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Inside the Santa Lucia Cathedral in Suchitoto, El Salvador, an orchestrated version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” emanates from the canned system as a handful of local folk say their prayers. A few Anglo tourists saunter around with cameras. Outside, dishes and plates in various degrees of faded glory are attached to the building, an ode to brides who once left their tableware to the facility decades ago.
The cathedral attracts most tourists who travel to Suchitoto. Roughly translated as the ‘place of birds and flowers,’ this old-school Spanish colonial town is addicting in its slowness and offers plenty for any group gunning for a downtime diversion.
Located 29 miles from San Salvador, Suchitoto is the only town in the country with European-style cobblestone streets. El Salvador’s largest manmade body of water, Lake Suchitlan, languishes up against the hillside, where a handful of centuries-old colonial estates are now converted into semi-luxury accommodations. Elaborate wrought-iron bar work adorns the windows and doors of every other building in town. An ocean of red-tile roofing covers the top of the city. It looks much like Europe, in that sense.
On the ground level, weeds emerge from between cobblestones, but not in a dilapidated way; rather, it seems like a paean to leisure. Everywhere I look, colors seem faded; the buildings are painted ladies aging gracefully. A few locals in San Salvador told me Suchitoto is what much of El Salvador used to look like 40 years ago. Throwback is not the right word. It’s more of a lazy toss back.
As the town square encourages me to idleness, the 100-degree heat blares down on street vendors, schoolchildren, lazy dogs passed out in the road and a scattered crew of tourists, all taking in the tropical environs. A beautifully ridiculous pan-flute version of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” fills the air. The vendors lounge in their booths, here and there, hawking bracelets, chicken sandwiches with horchata, Salvadorean flags, bootleg DVDs and more. One vendor blasts the ABBA cover from an old-school ghetto blaster while schoolchildren continue to scamper about, in rhythm to the music.
Leisurely activities are plentiful in Suchitoto. One can take to the lake on various boating expeditions or observe strange species of birds, which tend to arrive in groups.
Accommodations reflect the city’s mentality as well. For example, over at Los Almendros De San Lorenzo, a former colonial estate transformed into a delightfully un-cookie-cutter boutique hotel, there are 12 rooms, but none of them have room numbers. The staff will tell you something like, “Just go past the pool, and turn left. There is a tree, and a dog and a few chairs in the passageway — that’s where you'll find your room.”