IWAS enjoying lunch on top of a volcano. In the distance were the Bálsamo mountains, the Pacific Ocean and the city of San Salvador, glistening in the sun. There are 23 volcanoes in San Salvador. Santa Ana, which last erupted in 2005, is the highest in the Pacific volcanic chain. Happily, my volcano is no longer active.
All was at peace as I took in the views at Las Brumas Grill & Café surrounded by flowers, butterflies and birds. The Parque Nacional El Boquerón, which is inside the crater of the San Salvador volcano is spectacular.
El Salvador may seem an unusual destination for a holiday as tourism is not highly developed here, but this small, yet densely populated country on Central America’s Pacific coast captivates with its natural beauty.
Volcanoes, mountains, forests, lakes and beaches are all within easy reach of San Salvador, the capital. It takes around seven hours to drive east to west, so you can take in most of El Salvador in a short space of time.
Just when you think El Salvador can’t surprise you any more it does. Lago de Coatepeque (Coatepeque in Nahuatl translates as Hill of Snakes), which fills the crater of an extinct volcano, is one of the most beautiful lakes I have seen.
A civil war in the 1980s (there are still signs of it, such as houses hidden behind walls) and natural disasters have taken their toll on the country and its people. But now El Salvador is more stable and is in the throes of rebuilding itself. As the US dollar is the currency there are many American influences trickling through and they can be seen in La Gran Via, a smart shopping mall and entertainment area in San Salvador.
The capital is relatively modern with a blend of colonial architecture. Although it has been rebuilt several times due to earthquakes and fire, the historic centre, has some lovely buildings such as the National Theatre and the National Palace.
Make San Salvador your base. There are the usual hotel chains here, which tend to be geared towards conferences, but do have pools. A stay in a smaller hotel such as the pretty Árbol de Fuego, proud of its green credentials, is a far more rewarding experience as it gives you a real flavour of the country.
As well as El Salvador’s exquisite scenery, its other important asset is the people, who are warm and welcoming and go out of their way to help you. Perhaps this is because they don’t see too many tourists.
The country will also wow you with its food. The flavours of the tropical
FLIGHTS: Iberia fly from London, Heathrow, via Madrid to San Salvador.Fares start from £673 return. Flights are scheduled monday, tuesdays, thursdays and Saturdays www.iberia.com
WHERE TO STAY: Hotel Árbol de Fuego :double rooms from US$55 (£35 approx) per night.
MORE INFO: fruit and vegetables tantalised my taste buds. The natural fruit juices served with ice (good restaurants use purified water, so having ice is fine), known as frescos, are so delicious it is easy to become addicted. My favourites were the mango and watermelon.
There is also plenty of fresh fish. Corvina — similar to sea bass — and sole are popular. Corn is the main staple of the diet.
You can’t visit the country without trying a pupusa, a traditional dish. It is a type of corn tortilla that can be stuffed with anything. I tried the cheese and beans. I also got hooked on the deep fried plantains (similar to bananas). Not great for the waistline but really tasty.
El Salvador prides itself on its good roads and it takes less than an hour to drive from the capital to embark on the archaeological route to see the main sites of the Mayan World.
At Joya de Cerén, often called the Pompeii of the Maya World, I learned about the culture of the Central American people who inhabited the land circa AD 600. A sudden eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano was completely covered this Mayan village in volcanic ash and it was rediscovered
Lago de Coatepeque, which means Hill of Snakes in Nahuati — an ancient Central American language, fills the crater of a volcano