El Salvador is usually overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, Costa Rica and Panama, but what visitors don't realize is that this small country in Central America has a large collection of national parks and historical sites.

Outdoorsy nature lovers will enjoy hiking to the highest point in El Salvador up the Cerro El Pital or going on a refreshing dip in the hot springs near the Coatepeque Caldera.

There are some beautiful cathedrals that architecture aficionados will adore, such as the Cathedral of Santa Ana or the San Salvador Cathedral. Other sites and attractions that visitors shouldn't miss are the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, the National Palace, and the Mayan archaeological ruins of Tazumal. Scroll to see the full list with photos or jump to the table of contents.


Cerro El Pital

Cerro El Pital

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Found on the border of El Salvador and Honduras, Cerro El Pital is a mountain in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas mountain range. The mountain towers nearly 9,000 feet above sea level and is both the highest point and the coldest place in El Salvador. Considered one of the most popular tourist sites in the country, visitors can explore great biodiversity in the cloud forest. There are many species of flora and fauna that people will come across, including quetzals and other endangered species. In addition to the lovely hike and beautiful scenery, visitors can also enjoy a delicious meal at a local restaurant in the foothills.


Coatepeque Caldera

Coatepeque Caldera

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Visitors will be able to see so much during a visit to the Coatepeque Caldera, a large crater lake surrounded by wooded hills. Across the stunning blue lake lies Teopan Island, which was once a sacred site for the ancient Maya. Other attractions visitors will see include the Izalco Volcano and the towering Santa Ana Volcano. Activities at the Coatepeque Caldera include hiking, exploring the sites, and taking a refreshing dip in the cool lake or the hot springs near the lake margins. Visitors can end their visit with a fresh and delicious dinner at one of the restaurants along the shore while enjoying the beautiful scenery that surrounds them.


El Boqueron National Park

El Boqueron National Park

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Adventurous visitors in El Salvador will love a day trip to El Boqueron National Park, which is only half an hour away from the Salvadoran capital. The park is at the top of the San Salvador Volcano, which lets visitors get up close and personal with a crater that is over 1,800 feet deep and over 3 miles wide. Additionally, there is a smaller crater within the larger one called Boqueroncito, which visitors can also explore. It's quite a hike to get up there, but it is well worth the view as well as the flora and fauna that visitors will come across. Beginner hikers can explore one of the shorter and less difficult trails since there are many within the national park.


El Imposible National Park

El Imposible National Park

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Established in 1989, El Imposible National Park is a tropical forest and national park in the heart of the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range in El Salvador. Literally translating to "the Impossible National Park," the 14.7-square-mile park was once a perilous trek for farmers transporting coffee through the park. There are many tour companies that visitors can hire to explore the park as well as its many rivers and the mangrove forest along the coast. Some of the flora and fauna visitors will come across are pumas, wild boars, black-crested eagles, and a variety of plants.


Things to Do in El Salvador: Lake Ilopango

Things to Do in El Salvador: Lake Ilopango

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Found on the borders of La Paz and San Salvador, Lake Ilopango fills the caldera of a volcano that last erupted in 1879. It is the second largest lake in the country and visitors can take a boat ride to the island in the middle, Ilopango Volcano. The popular tourist area is filled with restaurants and souvenir shops for visitors to dine in and explore. Locals and tour guides will love to share the theories that the eruption that formed the lake was the source of the extreme weather events of 535-536 AD. Visitors can schedule their visit around the annual air show held at the Ilopango International Airport, which hosts pilots from all over the world.


Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo

Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo

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Visitors will come across the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo in the Plaza El Salvador del Mundo, or The Savior of the World Plaza. The monument comprises Jesus standing on top of the world in the form of a globe, and the entire structure sits on a concrete base pedestal. Many consider the statue, which has since been designated a national landmark, to represent Salvadorans throughout the world. The towering structure was built by architect Jose Maria in 1941 and has become the location of many of San Salvador's festivities over the years; visitors can spend hours visiting the statue and exploring the plaza during their visit to El Salvador.


Cathedral of Santa Ana

Cathedral of Santa Ana

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The Cathedral of Santa Ana, or Our Lady Saint Anne, is a neo-Gothic cathedral in the heart of El Salvador. Its architectural style is rather different from other cathedrals visitors will see in the country, which were mostly built in the Spanish colonial style. The cathedral was completed in 2016 and is often visited by both locals and tourists. There is a marble altar to the Virgin Mary in the cathedral that visitors should see, as well as six stunning bell towers. Another aspect of the of the cathedral that shouldn't be missed are the eight bronze statues of dogs, which are believed to guard the cathedral.


National Palace

National Palace

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The original structure of the National Palace was constructed around 1870 but was lost to a fire in 1889. The building that people see today was constructed in 1911 under the direction of master builder Pascasio Gonzalez Erazo. The beautiful palace, which has been declared a national monument, was built with materials imported from all over the world, including Italy, Germany, and Belgium. There are over a hundred rooms in the building for visitors to explore, with the four main rooms being the Red Room, the Yellow Room, the Pink Room, and the Blue Room, which was the meeting place of the Legislature of El Salvador from 1906.


San Salvador Cathedral

San Salvador Cathedral

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The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior, more popularly known as the San Salvador Cathedral, is the seat of the archbishop and is the principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Salvador. The cathedral has a colorful and festive façade, which surrounds a shrine to Jesus. Another aspect of the cathedral that visitors shouldn't miss includes the image of Jesus on the main altar, which was donated in 1546 by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The main altar also has paintings by Andres Garcia Ibanez that depict various events from the life of Christ.


Tazumal

Tazumal

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Tazumal is one aspect of the much larger ancient Mesoamerican city of Chalchuapa. The pre- Columbian Maya archaeological site was excavated and restored by archaeologist Stanley Boggs in the 1940s and 1950s. Visitors can now explore the ruins, which have various structures such as the main pyramid, B1-1, and the Great Platform by Boggs, which is almost 240 feet by 285 feet in size. Various artifacts have been uncovered from Tazumal, such as ceramic vessels, a polychrome bowl, and various pieces of jade, animals bone, and seashells; visitors can see these and much more at the Tazumal site museum.


Cihuatan Archeological Park

Cihuatan Archeological Park

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Located near Aguilares in El Salvador, Cihuatán Archeological Park is a Mayan monumental center and the country’s most extensive archaeological site. Spanning around sixty blocks, the pre-Hispanic city includes platforms, pyramids, a palace, wall, and more. The ancient city dates back to the year 900 AD and today there are three main areas that have been identified: a domestic area where most of the population lived, the acropolis and its noble dwelling area, and a ceremonial center surrounded by a wall. Archaeological finds from the city, which include ceramics, can be seen in the Cihuatán Archeological Park's museum.

Aguilares, El Salvador, 503 2501-4400


Joya de Ceren Archeological Park

Joya de Ceren Archeological Park

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A pre-Hispanic cultural icon, Joya de Cerén Archeological Park shows how daily life of the Mayan civilization unfolded and is the country’s only site containing evidence of the Mesoamerican inhabitants' daily life from over 1,500 years ago. In approximately 650 AD, the city's residents were buried by a volcanic eruption, according to El Salvador's Ministry of Culture. This has led the site to be nicknamed "The Pompeii of America." Previously a pre-Hispanic farming settlement. And discovered by accident in 1976, the archaeological park depicts what daily life was like in the Mayan settlement and artifacts can be viewed in the museum.

Carr. San Juan Opico - Agua Escondida Km 32, El Salvador, 503-2401 5782


San Andres Archeological Park

San Andres Archeological Park

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One of El Salvador's largest pre-Hispanic centers, San Andrés Archeological Park was a capital of the region between the years 600 and 900 AD. The settlement covered approximately 200 hectares and included a large residential area surrounding a monumental center. The majority of the park's structures are open for the public to visit. On the north side, San Andrés Archeological Park features pyramids, which include one shaped like a bell, and a large plaza. There is also a n acropolis at the site. Nearly all of the structures were built with Adobe blocks, however, two are made of volcanic tuff.

RJ26+77P, CA 1, San Juan Opico, El Salvador, 503-2455 6212


Casa Blanca Archeological Park

Casa Blanca Archeological Park

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Visitors can learn about indigo techniques, Mayan civilization, and more at the Casa Blanca Archeological Park. The park consists of a ceremonial center dating back to pre-Hispanic times, which features various structures and mounds, and a colonial hacienda-inspired museum building built of tile and adobe that includes the country's only known stela with Mayan writing among many other archaeological objects. At the indigo workshop, guests can witness the different indigo dyeing methods, as well as the materials used in producing indigo-dyed products. The Casa Blanca Archeological Park also contains an archaeological window that displays cultural and natural strata.

RN 13 W Km. 78, Chalchuapa, El Salvador, 503-2343 0119


Apastepeque Lagoon Waterpark

Apastepeque Lagoon Waterpark

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Apastepeque Lagoon Waterpark is a unique recreational area set on a volcanic explosion crater, featuring shores covered with subtropical rainforest vegetation and a tropical transition. Vegetation found here includes Guarumo, Conacaste, and Ceiba among other species of trees. The recreational site consists of cabins, picnic areas, walking paths, a restaurant, a pool, a boardwalk, and a beach area. There is also an inviting floating dock for guests looking to relax in calm waters and admire the landscape. Apastepeque Lagoon Waterpark, is considered to be one of the country’s main life zones, extending from the coastal flatlands to the volcanic range.

M7V3+5WG, Laguna de, Apastepeque, El Salvador


Los Tercios Waterfalls

Los Tercios Waterfalls

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Located approximately one kilometer from Suchitoto, the Los Tercios Waterfall is formed by water flowing from overlapping hexagon-shaped stone blocks and is popular particularly in the winter. The stone structure of the waterfall is so rare that several researchers have created studies in efforts of discovering how it was created. Visitors will need to walk through an adventurous path through crumbling rocks to reach this 10-meter waterfall. Those who do make the trek, however, will be rewarded with memorable views of El Salvador’s Lake Suchitlán. Non-slip shoes are recommended to visit Los Tercios Waterfall due the descent’s demanding nature.

Carretera a Cinquera Suchitoto, El Salvador, 503 6201 1406


Walter Thilo Deininger Adventure Park

Walter Thilo Deininger Adventure Park

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Walter Thilo Deininger Adventure Park offers a day full of adventure surrounded by the nature of El Salvador. There are an array of adrenaline-pumping activities available for extreme sports enthusiasts and daring tourists alike, including a zip line, rappel, and mountain biking, all designed to test the physical abilities of visitors. Walter Thilo Deininger Adventure Park also includes options for hiking and camping through its natural surroundings, expanding more than 1,040 hectares, for guests looking for a more tranquil or relaxing visit. Among the routes at the park are the Amayo River, Cueva del Encanto, and the El Mirador trail.

Costa del SolCA-2, El Salvador, 503 2121 6700


Costa del Sol

Costa del Sol

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Boasting numerous restaurants, beach houses, and hotels nearby, Costa del Sol is a beach in the central La Paz area of the country and a natural gem for both visitors and locals in the community. Different from the cliffs and rock formations of El Salvador’s western and eastern beaches, a beautiful valley surrounds the central beach. The large Jaltepeque estuary with its intricate mangroves surrounds Costa del Sol beach, providing a great opportunity for renting a small boat, fishing, and stand-up paddle boarding. The best time of year for surfing at Costa del Sol is November through January.

La Costa del sol Boulevard, La Paz


Sunzal

Sunzal

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Sunzal has been a popular surfing spot in El Salvador among both foreigners and locals alike since the late 1960s when the first surfers from North America arrived in search for the “perfect wave.” This long stretch of straight waves is able to accommodate dozens of surfers at one time and draws surfers from all over with its consistency of not breaking. The beach acts as a breaker that handles the Salvadoran coast's largest waves without closure or interruption. Waves eight to fifteen feet in height are common from March to October. Sunzal also has a gentler side for more beginner surfers.


Bell Tower Church of Nuestra Senora de la Merced

Bell Tower Church of Nuestra Senora de la Merced

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The Bell Tower church of Nuestra Señora de la Merced is known as the place where on November 5th of 1811, the "First Cry for Independence" was raised. Located on the "street of bitterness" in downtown San Salvador's tourist ring, the bell tower is now one of three country's cultural assets and a national monument. The church dates back to 1623, however, it was reconstructed in the year 1895 after earthquakes damaged it in 1854 and 1873. There have also been additional renovations and restorations since then, including the 2011 restoration for the First Cry of Independence’s 200th anniversary.

San Esteban, San Salvador


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