How to Explore El Salvador
Exploring El Salvador on individual or combined full day trips/tours
Most popular destinations in El Salvador can be explored in single day trips basing oneself in cities like San Salvador, Suchitoto, Santa Ana, Barra de Santiago, Los Cobanos Beach, beaches of the west and east coasts and even the cities in the easternmost parts of El Salvador like San Miguel and La Union. It’s just as easy to explore the country by traveling from one city or area to another, changing hotels every 1-3 nights and using each as a base to explore that particular part of the country. Our tours can be arranged and are priced the same whether you are staying in San Salvador or any other city in El Salvador. We can also help you to make your hotel reservations, suggesting just the right place for your budget and needs, arrange airport transfers and transportation throughout El Salvador.
Taking this into consideration we can divide El Salvador up into three major areas: Western, Central/Northern and Eastern. In this first section I will attempt to list all of the most common destinations and activities that one might consider when exploring the different parts of El Salvador. Later I will make some recommendations of logical ways to see the country whether coming from the north by land and traveling through Honduras and or Guatemala, or from the south traveling through Nicaragua or if you are just visiting little but diverse El Salvador.
The Western part of the country is best explored either by basing in San Salvador or Santa Ana or by traveling from one western city to another. Common destinations are the archeological sites of Tazumal, Casa Blanca, in Chalchuapa and San Andres and Joya de Ceren close to San Juan Opico, it is hard if not impossible to see all four sites in one day as they all open at 9:00 am and close punctually at 4:00 pm. It is easy enough to see three of the four on a well-planned private tour or two, Tazumal and Casa Blanca or San Andres and Joya de Ceren using local busses. It is common to combine other activities or destinations with one or two of these sites and many decide on other popular destinations like Cerro Verde, Lake Coatepeque and the Ruta de Flores (Flower Trail).
Other activities and areas of the western part of El Salvador include the beautiful Barra de Santiago one of El Salvador protected mangroves and an excellent place to hide away and great for birders.
The city of Santa Ana makes both a nice place to base to explore the western part of the country as well as offering a day of exploring the historic downtown with its gothic cathedral and restored theater and inner city.
The Impossible Park official entrances are a bit remote but again offering a wonderful experience of mountain hikes nature, birds and wildlife at the same time as supporting the local economies of the communities around the entrances to the park. There are two official entrances off the coastal highway close to Cara Sucia and one unofficial entrance close to Tacuba but there you would need to hire a local guide.
The Ruta de Flores can be explored on your own or with guided tours where 3-5 of the cities can be visited or to include activities like buggy rides, zip lines, crater lagoons, hidden waterfalls and precious hot springs. Many travelers enjoy lodging in either Juayua or Ataco although more recently there are some lodging options in the cities of Nahuizalco, Apaneca and Salcoatitan. There are also a dozen or so places on the highway outside of the cities, most of these started as flower nurseries, where the name Flower route was derived. For those using a tour company or those renting a vehicle these are some of the best options for lodging within a coffee plantation. The majority of these hotels/cabins also have restaurants where typical fair can be found.
Some travelers enjoy hiking a volcano like Izalco or the Santa Ana which can be done on your own and does make for a pretty full day but many enjoy just exploring the Cerro Verde or Birding to see many of El Salvador high altitude birds without the workout of a 4 hour hike. There are other options for the western part of El Salvador all of which we can arrange or recommend other in the business to make your stay the best.
Snorkeling and diving in Los Cobanos or Lake Coatepeque, sea wildlife tours, ocean fishing with the locals in Barra de Santiago, Surf lessons on our west coast, coffee tours, birding…..just ask and see what can be arranged with Gringo Tours.
All of the western part of El Salvador can be discovered on full day tours (10-13 hours) with us whether you are based in San Salvador, Suchitoto, Santa Ana, Juayua, Ataco, Barra de Santiago or on the beach from Los Cobanos to San Diego, makes no difference we will work with you to plan each full day outing to get in the places and activities that are important to you.
Exploring the Northern and Central part of El Salvador is best done when based in San Salvador, Suchitoto or smaller cities like Alegria and La Palma but can be arranged from other parts of the country as well.
Suchitoto makes one of the best places in El Salvador to make a base and explore either on your own or with a professional guide the rest of El Salvador and even some destinations in the neighboring countries like Antigua Guatemala(5 and ½ hours), Copan Ruins, Honduras (5 hours)and Esquipulas, Guatemala ( 3 and ½ hours) . It is located just an hour by car from San Salvador and only 1 hour 30 minutes from the Comalapa International airport. Suchitoto also boasts some of the best hotels in the country and several hostels for those on a budget as well as a variety of good restaurants, handicrafts stores and galleries.
Popular day tours from Suchitoto or other cities in the Central part of El Salvador, include La Palma(Fernando Llort and colorful wood painted handicrafts), San Ignacio(El Pital highlands, Miramundo restaurants and La Pilas) and Cihuatan(Mayan Ball court) can all be seen in a full day but depending on the interest of each traveler days can be planned to include more or less of each activity, so whether you want to do some birding in the highlands, visit and hike in El Pital or learn more about Fernando or the Mayan culture, we can plan your trip.
The cities of San Sebastian ( textiles and looms), Alegria (lagoon and wonderful views), Ilobasco (clay and pottery) also can make up full day tour either visiting all 3 cities or just two for a more relaxed outing and allowing time for a nice lunch in one of the cities.
Civil war history, birding and eco-rural tourism can be found very close to Suchitoto where two villages offer civil war/birding/nature/history hikes and horseback rides on the famous Guazapa Mountain. The city of Cinquera also offers a nice hike in the country’s largest natural protected area, civil war history tours, nature, wildlife and birding options are also available.
Local day and half day tours in and around Suchitoto are also very common, one of the most popular is a combined lake, city and los Tercios waterfall tour which can be broken up to allow time for a rest and lunch during the early afternoon when the heat of Suchitoto rises. A 3 hour city tour, early a.m. birding tours and lake tours can be done at anytime with advance notice and reservations. For hardcore birders all day outings can be arranged.
Eastern El Salvador, golf of Fonseco, Perquin and the East coast beaches are many times skipped by travelers that are only coming to El Salvador as it is a bit far from the airport and San Salvador. This is a part of the country that has loads to offer and can be traveled on your own or with guided full day tours when planned well.
Perquin and the Peace Route where civil war history tours started and located in the far north eastern part of El Salvador make a good place to either spend a night or two or a full day trip from other parts in Eastern El Salvador. The war museum in Perquin, the massacre site of El Mozote and the natural protected area of Rio Sapo will fill a day and might be better discovered over two days. Birding in and around Perquin is also an option for those with an interest of the high altitude species that can be found here. Mountain biking and waterfall hikes can also be arranged for those with more time.
The Golf of Fonseco now offers several boat tours to visit the islands and perhaps see the local dolphins. The small volcano of Conchagua also offers hiking and wonderful view of the golf area.
The beaches of El Cuco and Las Flores offer a great combination of Surfing at Las Flores and swimming, sunning and sea turtle conservation on El Cuco beach. Taking the flat and straight coastal hwy these beaches are only some 2 hours from the Comalapa airport, less than two hours from Perquin and Alegria, close enough to arrange mangrove boat tours in the Jiquilisco area and only some 30 minutes from San Miguel, making these beaches the perfect place to base if you want to explore Eastern El Salvador. Bus boats can now be arranged from El Cuco and the La Union port making easy get to and from Potosi, Nicaragua.
Arriving by land from Nicaragua (Honduras) heading towards Antigua or Guatemala City
Start with Perquin, and then down to El Cuco, cross back up to Alegria, then in route San Sebastian, Ilobasco ending in Cinquera (now has a simple but nice hostel) or Suchitoto, from Suchitoto explore La Palma, and then in route see the major archeological sites ending in Santa Ana or Ruta de Flores. From there explore Lake Coatepeque, Volcanoes then if in Santa Ana head over to Ruta de Flores and afterwards to Barra de Santiago then stop at Impossible park before taking the coastal hwy into Guatemala.
Arriving by land from Nicaragua (Honduras) heading towards Esquipulas Guatemala or Copan Ruins (Guatemala entrance into Honduras)
Start with Perquin, and then down to El Cuco, cross back up to Alegria, then in route San Sebastian, Ilobasco, Cinquera (now has a simple but nice hostel) or Suchitoto, from Suchitoto explore La Palma, and then in route see the major archeological sites ending in Santa Ana. From there explore Lake Coatepeque, Volcanoes then head over to Impossible park before coming back down the coast to Barra de Santiago then Ruta de Flores heading back to Santa Ana(shuttle to Copan) then take Metapan border into Guatemala. If you into surfing you’ll do best checking out the west coast beaches and from El Tunco beach you can take a shuttle to Copan Ruins, Antigua or Leon.
Arriving by land from Honduras (Copan) heading towards Nicaragua
Visit La Palma then down to Suchitoto, base there to see Cinquera and Guazapa then in route Archeological sites ending in Santa Ana From there explore Lake Coatepeque, Volcanoes then head over to Ruta de Flores and afterwards stop at Impossible Park before visiting Barra de Santiago, Los Cobanos and west coast beaches then up to San Salvador, Alegria, Perquin then down to El Cuco or into Honduras (Nicaragua)
Arriving by land from Guatemala (San Cristobal or Hachadura borders) heading towards Nicaragua
Start in Santa Ana from there explore Lake Coatepeque, Volcanoes(Cerro Verde, Izalco or Santa Ana) then head over to Ruta de Flores and afterwards stop at Impossible Park before visiting Barra de Santiago, from there you can head east to Los Cobanos and the west coast beaches then up to San Salvador, then Suchitoto to see Guazapa and Cinquera in route tours to Ilobasco, San Sebastian and Alegria, ending in El Cuco then up to Perquin before heading into Honduras (Nicaragua) or visit Perquin first then take boat bus from El Cuco or La Union port.