Heading the list on San Salvador's city tour are major buildings including the National Palace, Archbishop's Palace, National Treasury, Cathedral, National Theater, and Plaza Barrios which is in the heart of the downtown shopping area.
Highlight of the tour is a drive to Balboa Park to the Devil's Door where one sees the capital laid out below and the Pacific in the distance. Also 2,000 ft. below lies the Indian village of Panchimalco.
The Zoological Park, south of San Salvador, contains a good collection of Central American mammals. Music and dance performances are featured regularly in the National Theater.
Nightlife can be lively in the capital. Many of the best clubs and discos are private, but hotels can arrange entrance for visitors.
Excursions from the Capital:
The operative word here is "volcanoes." Less than an hour from one's hotel is an easy drive to Izalco, the famed "Lighthouse of the Pacific." For years Izalco was known for its regular, minor eruptions every 15 minutes. Now the slumbering cone only smokes a little, but the view from nearby Mt. Cerro Verde is majestic. There was significant earthquake damage to Cerro Verde's hotel and tourism complex. As of mid '01 the area remains closed, however, hiking trails in the area are open, and they offer splendid vistas.
Also easy to visit from San Salvador is San Vincente Volcano, one of few in the world with two peaks. El Salvador also boasts six volcanic lakes. The two most popular for sheer beauty are Llopango and Coatepeque. The most unusual is Lake Alegría where, because of volcanic activity, the western shore's water boils and the eastern shore's water is icy cold. Near Santa Ana there's a lake where one may peer down into the blue waters and see an underwater Maya ruin.
Joya de Cerén: Literally "Jewel of the village of Cerén." The name is more than it implies. It is a jewel of a discovery. An easy 21 mile drive from the capital one may inspect a once-thriving 15-acre Maya village that lies suspended in time. Joya de Cerén had lain hidden for over 15 centuries under a mantle of grey and black volcanic ash, and today archaeologists are now uncovering ancient homes.
What is most intriguing here is that there are no towering temples or pyramids. Instead one peers down into excavation pits to see where people once lived - not worshipped. It is an American Pompeii.
Tazumal: El Salvador's largest ancient site is Tazumal (an hour's drive beyond Joya de Cerén) where visitor's may inspect a large Pipil temple complex that has been partially restored. The complex dates to 5,000 BC. A small museum is located beside the ruins, and nearby is El Trapiche, a 70 ft. high pre-Classic temple mound.
La Libertad: One may often see El Salvador's most popular surfing spot from your American Airlines window just before landing; for the small coastal town of La Libertad (pop. 21,000) lies just a few miles west of the airport. An easy 30 min. drive from the capital, La Libertad is a laid-back village that welcomes surfers and sporadically hosts championship events. Tiny hotels offer as few as four to 20 rooms at bargain basement rates.
La Libertad is a good place to explore the country's nearly 200 mi. Pacific coastline which is known locally as the Costa de Oro and has several new tourist hotels. Plenty of action here on weekends when the locals flee the capital.