Where to go

San Salvador
is a cosmopolitan city with a variety of architectural styles that have been created by the multitude of rebuilding projects in a history dogged by earthquakes. The city centre is always busy and widely thought of as unsafe at night, so newcomers are best advised to head for the western areas around Boulevard de los Héroes, with its shopping malls and restaurants, and the residential districts of Escalón and the Zona Rosa with its newly opened major shopping malls - Multiplaza, Hipermall and La Gran Vía - with fancy stores, branded boutiques and a variety of restaurants and night clubs.

Throughout El Salvador volcanoes dominate the landscape, and the scenery is one of its main attractions. Close to the capital,
Parque Balboa
affords fine views through the dramatic Puerta del Diablo (Devil's Door) and from the Mirador in the centre of the mountain village of
Los Planes de Renderos
. Below Los Planes de Renderos is
Panchimalco
, an old village with a growing handicraft industry where the cultural traditions are being kept alive and hosts the yearly Procesión de Las Palmas, a spectacular floral procession in the beginning of May.
Parque Nacional Cerro Verde
, just west of San Salvador, is a popular excursion for its prospect over Izalco and Santa Ana volcanoes and the deep-blue waters of the beautiful
Lago de Coatepeque
. Closed for two years after earthquakes, Cerro Verde recuperated its very unique flora and fauna and was declared a protected natural area and is now open to foreign visitors. Also a short distance west of the capital are the country's main archaeological sites of
San Andrés
and the unique
Joya de Cerén
, where a Maya settlement has been preserved under volcanic ash. There are no grand temples and sculptures, but the dwellings and everyday objects found here are the only ones of their type preserved from the Maya era in Central America. Just north of San Salvador is
Cihuatán
, El Salvador's largest archaeological park and the largest city in Mesoamerica at the time of the Toltec. The main city of the west is
Santa Ana
, which is also a good base for visiting the sites of
Tazumal
and
Casa Blanca
to the west.

A little further south,
Sonsonate
is an interesting town leading to the
Ruta de las Flores
a handful of villages climbing the volcanic chains with good scenery and waterfalls, pleasant hiking and a smattering of crafts.

There are very few pockets of undisturbed land, mainly because El Salvador is farmed intensively. On the border with Guatemala and Honduras is
Montecristo
, a remnant of cloud forest administered jointly by the three countries, while another such survivor is
Parque Nacional El Imposible
, one of the largest national parks in Central America. Just south of El Imposible is the
Barra de Santiago
protected natural area, home to a wide variety of species in the best preserved mangrove in the country.

North of San Salvador, near the Honduran border, are the towns of
La Palma
and
San Ignacio
, where handicrafts of brightly painted wood and other styles are made. Also north, but heading more to the east, is
Suchitoto
, one of the best-preserved colonial towns currently enjoying a revival that takes advantage of the beautiful scenery around Cerrón Grande resevoir. In eastern El Salvador are the cities of
San Vicente
and
San Miguel
, the port of La Unión/Cutuco and many small traditional towns. Those interested in the recent civil war can visit
Perquín
.

The Pacific coast at
La Libertad
is only a short trip from the capital and is a good place to start exploring the Balsam coast to the west, the surfing beaches and to get a feel for the country as a whole. The beaches of the
Costa del Sol
are definitely worth a stop for their long stretches of sand and estuaries. The
Gulf of Fonseca
has islands with secluded beaches which you can explore. In some parts of the country the infrastructure for tourism is quite rudimentary, but in others (such as the capital and nearby places of interest and some of the beach resorts) it is well developed.

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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