Catch serious waves on the rugged Pacific coastline near the beach town of La Libertad, a 45-minute drive from the city. Rent a board from Punta Roca Rockets ($75 per week) in the heart of town and then join surf enthusiasts from around the world at the two main beaches. El Tucal, laden with massive rock formations, is popular with backpackers and hippies, who chill out under palapa-roofed bars between surfing sessions; El Sunzal has broad swells stretching for hundreds of feet along the shore. Have lunch at La Hola Beto’s, where you can order ceviche high above a stunning black sand beach.
Join hordes of well-heeled families and head for the cool hills surrounding the city to visit coffee plantations. The elegant El Jardin de Celeste in Ataco is a working farm where adults and kids learn about coffee production before dining in the property’s rustic restaurant. On the way back to San Salvador, stop by the town of Juayua to admire the red-and-white façade of Iglesia del Cristo Negro, one of the country’s most beautiful churches, before it closes at sunset.
Scale one or all three of the volcanoes near the city using new eco-adventure group EcoExperiencias El Salvador’s easy-to-follow, self-guided itineraries. The closest, San Salvador Volcano, is just a 30-minute drive from downtown, and can be easily climbed in about 45 minutes. An hour away from the city, in the verdant Cerro Verde National Park, Izalco Volcano features a steep climb up to a misty crater that gushed lava for centuries until its last eruption in 1966. Closer to town is Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador’s tallest, whose massive crater is filled with a hot, aquamarine sulfuric lake.