Last updated: 12:22 PM ET, Tue November 03 2015

Exploring El Salvador’s Route Náhuatl-Pipil

Destination & Tourism | El Salvador Tourism | Kristina Rundquist | November 02, 2015

Exploring El Salvador’s Route Náhuatl-Pipil

PHOTO: The Maya ruins of Tazumal, considered the most important and best preserved in El Salvador, are in the town of Chalchuapa. (Photo courtesy of El Salvador Tourism)

For travelers looking to learn more about the indigenous people of El Salvador and their culture, the Route Náhuatl-Pipil offers the ideal itinerary.

Winding through six of the Sonsonate region's most picturesque villages, travelers will be able to experience for themselves the area’s vibrant history and culture.

The journey starts in Santo Domingo de Guzman, also the jumping off point for the Red Clay Trail, so named because of the town's deep-rooted tradition of making pottery. There, visitors can explore some well-known workshops and see how today's artisans follow centuries-old practices to create stunning comales (the unique clay plates used to make tortillas and pupusas over an open fire), cups, vases and more. Those wanting to try their hand may even be able to work the clay for themselves. Not far from the village center are several famous waterfalls – the Escuco, which locals believe to be a mystical spot, the Tepechapa and La Quebrada – all within an easy walk from each other and the town center.

Next stop is San Antonio del Monte, where for centuries inhabitants have earned their livings making stunning pottery and candles. The area is also known for its traditional use of local aromatic and medicinal plants. It’s here that modern-day meets mysticism. Travelers in search of a more spiritual experience will find their bliss in one of the region’s famed temazcals, or adobe sweat lodges. Originally, use of these lodges was thought to purify the body after battle, and today they are still widely used throughout the region to cleanse the mind, body and spirit.

From there, travel to Nahuizalco, the "place of the four Izalcos," where craftsmen use the same methods in effect since the colonial times to create stunning rattan baskets and vases, lamps and other products from wood, seeds and palms. Many of the women in Nahuizalco still wear the refajo, a native dress made of a double length of tie-dyed cloth worn over a wrap skirt. The village is perhaps best known for its night markets, selling all manner of products made from wicker and tule (a type of rush), as well as for the fact that even today its streets are lit only by candles. Other must-sees are the Nahuatl Pipil Museum and the Las Golondrinas Waterfalls.

Continue on to Izalco, a magical city full of myths and legends, with trails that lead to the volcano that bears its name. Located on the side of the Santa Ana volcano, the Izalco volcano erupted almost continuously from 1770 to 1966, earning it the moniker “Lighthouse of the Pacific." The village is perhaps best known as the site of a 1932 uprising by the indigenous community.

In Cuisnahuat, visit the18th-century baroque church, where the Fiesta de San Judas takes place. The town is also known for its colorful Topa of Cumpas festival that takes place every July 23, commemorating the pre-Columbian tradition where the villagers would travel to the mountain town of Jayaque to exchange gifts for medicinal plants.

Another stop along the route is San Julian. Known by its indigenous name Cacaluta (City of crows), San Julian is known for its ecotourism and the famous balsam tours, where visitors can learn how the pain-relieving balm is extracted for use in fragrances and cosmetic and medical preparations.

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