El Salvador is situated at what was the southernmost boundary of the Maya territory. And, though the country does not possess ruins as large or well-known as Chichen Itza in Mexico or Tikal in Guatemala, there are still lots of fascinating and less-crowded archaeological sites on Salvadoran soil. Here are a few of the best.
Home to about 12,000 inhabitants during its heyday between the fifth and ninth centuries, this once-powerful settlement served as a regional capital for the Maya; it was later inhabited by the Pipil people. San Andrés is a 45-minute drive from San Salvador and just 10–15 minutes from Joya de Cerén, making it possible to explore both sites in a single day.
Joya de Cerén
Located about an hour north of San Salvador, this Maya site, which was buried in ash and debris following a volcanic eruption in AD 595, is known as the “Pompeii of the Americas.” Though the site is not particularly large, it is remarkably well-preserved with lots of domestic structures offering insight into the day-to-day life of the Maya. No bodies were found here, indicating the inhabitants had enough time to flee prior to the eruption.
Nestled in Chalchuapa in the north of El Salvador, the Tazumal site is believed to have first been settled as far back as 5000 BC, though the excavated ruins date from between AD 100 and 1200. Once an important trading center for the Maya, Tazumal features tombs and several pyramids, as well as an on-site museum displaying artifacts uncovered here.
Just a 5-minute drive from Tazumal, the small Casa Blanca site features a series of Maya ruins dating from between 200 BC and AD 250, including two excavated pyramids. The peaceful woodland setting makes it an attractive stop, while the proximity to Tazumal means the two sites can be easily visited during one day.