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Category Nicaragua El Salvador

Fast Facts


AMERICAN EXPRESS See the indi­vidual “Planning Your Trip” chapters, chapters 5 and 14, for info.

AREA CODES The country code for El Salvador is 503; the country code for Nicaragua is 505. Country codes are not required when making calls within the country.


“Money” sections throughout individual destination chapters for info.

BUSINESS HOURS In Nicaragua, banks are generally open weekdays from 8:30am to 4pm, and some are open on Saturday mornings. Shopping hours are weekdays from 8am to noon and 2 to 5pm and Saturday 8am to noon. Shopping centers are open daily from 10am to 8pm...

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Border Crossing

The Guatemalan border is a 30-minute ride north of Metapan. Buses leave every 30 minutes to the border crossing at Ahguiatu and cost 50C. The immi­gration office is open 24 hours, and it costs nothing to leave El Salvador or enter Guatemala. Here you can catch a 1-hour bus ride to Chiquimula with onward connections to Guatemala City and Copa Ruinas in Honduras.

If you have the time, and the stomach, you can cross into Honduras via the border town of Citala-El Poy, 3 hours east of Metapan. There are only two buses daily at 5am and noon, and the trip costs $2. The trip is spectacular as you cross the mountains on an unpaved road, driving through dense forests and over high ridges, but it is not for the fainthearted, as the bus is old and rickety and the precipices high and vertigo inducing...

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Three countries converge at the cloud-forested summit of Cerro Montecristo. This bor­der triumvirate of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is an isolated and hard to reach

national park. It is one of the country’s few remaining pieces of pristine jungle, excellent

for hiking, camping, and bird-watching. The scruffy cowboy town of Metapan is its

gateway and also the best jumping-off point to explore the serene Lago de Guija to the

southwest. Metapan is also the beginning of a rough and marvelous mountain road that

leads to the town of Citala-El Poy on the Honduran border.


46km (29 miles) N of Santa Ana

Metapan is a scruffy, medium-size city in El Salvador’s far northwest corner that serves as a good base for trips to the beautiful Parque Montecristo cloud forest and to the...

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Natural Disasters

El Salvador hasn’t had much luck over the last decade when it comes to natural disasters, including Hurricane Mitch, which stalled over Central America in October and early November 1998. The hurricane’s historic rainfalls caused flooding in El Salvador that killed 374 people and rendered more than 55,000 homeless. The hurricane was also a huge economic setback since it caused major losses to agricultural harvests and road damage due to mudslides, and almost completely destroyed El Salvador’s entire eastern region.

Mitch was followed 3 years later by two massive earthquakes on January 13 and February 13, 2001, which measured 7.6 and 6.6 on the Richter scale...

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18km (11 miles) S of Santa Ana; 56km (35 miles) W of San Salvador

Lago de Coatepeque, an almost perfectly round crater-lake that is 740m (2,428 ft.) above sea level, is one of El Salvador’s most beautiful and enjoyable getaways. The deep blue lake is a short drive from Santa Ana, which means it’s an easy day trip from that town— but it’s really worth staying a couple of days here to enjoy all its attractions; the 23-sq.-km (9-sq.-mile) pristine lake is ideal for swimming, fishing, riding watercraft, and simply soaking in beautiful views.

Lago Coatepeque was formed thousands of years ago by the eruption of the nearby ancient volcano, the Coatepeque Caldera...

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Border Crossing

The Guatemalan border is only 1 hour away, and Santa Ana is the last major town on the way. The border crossing is at San Cristobal and is open 24 hours. Bus no. 236 leaves every 20 minutes from Santa Ana from 5:30am to 9pm and costs 50C. The Especial buses are much more comfortable and go all the way to Guatemala City, taking 4 hours and costing $12.

3a Calle Poniente, btw. Av. Sur and Av. Jose Matias Delgado. & 503/2447-8865. Fax 503/2447-0456.

hotel_sahara@yahoo. com. 30 units. $44-$58 double. Rates include full breakfast. AE, DC, DISC, MC, V.

Amenities: Restaurant. In room: A/C, TV, Wi-Fi.

Tolteka Plaza ★ Tolteka is Santa Ana’s most modern and luxurious hotel option.

The rooms are larger than you might expect, and the hotel offers a rare-outside-San –

Salvador water-heating system (r...

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Santa Ana’s main attractions are its Gothic-style cathedral, old world—style theater, and the nearby Maya ruins of Tazumal. Many also visit simply to stock up on supplies at the city’s modern grocery store before heading north to the Parque Montecristo (p. 341). In addition to these major attractions, you may also wish to take a peek at these notable buildings: The Centro de Arte Occidental (& 503/2447-6045), opposite the Santa Ana theater, once housed an art museum, but now offers arts classes to local children. You can poke around the mildly interesting building for free if you ask at the front desk. Also on the square is the Palacio Municipal, which is Santa Ana’s town hall and is usu­ally filled with folks standing in line to do all the things one does at city hall...

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Defining MS-13

Throughout your trip in El Salvador, you’ll likely hear the word "Mara" whis­pered in conversation, as if Maras are boogeymen. And in a way, they are. "Mara" refers to El Salvador’s internationally notorious street gang Mara Sal – vatrucha or "MS-13." The name has a few meanings, depending on the person telling the story. Some people think the name hails from a combination of the words "Marabunta," which is the name of a fighting ant, and "Trucha," which means "cleverness." Others believe the name is derived from "Mara," meaning gang, and "Salvatrucha," referring to El Salvador’s guerrilla fighters.

Whatever the origins of its name may be, MS-13 has transformed itself into one of the world’s deadliest gangs, with chapters throughout the United States and Latin America...

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Santa Ana & Northwestern El Salvador

Dark volcanic cones, rolling green

hills, and tidy coffee farms are what char­acterize the northwest of El Salvador, the capital of which is the bustling provincial city known as Santa Ana. Without doubt the country’s most pleasant large city, Santa Ana has some fine architecture and interesting colonial features, yet it is not a great destination in itself. Instead, it is the gateway to the gorgeous lakeside play­ground known as Lago de Coatepeque, a deep blue volcanic pool that is the lakeside holiday residence of the country’s great and good—thankfully they left a little of the shore for day trippers. Parque Nacio­nal Los Volcanes is just as its sounds, a cone dotted park with one summit that became known as the “lighthouse of the Pacific” to passing sailors in the 19 th cen­tury...

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El Restaurante de Mama y Papa ★ (Value SALVADORAN This small, laid-back joint half a block or so from the hostel of the same name has no written menu, but Mama has the ingredients to fix you up pretty much whatever comfort food you crave. For lunch or dinner, usually she’ll prepare a variety of roasted chicken with french fries or tacos, hamburgers, or hot dogs for around $5. For breakfast, she might cook you a big omelet with whatever veggies are available that day, or a large traditional breakfast of eggs, cream, cheese, beans, and fruit for $6. Beer is just $1, and they usually stay open later to accommodate any late-night drinkers.

10a Calle Poniente and Av. Cuscatlan Sur, near the Hostal de Mama y Papa. & 503/2417-4268. Main courses $4-$6; breakfast $3. No credit cards...

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