San Salvador is the country’s nod to its Central American status. It has everything you expect of a city in this region: pollution, traffic, shanty towns and streets lined with vendors selling just about any conceivable item.
San Salvador was founded in the sixteenth century yet no old buildings are to be seen. It has been ravaged by three earthquakes, an eruption of the nearby San Salvador volcano and extensive floods – all in the last 200 years. Nevertheless it’s a convenient base for exploring the rest of the country (everywhere is within a three hour radius) and deserves a couple of days of sight seeing in its own right.
Attractions include the domed Catedral Metropolitana housing Archbishop Oscar Romero’s tomb, the opulent Teatro Nacional and the Museo Nacional Davíd J Guzmán which exhibits many of the country’s important archaeological relics. There are two markets; the Mercado Ex-Cuartel sells handicrafts, textiles and ceramics and the Mercado Central caters to everyday needs. The city is well endowed with green spaces that provide a pleasant respite from the concrete sprawl.
Arguably the best-preserved colonial town in El Salvador, Suchitoto has a fascinating history. It was once a key colonial centre for government and commerce and its narrow streets and fine architecture are a joy to wander around. The Catedral de Santa Lucìa is an impressive, fully restored centre-piece for the town. In the 1980s the town and surrounding hills were a hive of revolutionary activity and disused trenches and encampments are still visible. For a closer look at the town’s more troubled past take a guide to Cerro Guazapa, a battleground just outside of town.
The post war years have brought a cultural renaissance to Suchitoto. The Parque San Martínhas become an ‘open art gallery’ dotted with sculptures by local artists using war ‘garbage’. There are other art collections on view too, including the works of the well-known local artist Victor Manuel Sanabria, who will personally show you around his studio.
Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
Cerro Verde is the place to experience the awing magnificence of volcanoes. The steamingVolcán Izalco is one of the youngest in the world. Two hundred years ago it was merely a hole in the ground spewing forth black sulphuric smoke, now it’s 6255ft high. This still active volcano, dubbed the ‘lighthouse of the Pacific’ for its impressive round-the-clock emissions of molten rock and flames, is accessible by a marked path.
The park’s other breathtaking sight is the blue volcanic lake in a crater on the side of Volcán de Santa Ana, El Salvador’s highest volcano. Of course, there’s the distinctly unpleasant smell of sulphur coming off the water but the hike up and around the crater to the highest point open up views of Izalco, the coast and Cerro Verde among others and you’ll soon have forgotten to hold your nose!
The park is about three and a half hours by bus from the capital, via Santa Ana.
By Kate Griffiths