The country of El Salvador in Central America is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered despite its crime-ridden past. The truth is that in 2012, El Salvador had the highest murder rate in the world and was a country that many feared visiting, yet today, this couldn’t be a different situation. With a much-needed change of government came a sharp decline in crime rates, and these days, El Salvador is the safest it has ever been.
Because of its reputation, many of El Salvador’s incredible landmarks have not been overrun by tourists. Now that this country is a warm and welcoming place to visit, it’s worth knowing what fantastic attractions await you. Bordered by Honduras to the northeast and Guatemala to the northwest, El Salvador boasts a beautiful stretch of Pacific coastline, an attraction in its own right.
El Salvador may well be the smallest country in Central America and the only one not to feature a Caribbean coastline, but this country packs a punch for awe-inspiring landmarks. So, let’s delve into the most famous landmarks in El Salvador to add to your bucket list.
The 12 Most Famous Landmarks In El Salvador
If you didn’t already know, this small Central American country is often referred to as ‘the land of the volcanoes,’ and El Salvador lies along the famous Pacific Ring of Fire.’ Over the years, El Salvador has been subject to many natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanic activity, so much so that the capital, San Salvador, was wholly destroyed twice and suffered ongoing damage over the years.
El Salvador has over twenty volcanoes, and two (San Miguel and Izalco) have been heavily active throughout the years. Santa Ana is the highest volcano in the country, and despite its destructive eruption in 2005, hiking to the summit of this natural wonder has become a thrilling activity for visitors. Situated at 2,384m in elevation, this volcano is close to Lake Coatepeque and can be seen clearly from the summit.
As you might have guessed, El Salvador has some rather intriguing archeological sites, like many other countries in this region, since the country is steeped in ancient history. Tazumal Archeological Site is located just 80km (49 mi) from San Salvador. It is one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador, especially for those who want to dig deeper into the country’s history.
The site, located in the town of Chalchuapa, is a testament to the country’s Mayan heritage and is one of the oldest prolonged settlement spaces in El Salvador. Tazumal has been occupied from the Classic period to the post-classic period, and it is said that the settlement had links to central Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula, and southern Central America, resulting in the site’s mysterious ambiance. Here, you can step back in time by wandering among the pyramids, ballcourts, and the temple of the columns and explore the once-thriving Mayan civilization.
Often referred to as the ‘Pompeii of the Americas’, Joyas de Ceren is one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador and is ideally combined with a visit to Takumal to discover the country’s rich Mayan heritage. This extraordinary archeological site gives you a fascinating insight into the daily lives of indigenous people who inhabited the area over 1400 years ago. Incredibly, this site was only discovered in the 70s when a bulldozer driver was leveling the ground for a government-run project, and since then, this has been a site of great importance.
Since approximately 70 buildings have been uncovered so far, including storehouses, kitchens, living quarters, workshops, and a communal sauna, visitors can immerse themselves in this fascinating place of history. The UNESCO site, essentially a Pre-Columbian Maya farming village, was buried deep under layers of volcanic ash during a catastrophic eruption. Yet, today, this site has become one of the country’s most visited landmarks.
Because of El Salvador’s incredible landscape, the country is such a fascinating one to visit, and apart from its awe-inspiring volcanoes, historic sites, and lush green national parks, it has some stunning lakes that cannot be overlooked. One of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador is Coatepeque Lake, which can be seen clearly from the summit of Santa Ana volcano, which we mentioned earlier, but getting up close and personal with this glorious lake is a must when in the region.
The lake is, of course, of volcanic origin and is said to be 50,000 years old, and it attracts over 5,000 visitors every month. Coatepeque is more than just a feast for the eyes; it is a hub for activity, adventure travelers, and wildlife enthusiasts who must visit here to indulge in the entire El Salvadorian experience. From swimming and boat rides to fishing, jet skiing, and diving, Lake Coatepeque has something for everyone, so it’s no wonder locals’ visitors flock here to enjoy some fun and downtime.
Undoubtedly, El Boquerón National Park is one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador for many reasons. This national park is a must for those seeking natural beauty and outdoor adventures and is a paradise to explore. Situated within the massive caldera of the San Salvador Volcano at 1800m, this park offers hiking trails, lush forests, and breathtaking city vistas from the volcano’s rim.
At the park’s heart lies the main attraction – the active crater, El Boquerón, a reminder of the country’s volcanic makeup. There is a visitors’ center within the park with all the information needed for undertaking the many hiking trails in the area, plus wildlife enthusiasts will have the opportunity to spot many animals like deer, foxes, raccoons, and armadillos, to name a few. In addition, there is a small crater within the crater named ‘Boqueroncito’ (little Boquerón), which is waiting to be explored. El Boquerón has a cool temperate climate year-round, so it is an ideal place to discover any time.
Also known as ‘Route of the Flowers,’ it is a winding route through the stunning El Salvadorian countryside and stretches for 36km (22 mi). This famous route is dotted with many colorful colonial towns like Salcoatitán, Apaneca, Nahuizalco, and Ataco, as well as Juayua, which is internationally renowned for its scenic views, events, and waterfalls. As you might have guessed by the name, you will discover lush flower displays, artisan markets, and coffee farms along the way, making it a fantastic landmark for cultural enthusiasts.
This incredibly scenic tourist trail is not to be missed if you want to soak up the culture of El Salvador and pick up some artisan craft souvenirs or fresh coffee along the way. Many visitors to this area love to combine a tour of the flower route with coffee tastings, local food tours in the idyllic towns, or embark on fun activities like zip lining. While this stunning route officially starts in the town of Sonsonate, Juayua is the most popular place for tourists to stay.
If there is one must-see destination for nature lovers in El Salvador, it has to be Cerro Verde National Park, which is adjacent to the iconic Santa Ana Volcano. Known for its excellent hiking trails, rich biodiversity, and lush landscape, Cerro Verde National Park is one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador. Also known as Los Volcanes National Park, this incredible place is home to three volcanoes: Santa Ana, Cerro Verde, and Izalco.
Nature enthusiasts particularly love this place since it is part of the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Conservation Area and Biosphere Reserve, certified by UNESCO. The reserve includes coffee plantations, diverse habitats, endangered flora and fauna, and various species of birds and other wildlife. Many visitors choose to explore Cerro Verde National Park because it is rich with flora and fauna, boasts incredible vistas, and has abundant outdoor walks, allowing you to immerse yourself in El Salvadorian nature.
If there is one main thing that El Salvador is known for and one reason why it attracts thousands of tourists annually, it is because of its incredible nature. While the country is home to plenty of national parks, lakes, volcanoes, and a glorious stretch of the Pacific coast, it also features many awe-inspiring waterfalls that are undoubtedly worth visiting. One of the most visited is the Tamanique waterfalls, commonly included in many day tours and a feast for the eyes.
Referred to as somewhat of a hidden gem, nestled within the lush El Salvadorian rainforests, the location is just as charming as the falls themselves. One of the best features of the Tamanique waterfalls is the fresh pool below the cascades, a treat after a long hike. For those who want to explore the best of El Salvador’s nature, grab a perfect photo opportunity, and get active, a trip to the falls is well worth a visit, and even though it requires a steep climb, that is all part of the experience. This is a popular spot for thrill seekers to do cliff diving and rock climbing, making it a fun stop-off on the coast.
Suchitoto is one of the top tourist sites in El Salvador because of its incredibly well-preserved colonial buildings and for being the town where San Salvador was founded in 1528. The town dates back to pre-Colombian times and is a popular spot for those who want to get to know El Salvador’s colonial past and present-day culture. From an abundance of hotels and eateries to its quirky cobbled streets, which give Suchitoto its charm, it’s no wonder this is one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador.
This buzzing town is, without a doubt, the cultural heart of El Salvador, and there are plenty of historic attractions to visit within the town, like Saint Lucia Church and the historic center. Art lovers and architectural enthusiasts particularly love spending time here, soaking up the atmosphere of the thriving colonial town and immersing themselves in the many art galleries and craft shops. You could easily spend all day here; tourists commonly take a day tour from San Salvador.
10. San Salvador
San Salvador is the capital city and is one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador for many reasons. Within this city, there are so many things to see and do, from the San Salvador National Cathedral to the National Palace of El Salvador, to name but a few. Not many tourists miss out on visiting this thriving city since this is a fantastic starting point for getting familiar with the country’s local culture and history. This is also a top spot to undertake several exciting day trips, making it an excellent base.
San Salvador is in ‘The Valley of the Hammocks,’ which got its name from the consistent seismic activity to which this area is partial. It is the urban center of El Salvador, so there are plenty of exciting activities to do, like visiting the local museums, enjoying shopping opportunities, and discovering the variety of historic monuments scattered around the city. One of the top places to visit in San Salvador is Plaza Liberdad in the historic center, and you will find many of the city’s other top attractions within this historic zone.
11. Surf City
El Salvador may have a relatively small coastline stretching just 307km (191 mi), but its beaches are becoming well-known among the surfing community for the smallest country in Central America. Year after year, the various surf spots are becoming increasingly popular with surfers, who realize that this coastline has some excellent surf but without the crowds, making it so appealing. While some places are acquiring more visitors, plenty of stretches of coast are still local, with a tranquil vibe.
Some of the top places to visit along the Pacific Coast in El Salvador include El Sunzal, El Tunco – considered the capital of ‘Surf City,’ Punta Roca – which featured as one of the main stops on the World Surfing Tour, El Zonte, El Palmarcito and Playa Mizata. Surf City is a stretch of several kilometers, which is the local government’s bid to attract more surfers and beachgoers to the area, with many stores, activities, and restaurants to enjoy.
El Tunco is the main hangout for most beachgoers, locals, tourists, and surfers and is by far the most developed. It has gone from a relatively unknown local beach to one of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador, and it attracts everyone from backpackers, families, digital nomads, and resort goers.
12. Gulf of Fonseca
One of the most famous landmarks in El Salvador is the Gulf of Fonseca, which straddles the borders of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. One of the main reasons it attracts both locals and tourists is its beauty, its variety of attractions, and the opportunity to participate in several fun activities. The lush jungles, which feature abundant wildlife, paired with the area’s authentic vibe, make it a charming and culturally rich place to visit, and it is getting more well-known as El Salvador welcomes more tourists.
The Gulf has a tropical climate and boasts a wetland ecosystem with stunning mangroves, which serve as a feeding ground and habitat for many sea creatures. While this stunningly beautiful body of water is just 32 km (19 mi) across at the entrance, it extends to approximately 80km (49 mi) once inside the Gulf. From there, it reaches inland for about 65km (40 mi) and covers an area of about 1,800 square kilometers (nearly half the size of Rhode Island).
Just 29km (18 mi) of this tri-national Gulf belongs to El Salvador, yet there is still so much to explore, making this an excellent place for boat tours, mountaineering, rock climbing, and day trips from other parts of El Salvador.