El Salvador

El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest country, in Central America with a total area of 21,040 sq km (8,124 miles), making it about the size of Massachusetts (20,300 sq km) or Wales ( 20,779 sq km). Salvadoran people are very genuine and friendly and whilst English is not widely spoken they will always try and make you feel at home.

Here are 11 reasons why a trip to El Savador is worth a try:

1. Santa Ana

One of El Salvador’s biggest cities, Santa Ana is a very pleasant place to explore on foot. The most impressive building in the city is surely the Theatre, with its immaculately restored lavish interior – we oohed and aahed our way around the cavernous interior of this 100 year old architectural masterpiece, built on the profits of the nearby coffee plantations. The cathedral in the main square is also worth a look, while most visitors to the city will enjoy getting lost in the narrow alleys of the street market.

2. Parque Nacional Los Volcanes

The best day hike on our whole trip, this 4 hour walk took us to the crater rim of a volcano that last had a major eruption only 5 years ago. The effort is rewarded generously by the incredible view into the crater when you reach the top. More on our climb in my Volcan Santa Ana post.

3. Barra de Santiago

Arguably El Salvador's most unspoilt beach, this vast sandy expanse doubles as a nature reserve for butterfly and bird species. You can explore the mangroves of the Zapote estuary by boat, try kayaking, canoeing, or fishing. The La Cocotera resort and ecolodge (www.lacocoteraresort.com) is working to re-establish endangered species like the marine turtle and red macaw.

4. Canopy tour

For a powerful adrenalin rush, it's hard to beat the spectacular Apaneca Canopy Tour, 150m (492ft) above the tropical forest of western El Savador. Enjoy a bird's-eye view of Apaneca's coffee plantations as you glide over breathtaking mountain scenery. (Not recommended for those with a fear of heights!)

5. Suchitoto

Our home for Christmas, this picture-perfect colonial town in the north of the country will surely become the hotspot of El Salvador’s nascent tourism boom. Small enough to cover on foot in a short gentle stroll, peaceful and safe, Suchitoto is set above the wonderfully picturesque Lake Suchitlan. The town also has arguably the best hotels in the country, with a handful of high quality yet affordable boutique hotels.

6. Surfing

El Salvador's Pacific coastline is surfing heaven, with uncrowded waters and world-class breaks. Las Flores, which suits beginners and experts alike, is overlooked by surfers' hotel Miraflores (www.elhotelmiraflores.com), from where boats head to Punta Mango and the biggest waves in the country. Closest to the capital is El Sunzal (La Libertad).

7. Coffee plantations

Coffee became El Salvador's most important export in the mid 19th century, and plantations are still dotted around the countryside. Buy the local product when visiting Ecoparque El Espino (www.ecoparqueelespino.com.sv/) on the slopes of the Boquerón volcano. Alternatively, book a stay at the Hotel Santa Leticia (www.coffee.com.sv) in Apaneca, a working plantation which offers tours.

8. Exploring Cerro Verde

Spectacular cloud forest, sweeping views, clean mountain air, exhilarating walks and three volcanoes are right at your finger tips in this 505 hectare (1,250 acre) national park. Expert local guides are on hand to offer advice and visitors are asked to book ahead and bring passports.

9. Fernando Llort Museum

Born in 1949, Fernando Llort is El Salvador's greatest living artist. He is known for his use of bright colours and for developing a highly individual style that incorporates symbols to represent life in the country of his birth. To view Llort's work, visit his shop and museum, El Arbol de Dios, in San Salvador.

10. Horse riding

Ecotourism is one of El Salvador's fastest growing activities, and the guides of La Mora (www.ecoturismolamora.es.tl) are experts in the field. Trek on horseback through beautiful scenery and three climate zones to the summit of the Guazapa volcano, before returning to base to learn how to make maize tortillas.

11. Panchimalco

Sadly, few of El Salvador's remaining indigenous people retain their old traditions, culture and dress. The Pancho Indians, who give the village of Panchimalco its name, are an exception. The best times to visit are 13-14 September (Patronal festival) or 3 May (harvest procession), colourful occasions when pagan and Christian customs merge.




Highlights
- Food festival in Juayúa
- Colonial streets and central plazas in San Miguel
- Cosmopolitan san Salvador with its bohemian nightlife
- The volcanoes in Santa Ana


Geography
El Salvador, the smallest Spanish-speaking nation in the Western Hemisphere, is located on the western side of the Central American isthmus. With an area of 21,041 square kilometers, the country is only slightly larger than Massachusetts. It is roughly rectangular in shape with 515 kilometers of land boundaries and 307 kilometers of coastline on the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador is bounded by Guatemala to the west and Honduras to the north and east, and it is separated from Nicaragua on the southeast by the Golfo de Fonseca.
Language
National or official language: Spanish. Literacy rate: 55% to 63%.
Money
Salvadoran colon
1 USD = 8,745 El Salvador colon (February 2015)
Climate
El Salvador has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation and show little seasonal change. The Pacific lowlands are uniformly hot; the central plateau and mountain areas are more moderate.
The rainy season, known locally as invierno, or winter, extends from May to October. Almost all the annual rainfall occurs during this time, and yearly totals, particularly on southern-facing mountain slopes, can be as high as 200 centimeters. Protected areas and the central plateau receive lesser, although still significant, amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pressure over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunderstorms. Although hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific, they seldom affect El Salvador.
From November through April, the northeast trade winds control weather patterns. During these months, air flowing from the Caribbean has had most of the precipitation wrung out of it passing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy. This season is known locally as verano, or summer.
Temperatures vary little with season; elevation is the primary determinant. The Pacific lowlands are the hottest region, with annual averages ranging from 25 degrees to 29degrees. San Salvador is representative of the central plateau, with an annual average temperature of 23degrees and absolute high and low readings of 38degrees and 7degrees, respectively. Mountain areas are the coolest, with annual averages from 12degrees to 23degrees and minimum temperatures sometimes approaching freezing
Gastronomy
El Salvador's most notable dish is the pupusa. Pupusas are a thick hand-made corn tortilla (made using masa de maíz or masa de arroz, a maize or rice flour dough used in Latin American cuisine) stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese (usually a soft Salvadoran cheese, a popular example is Quesillo con loroco), chicharrón (a ground pork product, often mixed with tomato paste), and refried beans. Loroco is a vine flower bud native to Central America. There are also vegetarian options, often with ayote (a type of squash) or garlic. Some adventurous restaurants even offer pupusas stuffed with shrimp or spinach.
Pupusas come from the pipil-nahuatl word, pupushahua. The pupusa's exact origins are debated, although its presence in El Salvador is known to predate the arrival of Spaniards.

Two other typical Salvadoran dishes are yuca frita and panes rellenos. Yuca frita, which is deep fried cassava root served with curtido (a pickled cabbage, onion and carrot topping) and pork rinds or pepesquitas (fried baby sardines). The Yuca is sometimes served boiled instead of fried. Pan con pavo (bread with turkey) is a warm turkey submarine sandwich similar to a hoagie. The turkey is marinated and then roasted with Pipil spices and handpulled. This sandwich is traditionally served with turkey, tomato, and watercress
History
Before the Spanish conquest, the area that now is El Salvador was composed of three great indigenous states and several principalities. The indigenous inhabitants were the Pipils, a tribe of the nomadic people of Nahua settled down for a long time in central Mexico. The region of the east was populated and governed by the Lencas. The North zone of the Lempa river was populated and governed by Mayan the Chortis.
Early in their history, the Pipil became one of the few Mesoamerican indigenous groups to abolish human sacrifice. Otherwise, their culture was similar to that of their Aztec and Maya neighbors. Remains of Nahua culture are still found at ruins such as Tazumal (near Chalchuapa), San Andrés, and Joya de Cerén (north of Colón).
The first Spanish attempt to subjugate this area failed in 1524, when Pedro de Alvarado was forced to retreat by Pipil warriors. In 1525, he returned and succeeded in bringing the district under control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, which retained its authority until 1821, despite an abortive revolution in 1811. It was Alvarado who named the district for El Salvador ("The Savior.")


Religion
There is diversity of religious and ethnic groups in El Salvador. Majority of population are Christians, mostly Roman Catholics, while Protestantism is growing rapidly and is already representing more than 20% of the population. Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Seventh-Day Adventist churches are all growing rapidly, as are Pentecostals.
Other religions are present as well - Islam, Judaism, Mormonism and Jehovah Witnesses.


Culture
The Roman Catholic Church plays an important role in the Salvadoran culture. Significant foreign personalities in El Salvador were the Jesuit priests and professors Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baró, and Segundo Montes, who were murdered in 1989 by the Salvadoran Army during the heat of the civil war. Painting, ceramics and textile goods are the main manual artistic expressions. Writers Francisco Gavidia (1863–1955), Salarrué (Salvador Salazar Arrué) (1899-1975), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino, Pedro Geoffroy Rivas, Manlio Argueta, José Roberto Cea, and poet Roque Dalton are among the most important writers to stem from El Salvador. Notable 20th century personages include the late filmmaker Baltasar Polio, artist Fernando Llort, and caricaturist Toño Salazar. Amongst the more renowned representatives of the graphic arts are the painters Noe Canjura, Carlos Cañas, Julia Díaz, Camilo Minero, Ricardo Carbonell, Roberto Huezo, Miguel Angel Cerna (the painter and writer better known as MACLo), Esael Araujo, and many others.
Music
El Salvador is a Central American country whose culture is a mixture of Pipil and Spanish. Its music includes religious songs (mostly Roman Catholic) used to celebrate Christmas and other holidays, especially feast days of the saints. Satirical rural lyrical themes are common. Due to the Americanization of El Salvador, popular English music is played on most national radio stations. In 2007, census showed that 67% of the music played on the most popular radio station, consisted of English music.

Wildlife
El Salvador flora is marked by tropical deciduous vegetation. The altitudinal variation in El Salvador's topography from sea level to above 2,700 meters has helped in the growth of mangrove forests, fresh water lagoons, swamp forests, tropical deciduous forests, alpine forests and cloud forests. Forests occupy approximately 17% of the total territory of El Salvador. Coffee plantations cover an additional 9% . Primeval forests cover only 3% of the area and national parks only 0.5% of El Salvador. El Salvador flora includes mahogany, cedar, walnut, mangrove, rubber, balsam, pine, oak and tropical fruit trees. Medicinal plants, and orchids add to the flora wealth of El Salvador.
El Salvador fauna includes butterflies of over 1000 species, above 500 species of birds, around 200 species of mammals, and 800 species of sea fish.

Of the 500 bird species 310 are bred within the country and the rest are migratory. Pacific parakeet, banded wren, fan-tailed warbler, long-tailed manakin, white-bellied chcachalaca, orange-chinned parakeet, bar winged oriole, Pacific screech owl, Bell's vireo, ash throated fly-catcher, blue bunting, thicket tinamou, scissor-tailed fly-catcher, elegant trogone and Beryline hummingbird are some of the bird species found in El Salvador.

The mammals found in El Salvador include the jaguar, Baird's tapir, coyotes, varieties of monkeys and armadillos. Alligators, crocodiles, turtles, iguanas, boa constrictors are the reptile varieties found in El Salvador.

El Salvador flora and fauna is protected in the national reserves in Barra de Santiago, El Jocotal Lagoon, El Imposible, Los Cobanos and Nancuchiname.

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