This tiny Central American country is full of natural wonders you’ve probably never heard of.
Headlines about El Salvador’s natural wonders are virtually invisible in the media, since referencing gang violence seems to be the only thing the news is interested in. But discovering El Salvador’s gorgeous scenery is a more likely occurrence than walking into a neighborhood run by gangs. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, requiring only about three hours to traverse by car. Its square footage makes it a perfectly manageable weekend trip, where you can pack in waterfalls, volcanoes, caves, and world-renowned surfing that attracts international visitors far and wide. So while headlines about El Salvador are usually of the negative variety, the only thing negative thing about El Salvador is having to leave. For such a small country, El Salvador is full of stunning scenery and these 13 natural wonders are waiting to be discovered.
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El Tunco is your typical tourist beach town, full of hostels, yoga studios, and juice bars. But the difference between El Tunco and other tourist traps is that it’s not a trap. The tourists are local Salvadoreans who come for a getaway from the city, so you’ll find yourself dancing to reggaeton and surfing with travelers and locals all in the same place.
El Tunco is also known for a unique rock formation that looks like the horns of a bull, which makes for an epic sunset photo. The best part is walking along the beach at sunset and watching all the lovers come out for a romantic walk while they watch the surfers catching the last waves of the day.
INSIDER TIPThe best bars are the wooden treehouse ones with the surfers, not the fancy ones in the nice buildings.
El Cuco is a black sand beach reminiscent of the eroded lava rock from the volcanoes of El Salvador. It is a quiet city where turtles come to lay over 10,000 eggs a year. At night, the hatching sanctuary has little red lights on the ground so as to alert visitors of potential turtle eggs or baby turtles making their way to the sea.
INSIDER TIPAt night, you can see distant lightning shows all the way in Nicaragua from this beach.
Tamanique is only 20 minutes from El Tunco beach and a much-needed excursion in-between surfing lessons. However, the steep hike is not for the faint-hearted. The waterfall at the bottom breaks into three freshwater pools that are so clear and cool, it makes you want to jump in. But be careful, because only two have pools deep enough for jumping. The cold swim is the perfect antidote to the humid hike through the jungle to get there. The real mission is going back up, clinging to the side of the hill, as you use your hands to climb back up while dripping in sweat.
INSIDER TIPThis extremely difficult hike is not recommended for children or people who are not physically active.
La Ruta de las Flores
The Route of the Flowers (Ruta de las Flores) is a meandering road that is lined with blooming flowers from October to February that connects five municipalities: Juayua, Apaneca, Nahuizalco, Salcoatitán, and Concepción de Ataco. While the flowers are a beautiful natural sight to see when in season; each municipality has unique things to offer year round. For example, Juayua is home to a gastronomical festival that takes place every Sunday. Apaneca is famous for its lagoons (to be honest, they are pretty mediocre) but it’s also home to the largest hedged labyrinth in Central America and offers ziplining through the canopy. Nahuizalco is an indigenous town where the people there have preserved their language (Nahuatl), traditional huipil dress, and traditional craft techniques to cultivate natural raw materials to make handicrafts. Salcoatitán is a small town with colorful houses that operates off of the coffee industry. Finally, Concepción de Ataco is a town covered in artist murals with a large market selling handicrafts typical of El Salvador.
INSIDER TIPMake sure to get some pupusas along the way.
Los Chorros de la Calera
The walk through the mountains of El Salvador, with birds chirping, leaves whistling, and the faint hiss of the waterfall ahead makes for an incredibly peaceful hike along the paved path to this waterfall. When the falls suddenly appear along your hike, their beauty is breathtaking, looming above you in moss-covered grandeur. Peering into the natural infinity pool, you can see all the way to the bottom as you quickly tear off your clothes to jump into this crystal-clear water. You can see the water rushing through natural tunnels where it comes out on the other side, dropping off into another waterfall. From the hike to the swim, this naturally made pool in the mountains is truly a marvel.
INSIDER TIPThis waterfall is said to have burst out of the mountain after an earthquake. It is also said that plunging into the ice-cold pool will cure your Salvadorean hangover. The latter is not true.
Toma de Quezaltepeque
The original peoples of El Salvador used the natural pools at Toma de Quezaltepeque as a water supply where people would come from different places to take water back to their homes. It has been transformed by the Parks & Recreations sector in El Salvador into a swimming hole. Since it is located on volcanic rock and is a natural aquifer, the plants in the area feed from the crystalline water and generous soil, creating vegetation unlike anywhere else in the country.
The Torogoz is a turquoise bird with unique color patterns that was chosen as the national bird of El Salvador due to its inability to live in captivity. The bird also requires a partner to take care of its offspring, leading it to embody El Salvador’s resilience and penchant for community.
El Boqueron National Park
El Boqueron or “Big Mouth” is a volcano on the outskirts of El Salvador’s capital city, San Salvador. One can take an hour hike around the rim of the crater and be surrounded by pine scents as you go along. There are multiple trail options to choose from, ranging in difficulty.
Lake Illopango is a lake inside of a crater that was formed in the year 410 A.D. when a volcano erupted and destroyed Mayan towns. In 1879, the volcano erupted again, forming lava islands in the middle of the lake. The lake is now rich in fish and visitors can go diving, sailing, fishing, and there are even some beaches.
Los Volcanes National Park
El Salvador has 23 active volcanoes, three of which you can observe at Los Volcanes National Park. Cerro Verde, Izalco, and Santa Ana. Cerro Verde or “Green Hill” is a volcano mistaken as a hill. Due to its inactivity, the volcano has been taken over by a beautiful forest growing out of the black volcanic rock. Izalco is the most visibly recognizable volcano and a symbol to the country of El Salvador. It is called “The Lighthouse Of The Pacific” because it erupted for 196 years and could be seen from passing ships in the sea. The amazing thing about it is that the eruption never caused any problems for El Salvador’s cash crop, coffee, that grew along the slopes of the volcano. Santa Ana has a unique crater formation with four nested calderas inside each other with an aquamarine crater lake at the very bottom. But don’t be fooled by its beauty: this is El Salvador’s most active volcano that spewed rocks the size of cars in 2005.
Puerta del Diablo
This natural rock formation is one of the most visited attractions by Salvadorean tourists. The Puerta del Diablo consists of two large rocks, framing a view of the wide expanse of the countryside. But you’re probably thinking, “What does this have to do with the devil?”
The rocks are called Devil’s Door because of the legends that surround it. As locals tell it, the devil himself tried to seduce the daughter of the man who owned this property. The devil was caught and was almost captured, so he broke the rock and escaped down the middle. Others say it’s because many developments tried to take place, but none of them were successful due to a series of unexpected events caused by the devil. There are many other mysterious stories alluding to the name of the odd rock formation, but what is not a mystery are the excellent views from the top.
El Imposible National Park
This national refuge is a place where hundreds of unique species of plants and animals such as macaws, anteaters, and toucans live in the most biodiverse region in El Salvador. The refuge acts as a water source for surrounding communities and is considered one of the last dry rainforests in the world. The name “The Impossible” was formed because farmers used to transport coffee from the farm across a narrow gorge that was “impossible” to cross. There was once a bridge that claimed the lives of many farmers and mules as it collapsed under the weight and led to men, animals, and coffee all falling to their deaths below. It is now no longer impossible to cross: The government constructed a bridge to guarantee safe passage in 1968.
Moncagua is a shimmering and shining, crystal clear, see-through-blue water that backs up to a gorgeous cave with green vines hanging from the roof. The best part is, the water is hot. These hot springs and surrounding Mayan ruins are a natural wonder not to be missed.