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EL SALVADOR - FROM VOLCANO HIKES TO CULTURAL DELIGHTS
 
(2013 - Fall/Winter Issue)

Writer: CHRIS RYALL



El Salvador has seen its share of revolutions. However now it’s beginning to see its share of tourists and the only revolution going on is a cultural one.

I’m sipping my Salvadoran brewed coffee at El Tejado, a colonial-style inn located in the town of Suchitoto north of the capital San Salvador. It’s early morning and the mist lifts off Lake Suchitlàn below. A new day dawns as does El Salvador’s future. Despite its troubled past today I only hear Mother Nature’s offspring.

Suchitoto has been the site of much conflict over the years and most recently during the country’s civil war, 1980–1992. Today, however, it provides a perfect example of how to change perceptions and undertake a new direction. Artisan shops filled with paintings, indigo fashions and other handicrafts dominate the rocky uneven streets of Suchitoto.  

A creative and joyous spirit permeates throughout the town where homes and shops are resplendent with colourful and innovatively designed front doors. My eyes widen when I spot a large poster bearing a Canadian flag and recognizable Canadian corporate names. Curious, I step inside the small front office not knowing the enterprise has Canadian roots.

A friendly chap welcomes me and shows me around. What began in Stratford, Ontario, more than 60 years ago, the Stratford Festival is beginning to take shape thousands of miles away in Suchitoto. With the assistance of the Government of Canada, the Stratford Festival and other corporate partners, this “Sharing a Dream” initiative provides arts and theatre skills training to disadvantaged and at-risk Salvadoran youth. The Es Artes School in Suchitoto creates productions in which local kids work behind the scenes and act on stage. Volunteers from the Stratford Festival provide guidance and training via Skype or in person.

Mural, Mural on the Wall

The arts and cultural community is not only flourishing in Suchitoto. Throughout El Salvador, a country with almost seven million inhabitants and known as the “Tom Thumb” of the Americas because it’s only about the size of Massachusetts, markets are brimming with an assortment of handicrafts.

Salvadorans are proud people, the majority of which are mestizos—a mix of native and European heritage. Pride is clearly illustrated in the colourful murals adorning the walls of shops and buildings in the town of Ataco. It’s located on the very popular tourist Ruta de las Flores (Route of the Flowers) in the western part of the country. These vibrant murals depict daily life in the area surrounded by coffee plantations. Ataco is perfect for visitors who wish to escape big-city hassles and relish an opportunity to stroll through local markets and shops and lodge at a quaint inn. 

Smiles are never in short supply despite the turbulent past or perhaps because of it. Salvadorans treasure peace, tranquility and a better life and it shows in the warm welcome and affection they offer visitors. Market vendors are shy for the most part so you needn’t worry about being accosted by overzealous merchants trying to sell their wares.

Tourist Attractions

The cultivation of coffee is serious business in El Salvador. It’s not only the country’s No. 1 export but visiting a coffee plantation is one of the most popular tourist activities. Found throughout the country, many plantations offer tours and show you the numerous processes involved from planting, harvesting, washing, drying and separating the beans for regular and premium brands to the final packaging and shipping process. It all culminates with sipping a cup of coffee straight from the source. Now that’s java!

Of course, coffee isn’t the only thing percolating in El Salvador. The country’s more than 20 volcanoes are as well. Most are dormant, however a few are still active. The most recent was the Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec), which erupted in October 2005. At 2,381 metres above sea level, Santa Ana is the country’s highest volcano and is known as the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” because it can be seen from the Pacific Ocean in the south.  

Cerro Verde National Park is a must for visitors who want to experience this volcanic nation. At more than 2,000 metres elevation you can take guided or self-guided tours around the volcano to capture great views of the Santa Ana volcano as well as the Izalco Volcano, Lake Cerro Verde and the surrounding countryside. In many parks, you can hike, kayak, fish, swim and even zip line.

To the south, there are more than 300 kilometres of Pacific Ocean coastline. It is home to some of the world’s best surfing beaches as well as a burgeoning turtle population thanks to recent preservation efforts by various eco and wildlife organizations. 

Surf culture is alive and well in surf-centric towns such as Las Flores, San Blas, El Tunco and La Paz. In other coastal towns you’ll see fishing boats laden with shrimp, crab, snapper and other delectable seafood that will be served that evening at seaside restaurants.

Riding waves. Volcano viewing. Shopping for handicrafts. Exploring Mayan ruins. Or simply sipping coffee. El Salvador and its people will reach into your heart and soul and invite you to discover theirs.

Travel Planner

El Salvador uses U.S. currency. Avianca (avianca.com), a Star Alliance member, will soon provide daily non-stop service between Toronto and San Salvador. For more information on El Salvador, visit elsalvador.travel.

 
 
 
 
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