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Travel Q&A: Explore El Salvador -- Safely

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 2, 2009

Q. My husband, friend and I are going to El Salvador this fall to volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity project. Where can we go afterward to relax and recover? We're okay to stay in El Salvador or travel someplace close by land or air.

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Leigh Bailey, Washington

A. No need to leave the country. With rivers, lakes, volcanoes, mountains, beaches, nature preserves and Mayan ruins, El Salvador has plenty to keep you busy after your project. The country is known for its poverty, natural disasters and 12-year civil war that ended in 1992, but it is beginning to attract attention as a tourist destination. Tourism infrastructure in the New Jersey-size country is still developing, but "people there welcome you with open arms," says Jim Kane of Culture Xplorers (866-877-2507, http://www.culturexplorers.com), which offers custom tours in the region.

Kane, who visits El Salvador frequently, said one of his favorite spots is the colonial town of Suchitoto, about 30 miles north of San Salvador, the capital. The town has cobblestone streets, historic buildings, a burgeoning arts scene and a boutique hotel that draws raves: Los Almendros de San Lorenzo (503-2335-1200, http://www.hotelsalvador.com; doubles from $85), set in a 200-year-old hacienda and complete with a swimming pool and a hip bar.

From Suchitoto, Kane recommends taking day trips to the mountain village of Ilobasco, famous for its miniatures, a signature art form in the country, and La Palma, a center for woodcarving. If you're into archaeology, the country is rich with ancient sites, including Joya de Ceren, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is often compared to Pompeii.

For something more active, there's rafting, kayaking, hiking, climbing and world-class surfing and diving. Or just relax on the beach. The country's 200-mile Pacific coastline is dotted with resorts. Corsatur (503-2243-7835, http://www.corsatur.gob.sv/ingles/home.htm), the country's official tourism agency, has details on all of the above.

Whatever you end up doing, be aware that safety is an issue. The U.S. State Department warns that violent crime persists throughout the country, citing frequent armed holdups, carjackings and shootouts. In addition to taking common-sense precautions -- travel in groups, do not display valuables, be careful at ATMs, use hotel taxis -- the agency recommends avoiding public transportation and hiring certified guides when hiking. For the State Department's country profile: http://www.state.gov.http://

I am going on a land tour/cruise in Alaska in late summer. The trip will include fishing, flightseeing, hiking and kayaking, as well as formal evenings and on-ship activities. Can you advise me on clothing to pack? I want to take the minimum necessary but be prepared for weather changes.

J. Stern, Chevy Chase

The standard travel advice of dressing in layers goes double for Alaska, where temperatures during high season (May to September) range from 40 to 80 degrees during the day and drop into the 30s and 40s at night.

So in addition to shorts, T-shirts and a swimsuit, pack long pants, gloves, warm socks, long underwear, a fleece sweater and a waterproof windbreaker or jacket, preferably with a hood. Don't forget your hiking boots. Also: sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat with a brim.

You'll also need a couple of dressy outfits for formal nights, but as a rule you can dress casually aboard the ship. Alaska cruises tend to be pretty laid-back.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.



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