The Jewish Chronicle - - Life / Travel -

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.ibe­

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

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