East from San Salvador

Cojutepeque

The capital of the Department of Cuscatlán, 34 km from San Salvador, is the first town on the Pan-American Highway encountered when heading east. There is a good weekly market. The town is famous for cigars, smoked sausages,
quesadillas
and tongue, and its annual
feria
on 29 August has fruits and sweets,
saddlery, leather goods, pottery and headwear on sale from neighbouring villages, and sisal hammocks, ropes, bags and hats from the small factories of Cacaopera (Department of Morazán). There is also a
sugar cane festival
on 12-20 January. Lago de Ilopango is a short trip to the southwest.

Cerro de las Pavas
, a conical hill near Cojutepeque, dominates
Lago de Ilopango
and offers splendid views of wide valleys and tall mountains. Its shrine of
Our Lady of Fátima
draws many pilgrims every year (religious ceremonies take place here on 13 May).

Ilobasco

From
San Rafael Cedros
, 6 km east of Cojutepeque, a 16 km paved road north to Ilobasco has a branch road east to Sensuntepeque at about Km 13. The surrounding area, devoted to cattle, coffee, sugar and indigo, is exceptionally beautiful. Many of Ilobasco's population are workers in clay; although some of its decorated pottery is now mass- produced and has lost much of its charm this is definitely the best place to buy pottery in El Salvador. Check out miniature
sorpresas
, delicately shaped microscopic sceneries the size of an egg (don't miss the naughty ones). Try
Hermanos López
, where there are fine miniatures for sale. The annual fiesta is on 29 September.

San Sebastián

Four kilometres from the turning to Ilobasco, further south along the Pan-American Highway at
Santo Domingo
(Km 44 from San Salvador), a paved road leads for 5 km to San Sebastián, where colourfully patterned cloth hammocks and bedspreads are made. You can watch them being woven on complex looms of wood and string. Behind
Funeraria Durán
there is a weaving workshop. Sr Durán will take you past the caskets to see the weavers. The
Casa de Cultura
, about 50 m from the plaza, will direct you to weaving centres and give information on handicrafts. Before buying, check prices and beware of overcharging. Market day is on Monday.

San Vicente

Founded in 1635, San Vicente is 61 km from the capital and lies a little southeast of the Highway on the Río Alcahuapa, at the foot of the double-peaked
Volcán San Vicente
(or
Chinchontepec
), with very fine views of the Jiboa valley to the west. The town enjoys a lovely setting and is a peaceful place to spend a night or two. Its pride and joy is
El Pilar
(1762-69), the most original church in the country. It was here that the local chief,
Anastasio Aquino
, took the crown from the statue of San José and crowned himself King of the Nonualcos during the rebellion of 1832.

El Pilar stands on a small square 1½ blocks south of the Parque Central. On the latter is the cathedral, whose nave is draped with golden curtains. In the middle of the main plaza is a tall, open-work clock tower, quite a landmark when descending the hill into the city. Three blocks east of the main plaza is the
tempisque
tree under which the city's foundation charter was drawn up. The tree was decreed a national monument on 26 April 1984. An extensive market area can be found a few blocks west of the centre and hammock sellers are on nearby streets. An army barracks takes up an entire block in the centre. There's a small
war museum
; ask the FMLN office here or in San Salvador. Carnival day is 1 November.

Around San Vicente

Three kilometres southeast of the town is the
Balneario Amapulapa
. There are three pools at different levels in a wooded setting. The Tourist Police patrols here and lately it's been considered a safe place for tourists, although women should not walk to the area alone. Reached by bus No 177 from Zacatecoluca bus station, and by pickup from the San Vicente Bus station.
Laguna de Apastepeque
, is small but picturesque.

San Miguel

Set at the foot of the
Volcán San Miguel
(
Chaparrastique
), which last erupted in 1976 but has shown activity ever since, San Miguel is the third largest city in El Salvador, 136 km from San Salvador. The capital of its Department, the town was founded in 1530 as a military fortress by Don Luis de Moscoso. It now has one of the fastest growing economies in Central America, some pleasant plazas and a bare 18th-century cathedral. The city's theatre dates from 1909, but since the 1960s it has been used for various purposes other than the arts. After several years of restoration it reopened in 2003 in all its original glory.

The arid climate all year round makes the region ideal for growing maize, beans, cotton and sisal, and some silver and gold are mined here. However, the biggest industry is the
remesas
(money received from family members who have emigrated to the US), as this part of the country experienced heavy migration both during and after the civil war.

The fiesta de la Virgen de la Paz is on the third Saturday in November, and one of the biggest carnivals in Central America, known as
El Carnaval de San Miguel
, also takes place here.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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