Bordered by Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean, El Salvador is Central America’s smallest country—to put its size in perspective, it’s smaller than New Hampshire and yet is home to a chain of soaring volcanic peaks, ancient Mayan sites, colonial cities, and a number of natural wonders welcoming eco- and adventure travelers.
Two mountain ranges cross El Salvador, and cone-shaped peaks soaring above the countryside are a common sight. The country has a total of 23 active volcanoes and even more inactive ones. The Santa Ana volcano, with an altitude of 7,812 feet, is the country’s second highest mountain. A climb to its summit is not too strenuous, and offers panoramic views of the surrounding landscape and towns. At its peak, a small turquoise lake rewards travelers who complete the climb. From the summit, you can also see another nearby caldera lake—Lago de Coatepeque. At roughly ten square miles, it is one of the country’s largest lakes and Teopan, an island in the middle of it, has been a sacred site for Maya for millennia.
Along with Santa Ana, Izalco is another volcano in the country’s popular Parque Nacional de Los Volcanes. This iconic peak, nicknamed the Lighthouse of the Pacific, has appeared on postage stamps as well as countless posters and postcards. The country’s highest mountain is Cerro El Pital (at 8,957 feet), the crown jewel of the San Ignacio region in the west of the country along the Honduran border. Along its slopes are mountain biking trails and other paths for hikers and trekkers.
Whether you want to go on a leisurely nature walk learning about El Salvador’s flora or fauna or are searching for the adrenaline rush of a round of paintball, there’s a corner of the country where you can find the adventure suited to you. At Cinquera, in the center of the country, a lush park with a waterfall offers opportunities to spot the many bird species that can be found in El Salvador. Outdoor adventures can be found right at the doorstep of San Salvador, the country’s capital, at Lake Ilopango. At this caldera lake, the country’s second largest, visitors can swim, kayak, and dive, or hike around the shoreline for views over the shimmering waters. In La Palma, in the mountainous northern corner of the country, a round of paintball in the rainforest is an unforgettable experience.
The adventures in El Salvador are not only physical, but cultural too. The country offers opportunities to meet artisans in their workshops and learn about their traditional crafts. Suchitoto, located some 30 miles northeast of San Salvador, has been described as the cultural capital of the country. Its cobblestone streets are lined with studios where you can learn about age-old indigo dyeing techniques and other crafts. Ilobasco also sits just over 30 miles from the capital. Artisans there specialize in miniature figures and ceramics, both practical and decorative. A half-hour drive from Ilobasco will bring you to San Sebastian, renowned for its colorful textiles. On a visit to the town you can learn how to operate a loom, and shop for unique pieces so that you can bring some of El Salvador’s rainbow of bright colors into your own home.