While El Salvador might be the smallest country in Central America, the adventures that you can discover here are not! This El Salvador itinerary will help you make the most of your trip with the best experiences for one week in El Salvador.
Throughout this itinerary, I'll share where we stayed, ate, and explored. I'll also share additional options and tips to make your trip easier. Check out my tips for El Salvador here and more fun things to do in El Salvador here.
El Salvador was a special trip for my husband and me because his family is from there! We've been talking about going for years, so to be able to finally experience it with him and his friends was incredible.
El Salvador Itinerary for One Week
Day 1: Explore San Salvador
Day 3: Ruta de Flores & Hot Springs
Day 4: Lake Imalpatec & El Zapote
Day 5: Beach Day in El Tunco
Day 6: Taminique Waterfalls
Day 7: Day at a Resort
Tips for Visiting El Salvador
1. I would recommend hiring a driver for your time here. We used a family friend of my husband, and it cost us about $100 a day split between the four of us. This saved us so much worry, time, and effort on our trip. We were able to do everything we wanted and more, along with discovering places that we didn't even know about! You can find recommendations for local guides here.
2. While El Salvador is relatively safe right now, there are still cases where people run into trouble. Staying alert and in groups made us feel safe through Colonial San Benito and around El Tunco at night.
3. As you plan your trip, it's important to keep in mind the top things you want to do, of course, but the good news is El Salvador is a small country. It's easy to choose a home base for your trip and take day trips from there. There are all types of day trips you can take - hike a volcano, visit a coffee farm, exploring a beautiful village, swimming in a volcanic lake, and so much more. You'll find there are a lot of fun things to do in El Salvador.
For this itinerary, I recommend staying in San Salvador for the first three to four days in the San Benito neighborhood. Spend the rest of your time staying at the beach in or around El Tunco.
In San Salvador:
Barcelo : Located in San Benito (the best neighborhood to stay in), Barceló San Salvador offers an innovative stay in El Salvador, ideally located in the capital of the country, in front of the new shopping center Bambu City Center, Multiplaza, SOHO Las Cascadas, and Gran Vía; and the fabulous Museum of Art of the city. You will find restaurants, shops, and cafes easy to get to from here. It also has a pool perfect for relaxing after the day!
Hyatt Centric: Located in Las Cascadas Shopping Center, Hyatt Centric San Salvador is centered in the heart of San Salvador's commerce and nightlife. The hotel celebrates the Pacific Ocean and Salvadoran culture—drive just 21 miles for a day of surfing or relaxing in El Tunco, then return to your room to enjoy local wave-inspired artwork.
In La Libertad (Beach):
Mandala Eco Villas: Located in La Libertad, Mandala Eco Villas is on the beach. Sunzal Beach and La Gran Via Shopping Center are two other places to visit that come recommended and close by. Kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling offer great chances to get out on the surrounding water, or you can seek out an adventure with ecotours nearby. Their infinity pool overlooking the ocean and drinks will keep you happy throughout your stay! We also loved how quiet and serene the individual villas were!
Los Farallones: This beachfront property is located on a private beach in La Libertad, Hotel Los Farallones offers tropical gardens, a private infinity pool, and a sun terrace with hammocks and sea views. The popular surfing spot of El Sunzal is just a 5-minute drive from the hotel, and restaurants are just a 15 minute walk away.
Day 1: Explore San Salvador
San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador and by far the largest city in the country. Generally, one day is enough time to see the main sights in the city. There's been a large boom in construction here with cool cafes, shops, and infrastructure making it more accessible for travelers.
Morning in Centro Historico (Historic Downtown)
The historic center of San Salvador holds traces of the history of an entire nation. We spent about three hours here, but if you choose to go inside any of the historic buildings like the National Palace, you can easily spend more time here. It was closed the day we went and so we spent more time walking around the market.
Plaza La Libertad and Plaza Gerardo Barrios are where you will find many of the statues and historical buildings of El Salvador. The architecture here is also beautiful!
Plaza La Libertad, in particular, has special historical and archeological value. The center is where the history of the city begins, and some may say the history of the Salvadoran people. Beyond the architectural design and European heritage, the center has it all, offering visitors entertainment, gastronomy, and activities in each of the buildings, as well as live shows in the Plaza.
Plaza Gerardo Barrios with the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral in the historic center of San Salvador. The National Theater is close by, along with the markets happening daily in the streets. Right now, a national library is also being built on this square. You'll find performances, tours, and lots of lively events happening in this area!
Our favorite was walking through the giant city market around the historic downtown and seeing the historic palace. The cathedrals are also beautiful here!
Pro-tip: Before visiting, know that even if Google tells you a building is open, it may be wrong. Carry a small amount of cash with you for entrance fees if you'd like to go into any historical buildings.
Option 1: Hang Out in San Benito
San Benito is also known as Zona Rosa and packed with stylish bars, patio restaurants, and modern malls around the Monument to the Revolution, a towering mosaic depicting a man with outstretched arms.
The Museum of Art houses almost 2 centuries of Salvadoran painting and sculpture, while Teatro Presidente stages plays and classical concerts. Hotels and foreign embassies give the area a cosmopolitan vibe. Barcelo is located here, but it's also where you'll find the Museum of Art and National Museum of Anthropology.
Stop by Andian or Biscuit Factory for lunch (both are great for breakfast too), don't forget to grab a coffee and pastry at one of these spots too before walking over to one of the museums! Consider shopping in Bamboo City Center or stopping in at the small boutiques located in Biscuit Factory.
The National Museum of Anthropology MUNA promotes the reflection of Salvadorans of their identity and cultural diversity through permanent, itinerant, and temporary exhibitions. Major renovations are set to change this museum drastically in the near future!
The El Salvador Art Museum MARTE is a private, non-profit institution inaugurated in May 2003. The El Salvador Art Museum Association is responsible for the museum’s operations.
The MARTE museums contribute to the educational and cultural development of the country through the conservation and dissemination of the country’s artistic heritage. It reinforces historical knowledge, reaffirming the cultural values that form El Salvador’s identity.
After spending the afternoon exploring a museum, relax at your hotel then head to dinner and drinks at Brutto. This upscale spot gives you a great view of the skyline and mountains overlooking San Salvador.
Note: If you choose to stay in this area or are not interested in history/art then option 2 is best for you because if you choose to stay here, you can easily fit this in a differnt morning or afternoon once done exploring for the day!
If staying in San Salvador, consider having dinner at one of these options as well for other nights of your stay:
Takeo where you can get awesome tacos
El Atico at El Boqueron Plaza for unique papusas
Hacienda Real for an amazing steak
Option 2: Explore El Boqueron
El Boqueron National Park is located in and on the San Salvador Volcano. It is a stratovolcano situated northwest to the city of San Salvador about 20-30 minutes from the city. The crater has been nearly filled with a relatively newer edifice, the Boquerón volcano. San Salvador is adjacent to the volcano and the western section of the city actually lies among its slopes.
There are several different places to explore throughout this area. Below are the stops I'd recommend making.
Lunch at Las Brumas
Las Brumas is a beautiful cafe located in El Boqueron. They serve traditional Salvadoran dishes such as pupusas, ceviche, carne asada, and more. They also have great drinks if you're interested in a mid-day cocktail or fresh juice. The view here along with the gardens make this a relaxing and beautiful spot to take in the views of San Salvador.
Volcatenango Theme Park
Your next stop will be Volcatengo.This is a fun theme park with a variety of activites for all ages. Attractions are themed for different TV shows and movies, with the most amazing mountain views overlooking the theme park! Yes, that's a Stranger Things themed ride pictured above!
You'll also find luscious gardens, fun cafes, and live performances here too. You pay a small fee for entry and then a small fee for each ride that you take. Entry is $5.
Your last stop in El Boqueron will be Picnic Steak House. This is a spot that has gone viral more than once on social media and I have to say, it is pretty fun! In addition to the slide, they also have great food and drinks you can enjoy. It costs $5 to ride down the slide once, and it is a fun experience.
This is a much more relaxed spot than Las Brumas, but has an equally good view. You'll find lots of great photo ops here too with fun signs and sunset overlooking
Day 2: Hike Santa Ana Volcano & Swim in Lake Coatepeque
This was my favorite day of the trip and if you have less than a week, this is not something you want to skip.
Santa Ana Volcano Hike
By far, the most popular thing to do in El Salvador is hike the Santa Ana Volcano - Ilamatepec. Located in the department of Santa Ana, this colossus has an altitude of 2,381 meters above sea level, the highest in El Salvador. Its last eruptions occurred in 2005.
Start your day early to avoid the heat and crowds for this hike. The hike starts about a 20 minute hike away from the welcome center. You'll walk past signs that say "Ilamatepec" which let you know you're going the right way. At the welcome center, you'll likely wait in line before getting the chance to start your hike. They limit the number of people who can start their hike at once so that it does not get overcrowded.
We had heard online that you need a guide but did not experience this. There are guides and groups available when you arrive so if this requirement changes, it's easy to figure out in the moment.
It takes 2-3 hours, and as you ascend, you'll experience the beautiful flora and fauna that the area has to offer. You'll notice that as you hike, you pass through the rainforest, and as the elevation changes, it will get colder so it's recommended you bring a jacket for the top if you plan to hang out there for long on a cloudy day. Once at the top of this imposing colossus, you will have spectacular views of the Izalco volcano and Lake Coatepeque.
At the top make sure you grab a popsicle then sit back and enjoy the views. This hike is absolutely stunning and worth the trip.
This is a moderately difficult hike, and you should bring water, sunglasses, sunscreen, and good footwear for walking along rocks. The weather does change as you get closer to the top with wind and large rocks you'll have to walk over. Wear good shoes and bring a jacket!
The entrance fee to the Complex is $3.00 for foreigners, and you may experience waiting in lines as this is a really popular hike.
Located close to Santa Ana Volcano is the volcanic crater lake, Lake Coatapque. It was formed thousands of years ago by the eruption of the nearby ancient volcano, the Coatepeque Caldera.
It offers a variety of activities that I'd consider outdoor adventures, but jet skiing was our favorite! The water here is a beautiful blue color and pristinely clean. It's also quite warm because of the volcanic activity underground, making it great for swimming and activities year round.
Visitors can observe a great variety of resident and migratory birds or go fishing, diving, riding a kayak, jet skiing, or boat riding. In addition, the surroundings entice you to go hiking or mountain biking, relishing the beautiful panoramic views covered with lush vegetation.
Its waters change from blue to turquoise green too. According to authorities of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of El Salvador, this is a cyclical phenomenon that occurs from time to time. The color change happened in 1998, 2006, 2012, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
For your day trip, I'd recommend getting a $5 day pass to Captain Morgan Hostel, where your day pass includes a beer, hanging out on the hostel's deck, swimming, and relaxing by the pools. They also rent boats and jet skis! Jet skis cost $35 for a half hour, and you can ride all across the lake in this amount of time. The lake is often like glass with few boats or kayaks on it, making it easy for beginners on jet skis to have fun.
Option to Extend:
If staying in San Salvador, consider having dinner at one of these options:
Takeo where you can get awesome tacos
El Atico at El Boqueron Plaza for unique papusas
Hacienda Real for an amazing steak
Day 3: Ruta de Flores & Hot Springs
Ruta de las Flores is one of the most famous and visited destinations in El Salvador. This area has a rich history and is full of beautiful villages, colorful flowers, and amazing fruits and coffee! There are also several great adventures to experience here. To truly experience this area, you'd need more than just a day. With a week-long trip though, you can see some of the highlights along the route.
The climate of this region is perfect for growing many different plants, flowers, and foods, making this one of the main reasons that both national and international travelers seek this destination. Local traditions, an important coffee culture, adventure activities, delicious restaurants, and local markets are some of the attractions you can enjoy in the area.
The five towns along the Ruta de Flores are Nahuizalco, Salcoatitán, Juayúa, Apaneca, and Ataco. With just one day, I'd recommend choosing one or two towns to spend most of your time in. Ataco was our favorite town on the Ruta de Flores and is pictured above. It has great shopping and beautiful murals all throughout town.
Below is how to spend one day on the Ruta de Flores with a stop at some amazing hot springs.
Option: Highly recommend spending extra time here at a spot like Casa 1800 in Ataco so you don't have to return all the way back to the beach or San Salvador in the evening. This is what I want to do on our next trip!
Mayan Ruins of Tazumal
Your first stop on the Ruta de Flores is Tazumal. It's about an hour and a half from San Salvador and two hours from El Tunco. Located in the town of Chalchuapa, the complex contains a few structures that incorporate pyramids, platforms, temples, and a ball court. The site is part of the larger Chalchuapa Archaeological Zone that includes the nearby sites of Casa Blanca, which is literally blocks away, El Trapiche, and Las Victorias.
Right next to Tazumal, you'll find shops, cafes, and great souvenirs at a reasonable price. You can hire a guide who will tell you all about the ruins for just $15 or walk them yourselves. Most guides only speak Spanish so if you don't speak Spanish, it's great if you've hired a driver who speaks English to have them translate for you as well.
Archaeologists estimate that the verdant 10-sq-km Tazumal area – much of which is still under Chalchuapa’s housing – was first settled around 5000 BC. The latest works, inaugurated in December 2006, restored the original stone-and-mortar construction of much of the ruins. There are areas you can walk on the pyramids, but many are roped off. Their close proximity to everyday Salvadoran life connects the site to the present in a powerful way. Excavations and restorations took place in the 1940s by Stanley Boggs. Further investigations have consolidated some of the structures, and ongoing excavations have revealed a number of burials and artifacts.
We spent about an hour here at Tazumal and about 45 minutes shopping and exploring the town. We were some of the only tourists there during our visit and we had a wonderful time! Be prepared for heat as there is little shade around the ruins.
Explore Concepcion de Ataco
Ataco is a beautiful small town about 45 minutes from Tazumal. Ataco gained popularity when it entered a contest in 2004 (Pueblos Vivos or Towns Full of Life). The residents gave a total makeover to the city by adding colorful murals all around. It's now famous for its street art and local artists who bring the beautiful Salvadorean culture into their work.
All through town artisans, chefs, and artists have opened craft stores, galleries, restaurants, and looms. All of this magic resurgence has taken place under the vigilance of the coffee growing in the nearby mountains.
Stroll the streets, buy some local goods, and enjoy the flowers and murals you'll find all across town. This is a quiet town despite having 18000 residents and we enjoyed the lack of cars and the quiet feel of Ataco!
Lunch at Casa 1800
Casa 1800 has a few different locations throughout El Salvador, including in Suchitoto, Cerro Verde, near Lake Coatepeque, and Ataco. All of their locations offer a unique and beautiful dining experience with views of the natural beauty they surround that are stunning!
We visited the location in Ataco located at the top of town. It was an absolutely stunning property with the nicest staff!
While we were here, we saw hummingbirds on the flowers and enjoyed amazing views of the mountains with an upscale, relaxed vibe. We loved the drinks here and the pupizza (a pupusa pizza). The steak sandwich with fries was one of my top three meals of this year. Sounds crazy to choose a sandwich, I know, but it was so good.
Tour El Carmen Estate Coffee Farm
The Ruta de Flores is famous for its coffee, so there's no better way to spend an afternoon than learning about the coffee roasting process at El Carmen Estate! El Carmen Estate is a coffee farm and boutique hotel located outside of Atco. They offer tours of their farm and facilities to learn all about the coffee making process. This is an active, working coffee farm, you'll likely see business happening during your tour.
Depending on the time of year you go, you'll see a different part of the process. We visited in May and saw the part of the process after the beans have been dried, cleaned, and roasted. They are checked for imperfections and put into bags to be sent out to roast. El Carmen processes coffee beans from all over the Ruta de Flores and will show you all the different parts of the coffee plant.
It was really interesting to learn about all the different parts of the coffee-making process and included a coffee tasting at the end of the tour. It was just $6, and we loved spending a few hours learning about the biggest export crop in El Salvador. We ended up buying a lot of coffee from them because it was delicious!
Santa Teresa Hot Springs
To end the day, stop at Santa Teresa Hot Springs. Santa Teresa fumarole, or hot water geyser, is the largest natural hot spring in Central America. It reminded me a little bit of Yellowstone with the natural bright blue pools with warning signs everywhere to stay away.
Trails, swimming pools, and the blue pond make this destination a great attraction for those who want to rest and throw out stress. They take the water and mud from the springs to process it in order to make it comfortable and safe to swim in! You'll find pools ranging from medium temperature to very hot here because of that.
There are over 20 different pools at these hot springs at Santa Teresa Hot Springs, and they offer drinks, food, and special treatments in addition to entrance to the hot springs. Entrance is $5, and we ended up doing the mud bath ($10), which was really fun and relaxing! The mud bath included a sauna heat by the hot springs. At some points, you can feel the heat rising from the hot springs in the ground, which is cool as well! All natural water and experiences here make it a fun and unique experience.
We sipped wine and relaxed in the different temperature pools throughout the resort. You can also choose to stay here and enjoy a private hot tub with the spring waters.
From there, we headed back to San Salvador. It's about a two-hour drive from Santa Teresa Hot Springs back to the city. Santa Teresa Hot Springs to El Tunco is about two and a half hours.
Day 4: Lake Ilopango & El Zapote
Depending on your time available, consider checking out Lake Ilopango or El Zapote on your way to stay at the beach if you've decided to split your time as I recommended! Below is more information on each.
Tres Piedras for Breakfast/Brunch
Tres Piedras is located on the Panoramic Route around Lake Ilopango. It's got an amazing view of the lake, and it's a great option for eating a traditional Salvadorean breakfast with a stunning view.
When you come here, make you don't skip going to the swings or the rooftop for added fun and great views! With both options below, I'd recommend this be your start for the day. It's well worth taking the panoramic Route around the lake before relaxing there or heading on to El Zapote.
This is another spot that you can stay at, and they just put in the most beautiful Infiniti pool if you're looking for a quiet and relaxing spot to stay, this is a great option.
Option 1: Hang Out at Lake Ilopango
Lake Ilopango is a crater lake that fills an 8 by 11 km volcanic caldera in central El Salvador, on the borders of San Salvador, La Paz, and Cuscatlán. It is the largest lake in El Salvador, of volcanic origin, and ideal for diving, paddle surfing, kayaking, jet skiing, swimming, boating, fishing, or just taking a dip.
If you choose to come here, consider Via Vela which offers a lot of different fun activities and fun things to do.
Option 2: El Zapote
If you're looking for a place to swim and relax, then El Zapote is a good option. This less touristy spot is home to several beach bars and restaurants located on a sand bar only accessible by boat in a bay about an hour and a half from San Salvador. You can hire a boat to pick you up and drop you off, then swim bar hop from spot to spot on the water.
We visited here after taking the Panoramic Route past Tres Piedras for a fun afternoon! We stopped at a beach bar and spent about three hours swimming, eating ceviche, and enjoying beers.
Just make sure you visit here at low tide. Otherwise, everything will be covered in water, and there won't be much going on! We had a fun time regardless, though, and enjoyed our day swimming in the ocean! This is why I have multiple recommendations.
Option 3: Enjoy an extra beach day
If you don't feel like another day of driving and are wanting extra time to surf or relax, head to the beach this day. You're going to find more suggestions on this in day 5!
Day 5: Beach Day in El Tunco
The beaches of El Salvador are what first brought tourism to the country. Surfing in El Salvador draws international competition and attention to La Libertad and, specifically El Tunco. This area has plenty to keep you busy on your trip.
The beaches in La Libertad, closest to San Salvador, are not great for swimming. Keep that in mind when deciding which beaches to visit! I would recommend staying here though as you'll find some of the nicest resorts and restaurants in this area. It's really been building up in the last few years so there's lots to do here.
Go Surfing or Take a Surf Lesson from Surf Strong El Salvador
If you're new to surfing or need a board rental, Surf Strong El Salvador is a great spot to do it! They offer lessons and board rentals right in El Tunco.
My husband and his friend took a lesson that included over 80 photos and videos of their experience as well as a one-hour lesson. This is a great way to get used to the waves and try out surfing for the first time.
Instructors help you find a section of waves and time of day that fits your skill level. We had been surfing in North Shore Oahu before, and this was a very different experience that he loved equally as much.
I find that most surf instructors will recommend you go early in the morning due to the waves and fewer people being on the water. Prepare for it to be an early morning and enjoy your lesson! If you're a more seasoned surfer, you can rent a board by the day or hour from them as well.
Explore El Tunco
Depending on which days you visit and your interests, you can either check out the town of El Tunco next or leave it as your last stop of the day. It's got shopping, and restaurants, and is the place people go to party. From Thursday – Sunday, this small, sleepy town becomes a loud, partying beach spot, with most cafes, restaurants, and bars turning the music up to attract guests.
We chose to explore during the afternoon. This small beachfront town of just a couple of streets is the most popular place for Salvadorians to visit on the weekends.
If you want to avoid the partying, go on the weekdays. However, we found the more crowded and lively vibe on the weekend was fun to experience after a quiet week in less touristy area. If you want to party, make El Tunco your last stop of the day instead.
Hang Out in Sunset Park
Sunset Park is a new amusement park located in Surf City right by the water. You'll find a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, bumper cars, and more here! Each ride is between $2-5, and you can pay for a card that is loaded with money as you go on different rides, so using a card here is easy.
It's also right on the beach and has a pier where you'll see plenty of people fishing, surfing, and relaxing. The pier is a great spot to watch all the activities going on and relax.
We went in the evening after the heat of the day, which I would highly recommend so that you are not standing in the heat! It was a fun way to end the day. After visiting Sunset Park, we walked to a spot nearby for dinner which makes this even more convenient!
There are a lot of places that sell ice cream and flavorful ice pops. We loved the stands that had so many options to choose from and these make a great after dinner or afternoon treat.
Day 6: Taminique Waterfalls
Taminique is located just 10 miles from the beaches in El Tunco making it a great day trip if you're staying at the beach. You can also take a day trip from San Salvador to the waterfalls in about 45 minutes. It takes some planning ahead to do this and I'll outline. itall for you below.
Tamanique Waterfalls are located within the premises of a private property in the municipality of Tamanique. You start your hike in town and are required to book a guide to visit the waterfalls.
You can book ahead with a site like Viator or just hire someone locally for less once you get there. The local guide is required whether you book ahead with a company or not. I would recommend booking a guide in advance if you do not speak Spanish, as English speaking guides are not available in Taminique when you arrive.
This was my husband's favorite day of our trip and I have to agree that this was such a fun day. Tamanique is home to 3 different areas of waterfalls, but within these areas, there are multiple waterfalls. It's a difficult hike both ways and gets really hot in the middle of the day. The views are absolutely stunning and you'll be surrounded by mountains and ocean views off in the distance as you hike. We also crossed through farms and saw animals along the way.
The nice thing about this hike and it's difficulty is that you'll be hiking to fresh, mountain water where you'll be able to cool off during the hike! Plan to bring plenty of water and bug spray for this hike as you are going through rainforests and parts of the hike do not have any tree cover.
I'd recommend booking through a site like Viator as I mentioned since it's not clear when you arrive to the waterfalls where is safe to jump. Our guide was able to help us know the safe places at each site as well as show us how to safely slide down the natural waterslide! We absolutely loved this hike and had the best time.
This is a full-day excursion, and you'll want to plan to be dirty and sweaty by the end with a smile on your face. While it's not easy, it s rewarding and fun.
We also had every one of the waterfalls to ourselves on our hike, which made this even more special! It's starting to gain popularity, but still off the beaten path for sure. Here is the day trip we booked.
Evening in El Tunco
Day 7: Day Pass at a Resort
For your last day in El Salvador, spend time relaxing on your last day with a drink in your hand! All around the beaches in La Libertad you'll find beach resorts offering day passes, pool parties, and activities along the beach. These passes tend to be affordable and offer deals that include food and drinks, making them a great way to enjoy or relax without any worries even without booking a luxury stay.
I'd recommend Mandala Eco Villas or Nawi Beach House for your day pass! Mandala Eco Villas has an infinity pool that overlooks the ocean and includes a food and beverage credit. Nawi Beach House also has an infinity pool overlooking the water. They both make great mixed drinks. We chose to stay at Mandala Eco Villas as well and really enjoyed our stay!
I hope this El Salvador itinerary has helped you plan your trip and think about the best things to do on your trip. El Salvador is an amazing country to visit and did not disappoint us with unique and beautiful experiences!