When we moved to Latin America one of the things that we most looked forward to, in addition to living in a new country, was the opportunity to explore other countries in the region. In fact, one of the reasons that we chose to live in Central America was proximity and ease of access to other countries (whereas in South American one can spend 2 days on a bus just to get to another country). Bordering on 4 other countries (Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras for those that are a little behind on their Central American geography), Guatemala is a great base for exploring the region.
Recently we took advantage of a long weekend to head to El Salvador. It turns out that our house to El Salvador is the same distance as New York to Boston, though the highways aren't quite as good and the scenery is better. Since El Salvador isn't very big (a little bit smaller than Massachusetts), one can really see a lot there in a short amount of time. And with 6,000 foot volcanic peaks within 45 minutes of beautiful beaches there is plenty to see.
We started off by driving the Ruta de Flores, a road that winds through the mountains connecting small, picturesque villages. After a lovely night's stay at the Hotel Casa Blanca (complete with the movie poster in the lobby) in Ahuachapán, we went to check out the bubbling pools and steaming rocks in the region, which provide 15% of El Salvador's electricity through geothermal sources. We tried to visit a power plant, but the guard informed us we could only come in if we had an appointment made in advance or had a "friend or relative that works here". Based on those strict guidelines and the sign out front saying the last accident had been 15 days ago (the all time record for time without an accident is one year), we decided maybe it was better to skip it anyway. So we paid the woman down the street 50 cents to go see the mud pits in her (smelly) back yard:
After lunch in the town of Juayua which had many of its buildings decorated with interesting murals:
Driving through the wicker furniture capital of the region (we didn't get any despite Jed's attempts to convince Meg that it would definitely fit in the car and surely wouldn't pose any customs problems), we drove past the beautiful crater lake of Coatepeque en route to Santa Ana.
When we were originally thinking about where to live in Latin America, Santa Ana had been high on our list of possible places. We decided on Guatemala early in our scouting trip and thus never had the chance to visit Santa Ana. After seeing Santa Ana we were happy that we'd decided to live in Xela instead. While Santa Ana is perfectly nice, it feels dirtier and more hectic than Xela without as big a colonial core or as picturesque surroundings.
Then it was off to the coast, where we encountered a lovely beach resort at the end of a very long dirt road. Backed by a river and fronted by the ocean it was very beautiful and a great place to go for a kayak in the mangroves and boogy boarding in the ocean in the same day.