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El Salvador

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The Land of Precious Things: sapphire lakes, volcanoes, white-sand beaches, and colorful handicrafts

The Mayans called it Cuscatlán, the “Land of Precious Things.” They could have been speaking of El Salvador’s magnificent volcanoes [Volcanoes National Park], today cloaked in coffee plantations and cloud forests, or its sparkling, sapphire lakes [Coatepeque].

Or perhaps they were referring to the tiny nation’s long, pearl gray beaches, along an epic, 300km (190mi) coastline. While the waves are more famous in some circles—Punta Roca, El Sunzal, La Flor, Mizata—non-surfers will find plenty to enjoy along the Pacific Ocean.

Beach lovers will have a wonderful time exploring the famous pier and seaside restaurants of La Libertad, the backpacker paradise of El Tunco, the white-sand beaches of El Cuco, and the snorkeling at Los Cobanos. The massive mangrove wetlands surrounding starry Bahia de Jiquilisco are an almost untouched wilderness of nesting sea turtles and migrating birds.

And then, there are the mountains. These are home to pretty, perfect Spanish Colonial cities like Suchitoto, an ecotourism base known for its fine hotels, lovely church, and sparkling lakefront.

Don’t miss the Ruta de las Flores, a string of pretty Colonial-era coffee-growing towns and handicraft centers, with access to volcano climbs, waterfalls, Mayan ruins, and El Imposible National Park. The most popular stop is Juayúa, locally famous for its weekend Gastronomic Festival.

Further up in the clouds are La Palma, where El Salvador’s favorite artists, Fernando Llort, created the brightly colored handicrafts for which El Salvador is known. Nearby is Miramundo where you can see from cold mountains along the Honduran border all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Or climb even higher, into Monte Cristo-el Trifinio National Park.

The eastern highlands, once home to the rebellious FMLN during El Salvador’s brutal Civil War, have transformed themselves into an alternate tourist route. Begin in San Miguel, El Salvador’s second city (and home to its outrageous Carnival), then follow the road, lined with locally-owned ecotourism projects, hotels, campgrounds, restaurants, and museums, to Perquín, the former rebel capital.  You could spend a week in the mountains and still not see it all.

At the center of the small nation is modern, sophisticated San Salvador, a globalized business center overseeing the best highway system and infrastructure in Central America—you can cross the entire country in less than five hours. Rising from the shadow of its own, eponymous volcano [Salvador Volcano], where city dwellers escape for good food, better coffee, and a wonderful park, you’ll find opulent malls, all-night discos, fine dining restaurants, and the cathedral where the recently beatified Bishop Oscar Romero gave his quiet, powerful sermons. You’ll also find some very poor, violent neighborhoods.

Which, let me guess, is what you’ve heard about El Salvador. The poverty, the gangs, and the Civil War. The war ended in 1992, poverty rates have been in decline ever since. Gang violence is real and, lately, of increasing concern, but almost never affects tourist. Check out our Safety FAQ for tips and information on keeping your trip hassle-free.

Regardless, Salvadorans remain optimistic and unpretentious, artsy and eloquent. They are proud to welcome you to their little slice of paradise, and you will not be disappointed.


What it Costs

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in local currencies.

See & Do
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Free
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Sleep
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Eat
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Shop
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Tours
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