When people think of attractions in El Salvador, they don’t often think of Joya de Cerén, also known as the “Pompeii of the Americas.” Although it is centuries old, it remains a hidden gem in El Salvador that many visitors miss out on. Find out why this amazing place should be on your itinerary the next time you fly from Boston Logan International airport to El Salvador.
Joya de Cerén was a pre-Hispanic farming community located in the Department of La Libertad. This Mayan village was buried around A.D. 600 when the Loma Caldera volcano erupted without warning and covered the entire village in 5-7 meters of volcanic ash. Many residents had time to flee, but after the eruption the village was uninhabitable. In 1976, the ruins of the village were discovered during a construction project. Excavations have been ongoing since 1989, and it is now open to the public to explore. Joya de Cerén is thought to have been home to 200 people at its peak, although no human remains have been found during excavations.
How and when to visit
Joya de Cerén is located just an hour away from the capital of San Salvador, and you can travel to it by car or bus. It is open to the public every day of the week except Mondays. You can either travel on your own to wander among the ruins or hire a local tour guide to provide you with context on what you see. The best times to visit are early in the morning or late afternoon as both times provide shelter from the midday heat.
What to see
What makes this archaeological site so impressive is that the volcanic ash preserved the village, so it looks much like it did when the villagers fled centuries ago. You can wander among twelve structures that have been excavated, including living quarters, kitchens, workshops, storehouses, a religious structure, and a sauna. Even plants and gardens have been preserved, including a kitchen garden with a variety of herb plants, maize plants, an agave garden, and a variety of fruit trees such as guayaba and cacao. These all have been preserved in either ash casts or as carbonized material, providing incredible insight into items that are over 1,400 years old. When you visit Joya de Cerén, it is evident why this well-preserved settlement has been a treasure for researchers learning about the everyday lives of ancient Mayan villagers.
While visiting the ruins, you can check out the museum that houses a number of artifacts that have been recovered during excavations, including ceramics, food items, utensils, and furniture — each artifact sheds light on the lives of villagers. You can also visit the small gift shop on site where you can purchase souvenirs like pottery replicas and figurines.
The ruins of Pompeii may be more well-known, but each year Joya de Cerén is being discovered by people eager to peer through a window into how people once lived. As you plan your trip to El Salvador, make time to visit this historical, architectural, and cultural gem. You won’t soon forget visiting this astonishing site.