The Most Breathtakingly Beautiful Places in El Salvador

That such a small country could play host to so much beauty may seem surreal. But Instagrammable moments, which happen around almost every turn, offer assurance that the beauty is very real.

The moment when you fully appreciate the expanse of beauty may come while looking out across the whitewashed city of Juayúa, with the massive triple cones of Los Volcanes National Park rising behind it. Or it may occur among El Salvador’s sparkling lakes, stunning beaches, Spanish Colonial towns, and cool mountains marbled with waterfalls and hot springs. But no matter when that moment happens during your journey, it will happen. Have your camera ready.

The Most Breathtakingly Beautiful Places in El Salvador

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That such a small country could play host to so much beauty may seem surreal. But Instagrammable moments, which happen around almost every turn, offer assurance that the beauty is very real.

The moment when you fully appreciate the expanse of beauty may come while looking out across the whitewashed city of Juayúa, with the massive triple cones of Los Volcanes National Park rising behind it. Or it may occur among El Salvador’s sparkling lakes, stunning beaches, Spanish Colonial towns, and cool mountains marbled with waterfalls and hot springs. But no matter when that moment happens during your journey, it will happen. Have your camera ready.

Here are some of El Salvador’s exceptionally gorgeous spots.

Coatepeque Crater Lake

From the rim of this massive volcanic crater, which plunges to a sparkling, 10-square-mile (26-sq-km) lake, you’ll appreciate why the Mayans made the island of Teopán a sacred site. (And yes, you can stay there, at several opulent Airbnbs.)

Descend into the caldera to find an inviting waterfront lined with hotels and restaurants serving up great food and live music. Then take a dip in the glass-like water, with the steep and verdant crater walls reflecting off its ripples.

Suchitoto

This gracefully preserved Spanish Colonial town, with its cobblestone streets and lovely little church, would be one of the country’s top destinations even if it weren’t perched above the shimmering, island-dappled expanse of Lake Suchitlán.

Founded in 1528 as El Salvador’s original capital, Suchitoto is a city of courtyard gardens hidden behind ancient adobe walls and red-tiled rooftops, with fine hotels, shops, and restaurants tucked inside. Venture beyond for more beauty: Take a short hike to Los Tercios Waterfall, which pours over 100-foot (30-meter) columns of basalt; or ride a boat out to uninhabited lake islands, where huge flocks of birds fill the trees.

El Rosario Church

Rainbows stream through the transformative interior of what some call the most beautiful church in El Salvador. Iglesia El Rosario, in San Salvador, is no Spanish Colonial structure.

Completed in 1971, it’s entirely modern, arching above the city center like an unusually graceful airplane hanger. Inside, it’s a place of sublime beauty, with a cascade of stained glass windows that paint the striking Stages of the Cross with colored light. Visit on a sunny afternoon.

Many of the capital’s more traditionally beautiful architectural gems, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Theater, are within a few blocks of El Rosario.

Playa Las Flores

Choosing the most beautiful beach in El Salvador is an impossible task; each offers its own reward. You can experience the mangroves and sea turtles of Corral de Mullas, the surf town of El Tunco, and the undersea scenery of Los Cobanos.

But Playa las Flores, adjacent to almost-as-attractive Playa El Cuco, is as close to beachfront perfection as you’ll find anywhere in the country. This crescent of dark, volcanic sand—framed in glistening cliffs and swaying palms—is best known for its epic surf break. But it’s also an excellent swimming beach, with enough hiking and accommodations to keep all kinds of travelers happy.

Miramundo

The Sierra Madre Mountains rise suddenly from the sweltering lowlands to cool pine-forested heights, and on a clear day you can catch a sweeping view of this shift—and see all the way to the Pacific Ocean—from Miramundo (loosely translated as “View the World”).

The high point here is Cerro El Pital (8,957 feet; 2,730 meters), where the rustling forest and misty climate creates a relaxing environment. Wonderful restaurants and accommodations encourage lingering. And even if it’s too cloudy to see the sea, you can’t miss the rolling farmlands, hung with orchids and epiphytes.