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Destination El Salvador

Hispanic Suchitoto: Flower and Flight

Suchitoto, a town in El Salvador, knows the value of art and popular culture. It is a thriving destination for sustainable tourism thanks to its exquisite colonial architecture.

 Text and Photos: Gladys Arosemena Bissot

The morning is warm. At this time of year the soft rays of the sun have a kindness that invites leisurely walks. The street is cobblestoned; each stone is a product of a colonial heritage tinted with the blending of races, inviting hikers to get lost in the corners of a town that is rich in history, but which firmly embraces a prosperous present.

You have to experience, savor, and walk the streets of Suchitoto to truly know it…. A few minutes are enough to understand why this Salvadoran town is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The colonial style of its buildings have been so well preserved that they travel from the eye to the soul like a dream.

Throughout its history, Suchitoto has endured several fires that have destroyed its traditional thatched buildings, a construction style vulnerable to the sparks generated by the harsh tropical sun. The original structures succumbed to the fires, but like the Phoenix, a new dawn came. For example, at the Church of Santa Lucía, a national monument, the original straw was replaced with masonry, porcelain plates (strategically arranged to reflect the moonlight at night), rounded arches, and Ionic columns.

In front of the church, the benches of Central Park invite visitors to pause. Clearly, this is a meeting place for locals, who sit sheltered by the canopies of trees that fan their conversations. It’s impossible not to fall in love with this place where face-to-face conversations are appreciated more than the unbridled virtual tendencies of our daily lives. The quiet, respectfully interrupted by craftsmen offering their works to tourists, is a tradition in this town.

Gradually, I find picturesque spots where everything seems to come together. The time for having coffee has arrived and Casa de la Abuela seems to be the perfect place to have a cup and sample the traditional pupusas. This is a real treat, but the adjoining handicrafts shop is a temptation that can’t wait. The store was created as a sustainable tourism project by artisans who had no place to offer their products. Thanks to the initiative, today you can buy handicrafts from La Palma and Ilobasco, textiles from San Sebastián, and ceramics from Guatajiagua in one place at amazingly affordable prices. Everything here invites you to stop: the colonial house, the strategically arranged objects, and the restaurant tables.

I resume my walk. Adobe homes line the streets and, on almost every one, there is a striking symbol: a bluebird flying serenely over the flowers. The bluebird, which forms part of the city’s coat of arms, represents calm in difficult times. However, in Suchitoto everything takes on a new meaning. So, every house has a delicate bird flying over the fragility of the flowers, a sign that this is a space free of violence against women.

Several doors are open. During the Christmas season, it’s common to display traditional objects. Many houses display the Three Kings, all with black faces, which are prized collectibles today. The legs of the camels, made with nails, are an element that allows us to see how Salvadorans create crafts from everyday objects.

Suchitoto has managed, over the years, to become an excellent tourist destination. However, one of the town’s most important goals has been to use art and culture to promote youth development. The Association for Art and Development (Asociación de Arte para el Desarrollo) is a good example, sponsored by prestigious Canadian entities such as the Stratford Festival. Young people of various ages study performing arts at this venue, keeping them away from gangs.

When talking to these kids, who graciously offer me traditional clams as a light dinner, I feel the moment has arrived to say goodbye. I return to the cobblestoned street, this time at dusk and with a renewed sense of hope. In El Salvador, in a town that has endured hard times, there is still a chance for a better future. Suchitoto is a shining example, which today and always, is appreciated.

 


 

Getting There

Suchitoto is just twenty-nine miles from San Salvador. Take the Pan-American Highway, where a bridge allows access to the road that connects San Miguel with Suchitoto. The safest option is to hire a taxi, but you can take a bus from the Terminal Oriente of San Salvador on Route 129. Buses depart every fifteen minutes.

Where to Stay

Most people visit during the day, due to its proximity to the city of San Salvador. However, there are options for hostels and hotels, available at www.suchitoto-el-salvador.com.

Areas of Interest

Casa de la Abuela (coffee, petit hotel, and handicraft shop). It offers trips to nearby sites.

Tel. (503) 2335 1632.

Municipal Tourism Office. Located next to the Plaza Centenario. Tel. (503) 2235 1782.

Plaza Centenario, in front of the Church of Santa Lucía. It has a permanent craft fair.