El Salvador’s landscape is particularly characterized by its many volcanoes. Therefore, most of the top 10 sights of the country have to do with it:
Highlights of El Salvador
1- Parque Nacional El Boquerón
The upper part of the San Salvador volcano (also called Quetzaltepec) is home to the great variety of exotic plants and wild animals of El Boquerón National Park. The special attraction of the park is the large volcanic crater that gave it its name. It is interesting to note that in the middle of the large crater, during an eruption in 1917, a much smaller one was formed, which was christened El Boqueroncito. During the strenuous, but very rewarding climb, one experiences the wonderful nature of El Salvador – tropical hibiscus, colorful hydrangeas and fragrant begonias bloom everywhere along the way. Alarming, however, is that this nature and especially the capital of the country, which has spread at the foot of the volcano, could be completely destroyed in the event of an imminent eruption.
2- Lago de Coatepeque
One of the most beautiful natural lakes in Central America is Lago de Coatepeque, which was formed in a volcanic crater fed by rainfall. From the numerous hills around the lake one experiences a particularly impressive panorama of the lake with its small, cone-shaped island Teopan. Since few tourists make it to El Salvador, Lago de Coatepeque is and remains an insider’s tip among the lakes in Central America (in contrast, for example, to Guatemala’s Lago Atitlán).
3- Joya de Cerén
This Mayan ruin is one of the most important of its kind in all of Central America. The site holds a glimpse into the past of simple Mayan life – unlike the many other rediscovered ruins, which tend to be religious sites or residences of rulers and do not show the daily life of the indigenous people very well. Since 1993, Joya de Cerén has therefore rightly been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List of Humanity. The Maya living there probably left the village around the year 535 AD, when the nearby volcano Ilopango erupted (and probably caused a worldwide weather anomaly) and covered it with several layers of ash. Since no bodies were found, they were probably able to escape in time and thus considered the eruption for the time being.
4- Panchimalco and the Puerta del Diablo
The Cerro El Chulo is a mountain in the southeast of the capital San Salvador, where in former times ritual customs of the Maya took place. The Spanish conquistadors named the peak, with its bizarre rock and cave formations, La Puerta del Diablo (“The Devil’s Door”). After the short ascent (best done in the evening), you will be gifted with a wonderful view: Lake Ilopango to the east, the Pacific Ocean to the south, the San Vicente volcano to the north, and to the west the sunset over the village of Panchimalco, where the colorful hustle and bustle of the descendants of the indigenous people has survived to this day. Simply dreamlike!
About 50 kilometers north of San Salvador lies this small nest in the mountains. It can almost be called the artistic and cultural heart of El Salvador, since the arts and crafts scene is particularly pronounced here. The colonial townscape with its ancient church and cobblestone streets has certainly contributed to this, but certainly also the beautiful surroundings with its hiking trails to beautiful waterfalls, lakes glistening in the sun and enchanted caves.
6- San Salvador
San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador and is home to over 1.5 million inhabitants in its metropolitan area, making the agglomeration one of the largest in Central America. If you want to explore the country for tourism, you will have to make a stop in the metropolis, which has a dubious reputation with one of the highest murder rates in the world and in the shadow of several active volcanoes. Nevertheless, an exploration of the city center is recommended during the day, perhaps on an organized tour, to experience the highlights of the city founded in 1528 by the Spanish conquistador Gonzalo de Alvarado.
7- Tazumal Ruins
This Mayan site in western El Salvador is the most important in the country. No other Mayan ruin is located more west than Tazumal, and it is about 200 kilometers from Copán in Honduras. Especially the two pyramids are worth seeing, but also the obligatory ball court is worth a visit. By the way, translated Tazumal means “place of sacrificial burning” – but one may doubt that it was the original name of this religious site.
8- Volcano Santa Ana
The highest volcano in the country also has the name Ilamatepec in a Mayan language. In 2005 it erupted for the last time, a cloud of smoke 10 kilometers high was produced and rock fragments were hurled up to 1,000 meters. At that time two people died, thousands had to flee. However, the volcano has not lost its beauty. Three smaller craters have formed in its large crater over the centuries, creating a wonderful panorama from a bird’s eye view.
9- Chorros de la Calera / Los Tercios
In the Central American tropical forest, small waterfalls and magical places where you can let your heart dangle are hidden again and again. Especially enchanted are the Chorros de la Calera in the southwest of the country and the Cascadas Los Tercios in the previously mentioned village of Suchitoto.
10- Monte San Jacinto
A cable car takes you from the capital directly to Monte San Jacinto, where one of the most popular theme parks in the country is located. From up here you have a breathtaking view over San Salvador and can enjoy a day trip with a great panorama.