46km (29 miles) N of Santa Ana

Most travelers view Metapán as nothing more than a scruffy town on the highway to the northwest border with Guatemala. However, take the time to descend into its historical center, and you'll be pleasantly surprised as the main road begins to transform into a quaint set of streets, low-rise colonial buildings, and a picturesque church. A 300-year-old ceiba tree stands in the middle of a fine plaza and the splendidly restored town hall (alcaldia) boasts two giant jaguar statues (symbols of local indigenous strength and resilience), as well as railings made from rifle barrels captured in a 1903 war with Guatemala. The town's most unique feature is a two-story whitewashed building with a gallery running the length of the plaza; nothing unusual there, until you ascend the steps to a restaurant upstairs and discover a full-size soccer pitch with spectator stands out back -- apparently the place to be on a Friday night, as the proud locals (known as Metapánecos) contest the national champion title. Besides its authentic small-town appeal, Metapán does not have much in the way of accommodations or restaurants (for the moment). However, it is the gateway to the beautiful Parque Montecristo cloud forest and to the relatively unexplored but gorgeous Lago de Güija.