Central America's two least-visited countries may not share a border, but they do have a common tumultuous history of war, poverty, crime, and corruption. Devastating earthquakes, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions, as well as two bitter civil wars that brought both countries to the brink, have plagued both nations..
So, why visit this unlucky duo? A cloud-topped volcano that towers above a pristine lake is one reason. A fabulous Pacific coastline is another. Then there are the sun-kissed Caribbean islands and lush cloud forests. Throw in the rich native-Indian heritage, mixed with a history of ostentatious Spanish colonialism, and you have just some of the reasons why travelers are discovering Nicaragua and El Salvador. Both countries have vibrant music and art scenes that frequently spill out onto the streets in the form of festivals and parades. First-rate ecolodges and mountain refuges have opened up. There are volcanoes to climb, rainforests to hike, Maya ruins to visit, and waves to surf. As you sail down a jungle river or learn Spanish with a local family, you may realize that both countries have finally achieved the better world they fought so hard for.
Both nations may share a love for murals and martyrs, but it's also worth noting what makes them different. El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America, a potential economic powerhouse with good infrastructure and a strong work ethic. The downsides are a widening wealth gap, rampant deforestation, and a runaway crime rate. Nicaragua, on the other hand, is the region's least populated country, with a dormant economy overly reliant on agriculture. It's the poorest country in Central America, but also the safest, and its under-population translates to a realistic ambition of converting 20% of its surface area into lush national parks and protected reserves.
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