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Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

Detroit, Michigan
Level Contributor
73 posts
2 reviews
Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

Hi folks,

I'm from the US. I'll be flying into San Salvador in early November. My main travel interests are history, culture, architecture (ruins especially), food, and music. I'm traveling solo.

It doesn't look like there are any very current guidebooks out there, so I'm going on what I read in the 2019 Lonely Planet guide to CA.

I'm tentatively thinking I'd like to check out San Salvador, Santa Ana, the Ruta de las Flores, & Suchotito, with possible day trips to Lago de Coatepeque, Ruinas de Tazumal, & Joya de Ceren. If I have time, I would not mind a day or so on the beach at the end of things.

Am I trying to see too much in the time I've got? If so, what should I cut?

Does it make sense to base myself in Santa Ana for most of this or would San Salvador be better?

Also, I figured it might be best to rent a car. I'm going to be 52 by the time I fly out there, and I think my chicken bus days are mostly in the past. Would it be better to take a taxi from city to city? Is hiring a driver a good idea?

Any general advice would be greatly appreciated as well. It doesn't look like this forum gets a ton of traffic (unsurprisingly), so if anyone does take the time to offer their thoughts, my thanks in advance.

6 replies to this topic
Pittsburgh
Level Contributor
1,544 posts
41 reviews
22 helpful votes
1. Re: Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

I haven't responded myself because my one trip, so far, to El Salvador was back in 2006, and so I have nothing up-to-date to offer. However, since almost two weeks have elapsed without a response to your questions, let me know through a brief response below, whether you might find even 18-year-old recollections on some of the places you mentioned to be useful. (I won't take it amiss if you don't.)

Edited: 14 May 2024, 06:14
Detroit, Michigan
Level Contributor
73 posts
2 reviews
2. Re: Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

Absolutely, love to hear any thoughts you might have and would greatly appreciate hearing them. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information out there at all. I've been mostly relying upon a 2006 Lonely Planet Nicaragua/El Salvador to figure out what there is to do since the Central American guide is a bit thin on details.

Pittsburgh
Level Contributor
1,544 posts
41 reviews
22 helpful votes
3. Re: Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

Allowing that everything I write is based on 18-year-old recollections, and that some of this may have changed, here are some of the things that you might want to look into, especially given your stated interest in history and culture. (My visit was during February — it was hot, but dry enough to be tolerable.)

San Salvador:

[] A museum on the San Salvador campus of the University of Central America, devoted to the six Jesuit priests who, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were murdered by death-squad members in 1989. The displays also covered incidents that occurred elsewhere during the counter-insurgency of the 1980s. At the time of my visit, sitting inconspicuously on a desk in a classroom across the hall was a photo album containing pictures taken at the scene of the murders.

[] El Rosario church, city center on the Plaza Libertad. While churches aren’t usually my scene, this one was remarkable. Built in the 1960s, from the outside it looks at first like a huge, half-disk shaped hunk of a factory that had otherwise been torn down. Inside, however, I encountered a vast space with a spare, austere beauty, which I found far more stunning than the gold and silver extravagance of many traditional churches. Some recent photos I’ve seen indicate that the interior has been redesigned somewhat, but it still appeared stunning. I really believe that if a Celebrity Architect had designed this church for Barcelona or New York, it would likely be world-famous now.

[] The “Devil’s Door” park (Puerta del Diablo). Maybe not the best choice of name for a park in El Salvador, but it’s actually quite nice. A bit south of the city, it’s basically a huge rocky hill, which is very popular with local people for picnics or weekend outings. It’s a great place just to clamber around in. Also, you could get there by bus. Pick a clear day to go there, for the views from the top are said to be great — the city to one side, and a bit of the Pacific to the other. (Oddly, I can’t recall what I was able to see myself, but I do remember that the day I was there, the air was hazy.)

[] The David Guzman Museum, in the modern suburban-US-style “pink zone in the west part of San Salvador. My recollection is that this fine museum wad devoted primarily to ancient remains, there was also some history and folklore.

[] Not far from the Guzman Museum I spotted a sign pointing towards the Monument to the Revolution, which intrigued me, since Salvadoran history has been relatively free of successful revolutions. It turned out, as I recall, to be a memorial to the 1948 coup by progressive army officers — not every historian’s idea of a real, honest revolution, but one takes what one can get. The officers were dedicated to social reform, but the movement struggled, and was overthrown in 1961.

[] Generally, I liked San Salvador, though I admit I’m rather a city type. I had no safety problems myself; in the city center once, what I feared to be the dreaded assault — a tap from behind — just turned out to be a polite, well-dressed young fellow returning a quarter I had dropped while buying a local newspaper!

Santa Ana area:

[] The ancient sites of Tazumal (which you mentioned) and Casas Blancas. Both, I recall, are within walking distance of each other and from the center of Chalchuapas, a small, quaint town a short ride from Santa Ana. They lack the grand visual spectacle of grand sites like Copan and Tikal in the nieghboring countries (though the main Tazumal structure is rather big), but anyone with an interest in these matters will want to see them; and I at least got the feeling of being a sort of explorer, one of relatively few foreign tourists who see these places. Also here, as in sites and museums elsewhere in El Salvador, I got the impression that the staff members appreciated having a foreign tourist actually show up! I was the only visitor at Casas Blancas at the time, and could almost have imagined myself one of those Victorian-era explorers, the first to “discover” the place — though the “Do not climb the pyramids” sign broke the spell a bit.

[] Santa Ana itself, where I spent two nights, was all right; quaint in parts, with a traditional central plaza — a good base for visiting sites in the area.

Central El Salvador:

[] Suchitoto, which you mentioned, was a delightful place; a charming, unspoilt Spanish-colonial town. I could make only a day trip, but I would have loved to stay one or two nights. (In fact I was going to that just last March — I was on the verge of a repeat visit to El Salvador, but had to cancel it. I’m hoping to have another go at it next year.) Perhaps below, someone will tell us whether the splendid wall mural in honor of Archbishop Oscar Romero is still there.

[] Ilobasco: I don’t seem to have a strong recollection of this town, but I recall it was nice enough, though maybe not as “hard-core” colonial as Suchitoto. Its big thing was arts and crafts. And in fact, if you’re looking for inexpensive and easily-packed gifts to take home, check out (if they’re still made) the traditional plastic egg-shaped artefacts, which can be opened to show tiny but detailed sculptures reprenseting scenes from everyday life. But make your selections judiciously; some of them aren’t made for people with more prudish leanings!

Also:

[] The Museum of the Revolution in Perquín, in the extreme north-eastern part of the country. I didn’t see it on my trip, but It was to have been the focus of the trip i was planning (and had to cancel) last March. It was set up, and is run, by members of the revolutionary movements that were active from the late 1970s to the truce of 1992. It’s a bit out of the way, and whether you visit depends on how much interest you have in this aspect of Salvadoran history.

General:

I think you’ve made a good choice. I found El Salvador to be a fantastic place to visit — friendly, welcoming, and safer than many people thought at the time. And several comments posted on this forum more recently indicate that it’s still just as good.

Driving:

I no longer drive in Latin America myself; I used to at times, and I got away with it, but I've decided not to tempt fate any longer. When I was in El Salvador, there was a good bus network, and they were generally better than everyone's worst image of "chicken buses." Still, driving may be relatively easy -- the highways are good, and it's a small country.

Detroit, Michigan
Level Contributor
73 posts
2 reviews
4. Re: Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

Wow, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. That's tremendously helpful. Very much appreciate it. I've got a lot to think about, good thing I've got a few months before my trip! I'm a bit torn about renting a car, I've definitely got to give that more thought.

Oakland, California
Level Contributor
256 posts
41 reviews
53 helpful votes
5. Re: Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

We went in 2015 for about 7 days. I dont think you're doing too much. Since its "el Pulgarcito" travel times are very short.

We stayed in San Salvador, Suchitoto & La Libertad, and went on a Ruta de las Flores tour, all very worthwhile.

San Salvador lodging was Arbol de Fuego - great location near UCA, and the museum for the martyrs described above was very moving. Suchitoto lodging was los Almendros - a great stay, maybe a little pricey.

We hired a driver for much of our travel, including Ruta de las Flores. and it was pretty economical and of course, convenient,

Detroit, Michigan
Level Contributor
73 posts
2 reviews
6. Re: Ten Nights in El Salvador - Itinerary advice and car rental?

Outstanding. Los Alemendros was actually on my radar, looks very nice as does Arbol de Fuego. Thank you! I don't suppose you remember how much you paid for a driver, by chance?

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