A Taste of El Salvador

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basic ingredients Simply Suchitoto: Everyone’s favorite getaway is Suchitoto, a lovely town of colonial buildings and cobblestone streets, located 30 miles north of San Salvador. A cultural capital during the heyday of the indigo trade, it is now experiencing a new role as a center for art, food and local traditions. Every weekend in February, Suchitoto holds an International Festival of Arts and Culture, gathering top national and international artwork. Festivities include parades, expositions, and live performances. The town overlooks Lake Suchitlan, a good place for boat rides and birdwatching amidst the islands. From Sochitoto, visits are arranged for hiking and horseback riding into the highland beneath the dormant Guazapa Volcano. Best of all, there are several excellent small hotels in Suchitoto, as well as many options for good eating, nightlife and craft shopping. Note: the U.S. dollar is local currency, and it goes a long way in El Salvador.

Ancient Treasure: While artifacts from El Salvador’s ancient cultures are mostly on view in the Dr. David J. Guzman National Museum of Anthropology in San Salvador, the country’s most important Mayan sites lie in western El Salvador. Among those, the one not to miss is Joya de Ceren, an exciting archaeological find of a village, buried about A.D. 600 in a volcanic eruption. Nearby and dating from A.D. 600 to 900, is the ceremonial center of San Andres (the largest in the country), and at Chalchuapa, the step pyramid of Tazumal dominates the archaeological zone.

Peak Adventures: Though small in size, El Salvador is full of grand volcanoes, many totally spectacular. Three volcanoes—Cerro Verde, Izalco and Santa Ana—lie within the boundaries of the National Park of the Volcanoes (a.k.a. Cerro Verde National Park). Thickly forested Cerro Verde offers trail walks from its visitor center, and one can climb to the craters of Izalco or Santa Ana in a day (but not the same day). From all points in this volcano-land, there are beautiful views of Lake Coatepeque, a good base for adventuring, including kayaking, fishing, swimming and other aquatic sports offered by lakeside inns.

adding some spice Every weekend the colonial town of Juayua hosts a wildly successful food festival, during which local and invited restaurateurs serve terrific food at outdoor kitchens and tables set up around the central plaza. And around Juayua are excellent hiking and other eco-outdoorsy activities, from rappelling down waterfalls and mountain biking, to 14-platform zipline canopy touring in the mountain forests of Apaneca.

The capital city, San Salvador, has some big-time sightseeing treats in its cultural monuments and fine museums. International hotels vie for appeal with a cluster of boutique properties, and the Zona Rosa district draws the chic set to its good little bars and restaurants. There are fine shopping galleries, but for true aficionados of artesania the time to be here is for the Feria de Innovacion Artesanal, the national crafts fair held the first week of December.

new products on the shelf Tara Tours has introduced a new 6-night Fun in the Sun package, staying at the all-inclusive Royal Decameron Salinitas Resort. Priced at $1,087 pp dbl, the vacation cost includes roundtrip air from Miami and transfers; all meals at a choice of five restaurants; all drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic); daily excursions and all non-motorized watersports; tennis and nighttime entertainment. Tara Tours also offers a program combining a stay in San Salvador with sightseeing and time at the beach, as well as El Salvador combined with Guatemala. Call (800) 327-0080 or visit taratours.com.

Ladatco Tours has two new deluxe, 10-day privately escorted programs. Its El Salvador Explorer, priced from $3,295 pp dbl, highlights historic Suchitoto, the Ruta de las Flores and a stay at the boutique beach hotel La Cocotera. El Salvador Adventure Explorer, priced from $4,078 pp dbl, features hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking, horseback riding and surfing from different hotel bases. Tours feature, roundtrip air from Miami, top accommodations, most meals, private transportation and activities/sightseeing arrangements. Call (800) 327-6162 or visit ladatco.com.

Check-Out List
Capital city: San Salvador
International airport: Comalapa International Airport (San Salvador)
Nonstop air service from the U.S.: American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Taca
Domestic airline: Taca
Entry requirements: Valid U.S. passport; tourist card $10 (purchase on arrival)
International departure tax: $32 (included in airline ticket cost)
Tourist information: El Salvador is a member of Centroamerica4, with a marketing office in Miami, (866) 597-2286