El Salvador,  North America,  Travel

12 reasons you should add El Salvador to your bucket list

Have you ever gone somewhere and had it completely blown your expectations out of the water? For me, that place was El Salvador. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it surpassed any expectations I might have had. So here are twelve reasons to visit El Salvador. Let’s go!

With an area of just 21,000 kilometres squared and a population of 5.7 million, El Salvador is a tiny country with a massive heart. For the smallest country in Central America, there are so many things to do. You can hike active volcanoes in Santa Ana, go surfing in El Tunco, watch baby turtles hatch on El Cuco beach and more! There really is an activity for every type of traveller. Keep reading for our list of reasons to visit El Salvador!

El Salvador has a tumultuous history. After gaining independence from the Spanish in 1821, El Salvador briefly became part of the Mexican Empire before joining the United Provinces of Central America. Then followed a period of civil unrest and conflicts with neighbouring countries, which culminated in civil war. 

The civil war ended in 1992, but high-crime rates and gang violence persisted, making El Salvador ‘the most dangerous country in the world’ for a time. But the current president has really turned things around. The country known for having highest murder rate is now becoming known for its sunsets, volcanoes, beaches, and excellent waves! 

I’ve spent days thinking about how I should write this blog post to do this amazing country the justice it deserves. Don’t write off El Salvador as a country of crime, civl war and tattooed gangs. Here are twelve reasons to visit El Salvador that we loved from our visit. 

Colourful street art in the small town of Ataco



Ahh pupusas… we could eat these ooey-gooey cheesy cornmeal breads for every meal – and sometimes we did! Pupusas were hands down my favourite ‘local food’ from our Latin America trip (until we got to Mexico and experienced their mouth-watering tacos…). Even just writing this, several months after our visit to El Salvador, has given me instant pupusa cravings!

These delicious treats are essentially thick, handmade corn tortillas. They’re traditionally filled with cheese and frijoles – but you can fill them with anything – and often accompanied by curtido (a pickled cabbage relish) and hot tomato sauce. The best bit? They won’t put a dent in your wallet. It’s very rare to pay more than $1 USD per pupusa, and you’ll be full from two to three! How many other Central American countries can you find a great-quality meal for under $2 USD?

Yes, you can find pupusas in a few places from Nicaragua to Guatemala – usually where Salvadorans have immigrated and set up shop. But in El Salvador, they’re just better. Everyone who’s been to El Salvador raves about them. If that isn’t one of our reasons to visit El Salvador, I don’t know what is?

If you want to get your pupusa on, a cooking class is a great way to enjoy and experiment with flavours. We were able to organise this through our amazing hostel owner in the colourful town of Ataco. My favourite was a garlic and cheese combo that tasted like the best cheesy garlic bread I’ve ever had. I also really enjoyed stuffing pupusas with loroco, tangy edible flowers that are commonly used in Salvadoran cuisine. 

Top tip: For the best pupusas in El Salvador (excluding the ones we made ourselves obviously) head to Pupuseria La Ceiba in Santa Ana! 


Even we were slightly apprehensive to visit El Salvador, despite the huge crackdown on crime over the last three years. Having topped the list of ‘most dangerous places in the world’ for many years, with countless documentaries and news articles depicting brutal gang-warfare, many travellers decide to skip this country altogether. They fly from Guatemala to Nicaragua or Costa Rica, avoiding Honduras and El Salvador. 

But they’re making a huge mistake.  

If there was an award for ‘nicest people in Central America’, El Salvador would win it! Throughout our visit, the people of El Salvador (commonly known as Salvadorans) surpassed every other Central American country for their kindness. Salvadorans are warm, real, and incredibly grateful that tourists are still visiting their home despite its rocky history.

During our time in El Salvador, people went above and beyond to make sure we were ok. Women would check on us on the bus, pulling out google translate to make sure we knew where to get off. Men would chat to us at bus stops, asking us about our home countries and our lives. Hostel owners would go out of their way to drive us to the border, saving us a day’s travel. They weren’t put off by our broken Spanish. Their concern and hospitality was 100% genuine and they seemed happy to see us enjoying their country and culture. 

The people of El Salvador were warm, friendly, helpful, and genuinely interested in us as people, not just as tourists with a huge flashing dollar signs above our heads. This was such a pleasant difference from neighbouring countries, like Guatemala and Costa Rica, where we often felt like a way for locals to make a quick buck!

Top tip: To get the most out of El Salvador, we recommend learning a little Spanish so that you can befriend the amazing people who call this country home. 

The seven waterfalls ‘hike’ near the foodie town of Juayua


The Ruta de las Flores is a picturesque and scenic tourist route in the northwest of El Salvador. The name translates to ‘Route of the Flowers’. It was one of our favourite parts of the country, and definitely one of our reasons to visit El Salvador, yet many travellers skip it! 

The route is made up of a series of quaint and colourful towns, each with its unique character. Our favourites were Juayúa, known for its famous weekend food market, and Ataco, which we loved for its colourful street art.

Set amongst hills of coffee plantations, lush green landscapes, and peaceful villages, the Ruta de las Flores is yet another reason to visit El Salvador. This area feels a million miles away from the madness of San Salvador and Santa Ana. There’s tons to do in this area, including hiking, natural hot springs, touring coffee plantations, or taking a cookery class. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you can also try zip-lining and sky cycling! 

Base yourself in one place, or town-hop and stay somewhere different each night. How you explore the route of the flowers is up to you. But one thing’s for sure – you won’t run out of things to do!


Before El Salvador became synonymous with gang violence, it was famous for growing extremely good coffee! El Salvador has the perfect climate, altitudes, and volcanic soil for cultivating the Arabica variety of coffee, which is prized for its smooth taste, balanced acidity, and rich aroma. 

If there’s one thing that you should know about me, it’s that I’m a bit of a coffee snob. Even to the point of prioritising packing an aeropress despite my backpack for this entire trip being just over 30L in size. So El Salvador was a paradise for me, and coffee is definitely one of our reasons to visit El Salvador!

Unfortunately, like many of the Central and South American coffee-growing countries, most of the good stuff gets packed up for export. We recommend you join a coffee tour to get the most out of El Salvador’s coffee scene! If you stay at Las Casitas Hostal (which we highly recommend, the owner will go above and beyond to make your stay perfect), you can take a coffee tour with Gustavo! This is the tour we did and it was absolutely great.

Every coffee you’ve ever had started out like this – a small plant in a greenhouse!


Almost everything in El Salvador costs a dollar. Want a chocolate bar? That’ll be $1 USD. Bus journey to ummm, anywhere? A dollar (or less!). Two pupusas for dinner? You guessed it, it’s $1. El Salvador uses the US Dollar as its official currency, and wandering around will sometimes makes you feel like you’ve popped into the dollar store! For those on a budget, price is a serious reason to spend some time in El Salvador on your Central America trip!

But seriously, El Salvador is by far the cheapest country in Central America. A night for two people in a small hotel or guesthouse will cost you approximately $20 USD. There’s unfortunately not much of a hostel scene yet but it’s slowly emerging in places like the colonial town of Santa Ana and the beach-y area of El Tunco. A meal can be as little as $2 USD, providing you want to eat pupusas (and why wouldn’t you?). And buses between towns cost literal pennies. 

Even organised tours are dirt cheap compared to other Central American countries. Juayua’s Seven Waterfalls tour was one of the best things we did in El Salvador, and the guided hike/climb/scramble (yep, no health and safety here) only set us back $15 USD! Compare that to Costa Rica, where you have to pay upwards of $17 USD just to look at a waterfall, and El Salvador is looking like a budget backpacker’s paradise. 

How to see Costa Rica’s La Fortuna Waterfall for FREE (coming soon)


People say size doesn’t matter. But when you only have a limited time to explore a new country… it kind of does! 

We love slow-travel, and when we decide to set off on a longer trip, we like to schedule as long as we need to really see and appreciate a new country. But not everyone is so lucky! Outside of Discoveny, we both work full-time and, like most people, we often also take shorter holidays of just a week or two. 

For those with only a couple of weeks (or less!), El Salvador is a really great option. Central America’s smallest country is so compact, that even the most time-stressed backpacker will be able to get a good taste of what El Salvador has to offer. In just a week, you can hike a volcano, catch a few waves, soak up some views, and sample city life without having to travel more than a couple of hours a day. It’s a great way to get a flavour of what Central America has to offer if you’re short on time!


Want to catch some waves? As Nicaragua’s tourist infrastructure becomes more developed, El Salvador is becoming known as the place to surf in Central America on a budget! Those looking to catch some waves are traversing the continent to hit up the Pacific beach towns of El Cuco or El Tunco, the latter of which was home to the 2023 World Surfing Championships during our visit! 

But you don’t have to be a professional to enjoy surfing! If you’re a beginner like us there are lots of surf schools along the beach and lessons are reasonably priced. Of course we had a go at surfing. I could barely stay on the board, but Marius loved it and has continued surfing back in Scotland.

The beaches of El Salvador aren’t as pristine as you’ll find elsewhere (I’m looking at you, San Blas Islands). But if surfing really isn’t your thing, there are enough hippie hostels, boutique surf shops, and juice bars to keep you entertained. 

El Salvador is a super cheap place for volcano hikes!


People often call El Salvador the ‘Land of Volcanoes’, and once you get there, it’s obvious why!. Despite its small size, this nation is home to over 20 volcanoes, both dormant and active! 

Some of the most famous ones include Santa Ana (Ilamatepec), the highest and most active volcano in the country; Izalco, known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” due to its historically frequent eruptions; and San Salvador, which stands near the country’s capital of the same name.

You can hike most of them, but Santa Ana Volcano is probably the most popular volcano hike in El Salvador. Although this hike is relatively easy, you can’t do it alone. After a series of tourist robberies on the route, all hikes are undertaken with a big group and an armed guard. But despite this, the hike itself (including your armed escort) is free! You only need to pay a couple of USD for the bus and the park entrance fee. 

We climbed Santa Ana Volcano and it was a good hike, not the toughest we did in Central America (that award goes to Guatemala’s Acatenango, which broke me). Anyone with a decent level of fitness should be fine. Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with views down into Santa Ana’s turquoise blue crater lake. And on a good day, you can even see all the way out to the Pacific Ocean. 


As in many places around the world, political conflict breeds artistic expression. Artistic spirit is very much alive in El Salvador, more so than in most Central American countries. There are so many vibrant murals and colourful street art pieces to enjoy everywhere. 

The small town of Ataco was our favourite. There’s hardly a building that isn’t covered with some form of art. Even the phone and electricity poles are painted with individual designs of peace and positivity, reminding future generations not to forget El Salvador’s history and to remember the reasons for the struggles.


El Salvador has the same chicken buses as the rest of Central America, so why did we like them the most? 

Well, first of all, they’re incredibly cheap. Rarely will you have to pay more than a dollar for a bus journey – I think our most expensive was $1.09 USD.  Chicken buses in El Salvador were the friendliest in all of Central America. All the buses clearly display the price on a piece of paper stuck up at the front and no one ever tried to ‘tourist tax’ us.

Travel long enough through Latin America and you’ll soon learn, where there’s a chicken bus, there’s a food vendor… or two! In El Salvador the bus/vendor process is taken to a whole new level. We saw up to to 12 vendors on one bus at any given time, selling everything from pupusas to underwear to toothbrushes. Regardless of whether they’re all selling the same thing, each individual will make themselves heard. It’s chaos in the best possible way! 

But it’s not just food vendors, El Salvador had the best bus entertainment! From religious preachers to medicine men selling homemade remedies, you’re bound to have a laugh. But maybe pack some headphones, just in case…

Cooking El Salvador’s national food: the pupusa!


El Salvador has so many opportunities if you’re interested in sustainable and responsible tourism (you’ve landed on our blog so I hope you are!). There are countless community-based tourism initiatives where you get to learn about the way of life, crafts, and traditions of local Salvadorans.  This is definitely a top reason to visit El Salvador!

These initiatives are great because they prioritise sustainability, cultural preservation, and responsible tourism. You get to support the communities you visit, whilst having authentic and meaningful cultural experiences. You’ll feel like part of the community rather than just another tourist, which we love!

We really enjoyed the Ruta de las Flores for the amazing community-based tourism options on offer. We took a private coffee tour with our hostel owner, Gustavo, who also produced his own coffee beans. He showed us around a few of his sites and explained how coffee is grown, before brewing us a fresh batch of his coffee to try. It was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had! We even saw baby armadillos running around (so cute!). It was great knowing that we could support small-scale coffee farmers with our tourist dollars! 

We were also able to join a pupusa cooking class, run by Gustavo’s friend – apparently the best pupusa chef in Ataco! He opened up his home and kitchen to six of us and taught us how to make pupusas from scratch. They were better than any we’d bought during our time in El Salvador, and one of the recipes we brought back to Scotland with us!

If you’re interested in learning more about sustainable travel and becoming a better tourist, head to our sustainability hub for tons of free tips, tricks, and guides!


Don’t follow the crowd and only go backpacking through South East Asia. Yes, we loved this part of the world for so many reasons. But literally every second person has been there. And even in Central America, you’ll meet so many people who skip El Salvador (Honduras and sometimes Nicaragua too!), opting for the ‘safer’ and more ‘mainstream’ countries of Guatemala and Costa Rica

Not only is El Salvador a unique and less crowded destination – receiving about 1.5 million tourists annually –  but this little country offers hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path experiences. It’s got enough to keep you busy, and enough tourist infrastructure to make you feel comfortable, but it’s not shiny or putting on a ‘best side’ for tourists. This makes it a really authentic destination, which we enjoyed! 

El Salvador also has the ‘wow factor’. Due to its (now outdated) reputation, it’s not uncommon for other travellers to express admiration that you’ve been to, what used to be, the most dangerous country in the world! 

So, what do you think? After reading our twelve reasons to visit El Salvador, will you be adding this underrated country to your bucket list? Let us know what you think in the comments!

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Alice is a UK travel blogger who advocates sustainable travel and being more eco-conscious on a budget. She loves coffee, her houseplants and summiting mountains.

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