El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. Among the Central American countries, it is also the most untainted by tourists; not many travelers visit El Salvador and the country doesn’t seem to care. But the few adventurous at heart who have journeyed to El Salvador often find a real gem; while they don’t always enjoy the best tourist infrastructure, they are always treated to a breathtaking beauty rivaled by few other countries. El Salvador is an elegant tapestry of mountain peaks, rolling green hills, palm-fringed sandy beaches along its Pacific coast, and dozens and dozens of fiery volcanoes. And its people are fun to be around, known for being vibrant, energetic, and funny.
Prior to Spanish conquest in 1525, El Salvador was inhabited by the indigenous and nomadic Pipiles in the central and western regions, by the Lencas in the east, and by the Mayans in the north. In 1821, El Salvador along with its Central American brothers achieved independence from Spain.
Only a decade after independence, El Salvador was struck with internal strife. Anastasio Aquino led an indigenous revolt against creoles and mestizos (people of European ancestry or mixed European ancestry). The source of their discontent was the lack of available lands to farm. This problem began centuries ago after the Spanish conquest brought a wave of wealthy Spanish settlers who arrived and gobbled up the lands of an already-diminutive El Salvador. In the 19th century, coffee became a popular product and the powerful land owners swallowed up further of what remaining plots of land were owned by small-scale farmers. These coffee plantations were then worked by the meagerly-paid indigenous population, resulting in an increasing disparity between the rich and the poverty-stricken. Anastasio Aquino’s revolt in 1833 aimed at returning the lands to the indigenous people. But this socio-economic clash would continue to plague El Salvador well into the 20th century.
For much of the 20th century, El Salvador witnessed a number of peasant uprisings and communist movements, which were all but suppressed brutally by the government and its military armies. In 1980, even an archbishop advocating against the government for its human rights abuses was gunned down for his criticisms, which triggered a decade of guerrilla and rebel warfare. In 1992, a peace accord was finally signed, allowing the country to move past all the massacres and assassinations.
Massive earthquakes at the turn of the century, unfortunately, crippled the country. However, El Salvador has recovered remarkably and has developed substantially in the last decade; it has even begun building better tourist infrastructure.
One appealing aspect of traveling in El Salvador is its small size and well-paved roads. This makes trips to all parts of the country convenient and easy. Today, El Salvador is most appreciated by visitors for its natural beauty.
Perhaps most prominent are El Salvador’s dozens of impressive and active volcanoes, the slopes of which are fun to climb and offer breathtaking views of the country below. The Volcán Santa Ana, Volcán Cerro Verde, and the Volcán Izalco are three of the more well-known of the country’s volcanoes.
El Salvador is also home to verdant national parks such as the Montecristo in the northwest, Cerro Verde in the central, and El Imposible in the southwest. Some of these parks encompass misty cloud forests and all of them offer great hiking and mountain climbing terrains.
In El Salvador, you’ll also find several sparkling azure lakes, some of them crater-formed like the Lago de Coatepeque, Lago de Güija, and Lago de Ilopango. These lakes are wonderful places to relax, swim, boat, canoe, and kayak.
Surfers, however, are most in love with El Salvador’s beautiful beaches, considered its best-kept secret. The Pacific Coast has a few coral reefs and many palm-fringed surfing spots like the Costa del Sol and the Costa Balsamo; both are favorites among surfers for their ever-present sun and great waves. La Libertad is perhaps the most popular surfing beach in El Salvador, adored for its better facilities yet uncrowded waves.
Like most other Central American countries, El Salvador also has its fair share of archaeological ruins. The remnants of ancient Mesoamerican settlements can be found at Tazumal, Joya de Cerén, and San Andrés.
There are many villages dotted throughout the country that host markets and shops selling all kinds of local artisania – from plates, jugs, and bowls to woven goods. La Palma in the north is particularly noted for its colorfully designed fabrics and Guatajiagua, near San Miguel, sells goods that are crafted much like the goods made by the ancient indigenous of El Salvador.