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Travel Guide: El Salvador, Central America

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El Salvadorians say that everything is within 40 minutes of their home. It’s only the traffic around San Salvador that can keep you up.

Most people have only heard of El Salvador from the Oliver Stone movie of the same title. It was set during civil war in the 80’s, 90’s. Tourism is still in its infancy and there has been peace since 1992.

Security was a problem until recently. Gangs from the USA made it unsafe to venture out at night. This seems to be over as thousands of gang members have been put behind bars. There’s now a sense of freedom. This means that wherever you go, you will receive a wonderful welcome. There’s no hassle. The locals seem to be genuinely shocked that you would want to visit their country.

San Salvador

This bustling capital was struck by a major earthquake in 1986. While most of the churches have been rebuilt now, there are still a few interesting buildings from the early 20th century. The memorial to the missing and murdered is located just outside the town. It’s still a popular place for pilgrimage, with a black wall containing their names inscribed into the stone.

The Monsignor Romero City Tour takes you to places that are connected with Archbishop Oscar Romero’s life and legacy. He was an important figure in the civil war struggles, fighting for the oppressed and poor until his assassination in 1980 while holding mass in a chapel at a local hospital. He is now a saint and has been honoured as a 20th Century Martyr.

Joya de Ceren

You might not be disappointed if you are visiting El Salvador to see Mayan ruin sites. They can’t compare to those in neighboring Guatemala or Honduras. Joya de Ceren is the Pompeii in Mesoamerica. It was a Mayan village that lived in a valley. The volcano Loma Caldera erupted in 590AD. They fled their homes and left behind fields.

Twelve structures have been discovered so far. They include living quarters and workshops, storage areas, warehouses, workshops, kitchens and a communal sauna. Everyday Mayan life was stopped by the sudden volcanic eruption. They were able to find artifacts that were used for storage, cooking, and even drinking chocolate. Many cultivated fields with maize plants and fruit trees were also discovered.

San Andres

The San Andres Archaeological Park, located just five kilometres away from Joya de Ceren is one of the largest prehistoric centres in El Salvador and was once a regional capital, between 600 and 900 AD. The Acropolis is an elevated square that has pyramids and houses at the top. On the north side of the site is a large square where you will find other pyramids, including one that looks like a bell.

Tazumal Archaeological Park

Tazumal, a K’iche’ word that means “pyramid where victims were burnt”, is a 10 km long site. It was established around 5000 BC. It is buried in large parts, but the main pyramids were removed in the 1940’s and sealed in cement to protect them. This has been removed recently to reveal the original stone and mortar construction. Although a chain fence blocks access to the pyramids directly, you can still walk around them for a better understanding of their scale.

Ruta de las Flores

Ruta de las Flores winds through the hills of the North West, linking a few small villages set among coffee plantations. The colonial style is reflected in the cobbled streets and red tiled roofs. Each village square has a white-washed church. They hold food festivals on weekends, but it’s worth visiting the local market to see how Chorizo is made.

Ataco boasts a stunning display of murals that cover nearly every wall. According to legend, a couple of hippies who had been sentenced for drug offenses, moved to Ataco to open an art gallery. They also painted the exterior of their shop. It was so popular that the entire town was covered. Nearby Juaya has several, too. But its main attraction is the Feria Gastronomica on weekends. Here you can try some El Salvador’s most famous dishes like Pupusas or Carne Asada.

Cerro Verde National Park

El Salvador is known for its volcanoes, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. Cerro Verde contains three of these volcanoes: Santa Ana, Cerro Verde and Izalco. You can walk around the crater through the forest for about an hour, but the last one is long gone. To climb the two other craters, you’ll need to spend more time and have a guide.

Santa Ana, at 2381m, is the highest point in the country. It takes approximately two hours to reach the top. There is a steaming lake inside the crater and incredible views of the Pacific. Just opposite is Izalco. It has been in continuous eruption since 16 years, with the last eruption in 1966. Because of its fire, ships could see it between 1770 to 1958, it’s also known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific”.

Suchitoto

This pleasant colonial city is located 47 kilometers north of the capital. It has cobbled streets, whitewashed houses and other buildings. The area was the site of some of war’s most bitter fighting and has preserved some of the plane wreckage. It is now known as an artistic center and hosts an annual arts festival in February. Lago Suchitlan is a popular spot for boat trips. It’s also one of the most relaxed spots in El Salvador.

Pacific Surf

Surfers were the first to return to this area, eager to enjoy the incredible breaks. La Libertad, also known as “Surf City”, hosts surf competitions for all levels. The coastline is beautiful and warm year-round. The area is becoming more upscale with the rise of boutique hotels. There are still many cheap places where you can eat ceviche to your hearts content.

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