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Travel & Holiday Tips in El Salvador


El Salvador might be the smallest country in Central America, but it is well worth exploring. Newcomers are frequently bowled over by this stunning volcanic landscape, and quickly warm to the openness of its people.

This tiny tropical land is bursting with natural attractions, including the Cerro Verde National Park, the volcanic lakes of Ilopango and Coatepeque, and impressive beaches; the breakers rolling in from the Pacific Ocean make the coast of Sonsonate and La Unión provinces a major draw for surfers, while the resorts of the Costa del Sol are a 90-minute drive from the capital. El Salvador also offers interesting archaeological sites from Maya civilisation, and the Ruta de Las Flores takes visitors to some of the prettiest villages and market towns.

While civil war and a succession of natural disasters left El Salvador physically devastated and psychologically traumatized, the country is in rapid recovery. Tourism has become a government priority: new initiatives include a golf and fishing complex in Usulutan, an adventure resort in the mountains of Chalatenango, and a marina at La Libertad. While crime remains a problem, the National Civilian Police (PNC) have a generally good reputation, and security for tourists has improved greatly with the introduction of a specially trained tourist police force, Politur, which operates at destinations throughout the country.

San Salvador

San Salvador, situated 680 m (2240 ft) above sea level, is the second-largest city in Central America, with a population of over 600,000. Founded by the Spaniard Pedro De Alvarado in 1525, the city is a blend of modern buildings and colonial architecture, broad plazas and monuments, amusement parks and shopping centres. The most important public buildings are downtown. Standing within a short distance of each other are the Catedral Metropolitana (metropolitan cathedral), the Palacio Nacional (national palace), the National Treasury and the Teatro Nacional (national theatre). Among the many beautiful colonial churches to be seen are St Ignatius Loyola (once the shrine of the ‘Virgin of Guadalupe’) with a traditional Spanish colonial façade, the Juayua and the Suchitoto. The amusement park on San Jacinto Mountain can be reached by cable car and gives a panoramic view of the city.

Balboa Park, 11 km (7 miles) from the capital, and the 1200 m (3900 ft) rock formation, the Puerta del Diablo (devil’s doorway), just south of Balboa Park, also give a bird’s-eye view of San Salvador.

From San Salvador, excursions can be made by road to Panchimalco, 15 km (9 miles) south of the capital, around which live the Pancho Indians (pure-blooded descendants of the original Pipil tribes), who retain many of their old traditions and dress. The village of San Sebastián, approximately one hour by car from San Salvador, is known for its beautiful woven materials. The village is situated near Lake Ilopango, the largest of El Salvador’s lakes, surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, and is a popular destination for outdoor and watersports’ enthusiasts. The mountain village of Ilobasco, northeast of the capital, is renowned for its beauty and its craftwork.

Mayan & Other Archaeological Sites

El Salvador has a number of ancient archaeological sites from the Maya civilization, some dating back to the third century BC. The Mayan village of Joya de Cerén was buried under volcanic ash 1400 years ago and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also close to the capital is the San Andrés region, where fertile soil once housed Mayan settlements and where the architectural jewel, the acropolis, is a highlight. El Salvador’s earliest people lived between 300 BC and AD 1200 at Chalchuapa in the Tazumal region, 78 km (46 miles) from San Salvador. During this period, five important ceremonial centres were built: Pampe, El Trapiche, Las Victorias, Casablanca and the beautiful ruins at Tazumal, which boasts structures over 30 m (90 ft) high and a ball court where the Maya practised an unusual sporting rite.

Other interesting sites include the pre-Columbian Tehuacán site near San Vicente; the monumental Santa Letìcía sculptures near the town of San Miguel; and the pre-Columbian village of Quelepa, also in San Miguel.

Volcanoes & Parks

There are more than 25 volcanoes in El Salvador, only three of which – the Izalco, San Miguel and Santa Ana (the largest) – are still considered active. The extinct San Salvador volcano is within close proximity of the capital. Another extinct volcano, the easily accessible Cerro Verde in the west, is located within the Cerro Verde National Park, also home to the popular and beautiful Lake Coatepeque, which sits on top of a volcanic crater. The nearby Santa Ana volcano, which is still active and last erupted in 1966, is located near the town of Santa Ana, whose cathedral is the most famous in El Salvador. Also within the area is El Imposible National Park, the country’s most important ecological reserve, where varied vegetation and fauna offer a refuge for numerous bird and wildlife species, including the rare Black Hawk Eagle.

The Coast

El Salvador has a 320km- (200 mile-) Pacific Coast with resort hotels, unspoiled beaches, fishing villages and pine views. Beaches include la Barra de Santiago, los Cóbanos, el Cuco, el Sunzal and el Tamarindo. The best resorts tend to be found along the Costa del Sol, easily accessible via a modern highway.





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