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El Salvador

The Wilds of El Salvador: Central America’s Undiscovered Beauty

Venture to massive volcanoes, crater lakes, lush jungles and pristine bays as you survey the best of El Salvador. Meet locals at a coffee plantation, cacao farm and an indigo workshop!
Rating (5)
Program No. 22676RJ
Length
9 days
Starts at
1,949
El Salvador

The Wilds of El Salvador: Central America’s Undiscovered Beauty

Venture to massive volcanoes, crater lakes, lush jungles and pristine bays as you survey the best of El Salvador. Meet locals at a coffee plantation, cacao farm and an indigo workshop!
Length
9 days
Starts at
1,949
Program No. 22676 RJ
climate
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At a Glance

Prepare to be amazed on this learning adventure to El Salvador, a land dominated by towering volcanoes, sparkling bays and tropical jungles. Join seasoned naturalists as you discover the natural wonders of this extraordinary Central American nation, home to some of the rarest creatures on the planet including the hawksbill sea turtle. Learn the intricacies of Salvadoran culture as you meet locals at an indigo workshop, a coffee plantation and a cacao farm. Discover pre-Hispanic history and culture at a series of fascinating archaeological sites and workshops.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Venture to Volcanoes National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, featuring three towering volcanoes surrounded by mist forests.
  • Join local researchers from ICAPO and participate in collecting data for protecting endangered sea turtles.
  • Learn about pre-Hispanic culture at a 2,000-year-old village preserved by volcanic ash at Joya de Ceren, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

General Notes

Due to the nature of this program, listening devices are not available.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
Travelers' Tales Central America
by Larry Habegger (Editor), Natanya Pearlman (Editor)
Organized thematically with contributions set in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, this collection of eyewitness reports includes Joan Didion, P.J. O'Rourke and Paul Theroux.
Tropical Nature
by Adrian Forsyth, Ken Miyata
Two uncommonly observant and thoughtful field biologists offer a lucid portrait of the tropics through 17 marvelous essays that introduce the habitats, ecology, plants and animals of the Central and South American rainforests.
Field Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Adjacent Areas, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador
by Ernest Preston Edwards
This classic guide illustrates all the regularly occurring birds of Mexico and neighboring areas, including details of distribution, abundance, habitat and identification features for 850 species.
One Day of Life
by Manlio Argueta
Awesome for the authenticity of its vernacular style and the incandescence of its lyricism, One Day of Life depicts a typical day in the life of a peasant family caught up in the terror and corruption of civil war in El Salvador.
Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Northern Central America
by Jesse Fagan
This updated Peterson field guide covers all the species recorded in Central America (about 800) with behavioral vignettes, full-color range maps and 1,000 illustrations. Ideal for birders traveling to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.
Salvador
by Joan Didion
A contemporary classic, this brief collection of essays by Joan Didion is a report from the front lines at the height of El Salvador's civil war -- a beautifully written polemic against U.S. involvement in the affairs of the beleaguered republic.
The Chocolate Tree, A Natural History of Cacao
by Allen M. Young
A rich concoction of cultural and natural history, archaeological evidence, botanical research, environmental activism and lush descriptions of the author's own adventures, The Chocolate Tree offers an appreciation of the plant and the environment that provide us with this Maya food of the gods.
The Massacre at El Mozote: A Parable of the Cold War
by Mark Danner
A reconstruction of a 1981 massacre in El Salvador and the role of the United States.
El Salvador Map
by ITMB
A colorful travel map of El Salvador at a scale of 1:250,000.
Moon El Salvador
by Jaime Jacques
A practical guide in the Moon series, packed not only with travel necessities (hotels, restaurants, sights), but also with a good overview of history and destinations throughout El Salvador.
A Brief History of Central America
by Hector Perez-Brignoll
A good overview of the region’s economic, political and social history through the 1980s by a professor at the University of Costa Rica. Well-written, informative and concise.
The Maya
by Stephen Houston, Michael Coe
Coe's clear, concise, illustrated survey of the Maya highlights their chronology, accomplishments and legacy. Ninth edition.
Forgotten Continent
by Michael Reid
Economist editor Reid draws on his years in the cities, presidential palaces and shantytowns of Central and South America in this portrait of a region rich in oil, farmland and culture, with consideration on its prospects in the face of globalization.
Nature of the Rainforest, Costa Rica and Beyond
by Adrian Forsyth, E.O. Wilson (Introduction), Michael Fogden (Photographer)
Our favorite biologist-writer returns to the Neotropics in this beautifully illustrated, oversized overview of the rainforest. With chapters on Monteverde and Guanacaste, plants, frogs and snakes, birds, monkeys and jaguars, the sloth, peculiar insects and biodiversity. A marvelous, anecdotal introduction to ecology, evolution and conservation.
Neotropical Rainforest Mammals, A Field Guide
by L.H. Emmons
Compact enough to slip into your daypack, this field guide to the mammals of Central and South America features 29 color plates of more than 200 species.
The History of El Salvador
by Christopher M. White
The history of El Salvador's turbulent struggle for political, economic, and civil stability, geared for hisgh school students and undergraduates.
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9 days
8 nights
20 meals
8 B 7 L 5 D
DAY
1
In Transit to Program, Arrive San Salvador, Welcome Dinner
San Salvador
D
Real Intercontinental San Salvador

Activity note: Book flights that arrive into San Salvador no later than 3:00 p.m. on Day 1. Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m.

Afternoon: After checking in at the hotel and getting your room, take some time to freshen up and relax. Orientation 5:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the up-to-date program schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. Meals included in our program feature local cuisine. In some cases, they will be plated and served with a set menu; in others, we will have buffets with multiple options. Included beverages are typically coffee, tea, water; other beverages usually available for purchase. Free time is reserved for your personal independent exploration. Evenings at leisure offer opportunities to make the program more meaningful and memorable through personal independent exploration, attending performances or other events on your own, or simply relaxing and making new friends among fellow Road Scholars. The Group Leader will always be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. We'll also have a presentation by a local expert on the history of El Salvador from the pre-Colombian era to post-Civil War.

Dinner: At a restaurant. We’ll have a 3-course welcome dinner with choice of entrée.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
2
Joya de Cerén, Boquerón Volcano, San Andrés, San Salvador
San Salvador
B,L,D
Real Intercontinental San Salvador

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach throughout the day, walking at field trip sites; generally flat surfaces in town, sidewalks and tiled floors. At Boquerón Park, 80 steps to reach the top; dirt paths. At archaeological sites, mostly flat surfaces, concrete and dirt fields. Wear hiking shoes with a closed heel and toe.

Breakfast: At the hotel, choose what you like from the breakfast buffet with juice, milk, coffee, water.

Morning: This morning we will visit San Salvador and make our way to the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen — Museum of the Word and Image — to learn more about El Salvador’s history and culture. The museum is dedicated to the documentation of the historical memory for peasant communities and also organizes workshops on human rights. Next, we'll board our motorcoach and transfer to the Boquerón Volcano. Our Group Leader will take us on a walk on local paths to a lookout point where we can get good views of the crater.

Lunch: At a local café, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée. Here we’ll also have a tortilla making workshop led by a local expert.

Afternoon: From here we’ll board a motorcoach and we’ll ride to the Joya de Cerén archaeological site — the Pompeii of the Americas — a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves a pre-Hispanic farming village buried by volcanic eruptions in 600 A.D. As the UNESCO inscription states, the exceptional condition of the remains provide an insight into the daily lives of the Central American populations who worked the land at that time. We’ll have a presentation by our Group Leader on the discovery and importance of this site then explore with an expert archaeologist. We’ll move on to the nearby San Andrés archaeological site, relatively small but one of the largest pre-Hispanic sites in El Salvador. It was an agricultural community, a trading center, and a regional capital of the Mayan empire. Our archaeological expert will again lead our exploration.

Dinner: At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check out and transfer tomorrow.

DAY
3
La Libertad, Transfer to Jiquilisco Bay, Turtle Conservation
Jiquilisco Bay
B,L,D
Puerto Barillas Marina and Lodge

Activity note: The drive from La Libertad to Puerto Barillas/Jiquilisco Bay is about 68 miles (110 kilometers), approximately 2.5 hours.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: This morning we’ll go on a walking field trip with our Group Leader to explore historic San Salvador. We’ll gain an appreciation for the country’s capacity for revival at the Metropolitan Cathedral. Since its construction in 1892, the Cathedral has been damaged and rebuilt three times and is viewed as a symbol of the nation's ability to rebuild after tragedy. We’ll also visit El Rosario, the striking Rosary Church, built in 1971 by architect and sculptor Ruben Martinez. This architecturally significant modern structure challenges traditional concepts of ecclesiastical design. The arched exterior consists of a series of concrete “steps.” The interior is completely open, unsupported by columns or beams, with brilliantly colored stained glass embedded in the “steps” of the ceiling as well as the walls. It became a shelter during the Civil War. At the conclusion of our field trip, we’ll return to the hotel to check out. After checking out of the hotel, we’ll take the motorcoach to a market in San Salvador to experience aspects of local life. Next, we’ll ride to the town of La Libertad on the Pacific Coast. In its 19th century heyday, La Libertad shipped balsam, coffee, and indigo to the United States and Europe. It was closed to international commercial traffic in 1976 but remains an important fishing port. At La Libertad, we’ll walk along the pier where fishermen sell their daily catch.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée.

Afternoon: After lunch we’ll head to Jiquilisco Bay. We’ll continue our journey with expert commentary along the way. Once we reach Jiquilisco Bay, we’ll check in to our hotel. The area in and around Jiquilisco Bay is a designated UNESCO biosphere reserve as well as a RAMSAR (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance) site. It boasts the largest concentration of coastal marine birds in the country. At the hotel, we’ll be joined by experts in sea turtle conservation for a presentation on conservation programs.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
4
Boat Ride to Look for Turtles, Cacao Farm, Forest Walk
Jiquilisco Bay
B,L,D
Puerto Barillas Marina and Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a panga boat (with wooden benches and roof). The order of activities for this day depends on the tides and weather for the boating field trip. Based on local nonprofit staff and tight schedule for next day, the lecture may be done on day 3, before or after dinner. Walking through the forest on flat trails of compacted dirt. Bring sunscreen, a hat, bug spray, water, and wear hiking shoes with a closed heel and toe.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated meal with traditional local foods.

Morning: El Salvador is home to the highly endangered Hawksbill sea turtle. Estimates suggest that only 500 female Hawksbill sea turtles remain in the entire Eastern Pacific region, and Jiquilisco Bay is the site of their largest nesting habitat. To see first hand what we’ve learned about, we’ll board a boat and cruise through the bay (weather and tides permitting). With luck, we may see a few of the four species of sea turtles native to El Salvador in their natural environment. Afterwards, we’ll cruise over to La Pirraya Island in Jiquilisco Bay, home to a community of fishermen. Our exploration will be led by members of the community.

Lunch: On La Pirraya, at station operated by a local cooperative, we’ll have modest and basic plated meals with choice of entrée.

Afternoon: Returning to shore, we’ll transfer to a local farm and learn about one of El Salvador's most important up-and-coming crops, cacao. Chocolate in its purest form, cacao is processed from the beans of cacao tree pods. In recent years, cocoa has been identified as a “super food" thanks to its high level of antioxidants and magnesium. Milk and sugar are added to cacao to make it the chocolate we all know and love. It has been prized in Mesoamerican culture for millennia. In 2014, the U.S., Mexico, and El Salvador engaged in a joint project to increase cacao production with the goal of providing Salvadoran farmers a sustainable livelihood. We’ll attend a workshop on growing, harvesting, and processing cacao, and then take part in the process of preparing a drink made from cacao beans. Next, we’ll go on an interpretative forest walk at Jiquilisco Bay with a local farmer. This wetlands biosphere reserve covers 24 square miles with 31 miles of coastline. The Jiquilisco Bay reserve includes mangrove forests, estuaries, sand bars, beaches, islands, fresh water lagoons and seasonally flooded forests. We’ll return to the hotel with time to freshen up and relax before dinner.

Dinner: At the hotel, we’ll enjoy a barbecue, Salvadoran style.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
5
Laguna de Alegría, Transfer to Suchitoto
Suchitoto
B,L
Los Almendros de San Lorenzo

Activity note: The drive from Jiquilisco Bay to Laguna de Alegría is about 28 miles (45 kilometers), approximately 2 hours. The drive from Laguna de Alegría to Suchitoto is about 71 miles (115 kilometers), approximately 2.5 hours. Walking in town approximately 1.5 hours with stops; general level surfaces, steps. At the lagoon, dirt trails that may be muddy with rains, rocks, vegetation. Cobblestones in Suchitoto. Wear hiking shoes with a closed heel and toe.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We’ll check out and depart by motorcoach for Alegría, a charming town more than 4,000 feet (1,240 meters) above sea level. We’ll stop first at the nearby Laguna de Alegría, which is not a lagoon but a filled crater at the top of the Tecapa volcano. Its rich green color is due to sulfur and other volcanic minerals. Nobel Prize winning Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral once called the “Emerald of America.” As we stroll, the Group Leader will discuss the history of the lagoon and the town. We’ll then head into town for a walking field trip to see and appreciate Alegría’s highlights. Its pleasant weather makes it a great place for the growth of exotic flowers and ornamental plants, a major economic resource.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll depart for Suchitoto, a beautiful, historic colonial town with panoramic views of Lake Suchitlan. Suchitoto is often called the cultural capital of El Salvador due to its abundance of art galleries, cultural centers, and shops featuring local handicrafts. After checking in to the hotel and dropping our luggage, we’ll set out on a walking field trip in Suchitoto with our Group Leader.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
6
Indigo Workshop, Cinquera Park
Suchitoto
B,L
Los Almendros de San Lorenzo

Activity note: Aprons/gloves provided for indigo dying but splashing is possible; wear appropriate clothing. At Los Nacimientos, flat dirt terrain. At Cinquera Park, walking about 1.5 miles (2 kilometers), approximately 2 hours; dirt trails, steps going up a hill, possible hot/humid conditions. Wear hiking shoes with a closed heel and toe.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated meal with traditional local foods.

Morning: We’ll set out on our motorcoach for a field trip to the Hacienda Los Nacimientos, the main indigo producer in El Salvador. A certified organic plantation, it also produces and exports products such as hibiscus and cashews to Europe, Central, and South America. The hacienda owner will give us a presentation and we’ll participate in a hands-on indigo production workshop.

Lunch: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll ride to the town of Cinquera. During El Salvador's devastating civil war (1980-1992), the civilian population here evacuated. Those who returned after the war found their homes and town destroyed. With assistance of the Association for Municipal Reconstruction and Development, Cinquera has developed a local economy whose pillars are local employment, sustainability, and cultural and ecological tourism. Our exploration will be led by a former guerilla militant who will share his stories from El Salvador’s wartime past. We’ll return to the hotel with some time to freshen up and relax before dinner.

Dinner: On your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
7
Volcanoes National Park, Pupusas Workshop, Share Smiles
Ataco
B,L
Hotel Mision de Angeles

Activity note: The drive to Volcanoes National Park is about 68 miles (110 kilometers), approximately 2.5 hours. The drive to the Flower Route is about 46 miles (74.5 kilometers), approximately 1.5 hours. Walking in the park on trails, about 2/3 flat, 1/3 with inclines/declines. Wear hiking shoes with a closed heel and toe, a hat, bring water, sunscreen.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out, we’ll board our motorcoach for a field trip to Volcanoes National Park where we’ll take a nature walk with a local park expert and our Group Leader. The altitudes of its three main peaks range from 1,640 feet to 7,808 feet above the sea level. Ilamatepec — Santa Ana Volcano — is the tallest in the country and one of the most active, with an enormous, boiling crater lake in its center. Izalco Volcano is one of the youngest volcanoes in Latin America, “born” in 1770 and has been quite active in the past. Wooded trails encircle Cerro Verde and the mountain forest is home to birds, coffee bushes, and exotic flowers. Next, we’ll travel to a nearby farm home for a workshop on pupusas, the national dish of El Salvador. For thousands of years, corn has played an integral part in sustaining the peoples of Mesoamerica. Pupusas are thick, hand formed cakes made of corn stuffed with either white cheese or ground pork and beans. After the filling has been put inside, the pupusas are grilled and served with curtido, pickled cabbage slaw, and salsa roja, a tomato sauce, for dipping. After seeing how it’s done, we’ll try our hands at making our own pupusas.

Lunch: At the farm, we’ll have a traditional lunch including the pupusas we’ve made.

Afternoon: Continuing at the farm, we’ll engage in a “Share Smiles” activity with children from the community. Share Smiles is a local non-profit organization whose aim is to help children in rural areas complete high school. For 15 years they have provided children in local communities with school supplies, transportation to school, leadership and development programs and English classes. They also offer children exposure to the tourism industry, so that after high school graduation they can benefit from the economic opportunities of a growing industry in their country. We’ll also have a presentation on non-profit work and community development through tourism. We’ll then drive along the Ruta de Las Flores — the Flower Route — a scenic, 22-mile stretch that winds through the Cordillera Apaneca, a volcanic mountain range in western El Salvador. The route gets its name from the variety of flowers that are mostly in towns where they are cultivated. As we ride, we’ll have views mostly of hills, mountains, coffee plantations, surrounding vegetation, and picturesque colonial towns. After late afternoon arrival in Ataco, we’ll check in to our hotel with time to freshen up and relax before dinner.

Dinner: On your own to enjoy what you like.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
8
Loom Workshop, Nahuizalco & Juayua Coffee Farm
Ataco
B,L,D
Hotel Mision de Angeles

Activity note: Transfers via motorcoach, walking on cobblestone streets. Wear closed shoes or sneakers.

Breakfast: At the hotel, we’ll have a plated and served meal.

Morning: We’ll visit a loom workshop in Ataco, one of the few remaining in El Salvador that manufactures textiles in a traditional way. We’ll learn not only about the process this entails, but will also be able to try one of the looms and get to knit part of a working piece. Afterwards, we’ll explore with our Group Leader in Nahuizalco, a town with a concentration of indigenous people descended from the Nahuatl-Pipil, a group that left the Toltecs of Mexico many centuries ago. We’ll visit a Nahuatl-Pipil museum and walk through the town, stopping by a local market to to see aspects of daily life in one of the few remaining indigenous villages in the country. We’ll then ride to Juayua and visit a local church to learn about religion in El Salvador and why Central American natives worshiped a Christ with darker skin.

Lunch: At a local restaurant, we’ll have a plated meal with choice of entrée.

Afternoon: Next, we’ll ride to a coffee plantation to learn from a local expert about coffee and its importance in El Salvador’s culture and economy. Coffee has been called “el grano de oro” — the grain of gold. Coffee production reached its pinnacle 1970-80 when 50% of El Salvador's gross domestic product came from coffee production. With the outbreak of the civil war coffee production dropped dramatically. Since then, there have been efforts to specialize in certain higher-grade types such as “Fair Trade” and green coffee that have helped El Salvador recover in the highly competitive world coffee market. Returning to Ataco, we’ll enjoy a folkloric dance performance by a local group in the main plaza, then walk a few blocks to a restaurant.

Dinner: At the restaurant, we’ll enjoy a farewell dinner together. Share your favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check and out departure in the morning.

DAY
9
Program Conclusion
In Flight
B

Activity note: This program concludes with the group transfer to San Salvador airport. Airport transfer departs at 6:30 a.m., drive time approximately 3 hours (depending on traffic). Independent transfers and other travel arrangements will be at traveler's own expense. We advise scheduling onward flights that depart after 12:30 p.m.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out, we will depart from Ataco about 6:30 a.m. and transfer to the airport in San Salvador. This is the only transfer to the airport and is available for all participants. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Please join our Facebook page and share photos of your program. Visit us at www.facebook.com/rsadventures. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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