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March 17th, 2014

El Salvador: a beginner's guide

El Salvador was briefly a part of the Mexican Empire, before joining the Central American Federation.

The country went to war with Honduras in 1969 over immigration issues, which coincided with violent riots that broke out when the countries’ two teams met in the qualifying round of the 1970 World Cup. The four-day conflict is known as La Guerra del Fútbol or the Football War.

Top five attractions 

  • The archaeological site of Joya de Cerén, a pre-Columbian village preserved under volcanic ash.
  • The mountain scenery along the Ruta de las Flores, lined with sugarcane and coffee plantations and backed by volcanoes.
  • El Imposible National Park, part of the Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range, where the tropical forest is home to a rich flora and fauna.
  • El Sunzal on the Pacific coast, which has good beaches and is a haven for surfers.
  • The artificial Lago de Suchitlán near Suchitoto: lie back on a boat and spot hawks and falcons on the shores.

Best city 
The historical town of Suchitoto, about an hour’s drive from San Salvador, is a lovely colonial place, popular with artists and musicians. Peek – or check – into Hotel Los Almendros, a former hacienda that has been completely renovated, blending colonial features with modern furnishings and El Salvadoran artwork and antiques.

Souvenir to buy 
Look out for the tiny cones that conceal an artistic scene inside; Dominga Herrera, an artist, makes some that open to reveal couples engaged in passionate embrace.

Quirky El Salvador 
Every August 31 the town of Nejapa celebrates the Bolas de Fuego (Balls of Fire) festival, during which youths paint their faces and throw balls of fire at each other to commemorate either a past volcanic eruption or – according to the faithful – a fight in which St Jerome attacked the devil with fireballs.

‘Salvador’ by Joan Didion looks unsparingly at the recent history of terror and civil war.

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