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.
I had the opportunity to attend a fiesta in a village called El Milagro( The Miracle, see my El Milagro travelogue.) I enjoyed watching the children swat at the piñata. Notice how clean and dressed up all of these little kids are! That changed when the piñata broke and they all dived to the ground to get their candy!
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.
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.
The “Flower Route” between Sonsonate and Ahuachapán is one of El Salvador’s most-advertised, best-developed, and most-visited tourist attractions, but very few people take the detour south that leads towards the town of Jujutla. Unless you’re driving, this area can be a little harder to get to, because bus traffic isn’t particularly frequent. Your best bet is to get off the 249 bus at the desvío El Rosario (located between the Alicante Montaña Hotel and a new gas station) and wait for a pick-up or the next passing bus (routes 278 and 288 will both take you to where you need to go) to come by. Get off at the Restaurante La Cascada and walk downhill along the dirt road until you come to a yellow gate on the left side of the road with a signpost for La Finca del Sunzal. For a $1 entrance fee, someone will let you through the gate and show you the road that leads towards the beautiful double waterfall and a large circular swimming pool. From the highway, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to walk to the waterfalls.
Though I’ve never been there, I’m told that the Parque Ecoturístico La Cascada de San Juan, also located along the road to Jujutla, is also worth taking a look at.
Located west of the port of La Libertad, just beyond Club Atami, Playa El Palmarcito is a handsome black sand beach nestled between rocky cliffs into a tiny little cove. No more than 300 yards wide, the beach provides a relaxed, intimate setting – the tall cliffs that form the beach’s eastern and western boundaries cut El Palmarcito off visually from the rest of the world. During the week, when the beach receives very few visitors, you could easily trick yourself into believing that El Palmarcito is your own private haven. Even on the weekend, when a few local families set up “comedores” on the beach, traffic doesn’t pick up too much. Although surfers do sometimes visit to take advantage of the local waves, it seems that El Palmarcito is best suited to the traveler who is looking for a relaxing place to spend a few days of relative solitude soaking up the sun and admiring the surf.
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.
Most tourists never make it to Acajutla, and with good reason. Acajutla is a port town. A tropical port town. A tropical port town in Central America. All the adjectives generally applied to such places – dingy, blistering, sleazy, rancid, etc. – find their way into many visitors’ descriptions of Acajutla. The collection of crumbling houses that line the town’s beach – some of them abandoned, others that probably should be – look as if they were just hit by an earthquake or some other terrible natural disaster. The beach itself might be a perfectly good place to play beach soccer, but taking a dip into the ocean here isn’t the best of ideas, as evidenced by the sign placed alongside a small stream of sewage wading its way towards the sea that warns “ZONA DE RIESGO EN SALUD: NO SE EXPONGA” (Health Risk Zone: Don’t Expose Yourself). Away from the shore, the town’s hot trash- and rubble-strewn park may very well win the prize as El Salvador’s ugliest public space.
Why visit Acajutla, then? The town’s only saving grace are the large cliffs that jut out into the ocean, forming the southern border of the beach, affording a truly majestic panoramic vista of the seemingly endless shore northwest of town. Recognizing this picturesque spot’s obvious potential, a handful of local entrepreneurs have set up restaurants along the cliffs’ edge. The sound of the ocean crashing into the rocks below, the frequent sight of groups of pelicans flying overhead, the constant and welcome sea breeze, and the aforementioned seascape all combine to make Acajutla a good place to stop for a relaxing seafood lunch should you find yourself in the area.
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.
All most anywhere in El Salvador you will see dormant volcanoes. This photo was taken in the countryside just outside of Suchitoto. The vegetation is tropical ...many kinds of palms, mango trees, platanos(bananas)
Not far from La Palma is the highest point in El Salvador-- El Pital. If you have a 4x4, it's about an hour plus trip up mostly dirt roads to the top. Beautiful scenery along the way and, at the top, you are above the clouds! There are a number of places to stop, buy a cool drink and admire the view. It's customary to pick up local people walking up the steep roads.
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.
There are many lovely beaches in El Salvador. Near San Miguel, you'll find El Cuco -- a favorite with local families. We loved it! Other beaches are near La Libertad closer to San Salvador. You are never too far from a beach. Watch out for riptides at some of them!
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.
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.