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Renowned for its Pacific Ocean beaches, surfing, lush landscapes, and pristine natural habitats, El Salvador is an eco-traveler’s paradise that is also known as the Land of Volcanoes for having 25 visible volcanoes. At approximately 8,108 square miles, which is roughly the size of the state of Massachusetts, El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, sharing borders with Guatemala and Honduras in the southeast region of the Mesoamerica, and the only country in the region without coastline on the Caribbean Sea. Its centrally situated capital, San Salvador, is a diverse city known for business, a vibrant nightlife, and emerging art scene. The summit of Monte Cristo Mountain is one of the highest point, offering a nature preserve and cloud forest. Among El Salvador’s most popular tourist destinations are two vast national parks – El Impossible and Parque Nacional Los Volcanoes, which contains about 500 species of birds and mammals. Other popular attractions are Ruta de Las Flores, a winding journey past flowering coffee farms and rainforest zip-line sites; colonial towns like Juayúa, with its weekend food festival; Ataco, home to vivid murals; and Playa El Tunco, a surfing village with black sand beaches
Valid passport needed for entry. Additionally, upon arrival a visa will need to be purchased for $10 which is valid for 90 days.
Spanish is the primary written and spoken language throughout the country. In tourist areas and attractions, some English is spoken.
The legal tender for all transactions is the United States Dollar. Most businesses accept dollar bills in small denominations, generally not larger than $50 USD. It is recommended to carry cash for local shops, while hotels, major stores, and high-end restaurants accept credit cards.
Goes through the impressive Apaneca-llamatepec mountain range, visiting artisan towns with traditional culture such as Nahuizalco, Salcoatitan, Juayua (known as the city of food festivals), Apanceca (which boasts coffee forests and lagoons), Concepcion de Ataco (a beautiful city with cobblestone roads and tepid climate), and Ahuachapan (a charming city rich with history, traditions, coffee plantations, and the natural wonders of geysers and a beautiful lagoon).
Covers 186 miles of amazing beaches, warm waters, and rocky reefs all perfect for swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, and other water activities. The trail includes two of the best surfing spots in the world: El Sunzal and Punta Roca. Along this highly popular trail visitors will find an array of hotels, eco-lodges, marinas, restaurants, and viewing decks with convenient access.
San Andrés is the site of the capital of Mayan dominion that was spreading along the Zapotitán Valley between 600 and 900 AD. While the first settlement took place around 900 BC, settlers probably left the town by 250 BC because of the eruption the Ilopango Lake Cauldron. During the 5th century AD, it would be occupied again by native Indians. The first major excavation occurred in the 1940s.
Located 31 miles northeast of San Salvador, wondrous little 'Suchi' is the cultural capital of the country. Every weekend, the cobbled streets come alive for an arts and food festival in a grand celebration of guanaco pride. The month of February is dedicated to celebrating the town's resident artists, and the small galleries swell with domestic tourists. Historically, indigo ruled the area and was the key driver of the economy before a synthetic component was created. Today, visitors can still learn the original organic way indigo was used to create vibrant apparel. Architecture buffs will love the colonial buildings, while outdoor types can choose between numerous hikes to waterfalls, caves, and beautiful Lago Suchitlán, all within miles of town.
El Salvador serves up some of the best food in Central America, but it’s about more than just the flavors. Even in the most modest mercados, you’ll also find serious attention to detail. The focus is on fresh ingredients and complex recipes handed down through generations. Even better, you’ll often enjoy your meals in beautiful surroundings, with good music, lavish gardens, and other aesthetic extras.
While larger festivals provide the most colorful backdrops, even smaller events—like the food festival in Juayúa and the artisan market in Suchitoto, both held every weekend—are authentic expressions of this country’s unique culture. Plus, many other cities hold weekend culinary and handicraft fairs, and every town celebrates its patron saints with a big annual party, called a fiesta patronal.
El Salvador is not a country for pessimists. This small land has endured more than its share of war, poverty and natural disasters. And you'll see the scars of these—if that's what you're looking for. But look a little closer and you'll also see the resilience and optimism such tragedy can inspire.
Poor communities such as Ilobasco and La Palma have become renowned for their handicrafts and folk art. The National Civilian Police (PNC) are earnest about improving the safety of the country. Volcanic eruptions may have wiped out whole villages, but one around AD 600 preserved the ancient Maya community of Joya de Ceren for today's tourists.
For the greatest safety, we recommend seeing El Salvador as part of one or more organized tours. In addition to making your visit a safer one, a tour will help you to gain a better understanding of the country's major attractions. They include volcanoes and mountains (especially those in Cerro Verde National Park), the beaches of Costa del Sol, tropical nature preserves (El Imposible and Montecristo National Parks) and archaeological sites.
The Maya were present in western El Salvador for more than 1,000 years before Europeans arrived. They created several pyramids that can still be seen today and were in close contact with the Maya who inhabited other parts of Central America and Mexico. Their civilization had declined by the early 1500s, however, and several other indigenous groups, including the Pipil, were living in El Salvador at the time Europeans arrived on the North American mainland.
In 1524, Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Cortez, swept south from Mexico with 400 men and conquered Central America. El Salvador became part of the Captaincy of Guatemala. Various crops were cultivated on the Spanish estates, including cocoa, balsam and indigo. In 1821, as Mexico and Central America became independent of Spain, El Salvador and several other Central American countries formed the United Provinces of Central America. El Salvador broke free of the union in 1839, becoming an independent nation.
In the years that followed, the country suffered from political turmoil and a burgeoning population. Conservatives and radicals, under various guises and names, opposed each other while the Catholic Church first supported one side and then the other. Peasants, by far the majority of the population, were stuck in the middle. Coffee became the country's most lucrative crop, and land was concentrated into the hands of a small, powerful oligarchy. A peasant uprising in 1932 was brutally suppressed.
The civil war of the 1980s stemmed from the land inequities, as well as contested elections in the 1970s. A spark that escalated it was the 1980 killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero by right-wing assassins. (Romero had been an outspoken defender of the poor.) The leftist FMLN (Frente Marti Liberacion Nacional) rebels began a guerrilla war against the government and received support from the Soviet bloc. The U.S.—fearing another successful revolution like the one in Nicaragua—sent military aid to help the government. Right-wing death squads, who also opposed the rebels, killed and tortured thousands of civilians. Guerrilla forces, in turn, kidnapped members of the wealthy elite and demanded huge ransoms to support their fighting. After 12 years of fighting and some 75,000 deaths, the conflict came to an end in 1992 with the signing of a U.N.-brokered peace accord. Despite peace, the establishment of democracy and a redistribution of land, El Salvador remains a poor country grappling with overpopulation, environmental degradation and an abundance of weapons left over from the war.
Natural disasters have also hindered El Salvador's development. Hurricane Mitch caused widespread flooding in 1998, and two devastating earthquakes occurred in recent years. A massive quake in 2001 killed more than 1,000 people and destroyed some 145,000 homes. El Salvador adopted the U.S. dollar as its official currency in 2001 as part of plans to stabilize its economy and attract foreign investment.
El Salvador's main attractions include lakes, Maya ruins, gray-sand beaches, volcanoes, deep-sea fishing, colonial towns, handicraft villages, birding, tropical forests, rugged coastal scenery and genuinely warm and friendly people.
Experienced travelers interested in Central American ruins and culture and those who don't mind the difficulties of visiting a developing nation will enjoy El Salvador. Those looking for a less-demanding introduction to the region should consider other countries in Central America, such as Costa Rica or Belize.
El Salvador's civil war destroyed forests as well as families. A group in Guazapa, in northern El Salvador, is trying to heal both wounds with a project called the National Forest of Reconciliation. The group's aim is to plant one tree in memory of each of the approximately 75,000 people killed in the war. The forest, now covering more than 110 acres/45 hectares, is on the slopes of Guazapa Volcano.
Because of its rolling, green countryside, El Salvador is sometimes called "the Ireland of Central America."
El Salvador is one of the world's largest producers of coffee. October and November is coffee-picking season.
The Lempa River, source of 70% of the country's drinking water and electric power, is seriously polluted. The scarcity of safe drinking water is a major concern in the country.
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