5 Awesome Things To Do In El Salvador As A Backpacker In 2022
Updated: Jul 10, 2022
Looking for an awesome backpacking route that you can do in El Salvador in about 2 weeks?
Or are you questioning if the country is safe to visit?
Well, a few years ago, it was a lot more dangerous than it is now. The country improved immensely on safety for travelers. I met super friendly locals, surfed at amazing beaches and hiked some stunning volcanos.
So, if you ask me, I definitely agree with the country's slogan that says "Don't skip El Salvador!"
If you're still not convinced, read until the end of this post... I show you 5 amazing things to do in El Salvador...
Table of Contents
1. Santa Ana and Santa Ana Vulcano
Santa Ana is the second largest city in El Salvador. I explored the city walking around the center, enjoying great coffee (Cadek Cafe) and pupusas (La Ceiba). It has impressive architecture, including the big Catedral De Nuestra Señora Santa Ana...
Where to stay in Santa Ana?
Hostels are quite cheap in Santa Ana and a night costs as little as 6 USD.
I stayed at the Pool House Hostel which I can totally recommend! It is a small family-vibe hostel with nice facilities and an amazing kitchen. The owner is super friendly an helpful and is happy to answer any questions you might have... (7 USD/night).
If you arrive from Guatemala, chances are high, you'll first arrive in Santa Ana. Here is a complete guide on how to get there.
Santa Ana Volcano:
One amazing day-trip you can do from Santa Ana is the near-by volcano.
How to get there: You can book a shuttle service (around 15 USD) or you can take the local bus at 7:30 am from the bus station La Vencedora in Santa Ana.
Cost: I recommend taking the local bus for 70 cents (one way). The park entry fee is 6 USD for foreigners.
You can take a guide for 3 USD, but the hike is well marked and in my opinion easy to do by yourself. Safety has improved massively over the last years, so it shouldn't be a concern. However, that is my personal view, so you gotta decide for yourself if you wanna take a guide or not.
The hike: It's a beautiful 1 - 2 hour hike up the volcano through lush forests and open areas closer to the top. When I did it, the view at the top was really limited due to fog. Normally, you can see the volcano crater and you have a great view of the surrounding area.
(Thanks Kathi for the picture!)
TIPP: If you go rather quickly (no stress though), you can make it for the 1:15 pm bus back. Otherwise you have to wait for the 4 pm bus. You can also get off at the big lake (Lago de Coatepeque) and take the second bus back to Santa Ana.
2. Juayua and Ruta De Las Flores
There are many things to do in this part of the El Salvador. There are some nice villages you can visit, including Juayua which has a food festival on the weekend. Other ones you might wanna visit are Ataco, Apaneca and Nahuizalco (all along the Ruta de las Flores).
Although I heard the food festival in Juayua is the whole weekend, there was not so much going on on Saturday. However, on Sunday the streets were full of people dancing, eating and having a good time. It was a pretty cool atmosphere!
The surrounding nature of the Ruta de las Flores is beautiful. You can do a lot of hikes in the area, visit the hot pools, go on a coffee tour or enjoy yourself in nice cafés and restaurants etc.
Where to stay?
There are no real hostels in Juayua. I stayed at Hostal Doña Mercedes (which is more like a hotel). It costs 15 USD/night and comes with free breakfast.
TIPP: If you visit during the rainy season (which is from May to October), it is best to start hikes and trips early since it usually starts to rain in the afternoon.
Definitely one of the highlights of my trip! The 7 Waterfall hike (7 cascadas) at Ruta De Las Flores.
The hike starts in the village of Juayua. You can get there by bus from Santa Ana in about an hour from the main terminal (see timetable below).
I recommend to take a guide in Juayua since it is really hard to find the right trail by yourself. We paid 10 USD per person with a group of 4. You can text Elmer on WhatsApp (+50376918362). He explained us a few things about the nature there, and showed us some clay to put on our skin.
Be prepared, the hike can be really slippery and at one point you actually climb up on one of the waterfalls. It is super cool though and quite an adventure.
At the last two waterfalls you can take a swim in crystal-clear water which super refreshing. The whole hike takes about 3 - 4 hours.
Timetable Santa Ana - Juayua (return):
NOTE: Are you planning to go to Mexico during Covid? No problem, you can enter the country neither needing a Covid-test nor vaccination. In the bigger cities there are certain regulations in place like wearing a mask or social distancing, but overall the country offers a really free travel experience.
4. El Tunco And El Zonte
The beaches along the coast of El Salvador are beautiful. The black sand strips are usually between rough cliffs and offer some good waves for surfing.
I spend a few nights in the coastal area around El Tunco which is the most popular beach there. They built a whole "surf city" around the beach which felt a bit like a fancy gated community for tourists.
Although I do enjoy surfing, I didn't enjoy El Tunco that much. Everything was rather expensive and seemed to be made only for tourists. When I went there, there was a big surf competition, so everything was booked out as well. However, that is my opinion. You might enjoy El Tunco!
I preferred El Zonte which has more of an authentic vibe in my eyes!
There's not much to do, but you can have a few relaxed days here (and good surf, too!).
There are only a few small streets, but you can find super cheap and delicious local restaurants. Check out the pupuseria at the main beach road, it's amazing!
Where to stay?
You can't book accommodation online. Horizonte Surf Camp is a really cool place in El Zonte. It is directly at the beach and has dorm beds for 15 USD/night. In El Tunco many people go to Papaya Lodge which is 12 USD/night.
How to get there
1. Santa Ana to Sonsonate (approx. 1.5 – 2 h, 0.70 – 1.2 USD)
You can take bus 216 directly to Sonsonate (approx. 1 – 1.5 hours) which leaves at the main bus terminal.
Alternatively you can take a bus from the same terminal to Juayua (approx. 1 h, 0.50 USD), visit the area and the Ruta de las Flores, and continue then from Juayua to to Sonsonate (approx. 1 h, 0.70 USD).
2. Sonsonate to La Libertad (The coast) (approx. 2.5 hours, 1.5 USD):
At the bus terminal in Sonsonate, you can take bus 287 to La Libertad (with the option to get off at numerous beach towns including El Zonte and El Tunco).
The bus only leaves twice a day (at 5:30 am and 3:30 pm), so make sure you arrive in time in Sonsonate. I recommend taking the 11:50 am bus from Santa Ana to Juayua (or bus 216 which goes directly). From Juayua you should leave around 1:30 pm.
TIPP: If you decide to get off at a beach town and to continue further along the coast highway, it is easy to hitchhike there, a lot of surfers do it as well. Alternatively, you can wait for any bus that goes to La Libertad.
5. El Espíritu de la Montaña (Volcán de Conchagua)
Right before I went by boat to Nicaragua I hiked up Volcán de Conchagua in the east of El Salvador. It was a super cool experience and you can sleep at the top that offers an awesome view of the surrounding islands...
How to get there:
You need to get to La Union first. In this article I show you how to get there from different locations in El Salvador.
In La Union you can take a bus from here up the hill to Amapalita. It takes about 15 mins and the last one runs at 5:30 pm. Alternatively you can book a shuttle that brings you there at 3 pm and takes you back at 9 am the next day.
There is no fee to enter the national park. However if you want to sleep at the top it's 7 USD/person if you bring your own tent. It is also possible to rent a tent there. The place is called El Espíritu de la Montaña.
TIPP: I recommend to leave your heavy backpack in Hospedaje Santa Marta in La Union. They are really friendly and helpful there. You can also rent a tent there (which we found out to not be waterproof at all...). In case you want to stay there after the hike, it is about 15 USD/night.
You first walk a bit through the village of Amapalita before the actual hike starts. It is a proper path through some nice forests and it took us about 2 hours to reach the top.
We started around 5 pm and arrived at the top when it was already dark. It was actually fine to hike the last part in the dark. At the end of the hike, when you enter through the gate you need to take a 180 degree turn to the left (it might be a bit difficult to find in the dark...).
Although we had a really rough night and were soaking wet, the view the next morning definitely made up for it! And of course the company I had.. :)
I hope you're convinced to visit El Salvador by now - or I could help you finding some cool things for your planned trip to El Salvador!
In any case, safe travels and enjoy!!
NOTE: Some links in this post may be affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
How long does it take to visit all these places?
You can do this itinerary in 10 - 14 days, but obviously it really depends on your travel pace. You might wanna chill for a while at the beaches for example...
Wondering how to get to El Salvador?
Here is everything you need to know to get to El Salvador from Guatemala.
Here is everything you need to know to get to El Salvador from Nicaragua.