Discovering El Salvador

El Salvador’s gems make it a destination not to be missed

By: By Lisette Mejia

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Destination Resources

What to Do: El Salvador offers much to do in adventure, but a trip to its capital will place visitors among some of the best shopping and nightlife (the Zona Rosa, for example, lays claim to trendy clubs and bars). Tazumal, home to ancient Maya pyramids and ruins, and nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also a must-see attraction. For a look into the country’s past, visitors should make sure to visit Suchitoto, a colonial town with cobblestone streets, colonial churches and a magnificent lake.

Where to Stay:
Lost Paradise
Commission: 15 percent

Mizata Resort
Commission: 15 percent

Radisson Plaza Hotel
Commission: 10 percent

Royal Decameron Salinitas Hotel and Resort
Commission: 10 percent

Where to Eat: Casa de Piedra in Los Planes de Renderos offers not only delicious Salvadoran cuisine, but also a spectacular view of the country’s capital below.

For More Information:
El Salvador Ministry of Tourism

As a Los Angeles native, I never imagined that I could appreciate a traffic jam. But as a recent visitor to El Salvador, I discovered such a thing was actually possible. Driving back after a day at the beach, I watched as a cluster of cows slowly sauntered along, congesting the remote, two-lane road before me.


El Salvador boasts such scenic vistas as the Jiboa Valley and nearby San Vicente volcano. // © 2009 Andrew Griffith

Such sights are not uncommon in El Salvador, the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. In fact, another drive through the countryside landed me in the middle of a village parade where throngs of people gathered to observe embellished floats carrying costumed children.

These small-town quirks make El Salvador a desirable travel destination, one seemingly still untouched by a massive tourism industry that has transformed its neighboring countries. However, lavish shopping centers in San Salvador, the country’s capital, and all-inclusive beach resorts are signs of El Salvador’s efforts to keep up with modernity.

This juxtaposition of an Old World ambience with a more progressive attitude might make more sense in light of the country’s haunting civil war, one that ended just more than a decade ago, in 1992. Despite reminders of the war’s destruction in many pockets of the country, El Salvador’s people remain unwaveringly optimistic and welcoming.

Perhaps a better way to understand El Salvador’s intricacy is to indulge in its cuisine. Heavily influenced by the Maya, most of its foods rely on indigenous staples such as maize (corn) and beans. The country’s most famed gastronomical delight, and my personal favorite, is the pupusa, a thick corn tortilla typically stuffed with cheese, beans and/or pork. Pupuserias can be found on almost any street corner and remain open at all hours of the day.

El Salvador’s beaches are as rich in beauty as its food is in flavor. The pristine coastline not only provides relaxing, breathtaking backdrops and warm swims, but also boasts wave breaks celebrated by surfers. At its most well-known beaches, including La Libertad and Costa del Sol in the south, private and public oceanfront properties allow visitors daily entrance at a meager fee. What’s more, El Salvador’s Pacific waters create a near perfect setting for adventure activities such as sailing, snorkeling, fishing and wakeboarding.

Its variegated landscape also makes it a mecca for adventure lovers, offering a myriad of opportunities. Climbing towering volcanoes, whitewater rafting along rivers, ziplining above tropical forests, hiking through mountains and ecological reserves (such as El Imposible National Park) and kayaking on volcanic lakes comprise a short list of what your clients can expect to do in El Salvador, without even setting foot near its archaeological wonders. Such places paint the picture of fallen Maya civilizations and their enduring legacy.

A rich history can only go so far, however, as El Salvador has had to face a damaging reputation for crime and poverty. Efforts to overcome this perception are prevalent wherever you go. The government established a ministry of tourism in 2004 to not only make El Salvador a competitive tourist destination in Central America, but to ultimately consolidate tourist activity into an instrument for the revival and social well being of all residents. A tourist police department, Politur, was also established in 2007 to provide security by offering protection and information to visitors. And, since El Salvador adopted the dollar in 2001, it is easy for travelers from the States to make purchases.

While El Salvador has not yet reached the level of tourism popularity of other Central American countries, its complexity, beauty and resilient nature make it a destination on the rise and one not to be overlooked.