Jinotepe

Historically separated from its eternal rival by the R o Grande de Carazo (which is predictably too polluted for swimming, but worth a wander if you're here), proudly Nicarao Jinotepe is the capital of Carazo and the most city-like of any town this side of Masaya. Bancentro Right on the parque central, has a Visa Plus ATM. Cyberland (per hr US 0.70) Internet caf s are everywhere, but Cyberland, next to Pizza to Go, is fast and comfortable. Intur ( 412 0298 carazo intur.gob.ni) Conveniently...

Getting There Around

Most buses leave from the main bus terminal (10a Av Sur at 15a Calle Pte), is socked in on all sides by market stalls it takes buses at least 15 minutes just to get through the congestion. A few buses leave from outlying stops, mostly around El Tri ngulo, a busy triangular intersection a block west of the terminal. Bus 248 to Parque Nacional Los Volc nes leaves from La Vencedora bus terminal ( 2440 8453), a block west of Parque Col n. Remember that, in order to make the 11am guided hikes (see...

Boaco

It calls itself 'The City with Two Floors,' because two communities, each with its own beautiful church, have grown together from the hill and valley, intersecting in such a way that it could be better named 'The City of Stunning Views.' The town sprawls into the shallower valley to the south (the 'lower floor') and continues to grow. And to the north and west the upper floor is perched at the edge of a 400m drop into the deeper and more beautiful valley below. But more than anything, Boaco is...

Boulevard de los Hroes

The best food here is on Calle San Antonio Abad, which is convenient if you're staying at one of the hotels on 35th Ave, but somewhat of a hike if you're at one of the hostels. In that case, swallow your pride and head to chain outlets in or around the malls for something quick. Comedor y Pupuser a La Ceiba (Map p322 2208 0344 Calle San Antonio Abad 721 mains US 1.50-3 h breakfast, lunch & dinner Mon-Sat) A cheap no-frills eatery that is fairly convenient. Expect comida a la vista for...

Around San Miguel Quelepa

Located 8km north of San Miguel are the Ru nas de Quelepa, a ceremonial center that was inhabited by the Lencas between the 2nd and 7th centuries AD. An archaeological team from Tulane University excavated the site between 1949 and 1959 and found objects like fine clay pottery, figurines with wheels, and tools, which revealed advanced artistic activities, as well as trading with indigenous groups in Mexico, Honduras and Belize. Unfortunately, the ruins were buried again to prevent looting....

Sights Activities City Center

A wander through central San Salvador (known to everyone as 'el centro) can feel like a descent into the maelstrom, with crowds pushing through sprawling markets, music blaring from every direction and buses zig-zagging around at breakneck speed. But you'll soon get your bearings, and if you like cities you'll appreciate the center's gritty vitality. Beyond the setting, there are some genuinely interesting things to see here, not the least of which is the tomb of Archbishop Romero, in the lower...

Diriamba

Already a bustling Chorotega town when the Spanish arrived, Diriamba has a reputation for the revolutionary (Cacique Diriang n's sculpture welcomes you to town), as well as some truly terrible roads. It was also, as architecture buffs will note, an early benefactor of the coffee boom, and remains the repository of some fairly spectacular European-style architecture from the late 19th century and early 1900s - and check out that clock tower. Museo Ecol gico Tr pico Seco ( 534 2129 museoeco...

San Jos de los Remates

Impossibly scenic, peacefully pastoral and light years from anything you're used to, San Jos de los Remates has relatively easy access to Reserva Natural Cerro Cumaica-Cerro Alegre, and probably the country's best developed, most easily accessible, experiment in alternative tourism. Begin at the alcald a ( 542 2359 geosan jose yahoo.com, geosanjose hotmail.com), where the youthful mayor Jorge Isaacs and his team of fresh-faced government officials have put together six different one-day tourist...

Sight Activities

Also known as Gruta de Corinto, Gruta de Espiritu Santo (admission free h 9am-4pm Tue-Sun) is the city's main tourist attraction and an important archaeological site. The gruta (cavern) is a large overhanging cliff (40m by 5m), where several dozen pictographs are painted on the rock face. (Pictographs are paintings, as opposed to petroglyphs, which are engravings.) The paintings use red, yellow and brown paint, and depict animals like deer, turtles, spiders, crabs and birds. Some also show...

Lagunas De Xilo Apoyeque

Half a dozen crater lakes lie near Managua. The best for swimming is Laguna de Xilo , on the Pen nsula de Chiltepe, about 20km northwest of Managua off the ro ad to Le n. Xilo is also suitable for windsurfing and diving, with clear waters holding at least 15 endemic species. Though crowded on weekends, the lagoon remains quite peaceful during the week. It's a steep 30-minute hike from Laguna de Xilo to less accessible but more picturesque Laguna de Apoyeque, deep within a steep crater. Small...

Lago De Apansasturias

The third largest body of water in Nicaragua is artificial, formed in 1964 when the Mancotal dam was built on the R o El Tuma, just 6km north of Jinotega. It's actually two lakes, much larger Lago de Apen s (54 sq km) and its smaller, northern brother, Lago Asturias (3 sq km), and they are locally known for producing some of the best guapote in the country, on sale at lots of rickety-looking rancheros lining the lakeshore. If you'd prefer to catch your own, fishermen will take you out on the...

La Libertad

Many people think of El Salvador as dangerous and chaotic. For 90 of the country, it's a bogus reputation, but for La Libertad, it's pretty accurate. And, as it happens, La Libertad is the one place in El Salvador that receives a steady flow of foreign visitors, so the negative stereotype is constantly being reinforced. La Libertad does have flashes of gritty vitality - the market, early-morning s urfers, lone fishermen plying the rocky shoreline - but the overall atmosphere is that of a grimy...

Las Peitas

When people say they're headed to Poneloya, they usually mean the lazy beach town of Las Pe itas, a wide, sandy stretch fronted by a fine collection of hotels and restaurants. It offers the easiest access to the turtles and mangroves of Reserva Natural Isla Juan Venado (p176) , and there's also good, if not spectacular, surfing here, with smallish regular waves that are perfect for beginners. Both Barco de Oro and Hotelito Oasis, as well as Big Foot Hostel (www .bigfootadventure.com) in Le n...

Zona Monumental Malecn

This quiet collection of pre-earthquake and postrevolutionary monuments, pretty parks, museums and government offices was once the pulsing heart of Managua the malec n (pier), a pleasant stroll from the Zona Monumental, once overlooked a living lake lined with restaurants and festivities. Then came the 1972 earthquake, and two decades of war and privation, and the center was all but abandoned. But slowly - little by little, as they say in Nicaragua - it is being resuscitated. Government...

Little Corn Island

This tiny isleta, as it's also known, is thickly jungled at its heart and fringed in lovely, deserted white-sand beaches interspersed with rocky coves lining the eastern shore. In the center of the island a climbable tower affords fine panoramic views of the tiny settlements below, shaded with palms and mangoes. Don't let the tranquillo vibe lure you into complacency, however. Big-city security rules definitely apply watch your stuff, watch your back and travel in groups, especially at night....

Sleeping Eating

Posada de Reyes ( 2335 9318 Calle Municipal r with without air-con US 25 20 ) A welcome surprise, the Posada de Reyes is a colonial-style hotel with a lush garden and a well-maintained pool, one block north of the main plaza. Guests choose from 10 comfortable rooms, each with high ceilings, tile floors, two full-size beds and bathroom. Hot water and cable TV are welcome amenities, especially for the price. It's one of the best-value options around. Posada San Ignacio ( 2352 9419 Main Plaza,...

Sandino the Somoza Dynasty

The Liberals mounted a noble, if ineffective, resistance to the US occupation, which wilted completely in the late 1920s. But Sandino - by now commander of his own personal army - continued fighting. Although domestic pressure forced the US It's a cliche to accuse Nashville, Tennessee-born William Walker of a Napoleon complex - at 5ft 2in he'd suffered childhood taunts of 'missy' while caring for his ailing mother. His social life thus lacking, by age 22 he spoke several languages and had...

Index

Ruinas de Quelepa (ES) 429 Ruinas de San Andr s (ES) 356 San Juan del Sur (N) 148-55, 151 Tola (N) 133-6 Masachapa (N) 88-90 Montelimar (N) 90 to from El Salvador 462-4, 478 to from Nicaragua 290, 478 within El Salvador 464-5 within Nicaragua 292-4 Bush, George HW 31 business hours El Salvador 455 Nicaragua 283 Camoapa (N) 241-2 canoeing, see boating Capilla Medalla Milagrosa (ES) 424 car travel 480-2 safety 474 to from El Salvador 464 to from Nicaragua 290 within El Salvador 465 within...

Walk Maderas 35km Ometepe

Many of Ometepe's tourist attractions are hard to find or even a bit dangerous - take that active volcano, for example. Sometimes it's just worth hiring a guide. A handful of Moyogalpa-based tour companies have offices near the ferry terminal, but hotels can arrange almost any tour for you. You should almost always tip your guide. See also Tours, p141. N huatl-speaking colonists came because their legends foretold an island with two (ome) peaks (tepetl) gently smoking Concepci n (1610m) and...

Good morning Good afternoon Good evening night

Buenas noches. o-ia (inf) bwe-nos dee-as bwe-nas tar-des bwe-nas no-ches The three most common greetings are often abbreviated to simply buenos (for buenos d as) and buenas (for buenas tardes and buenas noches). (used before a request or when apoiogizing) (used before a request or when apoiogizing)

Parque Nacional Montecristoel Trifinio

At the top of Cerro Montecristo - 2418m above sea level - the borders of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala all converge at a point called El Trifinio. All three countries have designated their respective wedge's protected areas - on the Salvadoran side Parque Nacional Montecristo-El Trifinio is one of the country's most spectacular natural areas, an isolated and pristine cloud forest with excellent hiking and camping options. This is the most humid region in the country, with 2000mm annual...

Information

BOOKSTORES & LIBRARIES Librar a Don Quijote (Calle Central Rub n Dar o h 8 30am-6pm Mon-Sat, 9am-1pm Sun) Load up on lefty texts or dog-eared paperbacks (some in English, German and French) at this quaint used bookstore. Casa Cultural de Subtiava (Iglesia San Juan Bautista 2c norte h 8am-noon & 2-5pm Mon-Fri) Look for the faded mural at the headquarters for area indigenous communities and home to Museo Adi ct, in Subtiava. La Casa de Cultura ( 311 2116 Iglesia Merced 2c oeste h Mon-Fri)...

Playa San Diego Km

Four kilometers east of La Libertad, Playa San Diego is a long, broad swath of flat, gray sand, backed by private homes that are empty most of the week. There are two roads parallel to the beach - a dirt road closest to the water and a paved road a block inland. Both end at La Bocana, where two rivers empty in the ocean, forming the San Diego estuary. There, a gaggle of restaurants compete mightily for your business, offering cheap beer and fish plates. The estuary is popular for swimming and...

Surfing

El Salvador has arguably the best surfing in Central America, and is among the top spots in the world. Punta Roca, an awesome right-hand point break, and the country's best wave, is in Puerto La Libertad (p396), a short drive due south from San Salvador. Punta Roca can get busy, but west of La Libertad are a string of world-class waves with very little traffic, especially midweek. A number of small beachside communities have surfer lodges, which many foreigners prefer to La Libertad proper...

Los Cobanos

A series of small coves and bays have western El Salvador's best beaches - with thick beige (almost white) sand hemmed in by large rocky points. Los Cobanos also has El Salvador's best diving, around the only major coral formation on the American side of the Pacific Ocean. It's not a reef, but thousands of rocky heads, covered in coral. And where did the rocks come from From the sky, scattered like birdseed during a long-ago volcanic eruption. To get here, take bus 257 from Sonsonate The...

Playa Pie de Gigante

This glorious white crescent of sand snuggled into the wildly forested mountains is almost worth the 7km hike from the bus stop, but consider taking a taxi. Playa Pie de Gigante has long been famed for cheap lobster, best enjoyed with a servicio of rum at one of the ramshackle seaside restaurants, and great surfing. The popular sandy beach break right in front of 'town' gets hollow and fun when conditions are perfect, and has reliable peaks year-round. There's an endless tube about 45 minutes...

Ocotal To Jalapa

The smooth 65km paved road into the alpine loveliness of Jalapa traverses beautiful mountains holding any number of interesting sites, most easily accessible with a guide or your own vehicle. This is the heart of the Segovias, so count on spur roads to be 4WD only in rainy season. Buses from Ocotal serve most of these locations several times daily. About 3km north of Ocotal, Mozonte is most famously home to Colectivo de Artesan as de Mozonte (ceramics collective h 8am-5pm), where you can watch...

Corral de Mulas

Deserted beaches and a peek into smalltown Salvadoran life have long been the main attractions here. An ambitious tourism development project was underway at the time of research it was scheduled to be completed in 2007. The area will remain a work in progress, of course, and a certain amount of uncertainty is part of the appeal. Corral de Mulas has several parts, all stretched along the peninsula. El Icaco is a small caser o (outlying neighborhood) where most of the tourism-related development...

Orientation Information

Most of Bluefields' commerce, hospedajes and restaurants are found in a nine-square-block area between Parque Reyes and the Caribbean. The airport is about 3km south of downtown. There are several banks unofficial moneychangers are found near the banks. Bancentro With a Visa Plus ATM. Central Computer Service (per hr US 1 h 9am-10pm) Around the corner from Intur, this is just one cybercaf of several. Intur ( 822 0221) One block west of the Moravian church, this helpful outlet can make...

Big Corn Island

Bigger and more urbane (this is, of course, all relative), Big Corn makes a good choice for people who want more upscale accommodations and more island to explore on bicycle or on foot. You'll arrive at the small town of Brig Bay, and while there's OK swimming and lodging right here, there are many more options around the island, with some of the most secluded beaches stretched between the North End and Southwest Bay. Collective taxis cost US 0.70 per person regardless of distance traveled, and...

Playa El Espino

Long considered one of the best beaches in the country, Playa El Espino was for many years one of the most isolated as well, reachable only by a rough two-hour truck ride. But with the road freshly paved and frequent bus service from Usulut n, it's become a hot 'new' spot, with decent hotels and a nice beach drawing a large weekend crowd. On weekdays the place is practically empty. The road to Playa El Espino dead-ends at the beach and a small cluster of hotels and day spots. About 50m before...

Sights Activities

Other than the fabulous river views, the attractions here are scant there's the oddly constructed Iglesia San Rafael, while the rather barren parque central has the requisite war monument - but here, it's for fallen Contras. The town's top attraction is a 10-minute walk along dirt roads curving away from the river just ask anyone for the fabulous Dr Dionisio Melgara Brown and his Museo Auka Tangki (brownmelgara hotmail.com donations accepted daily), across from INKA. The small but informative...

Reserva Natural Estero Padre Ramos

A few minutes north of Los Zorros is the community of Padre Ramos, one of 16 small towns inside the federally protected wetlands of Reserva Natural Estero Padre Ramos. The river delta is part of the largest remaining mangrove forests in Central America, and is key in the proposed Reserva Biologica Golfo de Fonseca (Gulf of Fonseca Biological Corridor), a wetlands conservation agreement between Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. The ranger station in Padre Ramos offers access to a boats-only...

Santana

The only way to walk to three of the prettiest beaches around - Playa Dorada, Playa Escondida and Playa Rosada - is if you're a guest or resident of plush Rancho Santana ( 887 4343 www.ranchosantana.com d US 80, casitas US 150, house US 250, 7th night free). Easily the most successful resort village on the block, it's got clubhouses, rental homes, pools, horses, tennis courts, a helipad and more. Fully furnished casitas have two bedrooms houses have up to four (maximum two people per bedroom),...

Golfo De Fonseca

The Gulf of Fonseca is a stunning inlet with lush volcanic islands, small fishing villages and black-sand beaches. Sailed first by a European - Gil Gonz lez de vila - in 1522, it soon became a haven for pirates. In fact, they terrorized the villages so often during the 16th and 17th centuries, that the Spanish crown, unable to protect the gulf, forced islanders to leave altogether. The area was not resettled until the 20th century. Today the 1810 sq km gulf is shared by El Salvador, Honduras...

El Castillo

You've already seen so much beauty by the time you round that last curve on the mighty R o San Juan, tucked-in egrets hung from the misty morning jungle like lanterns on either side, that it's hard to imagine what might yet leave you in awe. Then you'll hear the roar of Raudal El Diablo (Devil's Rapids), bane of pirates for five centuries and nature's own announcement of this postcard-perfect Spanish fortress atop an emerald-green hill, weathered rock hewn into ancient arches that will forever...

Catarina San Juan de Oriente Niquinohomo Masatepe and San Marcos US hours am to pm every minutes

Granada US 0.80, 40 minutes, 5am to 6pm, every 20 minutes Laguna de Apoyo rim US 0.35, 20 minutes, 5am to 5pm, every 20 minutes bottom US 0.70, 30 minutes, 5 30am, 10 30am and 3 30pm Managua US 0.50, one hour, 4 30am to 5 10pm, every 20 minutes MASAYA & MESETA ARTS & CRAFTS Let's face it you didn't come to Masaya for the food. This is where you can find artesan as (handicrafts) from throughout Nicaragua, all within an hour of the airport. Heck, if you check out the factories, you may even...

Playa Nacascolo Playa Toro Mixcal

Although access to Playa Nacascolo is privately owned, cooler than average Nicaragua Properties (www.realestatenicaragua.com) actually allows visitors onto the property to cross (for now) ask at the entrance and guards will give you directions to Las Miradores waterfall. Finca Forestal El Toro Mixcal (www.zonanica .com toromix) is a private, Marena-recognized reserve that protects a nice stretch of coastline and dry tropical forest. There are short trails, good bird-watching and no other...

Boca de Sbalos

Most tourists breeze by this unassuming little town en route to nearby resorts or more tourist-friendly El Castillo. This has left it a rather unsullied shrimping village, appealing if you're eager to get off the beaten path and into the jungle. You could easily do S balos as a day trip between San Carlos and El Castillo - just take the morning boat into town, then catch the second boat out in the afternoon. Not that there's a lot, exactly, to do. At the confluence of the R o San Juan and R o S...

ARTS Literature

Poetry is arguably El Salvador's strongest and most beloved literary tradition. Its present incarnation can be traced to the writing of Francisco Gavidia (1863-1955) and his Nicaraguan contemporary, the great Rub n Dar o (1867-1916 see the boxed text, p35). Gavidia, for whom poetry was just one of many genres he undertook, was the first to voice a strong Salvadoran identity in his work. One poet influenced by those early masters was Margarita del Carmen Brannon Vega (1899-1974), better known by...

Playa Santo Domingo

Windswept (sometimes a little too windswept) beaches and the island's finest accommodations lie southeast of Altagracia, on the long and lovely lava isthmus that cradles Playa Santo Domingo. The main attraction is the beach, a 30m expanse of gray volcanic sand that retreats almost to the sea wall at the height of the rainy season. It's known for always having a cool breeze v some of the highest windspeeds anywhere in Nicaragua - which is why the windsurfers have been eyeing it. Also on the...

Around Chinandega El Viejo

Just 5km from Chinandega is the ancient indigenous capital of Tezoatega, today called El Viejo and among the most symbolically important of the colonial cities. This is the site of Bas lica de Nuestra Se ora de la Inmaculada Concepci n de la Virgen Mar a, home of Nicaragua's patron saint and mistress of its biggest national religious event, La Griter a, when troupes of fiesteros shout the question Qui n causa tanta alegr a ('Who causes so much joy ') to receive the response, La concepci n de...

Aguas Termales La Calera

The beautifully maintained, 45 C hot springs ( 552 6330 osorio invernic.com), replete with sulfur, calcium and other minerals quasi-sci-entifically proven to keep you radiant and healthy, are hidden away on Finca Calera, inside the reserve and right by the lake. They're easiest to visit on a day trip from Granada (about US 15 per person, including transport and entry) try Tierra Tour (Map p114 862 9580 www.tierratour.com). You can also call or write ahead, then arrange the boat trip yourself.

Gay Lesbian Venues

The gay and lesbian scene is hidden, but you can find it. There are a few gay clubs in Managua, which is a few more than you'll find anywhere else in the country. Most Nicaraguan gays and lesbians hook up with friends through http gay.com or www .gaydar.co.uk, so log on and see if anyone's found better places than these. Somos (Gonz lez Paso 1c al lago) Gay and lesbian, but straight friendly, this gay disco has live shows and sometimes a cover. Nearby, try Le Bistro. Pacu's (Puente del Ed n 1c...

Tours

The same concept as Cecocafen see the boxed text, p210 , this coffee cooperative Society of Small Coffee Producers, Exporters amp Buyers 782 2617 www.soppexcca.org en offers a variety of tours throughout the area, as well as homestays, horseback rides and more. The group is consistently recognized for growing some of the highest-quality coffee in the world, and some of its best comes from Cooperative Luis Hernandez r per person incl 3 meals US 20 , with lodging in pastoral San Pedro de...

Playa El Cuco

As you may have gathered by now, most of El Salvador's beaches are of the broad gray-brown variety - not the stuff of Caribbean fantasies, but attractive in their own right. El Cuco is no exception. At low tide it's an impressive 100m wide - a flat expanse of gray sand fringed by palm trees, stretching for miles. San Miguele os flock to Playa El Cuco on weekends, anxious to escape the sometimes bruising inland heat, but on weekdays it's virtually empty. Centro de Internet El Cuco 2619 9229 Main...

Rosita

With potential as a stand-in for Dodge City - should Hollywood ever want to film a Western really, really cheap - this very multicultural town not only has the late-1800s clapboard architecture with horses tied up out front, and mustachioed, ten-gallon-hatted cowboys with sidearms sauntering around it's got a country music soundtrack, twanging from all sides. The dusty frontier town is stretched along one roughly east-west road running from the hospital east to the police station west , with...

Zona Rosa Colonia Escaln

Hotels here have long catered to business-people reservations are recommended during the week but look for specials on weekends. A number of smaller hotels have also opened, all offering independent travelers comfortable accommodations at mid-range prices. Those staying close to Paseo General Escal n have easy access to various city buses others may find using a taxi or car more convenient. Casa de Hu spedes Australia Map p324 2298 6035 1a Calle Pte 3852, Colonia Escal n s d US 15 22, s without...

Bonanza

The crown jewel of the Mining Triangle, Bonanza is the wealthiest and most beautiful of the matched set, an architectural gem of brightly painted wooden homes threaded with cobblestone streets, all displayed in one of Central America's most impressive bezels the emerald green mountains of Bosaw s. The whole scene, so perfect and pretty in the right light, may offer the impression of some 'Ye Olde Mining Town' theme-park confection, but note that charming shops sell subsistence goods, not...

Eating

The best place to eat on the cheap or buy fresh veggies is the beautiful, clean central market 6am-5pm , with several inexpensive eateries serving comida corriente a mixed plate of different foods typical of the region made from whatever's fresh that day. After-hours, two of the best fritangas sidewalk barbecues in town set up right outside, on the corner closest to the cathedral, where you can enjoy a huge meal for around US 2. CocinArte frente Iglesia Labor o mains US 2-4 h 11am-10pm Worth...

Suchitoto

Suchitoto, 47km north of San Salvador, is a great little town, with colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. A cultural capital during the heyday of the indigo trade, it is now experiencing something of an arts revival. An art and food festival is held every weekend, a February arts and culture festival brings in world-class music and dance groups, and there's a concert, performance or art exhibit practically every week. Suchitoto overlooks the Embalse Cerr n Grande, also known as Lago de...

Playa Jiquilillo

This endless pale gray beach pronounced heekeeleeyo frames what you thought existed only in tales that begin 'You should have seen it back when I was first here ' The picture-perfect fishing village fronts a dramatic rocky point, where tide pools reflect the reds and golds of a huge setting sun, Cosiguina's ragged bulk rising hazy and postapocalyptic to the north. The region remains largely undeveloped, despite its beauty and accessibility, because a devastating 1992 tsunami wiped this village...

San Francisco Lempa

This small friendly town is the transit point between Chaletenango and Suchitoto, and the small town of San Luis del Carmen further down the lakeshore. It has a pretty colonial church and many houses made of adobe - geologically stable, it is one of only a few areas in the country where adobe buildings haven't been reduced to rubble by earthquakes. The boat pier is 500m from the center of town, where the buses pass. Restaurante Tao Tao 2399 3118 mains US 3-6 6am-9pm is a restaurant, a watering...

Word Stress

In general, words ending in vowels or the letters n or s have stress on the next-to-last syllable, while those with other endings have stress on the last syllable. Thus vaca cow and caballos horses both carry stress on the next-to-last syllable, while ciu- dad city and infeliz unhappy are both stressed on the last syllable. Written accents will almost always appear in words that don't follow the rules above, eg s tano basement , Am rica and porci n portion .

La Palma

Surrounded by verdant mountains and bathed in fresh mountain air, La Palma may be 84km north of San Salvador, but it's well worth the climb, and it's a must if you're heading into Honduras via El Poy. Stay here for easy access to the area's hiking and outdoors options, without giving up amenities like Internet access, banking facilities, a grocery store and a variety of restaurants. To get even further away, consider staying in nearby San Ignacio, or one of the several great country lodges...

Playa El Majahual Km

The least appealing of the seaside villages, Playa El Majahual's restaurants are crammed too tightly along the jet-black sand. On the upside, your hotel choices include a water park or a pool in the shape of a guitar. Ever wonder what it would be like to have Marine World to yourself Well, Parque Acu tico El Pacifico 2310 6505 hotelelpacifico .com.sv r with without air-con US 25 12-15 gives you the chance to find out. An impressive aquatic park - complete with four pools, two huge slides and...

Oyk- El Salvador

Hotel Panamericano 722 2355 r with without bathroom per person US 10 3 Even if you don't stay here, right on the plaza, staff can arrange guides to the canyon, and there's a solid souvenir shop. There's a range of rooms, from super-simple boxes with shared hot-water bathrooms to spacious, better private rooms, some with refrigerators and or TVs. Hospedaje La Providencia 722 2089 r per person US 3.50 This family-run budget option has lots of doves, a parrot and a cat, plus simple, very clean...

Runas De Tazumal

The ruins of Tazumal 2408 4295 admission US 3 9am-5pm Tue-Sun are the most important and impressive in El Salvador, although they do not compare to the grandeur of sites in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. There's a fine museum, though, and the shops outside the ruins sell some of the country's best clay replicas of Mayan masks, statues and other artifacts. A trip here also can be combined with an even more interesting stop at nearby Casa Blanca p358 both are located on the outskirts of...

Las Salinas de Nagualapa y Playa Guasacate

Home to one of the most storied waves in Nicaragua, the little town of Las Salinas de Nagualapa, named for the salt evaporation ponds you'll pass on the way in, is beginning to feel a bit like a beach town. You'll also see a large barn -it's actually the hot springs admission US 0.30 , where you could soak away surfing-related soreness or wash your clothes. Most people continue 4km past town to Playa Guasacate, where a shallow lagoon and slow river shift through the long sandy beach. It's often...

Playa El Tunco Km

This is the most developed of the beach communities west of La Libertad. The narrow access road has several hotels along its side, and ends in a cluster of beachside restaurants. A broad beach means you can walk to four different breaks El Sunzal, El Sunzalito, La Bocana the locals' wave and La Bocanita. Papaya's Lodge 2389 6231 www.papayasurfing .com Centro El Tunco s US 8, d with without bathroom US 14 12 0 is a small hotel run by Jaime 'Papaya' Delgado, a down-to-earth guy who grew up here...

Sleeping

Los Pipitos 572 1590 d with fan US 15, s d with air-con US 18 25 a About blocks west of the market, this is a good deal on four clean, livable rooms with desks, nice lamps, and discounts for long-term stays. Mini-Hotel Cafet n Central 572 2362 d with bathroom and fan air-con US 12 25 a At the rear of a lively and much loved caf dishes US 2 to US 6, open 8am to 10pm , very neat if cramped rooms come with tiny bathroom, cable TV and phone. Hospedaje Kaorha View 572 0488 r without bathroom and 1 2...

San Juan de Nicaragua San Juan del Norte

Though it's one of the Americas' oldest European cities, this damp monument to human perseverance has one of its newest names. Until 2003 it was known as San Juan del Norte, which if you look at a map doesn't make much sense unless it was all a conspiracy involving those dastardly Costa Ri-cans see the boxed text, p276 Hence the change. Many visitors to this little-touristed spot will wonder, perhaps out loud, why Costa Rica or anyone else would want it. But when it was founded in 1539, with...

Masachapa Pochomil

Pochomil Nicaragua

Although t he t hree square blocks of restaurants, bars and hotels have largely supplanted the original fishing village of Machapa now located just north , it's still the only organically grown town around. Cyber amp Restaurant GLC Internet per hr US 1 6am-10pm has hamburgers meals US 1 to US 4 and Internet access. There are no banks in Masachapa but Montelimar has an ATM p90 . There's great surfing - a left point break just north of Montelimar, and a hollow right reef break to the south...