White colonial church behind a fountain in El Salvador

What to Do in Suchitoto, El Salvador

Mark Stewart Destinations 2 Comments

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Suchitoto is one of the most charming towns in all of El Salvador. Surrounded by dense jungle and a massive lake, its tranquil scenery makes it the perfect place to escape the chaos of San Salvador. And it also happens to be one of the most well-preserved colonial cities in the country. 

Nature and architecture aside, Suchitoto is also quite important historically. The village and surrounding landscape was a focal point during the Salvadorian civil war of the 1980s.

There are so many great things to do in Suchitoto. Whether you’re seeking something new or just looking to escape the heat of the coast; you’ve come to the right place.

Suchitoto ended up being one of our favourite places in all of El Salvador. The people are incredible, the sights are stunning, the air is fresh and the vibe is just right.

We hope you enjoy your time in Suchitoto as much as we did!

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What to Do in Suchitoto, El Salvador

Check out the Strange and Curious Plate Museum

This is one of those kitschy things that is as bizarre as it is entertaining. A part-time local has his mind-boggling plate collection on display for all to see.

There are over 1000 plates in his collection from all over the world. The plates have artwork ranging from movie themes and cartoon characters to politics, famous art prints and general ‘what the hell is that?’

If you happen to be visiting while the owner is in town, he loves talking about his collection, so be ready for a conversation!

Climb Down to the Basalt Waterfall

If you’re visiting during the dry season, these waterfalls leave much to the imagination. When we visited, they were completely dry. But flowing or not, it’s still an impressive sight.

“But Mark, how can a dry waterfall be impressive?”

The waterfall itself flows over towering basalt columns that formed centuries ago due to volcanic activity in the area. The strange rock formations make a unique backdrop against the jungle, whether the water flows or not.

Reports of robberies near the waterfall are fairly common, so it’s best to go with a guide or police escort. This service is provided for free, simply visit the tourist police station in town.
Rocks and a dry waterfall with green trees in Suchitoto El Salvador
The Basalt Waterfall in Dry Season

Salvadorian Civil War Tour

Given the important role Suchitoto played during the civil war, there is a lot to be learned around town. One of the best ways to get a first-hand history lesson is by taking a Civil War Tour.

I joined up with Suchitoto Ecotours and spent the morning hiking through the jungle to a former FMLN guerrilla camp. Along the way, I learned some fascinating information about not only the local history but of the flora and fauna found in these parts.

The most interesting part came near the end when a former guerrilla fighter-turned park ranger sat down with us. He explained, in great detail, his life as a soldier and what it was like fighting in these very jungles during that tragic decade.

Several tour companies offer similar tours. Check out Gringo Tours, I know they offer a similar tour.

Colourful mural depicting war and peace
Civil War Memorial Mural near Suchitoto

Take in the Views of the Lake

One of the highlights in the landscape surrounding Suchitoto is Lago de Suchitlán. The lake is actually artificial and was created with the construction of the Cerron Grande hydroelectric dam back in the ‘70s.

Lake Suchitlán is an incredible sight to behold at any time of year. However, depending on the year or the season, wild lilies take over the entire surface of the lake. During our visit, there was hardly a spot of open water visible.

While this phenomenon looks quite beautiful, like a bright green blanket floating in the valley, it’s actually very damaging to the local economy. The lilies take oxygen from the water as well as preventing boats from travelling in across the lake.

Most restaurants and cafes on the north side of Suchitoto offer great views over the lake below. And if you’re visiting the basalt waterfall, there is another fantastic viewpoint up there.

Green landscape with hills and a lake full of green lily pads
The Lily-Filled Lake Blends into the surrounding hills

Take the Ferry Across to San Francisco Lempa

Cross the lake to the tiny lakeside village of San Francisco Lempa. Aside from the daily ferries, the town is very isolated from the tourist trail in El Salvador and makes for a great contrast to the busy centre of Suchitoto.

Stop by for a coffee and lunch, and wander the quiet streets.

Due to the lily infestation during our visit, ferries weren’t running. So keep this in mind when planning your trip. If the lake is clear, ferries tend to go back and forth whenever the driver feels the trip is worth his money. There doesn’t seem to be an ‘official’ schedule that we’re aware of.

Stop in at the Best Indigo Shop Around: Arte Añil

Indigo was once El Salvador’s biggest industry. And to this day, some of the highest quality indigo on earth comes from right around Suchitoto. Unfortunately, when a German chemist invented an artificial version, the industry all but dried up.

Thankfully, many locals kept the tradition alive, and continue producing natural indigo to this day. Arte Añil is one of my favourite shops in the country for finding incredible indigo products. They produce everything here, from blankets and clothing to purses, hats, coasters and jewelry.

It’s all dyed using traditional methods, and the indigo is all locally produced. You can even sign up for an indigo workshop here, just ask at the shop!

Today, the increased popularity for natural and organic products worldwide has caused a resurgence in indigo demand. And these days, El Salvador is quickly rising to one of the top producers. In a brilliant stroke of irony, their biggest importer is Germany!
Many blue clothes hanging in a shop
So Much Indigo!

Check Out the Revolutionary Bar El Nicio

This place is incredible. It’s definitely a highlight of Suchitoto, and probably my favourite bar in Central America.

El Nicio is a dive bar of sorts, although I’m confident that it’s by design. The entire bar is full of revolution memorabilia, from old weapons to news articles and a vast collection of flags representing minority groups throughout the world. Great music accompanies the vibe here as well as a decent menu and drink selection.

For anyone who’s ever raised a fist in defiance, this place is for you. And if you haven’t, it’s still worth stopping in for a look!

Get Lost in the Colourful Streets

Considering how much the city was attacked during the civil war, the colonial architecture is in remarkable condition. Venture off the main square and lose yourself in the streets where grass peeks out from between the cobblestones.

Admire the colourful buildings, reminiscent of Antigua, in Guatemala — albeit not as well-maintained. I struggle to think of another town in El Salvador that is just so… pretty.

Cobblestone street with trees and colourful houses
Cobblestones and Colourful Colonial Houses

Hang Out in the Central Square

The central square of Suchitoto is a postcard-perfect scene. Colourful shops and restaurants line the tree and fountain dotted square, while the impossibly white cathedral stands pristinely over the entire scene.

During the day, it’s a great place to grab a bite to eat or a perfect cup of coffee. In the evening, the square comes alive with locals celebrating life. When the weekend comes, or any special occasion, the centre erupts into a brilliant festival, complete with the obligatory fireworks.

Ferris wheel in the evening in town square with trees and a church in the background
Suchitoto Square during a Festival

Support a Good Cause and Visit the Centro Arte para la Paz

Housed in an old church, the Art Centre for Peace is an organization that was set up to help bring about change in post-war Suchitoto. The project uses art to assist in the healing process and promote peace and wellness.

The collective helps everyone from local youth, offering them an outlet and an alternative from a life in the gangs, to women, giving them empowerment through education and community.

Pop in the small museum and have a look at some Suchitoto history as well as some fantastic locally-made art.

And remember, no matter where you’re going, regardless of how safe you play, anything can happen. We never travel without travel insurance, and we suggest you travel the same!

Where to Eat in Suchitoto

You’ll notice that most of these suggestions are breakfast and lunch options. That’s because a lot of Salvadorians eat the traditional pupusa for dinner. So while there are different options throughout the day, your best bet is to hop on the pupusa train for supper!

There are several high-end spots around the square or in hotels if you’re looking for a proper meal. But we stuck with the classic pupusa.

Art Centre for Peace

Attached to the museum mentioned above, a simple cafe sells tasty food prepared by the project volunteers. The menu rotates daily and includes one Salvadorian option and one more western-style. We had the vegetarian lasagna and the pork chop with tamarind jus, both were delicious!

Breakfast is $2.75 and lunch is $3.50. All proceeds go to supporting the museum and its projects.

Two plates of food, one with a pork chop, the other lasagna and salad.
Tasty and Affordable Lunch from the Art Centre

The Central Market

This food court-style cafeteria is located on the second floor of the central market building, near the centre of town.

Several different stalls offer daily specials, ranging from braised pork and fried fish to BBQ ribs and grilled beef. The options for vegetables and sides are equally astounding.

It’s a great spot for a real local experience and some cheap, tasty food. But like any buffet-style restaurant, go early while the food is still fresh. By around 2pm, it starts to look a little iffy.

Comedor Lucy

This is a simple, no-nonsense breakfast spot that we always found ourselves returning to. It’s another buffet-style spot with a varying selection of tasty breakfast items.

Most days they had simple tamales, eggs several ways, sausages, beans, fried plantains, cheese and buns. Drizzle some fresh tomato salsa and crema on there, and grab a steaming cup of very potent coffee, and you have the perfect start to your day.

Grab as much as you like, and pay for what you took at the end. This was the cheapest breakfast we found in the entire country. For two full plates of food and two coffees, the total came to just $3.60!

Dreamcatcher Cafe

Dreamcatcher is a really nice spot overlooking the main square. It’s a fairly new spot in town owned by a young couple. The menu is simple, with tasty sandwiches and pastries, but they also have several delicious daily menus.

Sometimes the menu is posted on a board out front, other times you just sit down and ask what they have for the day! We enjoyed a menu del dia and it was phenomenal.

Plate of food with steak,tomatoes, avocado and tortillas
Delicious Menu of the Day from Dreamcatcher Cafe

Pupusas

It’s El Salvador, so you won’t have to look far to find a pupuseria once the sun begins to set. Though with much selection comes much hit and miss. We tried a few different pupusa spots in Suchitoto and were never disappointed.

However, the best ones we encountered were from a small, nameless place along Avenida 15 de Septiembre, between Calle 6a and 8a. As far as we could tell, it’s just someone’s home who sets out a few tables and chairs in the street at night.

Grab a cold beer from the tienda up the street and enjoy some tasty pupusas!

Buen Gusto

This is a runner-up because we didn’t actually get a chance to eat here. It came highly recommended by a friend of ours, but it was closed every night during our visit.

It’s just a few doors up from the above-mentioned pupusa place, and apparently, they have a Cuban sandwich that will blow your mind.

So please, if you get the chance to try it, let us know how it is!

Getting To and From Suchitoto

All of these routes work the same way in the opposite direction, though times will vary.

How to Get from San Salvador to Suchitoto

From San Salvador, you’ll need to take microbus 140. Head to the Punta de Microbuses 140, just north of the Iglesia Rosario in the city centre.

There are multiple 140 buses that take different routes. It’s very important that you only take one with “Suchitoto” written on the front. You might otherwise end up somewhere quite unsafe.

Blue sign that reads "San Salvador"
Short Bus Ride to San Salvador

From San Miguel to Suchitoto

From the main bus terminal in San Miguel, take one of the main buses headed to San Salvador. We splurged for the $5 air-con, and recommend you do the same.

Tell the driver you’re going to Suchitoto and need to get off at San Martin. He should know what you’re talking about. Once you reach San Martin, hop off the bus and cross the highway using the pedestrian overpass. On the other side, wait for bus #129 or microbus #140. Whichever you choose, make sure the sign says Suchitoto in the window, as there are several different 140 buses.

The bus costs $1 and takes a little under 1 hour. This bus can get very cramped, so be ready for that.

How to Get from Suchitoto to Santa Ana

This isn’t the most common route to take but we gave it a try to avoid the chaos of San Salvador. And it actually works really well and saves both money and headaches. So if you happen to be headed directly to Santa Ana from Suchitoto, this is how to do it.

Take bus #163 to Aguilares, $0.75, 45 minutes. It stops along 2a Avenida Sur. It actually passes once, drops people off and circles around town. We don’t understand exactly why, but don’t worry if you don’t get on when it first arrives — nobody else does.

Tell the driver you need to catch the bus to Apopa. When you arrive in Aguilares, they’ll drop you off at a small Texaco station. Here you’ll grab bus #119 to Apopa for $0.45, roughly 1 hour, depending on traffic. Tell this driver that you’re heading to Santa Ana.

Once in Apopa, you’ll be dropped off at the second big Puma gas station. Here you will find the final bus to Santa Ana. It costs $0.80 and takes around 2 hours.

Final Thoughts on Suchitoto

Suchitoto really surprised me in a lot of ways. I knew very little before visiting, aside from its famed architecture and colour. But I had no idea how lively and vibrant the town was.

There is a lot of rich history, exciting activities, tasty restaurants and a really laid-back tourism scene. It’s the perfect place to come and relax for a few days while soaking in some truly unique culture.

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About the Author

Mark Stewart

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Mark is the co-founder, photographer, author, and part-time editor of These Foreign Roads. A former chef, he left the professional kitchen in search of interesting experiences and unique cuisines from around the world.

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Natasha

Hi! Thanks for your El Salvador guides! Currently in Suchitoto and was wondering if you have an address for Dreamcatcher Cafe as it doesn’t appear on google maps. Thanks so much