 CENTRAL AMERICAN COUNTRIES (INCLUDING EL SALVADOR) ON THIS 9-DAY TRIP

Magical Parque Nacional Montecristo

A dreamy wilderness where forest meets the sky, Montecristo National Park is filled with breathtaking views and hikes that will suit all athletic capabilities.

Located in northwestern El Salvador, oak and laurel trees grow up to 30 meters covering a dense exotic plant life below. Trek along paths surrounded by two-meter ferns and keep watch for monkeys and toucans above. In Parque Nacional Montecristo you can easily lose your mind and find your soul.

El Salvador is the region’s last frontier

El Salvador has so much more to offer, too. Think colonial towns of Ataco, Juayua, and Suchitoto (my favorite, and a destination that this trip visits); artisan shopping in the tiny rainbow-coloured village of La Palma; hiking the Santa Ana volcano, and more.

Suchitoto El Salvador

Suchitoto

El Salvador was the last Central American country on my list and I honestly regret not visiting it sooner. If your wanderlust craves authentic local culture, breathtaking landscape and beautiful beaches then this country offers more than you can imagine.

If you come to El Salvador with an open heart you will be welcomed with open arms.

Tempted to give this underrated beauty a visit? Check out our range of small group tours in El Salvador.

(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Patrizi Rudoni, Intrepid Travel, Sarah Scimmi, iStock, Sarah Scimmi, Intrepid Travel)

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6 comments

Sam August 2, 2019 - 11:25 am

Most definitely a place to visit. Nature at its it’s best, untamed country with a Friendly and inexpensive atmosphere.

Reply
Malcolm Collins March 14, 2018 - 9:58 am

Like Dwain and Roberto (who are both friends), my wife is Salvadoran (I am originally from California). I live in San Salvador where we own the Hostal Cumbres del Volcán. I have loved it here since the first time I set foot on vacation with my wife in 1981! Wonderful people, and with all the different types of terrain, beaches, mountains volcanos, crater lakes, waterfalls it seems much bigger than it is. Come and enjoy the beautiful country with us! Que le vaya bien.

Reply
Robert Broz March 13, 2018 - 2:01 pm

Came for a visit in 1994 originally from California been here ever since. If you need travel advice or help with trip planning just drop me an email at rpbroz@gmail.com or if in Suchitoto just ask for Roberto El Gringo

Reply
Dwain Holmes December 14, 2017 - 9:53 am

My wife was born there and We retired there!First time I went home with Her to visit I said I was going to retire there and did in 2009! Never regreted the choice for one minute! Have been from Canada to Costa Rica(never Belize)and friendliest people here of all!

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Julius October 30, 2017 - 2:17 pm

Hy, sounds like a Great Spot. Heading there soon and wondered if you can tell me something about accommodations. What’s the price, how to find, which sites are useful etc.?
Thanks a lot and safe travels.

Reply
rick be August 2, 2017 - 6:43 am

El Salvador is the only Central American country I haven’t visited,but do hope to fill in that square before I die.

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