Introducing El Salvador
El Salvador sneaks up on you: in lefty lounge bars in San Salvador, at sobering museums and war memorials, and along lush cloud-forest trails; it's a place of remarkable warmth and intelligence, made all the more appealing for being so unexpected. Travellers tend to skip El Salvador, wooed by marquee destinations such as Guatemala and Costa Rica, and unnerved by stories of civil war and gang violence. But the war ended almost 20 years ago, and crime, while serious, is almost exclusively played out between rival gangs; tourists are virtually never involved. And though El Salvador has fewer protected areas than its neighbors, you get them practically to yourself – including pristine forests, active volcanoes and sparkling lakes. The only place you might find a crowd is on Punta Roca, El Salvador’s most famous surfing spot – it happens to be one of the best right point breaks in the world, yet is a ghost town compared to lesser swells in Costa Rica and elsewhere. And when it comes to cities, none in Central America is smarter or cooler than San Salvador, with first-rate universities, museums and galleries, a vibrant bar and live-music scene, and an array of progressive NGOs, both local and international.
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Best places to stay in El Salvador
Best places for a do-nothing vacation
A while back, I wrote the definitive guide to ‘How to plan a do-nothing vacation.’ It's a foolproof manual for engineering a low-impact, rejuvenating vacation like they used to do in olden times, before zip-lines, white water rafting and pooping in the forest became acceptable ‘leisure’ enticements.
El Salvador destination guides
The cosmopolitan center of El Salvador is a city cranking with energy.
El Salvador dos and don'ts
El Salvador is a country of mind-boggling diversity. Mountain cloud forests and fuming volcanoes, charming colonial towns and broad green valleys, black-sand beaches and some of the world's best surf – they're all here, and chances are you'll have them practically to yourself, as the country remains largely unknown by travelers.
Explore El Salvador
Delve into the unassuming beauty of El Salvador and discover why this is one of the hidden gems of Central America. This trip gives you a sumptuous taste of life in this fascinating country, taking you from the lush nature reserves near Ahuachapan, to the charming colonial streets of Suchitoto and the buzzing capital of San Salvador.
Central America Explorer
The ultimate exploration of Mayan culture for those who want the complete experience but prefer a more comfortable option. Explore the ruins at Copán and Tikal, walk the cobblestones in the colonial cities of Suchitoto and Antigua, and take part in a Mayan tree-planting ceremony after a local lunch on breathtaking Lake Atitlán.
Update for travellers: post-earthquake Japan
A massive 8.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Japan on Friday, March 11, causing a tsunami that has resulted in loss of life and widespread destruction. Areas as far away as California have experienced tsunami-related damage and human casualties.
Sights in El Salvador
Activities in El Salvador
Tours in El Salvador
Restaurants in El Salvador
Budget hotels & hostels
Guesthouses and B&Bs
A shining star, Santa Ana is the only major city in El Salvador that is overwhelmingly colonial, with a shady plaza, grand old buildings and a striking Gothic cathedral.