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Things to see and do in El Salvador

Attractions in El Salvador

Canyon down El Imposible’s rushing rivers

El Imposible, the country's most important ecological reserve, is a must for the nature-hungry traveller and thrill seeker. Over 500 species of bird flit between the trees; you may even catch a glimpse of the rare black hawk eagle whilst trekking through the forest, or canyoning down the steep river gorges.

Dip into the volcanic lakes

Try your hand at fishing, sailing, waterskiing and kayaking on the volcanic crater lakes of Coatepeque and Ilopango, either side of San Salvador. And if that's not enough adventure for you, go for a dive to explore the rocky depths of Ilopango, whose waters have tepid temperatures all year.

Explore the cloud forest of Cerro Verde

Spectacular cloud forest, sweeping views, clean mountain air, exhilarating walks and three volcanoes are yours to explore in this 505 hectare (1,250 acre) national park in central El Salvador. Expert local guides lead day hikes from San Salvador, taking in Cerro Verde, Izalco and Santa Ana volcanoes looming high above the steamy jungle.

Follow the Floral Route

To the west of San Salvador lies some of the country's most luscious landscapes, which are peppered with lazy villages and linked by the scenic Ruta de las Flores. Here you can hike up volcanoes, clamber over Pre-Columbian ruins and explore peaceful indigenous villages, such as Nahuizalco, Juayua, Apaneca, Ataco and Ahuachapán.

Go butterfly spotting in Barra de Santiago

Arguably El Salvador's most pristine beach, this sandy expanse in the far west doubles as a nature reserve for butterfly and bird species. You can explore the mangroves of the Zapote estuary by boat or canoe, or just chill in a beachfront cafe. Local groups and hotels including La Cocotera eco lodge are working to re-establish endangered species like the marine turtle and red macaw.

Go horse riding up Guazapa volcano

Ecotourism is one of El Salvador's fastest growing activities, with an increasing number of specialist agencies offering multi-activity tours of its unspoilt wilderness. One of the most popular adventures is a horseback ride through beautiful scenery, covering three climate zones, to the summit of the Guazapa volcano, before returning to base to learn how to make maize tortillas.

Go white-water rafting

Whether you are new to the thrills and spills of this exciting sport or a seasoned expert, the rivers of El Salvador are classic white-water experiences. The best rafting rivers are Lempa, Guajoyo and Paz during the rainy season (May to October) and the Paz in the dry season (November to April). You can find specialist operators in San Salvador and Suchitoto.

Join in Panchimalco’s indigenous festivities

The Pancho, who give the village of Panchimalco its name, are sadly among the few remaining indigenous people in El Salvador who have retained their old traditions. The best times to visit this historic town near San Salvador are 13-14 September (Fiesta de Santa Cruz de Roma) or 3 May (Las Palmas harvest procession), colourful occasions when pagan and Christian customs merge.

Let former guerrillas lead you on the Peace Route

Peace has now been restored to the beautiful countryside around Perquín, scene of some of the bloodiest battles in El Salvador's civil war. Former guerrillas explain the history in the Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña; you can also mix politics with pleasure by going swimming in the Rio Sapo, birdwatching in the ecological reserve, or canoeing, horse riding and rock climbing.

Ramble around Maya ruins

Before the Spanish conquest, the great Maya civilisation reached as far as El Salvador. No great pyramids have survived here but sites worth visiting include San Andres, Tazumal and Joya de Cerén, a uniquely preserved Maya settlement whose houses were buried under volcanic ash 1,400 years ago and which is now on UNESCO's World Heritage list.

See Fernando Llort’s vivid artworks

Born in 1949, Fernando Llort is El Salvador's greatest living artist. He is known for his use of bright colours and highly individual style that incorporates symbols representing life in the country of his birth. You can view Llort's work in his museum, El Arbol de Dios, in San Salvador; a collection of his murals also stands on the city's southern entrance.

Seek out the sights of San Salvador

El Salvador's capital is a traffic-clogged jumble, but worth a visit for several historic and cultural gems, such as the Palacio Nacional, the restored Teatro Nacional and the Biblioteca Nacional. The nicest church is La Ceiba de Guadalupe, with a fine wooden ceiling, and the best museum is the modern National Anthropology museum, displaying the country's history as well as putting on cultural events.

Soak up the sights of Suchitoto

By far and away El Salvador's prettiest colonial town, Suchitoto is famous for its parish church, which dominates the main square. There is a craft market here most days and it comes alive on weekend nights with a loud and lively fair. Wander around its cobbled streets lined with colonial architecture, or take a boat cruise around the nearby Lago de Suchitlán.

Stay on a coffee plantation

Coffee became El Salvador's most important export in the mid 19th century; plantations are still dotted around the countryside, some offering tours for visitors. Buy the local product when visiting Ecoparque El Espino on the slopes of the Boquerón volcano. Alternatively, book a stay at the Hotel Santa Leticia in Apaneca, a working plantation in the Ruta de las Flores.

Visit surfing heaven

El Salvador's Pacific coastline is surfing heaven, with crowd-free beaches and world-class breaks. South of San Miguel is Las Flores, from where boats head to Punta Mango and the biggest waves in the country, suitable for beginners and experts alike. Closest to the capital are El Sunzal (La Libertad), El Zonte and El Tunco beaches, dotted along the idyllic Costa del Bálsamo.

Zip through the forest canopy

For a powerful adrenalin rush, it's hard to beat the spectacular Apaneca Canopy Tour, a thrilling zip-line circuit strung 150m (492ft) above the tropical forests of western El Salvador. Enjoy a bird's-eye view of Apaneca's coffee plantations as you glide over breathtaking mountain scenery. (Not recommended for those with a fear of heights).

Tourist offices

El Salvador Tourist Officee

Address: Edificio Carbonel #1, Colonia Roma, San Salvador,
Telephone: (503) 2243 7835 / 2241 3200.
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