Suchitoto, El Salvador

Photo: Los Almendros de San Lorenzo

Some people go to Central America for rainforest-covered volcanoes. Others are in search of black-sand beaches and their surfable waves. You have a different focus. You’re obsessed with colonial cities.

You’ve traveled to Antigua, Guatemala; Granada, Nicaragua; and Panama City, Panama for colorful architecture, cobblestone roads, and historic churches. They were built by the Spanish, left to crumble after each country gained its independence, and eventually protected and restored to varying degrees. They’re now some of the most charming spots in Central America.

Unfortunately, charming usually means crowded. All of these cities are among the most popular spots in their countries. So it’s time to look beyond the usual suspects. It’s time to explore El Salvador.

Suchitoto lies one hour northeast of San Salvador, the small country’s capital. The little city was already inhabited when the Spanish arrived. They added brightly colored townhouses, a church with an elaborately carved altar, and (briefly) made it the capital of Cuscatlán, El Salvador’s smallest department. It sits on the south shore of Lake Suchitlán, an artificial lake that was formed in the mid-1970s when the Cerrón Grande Hydroelectric Dam flooded the area and created wetlands for migrating birds. Suchi flourished until the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s. A thriving art scene and the revival of traditional indigo dyeing are now starting to turn Suchi into the cultural capital of El Salvador.

Your visit to Suchi starts at Los Almendros de San Lorenzo. The 200-year-old building used to be a sugar-cane hacienda with a central courtyard, gurgling fountains, and tropical gardens. After being neglected for years, the dilapidated mansion was purchased by a world-traveling couple. They kept the wooden columns, the high ceilings, and the tiled floors. They added vintage furniture, a gourmet restaurant, and tons of Salvadoran art. Art and travel books, plus an antique piano, fill the library. The patio is overflowing with plants. Plus gin and tonics are served around the blue-tiled pool. It’s the romantic, boutique hotel that every colonial city should have. But the best part is that few people know about it—or Suchi—yet.

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