Teopan Island on Coatepeque Lake
Teopan Island on Coatepeque lake. The lake is the crater of an extict volcano with a small island densely forested. Nestled on one side of the island is the Teopan resort...a small complex of serviced bugalows and tree houses. It's a beautiful and peaceful place, the perfect retreat. There's tennis, swimming and best of all trails that let you explore the forest, where hundreds of birds and exotic animals live. Check the website for detailed information.Related to:
Wandering Around Northern Chalatenango, Part Six
Wandering around northern Chalatenango, there’s always a chance that you’ll get lost. One day my friend Liam and I decided that we would set out from my home base in La Laguna, climb up to La Montañona, and then climb back down the other side of the mountain to reach the town of Las Vueltas. That was the plan, anyways. No problem making it up to La Montañona – we’d both been there a number of times before. In La Montañona, we tracked down my friend Orbe and asked her for directions to hike down to Las Vueltas – a trip neither Liam nor I had made before. I still don’t know whether the directions were faulty or whether we simply did not follow them correctly, but it eventually became apparent that we had lost our way. After a few hours spent zigzagging around rocky cliffs and through all sorts of underbrush, we finally spotted some signs of human life off in the distance. After passing through the clearing pictured here, we found a small house that doubled as a little store. After purchasing some much-needed snacks from the man who answered the door, we asked the big question – “Where are we?” Of course, we hoped that the answer would be Las Vueltas. No such luck. We were in El Sicahuite.
“We were trying to walk from La Montañona to Las Vueltas and got lost along the way. Are we close to Las Vueltas?”
“How long would it take to walk to Las Vueltas?”
Close is a relative term, isn’t it. As Liam and I tried to figure out what to do, the man in the store – a man neither one of us had ever before set eyes upon – told us that if we wanted, we could spend the night in his house and continue our journey to Las Vueltas in the morning. Such is the generosity and hospitality that you can find throughout Latin America – “mi casa es su casa” is more than just an empty saying! We declined his offer after learning that we were not too far from the road that connects Las Vueltas to the city of Chalatenango. Once along the side of the road, we were able to hitch a ride into Chalatenango, where we found someone else who drove us to Comalapa, where I spent the night with Liam and his wife before returning to La Laguna the next morning.
Never did make it to Las Vueltas, but the whole point of the expedition was the journey, not the destination. Except for the blisters on my feet, I’d call it successful wandering.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
Wandering Around Northern Chalatenango, Part Five
The community of Petapa, located in the municipality of El Carrizal, used to be one of those many places in Chalatenango where you would literally find yourself at the end of the road. Nowadays, however, the road continues on into Honduras, thanks to the bridge pictured here. All the same, if you make it to Petapa, you’ll feel like you’ve made it to the end of the (very bumpy) road. Just a few yards from the spot where I took this picture, the Rio La Garza flows into the Rio Sumpúl (which forms the border between El Salvador and Honduras). Upstream along the Rio La Garza there are a number of nice little swimming holes which help make the area a popular day-trip destination for local residents.Related to:
- Water Sports
Apaneca is a town located on the Ruta De Las Flores and is also El Salvador highest town. Probably what is the most worthy site here is the 400 year old church but it was destroyed in the January 2001 earthquake. When I was there it was still being rebuilt. There is also a decent central park here that you can linger in for a bit. There is a couple of more things to do in the area but I was only here for a couple of hours. I would have liked to been here for a little longer.
Jardin Botanico La Laguna
I don't know if you can consider this as off the beaten path but I didn't see any foreign tourists here and only a few locals. This garden has an interesting start to it. It originally was a lagoon in a volcanic crater. But in 1873, an earthquake hit the area and drained the lagoon leaving behind some very fertile land. Now its a garden that has some 3,500 speices of plants in 32 different zones. It's not the greatest botanical garden that I have been two but it's a great place to stroll around for a few hours. There are some bamboo walkways that go over some ponds and plenty of pathways. There is a area where you can grab some food, I just ate ice cream. In 2006, it cost only a dollar to get in. It's located in the southwest corner of San Salvador.
Casablanca is one of the lesser Maya sites in El Salvador. It's located in Chalchuapa City right along the highway. Most of the pyramids have been partially excavated by the Japanese archeologists. At least one is completely still covered (I climbed it to get a photograph). None of the pyramids are grand but it provides a decent place for a walk. There is a decent little museum here where they also do indigo dyeing. I wouldn't make this a trip on it's own but worthwhile to combine it with the nearby ruins of Tazumal. It only costs a couple of bucks to get in.Related to:
Wandering Around Northern Chalatenango, Part Four
One of the many pleasures of setting down roots in a foreign land, as opposed to just passing through, is that your new neighbors and friends invite you to go with them to all sorts of off-the-beaten-path destinations that they believe merit a visit. Helping to teach English in the high school in La Laguna, I became friends with a young lady named Guadalupe, who hailed from the village of Cuevitas. One day she told me that she was planning on visiting an older sister who lives in a village called Valle de Jesús, and asked if I’d like to tag along. So, of course, I went.
The end of a journey to a place like Valle de Jesús really does feel like the end of something. Getting there from my already relatively remote locale in La Laguna required a 2.5 hour walk to El Manzano, an extremely bumpy bus ride from there to San Fernando, and then another hour’s walk (in the dark). Valle de Jesús is not only the end of the road (literally – the only way out of the village is to turn around and head back to San Fernando), it’s also the end of the country (since the village is located on the edge of the Sumpul River, which forms the border between El Salvador and Honduras). While it might not be the most convenient place to live – since, for example, a trip to the departmental capital of Chalatenango would be a 15-hour journey – it sure was a nice place to visit for a couple of days.
San Fernando, the last town with bus service along the route to Valle de Jesús, is only marginally less remote, and its home to at least one hotel. I’ve never been, but I imagine it would be a great place for anyone who’d like to escape civilization for a few days.Related to:
- Budget Travel
Wandering Around Northern Chalatenango
The dirt tracks and trails that meander through the mountainous regions of northern Chalatenango lead to a number of beautiful, sweeping views and small, friendly villages. The village shown, Cuevitas, is a cantón of the municipality of Dulce Nombre de María, but it is most easily reached from the town of La Laguna (it's about a 90-minute walk, uphill most of the way). Another hour away on foot, beyond the village of El Ocotal, is a small forest preserve called El Manzano.
El Salvador itself probably qualifies as being off the beaten path, and Chalatenango even more so. And a place like Cuevitas? It's truly, as Salvadorans say, in the “quinta mierda” (the fifth sh**).
While the rural areas of Chalatenango are safer than most places in El Salvador, it would be a good idea to talk to some locals (or even the local police) before heading into the countryside, because armed bandits aren't unheard of. In fact, a friend of mine was shot in the leg while being robbed on the road that leads from La Laguna to Cuevitas in November 2004.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Budget Travel
Wandering Around Northern Chalatenango, Part Three
In the Department of Chalatenango, alongside the road that leads from Dulce Nombre de María to the end-of-the-road border town of San Fernando, there’s a small ecological reserve known as El Manzano. Among the attractions at El Manzano there are a handful of hiking trails, including one that climbs “Candle Stick Mountain” which affords some truly majestic views from the top, a number of swimming holes (beware, however, that the water is surprisingly chilly), an athletic field, a small FMLN museum (consisting mainly of photos of guerrilleros who were killed during the war and some old propaganda posters), an even smaller arts and crafts store, a snack shop (whose products include bags of the coffee that is grown within the park), a cafeteria, and a few basic cabins (such as the one pictured on my El Manzano Hotels & Accomodations Tip) for rent. If you’re looking for a peaceful, rustic place to relax for a few days, El Manzano is a good option.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Budget Travel
Wandering Around Northern Chalatenango, Part Two
This picture shows one of the streets of "downtown" La Laguna. The mountain that overlooks La Laguna to the east (La Montañona) was an important guerrilla stronghold during much of El Salvador's civil war. Now tourists who make their way to the pine forests of La Montañona can visit the defensive tunnels, the underground radio transmission room that housed the clandestine Radio Farabundo Martí, and even an underground field hospital that the FMLN used during the war. The easiest way to get there, if you don't have your own sturdy vehicle, is to take a bus to La Laguna (there is currently 1 departure daily from San Salvador's Eastern Terminal at 12:10pm, plus a number of buses from the city of Chalatenango) and then walk uphill beyond that town's soccer field. It shouldn't take more than two hours to reach the tiny village of La Montañona, where some simple but pleasant cabins are available for $4 per person (plus $1 to enter the pine forest). Better yet, get your hands on some camping gear and spend the night in the middle of the forest. Just don't make the same mistake I made on my first visit, when I ignored the locals' warnings about how cold it can get up on top of the mountain. If you'd like to know more about the history of the area or about the preservation of the forest, and you speak decent Spanish, track down César Alas in the community of La Montañona.Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- Historical Travel
The Best Views
El Mirador in Los Planes de Renderos is a great place. It offers views to Ilopango and its great lake to your right and the great San Salvador to you left and above are...the heavens. When you look directly down you see the once less populated San Marcos
Eat the best Pupusas
Los Planes de Renderos is a very peculiar place. Everyone in El Salvador has heard of it and never been to it although its only 15 minutes from the capital. Trust me, its worth the visit. You'll be saluted by extremly friendly people, spectacular views, artistic creastions and plenty of fun, music and memorablia for the family. If you feel tired...
Visit the new "Santa Rosa" hotel located on a private estate with fruitful tree's, exotic butterflies and exquisite service.
Also don't limit yourself to eating at "Pupuseria Paty" the smaller, less appealing restaurant will surely give you more bang for your buck and less of a aftermath, if you know what i mean.Related to:
- Family Travel
San Luis del Carmen
I never meant to visit San Luis del Carmen, but I’m glad I did. The story goes like this – one typically overcast Saturday in June, I hooked up with my Peace Corps friends Tom and Liam to make a day trip from our homes in Chalatenango, across the Cerrón Grande artificial lake, to the town of Suchitoto. Just minutes after our arrival in Suchitoto, a town I’d never visited before, we ran into a fellow I know who used to work in the city hall of a town that’s two towns over from La Laguna, my home of four years. After exchanging greetings, he told us that there would be a “bullfight” that afternoon in San Luis del Carmen. I put “bullfight” between quotation marks because the “bulls” (which are sometimes actually cows and often no more than calves) aren’t so much “fought” as just “pestered,” but “bullfight” sounds a lot more entertaining than “calf-pestering.”
Filing that information in the back of our heads, we went along our way to see the sights of Suchitoto. Since that didn’t take too long, because there’s very little to see in Suchitoto, we decided, “why not?,” and hired a boat to take us back across the lake to San Luis del Carmen. Much to our collective surprise, this tiny town has a permanent bullring, the only one I’ve ever seen here in El Salvador. Unfortunately, the fun was just getting started when we had to catch the last bus back to Chalatenango. A truly enjoyable – and completely unexpected – off the beaten path discovery. If you’re interested, try to contact the city hall in San Luis del Carmen (2354-7020) to find out when the next bullfight is.
The town of Atiquizaya, located roughly halfway between Santa Ana and Ahuachapán on the main highway that connects those two departmental capitals, is home to one of El Salvador’s more interesting off the beaten path tourist attractions. Alongside the highway, at the entrance to town, you’ll find the outdoor gallery of a local artist (now deceased) who became something of a national celebrity by making sculptures out of scrap metal. If you happen to be traveling in the area, you won’t regret hopping off the bus in Atiquizaya and spending a half hour or so admiring how one man turned other people’s junk into an artistic treasure. Admission is free.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Iglesia El Rosario, San Salvador
Does a church that is located less than three blocks away from the main cathedral of a country’s capital city really qualify as an “off the beaten path” destination? I say it does if nobody knows that it’s there. Facing the Parque Libertad, just two blocks east of the Plaza Barrios that fronts the national cathedral, you’ll find the Iglesia El Rosario, one of the most awe-inspiring churches I’ve ever visited. Believe me, it’s well worth the short walk. Why El Salvador’s “Centro Nacional de Registros” decided to leave the Iglesia El Rosario off their official tourist map of San Salvador is a mystery to me.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Religious Travel
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