San Salvador The capital wasn't what I was expecting at all. The streets were full of busy locals going about their daily trade, as well as street performers lining the main square. Due to the sheer size, the Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the star attractions. The National Palace and National Theatre both allow tourists to enter and tour free of charge. El Rosario Church was the biggest surprise, so don't judge the outside of the building. Also the coffee available in the city is some of the best I've tried anywhere in the world.
Playa El Tunco A renowned surfer town that's only a 45 drive south of San Salvador. This town had great character and I'd definitely recommend stopping by. It's a very small town, so you'll find a couple of main streets lined with craft shops, some great restaurants along the beachfront, and plenty of surf cafes with a chilled vibe. Fortunate timing for me is that there was a surf competition happening at the time of my visit.
San Salvador Volcano There's a whole selection of volcanoes in El Salvador that can be hiked. I chose San Salvador Volcano because it was a great hike, and also offered good vantage points to view other volcanoes in the distance. The height is 1,893 meters (highest is Santa Ana at 2,381 meters). The view at the top was impressive as you can look directly into the large crater rim. For those not wanting to hike, you can also drive almost to the top, followed by a 15 minute walk. Just drive to El Boqueron National Park if this is the option you want to take.
Ataco Town Located in the western mountain range and famous for its colourful murals, this place was such a surprise as I hadn't heard about it prior to my visit. The town was founded by a pre-Colombian Indian group and gained huge popularity in 2004 when a government-sponsored competition meant that locals added the colourful murals all across the town. There's cobbled streets with traditional restaurants and craft shops, as well as the best coffee shop I found in the country, Axul Coffee Shop. The vibe in this town is also super chilled.
Lake Coatepeque This is a large crater lake surrounding wooden hills in western El Salvador. You can get panoramic views of the lake from many vantage points heading up to both San Salvador and Santa Ana volcano. Many locals use the lake to fish, swim, and kayak. I've seen many lakes formed from a sunken volcano and I would say this one is surprisingly large.
Suchitoto A town set in the mountains of El Salvador's Cuscatlan department. I thought this town was a real gem in what fast turned out to be an extremely beautiful country. Colonial architecture lines the streets with Santa Lucia Church towering above them all. There's plenty of colourful buildings, a well as an open air cafe called Casa 1800 which offers superb views of the nearby lake. No more than a 10 minute drive out of the town and you'll come to another gem in the form of Los Tercios Waterfall. The water flow depends on the time of year you're visiting, but the rock formations were truly stunning with similarities to Iceland in my opinion.
Casa Blanca Mayan Ruins This place is a pre-Colombian Maya archaeological site. There are several pyramids here, but worth noting that you can't go and step foot on these and may of the pyramids are part buried in the greenery of the earth. It's an interesting spot where there's evidence to show human activity dating back over 5,000 years.
I was mid-way through a lengthy trip through Central America, so it was time for a high-end hotel. Barcelo San Salvador was the chosen one. Great location in the centre of the capital city, spacious rooms, a sports bar, and a fitness centre. This really is a great hotel and at a much lower cost compared to other Barcelo Hotels globally.
My restaurant choice was La Pampa Coatepeque, which combined great food and amazing views! As the name suggests, the restaurant had panoramic views overlooking the lake. The food was a very high quality with an extensive menu of both local and international cuisine. It wasn't the cheapest by El Salvador standards, but the views were just wow! The local beer Suprema is definitely worth trying.
Good Guide I used Roberto Marroquin as my local fixer on the ground and I can verify that's he's a fantastic guide who's very enthusiastic about his work. In addition, he also has an Eco Lodge in the mountains for those wishing to escape the cities. He can be reached via Whatsapp on +503 7746 4951.