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Back on the radar: El Salvador

Civil war and natural disasters have left their marks on El Salvador – but this fascinating country offers so many places left to explore

El Salvador has been battered by civil war and natural disasters, but has sprung back (Rick Goldman)

After years as a travellers' pariah, El Salvador is beginning to attract interest. “A big appeal is feeling as if you’re the only tourist in town, as the country loses out to its more popular neighbours,” says Footprint Central America & Mexico Handbook author Peter Hutchison. “Civil war in the 1990s, followed by two big hurricanes, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have also left their mark. It’s a fascinating country, and great for having so many places left to explore.” Here are a few starters.

South-west coast

“The coast around La Libertad has some of the best waves in Central America. I bottled the five-foot faces, choosing self-preservation over several turns in the spin cycle. Dive in volcano crater lakes or hike in the primary forest of El Imposible National Park.” 

Volcanoes & views

“Somehow the views of volcanoes creep up on you as you travel round the country on the ornately decorated buses. Exploring the peaks around Santa Ana, these looming giants seem to appear out of nowhere.”


“The country’s most popular town after the capital, Suchitoto has good accommodation, pleasant walks and a packed cultural calendar. It’s a great base for exploring the area for a few days – get lost trying to find nearby waterfalls and look out for the local birds.”

Ruta de las Flores

“We had a great early morning walk in the hills near Apaneca, one of the villages on the Ruta de las Flores. Peaceful and isolated, a misty haze rose above the neat lines of coffee bushes, morpho butterflies flitted by the path and we got the odd glimpse of a volcano.”


“I’m a big fan of trying to eat the local food when I’m travelling, so in El Salvador pupusas – stuffed tortillas – are my first choice. Pick a busy street stall in San Salvador and you get a great meal with great chat thrown in.”


“Perquín was home to the guerrilla group FMLN during the civil war, leaving today’s visitor with a sombre experience, looking round the Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña; there are peaceful walks in the surrounding hills.”

El Salvador: The  travellers’ view

Edward & Nelly Welham

“Suchitoto was the highlight of our Central America trip. El Salvador’s cultural and artistic capital, this laid-back colonial town was a wonderful surprise. The town’s unassuming atmosphere came alive during the Independence Day celebrations, full of vibrant colours, intriguing smells and uplifting rhythms – the real Latin America! The locals were proud and interested as to why we had chosen to visit, and were always willing to offer insights. Top tip: learn a bit of Spanish before you go.”

The tour operator’s view

Rafe Stone, product manager, Journey Latin America (020 8747 8315, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
“There’s something hypnotically relaxing about El Salvador: maybe the easy driving conditions decrease stress levels; or then it could be the softly spoken locals who take pride in telling you about their country. Head south from San Salvador and you’ll hit a beautiful rugged coastal road where red snapper and lobster are staples. Or travel inland towards the Ruta de Las Flores: a string of cobbled, colonial villages overlooked by a spine of dramatic volcanoes.”

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