Three days in El Salvador. El Salvador does not have a positive reputation for tourism. If you asked me my impressions of this Central American country, I might mention right wing death squads or rival drug gangs. But negative stereotypes often surprise you on the upside. El Salvador charmed me with its captivating nature and inviting towns.
Santa Ana Volcano
A highlight of my visit included hiking to the peak of Santa Ana, an active volcano. Santa Ana is the tallest volcano (one of many) in the country at 2,381 m (7,812 feet). The last eruption was in 2005 which killed two locals.
While hiking up Santa Ana, it is easy to enjoy the amazing panoramas. Upon reaching the summit you are treated to a glorious view of a stunning turquoise lake that sits deeply in the volcano’s cauldron. Sit near the edge, and stare deeply into this lush green lake. Lazily trace the smoky white patterns that dance on the lake’s surface. An added bonus is that Santa Ana’s summit provides for an eagle-eye view of the adjacent Lake Coatepeque.
This awesome experience is somewhat challenged by the logistics of the hike. There is a daily group hike that tardily leaves at 11 am. Unfortunately, my group numbered over 300 nature-lovers. This large size detracted from the beauty of the day. Also, the time at the summit was limited to approximately 30 minutes, until the guides herded the group and sent us back down.
Ruta de Las Flores
Spend time leisurely tracing the towns of the Flower Route. Soak in the atmosphere. Lounge around the city squares and lazily drink a fresh smoothie as you chomp on a pupusa, El Salvador’s response to the hamburger. The pupusa is a tortilla loaded with cheese & beans and other options. Enjoy the colors of the ubiquitous murals decorating the neighborhoods. And of course, the vibrant flowers. Consider staying at La Casa de Mamapan, a 150 year old house that has been converted into a quaint hotel centered on the city square of Ahuachapán.
Santa Ana, the second largest city in El Salvador, is well worth the visit simply to soak in the main square, Parque Libertad. This 16th century city has two stand-out landmarks that surround the square. Make sure you visit Teatro de Santa Ana, it is worth the $1.50 entry fee. This magnificent, colonial theatre was completed in 1910. Perpendicular to the theater is the Santa Ana Cathedral. Enjoy this majestic, towering church. Finally, stop by Simmer Down, next to the Cathedral for a pizza and a Good Vibration smoothie.
Suchitoto is a popular weekend get-away for the locals. The town is known for its laid back atmosphere including galleries and cobble stone roads. Relax in the main square and feast your eyes on the town’s main church while people watching.
Your trip will be complete if you stay at El Tejado Hotel. This incredible find peers over Suchitlan Lake, surrounded by lush green forests. Start your morning by stepping onto your balcony and soaking in this incredible view. Follow this with a dip in the pool.
Make sure you take in some history with these two landmarks. Tazumal is a Pre-Columbian Mayan temple that dates back to the 8th century. This ruin is well-preserved. The temple was mostly abandoned in the 13th century and later excavated from 1942 to 1944 by American archaeologist Stanley Boggs. El Salvador’s lone UNESCO site is Joya de Ceren. This Pre-Columbian village is Central America’s response to Pompeii. This village was frozen in time when ash from nearby Laguna Caldera volcano in 600 AD buried and preserved this ancient farming village.
San Salvador the capital of El Salvador, is a bit rough around the ages but still has its charms. I began my visit with a free walking tour with Edwin at Ectours. This is a great introduction to the city. Iglesia El Rosario is possibly one of the ugliest churches I have ever viewed. It looks like an industrial, grey lump. The exterior obscures a unique and surprising stained glass interior. It is true beauty.
In San Salvador, you can capture several glimpses of El Salvador’s tragic history. Check out the memorial in Parque Cuscatlan which is reminiscent to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. Hundreds of victims’ names are recognized from El Salvador’s brutal civil war.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down during mass in 1980. He brazenly spoke out against the ills of the civil war and was assassinated for his outspokenness. His crypt can be viewed in the lower floor of the San Salvador Cathedral. In 2015, Romero was recognized by the Vatican with his beatification.
I recommend the great service and awesome internet at the Hotel Villa del Angel.
Before your departure check out the security situation. During my visit, I felt safe and did not have any issues. I learned after my departure that gangs had been assassinating bus drivers. I was completely oblivious to this security issue and had a great and safe time in El Salvador.
Disclaimer: If you book your room through Agoda, I will earn a small commission.