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Published: March 26th 2012
We have now passed the halfway point of our one month visit to El Salvador as well as our halfway point of our 3 countries in 3 month part of our travels. Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador have an agreement where you can get a visa to pass between the countries for 90 days. We can only have the car in one country for 30 days, so we decided to try to cover 3 countries in the 90 days. After visiting Guatemala for 1 month and now in El Salvador for 2 weeks, we have 2 weeks left in El Salvador and then 30 days in Nicaragua.
Halfway through and we’re about pooped out. We spent the first few days in San Salvador visiting malls, fast food and local tourist attractions. After getting our fill of Pizza Hut and KFC, we decided we needed to visit the rest of the country.
We have enjoyed visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico and Guatemala, so we decided to make our first stop El Salvador’s Mayan ruins. El Salvador has a few sets of ruins although nothing on the scale of what we have seen in the other countries. We went to
a small site called San Andres about 45 minutes west of San Salvador. There is a very nice museum and a nice attached visitor’s area at the site. The trail from the museum to the ruins leads through a chocolate tree orchard that is populated by a small herd of sheep.
We found that we had the ruins completely to ourselves. There are 3 small pyramid mounds, although none are completely uncovered. It appeared that they are actively uncovering some interesting stairways at one mound, although no one was working at the time we visited. One of the mounds was blocked by fencing so we had to view it from afar.
After the ruins, we drove about 15 minutes to Joya de Ceran. Joya de Ceran is known as the Pompeii of the Americas. It was a small Mayan village that was covered by ash when a nearby volcano erupted in about 600 AD. Many large royal temples have been uncovered but this site is unique in that it shows how the “average” Mayan lived. Apparently they had to leave quickly before the volcano erupted and thye left most of their household goods behind. Even many of
their crops were covered so archeologists have been able to determine what farming tools and crops were like. The museum was very nice and had many interesting artifacts. The signs were in English as well as Spanish so it was quite easy to understand for us. Lots of tour buses were arriving when we were there, so it made it different than most of the things we have seen in El Salvador in that we were not the only tourists there.
After the ruins, we continued up the Pan-American Highway to a beautiful volcano lake called Lago de Coatepeque. It is a small (6 kilometer) lake that has crystal clear water. There are many houses at the lake that are owned by wealthy people from San Salvador and quite a few nice restaurants next to the lake as well as on the hill above the lake. All the restaurants had excellent views of the lake. We had a nice seafood lunch and enjoyed a cold beer, which tasted great after touring the ruins all morning. A cool breeze blew off the lake which was also much enjoyed.
We mostly hung around our house during the week. We visited
a small town near our house called Panchimalco. We found a nice park bench next to the church to sit on and enjoy the cool afternoon. All of the school children were passing by after classes and we got quite a few stares. I don’t think they get many Old Gringo tourists and we felt like quite the attractions. The kids will usually wave after a few shy seconds and several of the City “officials” came and introduced themselves. Definitely a nice town and supposedly they have a large celebration for Palm Sunday, so we may return for that next weekend.
On our second weekend here we visited the Ruta de las Flores (route of flowers). It is the most well know tourist area of El Salvador and is a “must see” area when visiting Central America. It is basically a 36 km windy mountain road that passes between 3 volcanoes and through El Salvador’s major coffee growing area. It is called Ruta de las Flores because of the coffee plants that bloom for a couple of weeks a year. While we didn’t see any flowers the drive was quite beautiful and because of the elevation it was a
cool relief from the heat of the city.
The highlight of the drive was several stops in the small towns along the road. We visited Nahuizalco, Juayua, Apaneca and Concepcion de Ataco. All the towns were nice for a short visit, but Juayua and Ataco really stood out.
Juayua is famous for its weekend Feria Gastronomica (food festival). Lots of booths are set up around the church and central park that serve every type of food that can be cooked on a grill. The food is inexpensive and absolutely delicious. Probably the best food we have had in Central America. They had a big screen TV showing soccer (FC Barcelona is everybody’s favorite here. Lionel Messi is who every kid wants to be!). We walked around and visited a few of the artisan’s stores and lots of the smaller tented markets surrounding the square. The church was another highlight. It is small but really beautiful. It is famous for its black Jesus.
We also especially enjoyed the town of Ataco. It is even higher in the mountains than Juayua and is not quite as tourist oriented. It almost seems like the “next big destination”. The town has
literally hundreds of murals painted on the sides of the buildings. It has a nice town square that has huge trees that make for a great shady place to sit for a while. There are many pretty restaurants and small cafes throughout the downtown area. A road leads out of town (past a church) to a mirador that gives a nice place to view the town from above.
All in all, a nice couple of weekends. Next weekend will be the start of Semana Santa (holy week) which is hugely celebrated throughout Central America. Should be fun and make for some good memories.
We have a busy agenda before we leave for Nicaragua in 2 weeks. We haven’t even been to the beaches here yet. The surf break at La Libertad is supposed to be one of the best in Central America. We hope to fit that in if we have a chance!
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