If you had to choose only one ruin to visit in El Salvador, this should be it. Tazumal is the county's most visually interesting and fully excavated set of Maya ruins. Located 13km (8 miles) from Santa Ana, Tazumal, which means "the place where the victims were burned" in the early Quiche language, is the remains of a Maya community that inhabited the area from A.D. 100 to 1200. It's believed that Tazumal functioned as an important trading center and that much of the site still remains unexcavated. Most of the construction here is believed to have taken place from A.D. 400 to 680, and so there are signs of a definite Teotihuacán influence (the Mexican site reached its peak during the same period) in many structures.

On view today are 10 sq. km (3 3/4 sq. miles) of ruins, including a fully excavated Maya temple pyramid, ball court, and other structures considered to be classic examples of Maya architecture and similar to those found in other parts of Central America. The park also contains numerous other structures that archaeologists are leaving covered until proper funding and care can be ensured; in addition, officials are currently returning the main pyramid to its natural state via the removal of a ridiculous cement shell that was once thought protective, but was later deemed unnecessary. Visitors are no longer allowed to climb any structures here due to damage from the 2001 earthquake.

The site also includes a small museum with a number of artifacts that indicate that this society was in contact with other Central American Maya communities. Though it's much smaller than better-known ruins in Guatemala or Honduras, and requires only about 45 minutes to explore, Tazumal's importance to El Salvador's history and its exemplary Maya architecture make it worth the drive. Most tour companies, such as the local company Nahua Tours (tel. 503/7874-8402; www.nahuatours.com) and the larger Eco Mayan Tours (tel. 503/2298-2844; www.ecomayantours.com), make stops here.