One of the big reasons we loved flying Avianca for our summer 2021 adventures was because of the fantastic route availability they had through Central and South America. While Ecuador and Guatemala were the primary focus of our trip, we were thrilled to find out we could squeeze in a long layover in San Salvador. So I got to work looking for the best things to do in San Salvador.
Here’s our one day in San Salvador itinerary! Of course, this wasn’t nearly enough time and we’re itching to go back, but we were thrilled with all that we could see in a day. We loved El Salvador itinerary with kids but it would be perfect for just adults, too!
Day 1 in San Salvador, El Salvador
The first day, we flew into San Salvador from Guatemala City on Avianca. We arrived in the early evening, so we knew we wouldn’t have time to explore this day.
Since we weren’t familiar with the area and were on a very short timeframe, we decided to hire a driver for our time there. Our driver met us at the airport and drove us directly to our hotel.
Note: the San Salvador does not allow anyone but the official taxi drivers come up to the area just outside the doors, so if you have another driver, or are renting your own vehicle, you’ll need to walk for about 5-10 minutes to get to that lot.
Should I Hire A Driver in El Salvador?
A large van + driver ended up costing the same (or a bit less) than what it would cost us to rent a minivan for our large family. Large personal vehicles were difficult to find to rent, so this felt much easier and more cost and time effective. We hired our driver through Salvadorean Tours, and he was just wonderful. We also specifically requested a driver and guide vaccinated against COVID-19, who also remained masked the entire time inside the vehicle (as did we), which we really appreciated. Our driver was Vitelio, WhatsApp number +503 7123 1092.
It was also really wonderful having a driver who knew exactly where to go during our short time there. He had a guide come along the next day at no charge to us (we did tip him, of course), who was engaging for the kids and really made our short stay really wonderful.
If you have a smaller group, you would likely pay a little less to rent your own vehicle. If you’re able, though, I recommend having a guide if possible, especially for a short stay – it’s a wonderful to both connect to the local community and also support the local economy. That said, the roads were generally quite good and I think it would be no problem to rent your own car to drive in El Salvador.
Best San Salvador Hotel for Families
If I’m being perfectly honest, we did not love our hotel. The website represented it in a much better way than what we experienced. I think this was largely due to renovations taking place, and being placed in a very old area of the hotel.
We were originally placed in two separate rooms that were not even next door to each other, as we had confirmed prior to arrival. With small children, that was not acceptable to us so they did move us to a different room. However, they moved us to a very old room in the very back of the hotel. Everything was extremely worn, from the carpet to the bathroom, the shower did not work properly, and there were multiple safety issues.
Still, we were only in San Salvador for 2 nights, so we stuck with it, especially since we spent most of our time outside the hotel. And, for what it’s worth, the one-bedroom suite room we ended up with was quite spacious and did have a small kitchenette. It was connected to the Crowne Plaza, which was much nicer if they’d had space there, but they didn’t during that time.
Below are some of the best hotels for families in San Salvador that I would recommend. I will say that this was a more difficult place to find suite hotels with multiple rooms in them for a large family. If you do have a larger family, I would suggest booking two rooms or a home rental via VRBO.
Day 2 in San Salvador, El Salvador: Best Things To Do In San Salvador
We had a few different options for our one full day in San Salvador. There is so much to do in such a compact area! Still, we knew that especially for the tail end of our trip, our kids especially wanted to spend some time outside adventuring.
We considered this amazing refuge with 31 endangered species that also has a family canopy experience. We also loved the idea of visiting the ancient Maya archaeological site of Tazumal for its fascinating history. However, during our week in Guatemala, we’d seen quite a bit of wildlife, had had the fortune of doing a ropes course, and had visited a Maya site.
While we would’ve absolutely loved those stops with more time, we opted for a couple of experiences we hadn’t yet had on that trip: waterfall cliff jumping and surfing! San Salvador for families is great because there’s so much variety, and we were super excited to try these out these activities.
El Tunco: What To Do in San Salvador
Our first stop was the town of El Tunco. We’d heard this was an incredible place for some beginner surfing lessons, and relatively close to San Salvador (about an hour drive). We stopped by the beach to see the gorgeous waves and rocks, and meandered a bit through the town (we loved grabbing some fresh coconut water – cooled in a solar-powered refrigerator!).
We stopped by one surf shop that our driver highly recommended, and that seemed like the best after talking to a couple others along the way. For our group, especially with little kids, they highly recommended having a 1-to-1 ratio of teachers to learners, which I felt great about.
As the waves were starting to pick up, they recommended coming back later in the day when the waters were a bit calmer. So we headed over to our next top.
Tamanique Waterfalls Cliff Jumping (Las Cascadas de Tamanique): Must See Things To Do in San Salvador
From there, we drove Tamanique Waterfalls. We’d read that they are incredibly beautiful and also that there are some fantastic spots for cliff jumping. Our kids absolutely love any high jumps and anything adventurous, so they leaped at the opportunity when we brought it up.
Once we drove to the town of Tamanique, our driver found a local guide for us. While you can hike to the waterfalls on your own, I would not recommend it. Technically, a guide is required when hiking to Tamanique waterfalls since it’s a protected area, although we did see one or two people hiking on their own. The trail is a bit confusing, however, and our guide knew exactly where to go and where it was safe to jump, which I really appreciated.
The entire trail when hiking to Tamanique from the main paved road is close to 3 miles round trip (many sites will say it’s about 2 miles, but that’s measuring from the trail once you get off the dirt road, which you cannot drive down). While it’s fairly short, it’s quite steep, and El Salvador can get quite hot. Be sure to stay hydrated!
And steep going down means even steeper coming up. Our guide actually did take us on a slightly shorter but steeper trail coming back, which meant that it took us about 35-45 minutes each way. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to hike back so leave some energy in the tank.
At one point, there’s a little shack where you’ll pay $1 USD to pass by so be sure to have some cash handy. Our guide charged $3/person over 5, so I believe we gave him $20 with a tip.
Is It Safe to Cliff Jump At Tamanique?
The great thing about the Tamanique is there are several different spots to jump, all at different heights! This makes it great for different ages and abilities. There are also spots where you can just wade into the water if you don’t want to jump at all. The water was cool and refreshing and not cold at all.
We went to the first spot by the river, and to the first area where you can jump. We considered going further but our kids had so much fun right here that we spent all our time at this spot!
There are a couple different heights from which to jump at this spot. I’d say the heights were about 5 feet, 10 feet, and 20-25 feet. While I was nervous at first, our guide jumped before us to show us where to jump, and it was plenty deep. All of our kids (and us) jumped from the highest area there and loved it! Overall, it felt very safe in the area where we were.
There is a second major spot to jump after this one, with a height of about 40 feet. Like I said, we loved the first one so much that we didn’t have time to continue onto the next as we needed to get back for our surfing lesson (the second spot is about a 15 minute walk one-way past the first spot).
Tamanique Natural Waterslide
The best part about this waterfall area is that there’s also a natural waterslide! I was scared this would HURT but it really didn’t a bit. It was completely smooth and sent you into a deep pool of water – super fun. It was a perfect natural playground that we all loved.
At the end, we were really glad we’d done the hiking and cliff jumping before surfing. I think we would’ve been low on energy for a steep hike back up at the end if we’d done this near the end, and it would’ve gotten dark in there quite early as there are some heavily wooded areas. I’d definitely recommend doing this earlier in the day if possible, and doing something else in the later afternoon.
Visiting Tamanique Waterfalls with Kids
Overall, this felt like a very doable and super fun adventure to visit Tamanique with kids. At the time, our kids were ages 10, 8, 6, 3, and 1.5. Even the two youngest jumped off the 5 foot jump into dad’s arms. Our 3 older kids are all strong swimmers and had recently completed swim team. They all jumped off the 20-25 ft. ledge and swam to the edge just fine. They also loved the natural waterslide.
Most of all, know your own children and their capabilities. There’s no sense in pushing them to do something they’re not ready for! The hike itself is doable, but is steep. Make sure you take lots of snacks and water, and again, try to do it earlier in the day when it’s not as hot and when you have more energy.
Surfing Lessons in El Salvador with Kids: Best Activities in San Salvador
After our awesome adventure, we picked up some food in the town of Tamanique and drove back to El Tunco for our surfing lesson. We were so excited and also a bit nervous.
It turns out our kids all absolutely LOVED this experience – it was possibly their favorite of our entire 4-week long trip. And I really loved having one-on-one surfing instructors for my kids, and was so happy that all of them were vaccinated against COVID-19. The main coach was Bamba, who was an incredible teacher – super knowledgeable and patient, and fantastic at teaching skills. (You can reach out through Sunzal Surf Company.)
Dan and I took turns on our boards and with the baby. Our 4 year old spent most of his time playing in the waves with his instructor and honestly, I was thrilled to have a dedicated person to watch and play with him who was also very water-safe. The older 3 kids spent their entire time out in the water with their teachers, and loved every second. All of them (plus Dan and me) got up on our boards multiple times – so fun and exciting.
Our lessons were technically supposed to be an hour long (since that’s the amount of time you can count on calm water). I think that’s a great amount of time for a first-time lesson since it gets very tiring. That said, the actual lessons ended up being about 1.5 hours and our kids were begging for more. They truly loved it!
How much are surfing lessons in El Salvador?
We paid $25/person for the lessons, which felt very reasonable. We probably could’ve found someone for less if we’d chosen a less experienced teacher. But to us, it was worth paying an extra $10/person to have teachers who were extremely experienced in both surfing and teaching. It was worth every penny and one of our favorite things to do in San Salvador.
Day 3 in San Salvador
Our final morning, our flight left from San Salvador at about 8am, so we definitely didn’t have time to do anything beforehand. Our driver did pick us up from our hotel and take us straight to the airport, which was very helpful and straightforward.
That’s it! Our one day itinerary in San Salvador. It was an incredible day and I highly recommend choosing it as a layover if you’re able!
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