The Mayan Ruins of El Salvador

The Mayan Ruins of El Salvador - Lucy Williams Global

This was my first time in El Salvador and I went back in time to visit the Mayan ruins. I visited two pre-Hispanic archaeological sites. The Mayan Ruins of San Andrés and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Joya de Ceren.

We docked in Acajutla, El Salvador and drove to the archaeological ruins of San Andrés, deep in the valley of Zapotitan. It took around one and a half hours to reach the site from the port.

Mayan Ruins of San Andrés

San Andrés dates back, to 900 BC and it was an important political, cultural and religious centre. In 420 AD, it was covered in ash by the Ilopango volcano. Then between 500 – 600 AD San Andrés was recolonized.


By the years 850 – 900 AD, it is believed the Mayans abandoned the area because of the eruption of the El Boquerón volcano that covered the area with ash.

Between 600 and 900 AD, the town was an important regional Mayan capital. Many of the ruins reveal the political and ceremonial workings of this town.

In 1100 AD, the valley was reoccupied by migrant groups from Mexico known as Pipiles until the Spanish conquest in 1524.

The site was buried under the ash of the Playón Volcano in 1658 AD until excavation work began in the 1940s.

When we arrived, we walked through the museum and saw artefacts and how the site would have looked before it was covered with ash from a volcanic eruption.

Only a few ceremonial areas have been excavated to date. Mayan lords ruled the land from the “Acropolis” which are the pyramids.

It was amazing to see the green hills with large stone bricks in the shape of pyramids. In the distance, there were views of volcanoes and on the site, there were cocoa and coffee trees.

Joya de Ceren

Next, we went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Joya de Ceren, which was a Mayan farming village. It is known as the ‘Pompeii of the Americas.’

The town is believed to date back to 1200 BC and was devastated by volcanic eruptions twice. The first in 200 AD by the same eruption of the Ilopango volcano that hit San Andrés.


After it was repopulated, it thrived for a few hundred more years before another volcano, Laguna Caldera, erupted in 600 AD. It buried the village under four to eight meters of ash over a span of a few hours.

The town was perfectly preserved, but no bodies have been found. It is assumed that the villagers were evacuated in time, but they left in a hurry as they left behind half-eaten food!

These incredible ruins lay undisturbed until they were discovered accidentally in 1976 by a bulldozer driver who was levelling the ground to build grain storage silos. About 70 structures have been uncovered so far, including storehouses, kitchens, and living quarters.

This site was very interesting as it really has been preserved so well. The site is mainly undercover which is good as it gets hot and humid in this part of the world!

Essential Info

  • Weather: Average temperature all year round 30*C
  • Language: Spanish
  • Currency: US Dollar
  • Wear lightweight clothing and hat
  • Wear sunscreen and insect repellent

I hope you have enjoyed reading about El Salvador, please share on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest so your friends and family can read too. Sharing is caring!

Have you been to El Salvador? What would you recommend doing?

Happy Travels

Love Lucy x


  1. January 20, 2018 / 11:12 am

    The Mayan Ruins look absolutely beautiful, and there is so much history in this place. Can I ask you about safety? Did you find it overall OK/easy to travel around in El Salvador? Any issues? Thanks for sharing.

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:32 pm

      I was on a tour, so I felt safe through out. There are gangs there so you have to be careful in some areas. People are very nice and happy to have a tourism as the country is so poor.

  2. January 20, 2018 / 11:26 am

    The Mayan Ruins of El Salvador look amazing. I can’t believe that they were only excavated in the 1940s. Seems a while ago, but in the scheme of things it really wasn’t when you consider how old they are.

    They really are incredible ruins.

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:34 pm

      They were amazing to see and this only the start of the excavation, hopefully in a few years time the whole site will be excavated.

  3. January 20, 2018 / 11:44 am

    I’ve been to several Mayan ruins sites in central America including Copan in Honduras, but not to these in El Savador which look just as intriguing! I like the fact that you included a tip for wearing sunscreen – the sun in Central America is fierce and getting burnt could totally ruin your experience!

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:38 pm

      Both of the sites were very interesting and it was very hot! While I was in Central America I was covering myself in sun factor and insect repellent and always wearing a hat, as the sun was so strong.

  4. January 20, 2018 / 1:27 pm

    The Mayan ruins look amazing. I particularly like that it is believed they all got out – but in a hurry. There’s something rather tragic about the European site at Pompeii where they obviously DIDN’T get out!

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:39 pm

      I know, as Pompeii was so sad! Here they just missed lunch!

  5. January 20, 2018 / 8:28 pm

    I loved reading this article, thank you for adding so many historical notes, it was SO interersting! I had no idea that the Mayans abandoned this area because of the eruption but it makes sense. What a fascinating culture!

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:41 pm

      Thank you very much! The Mayans are very interesting and both these sites were fascinating to view.

  6. January 20, 2018 / 8:45 pm

    It sounds like El Salvador is quite the place to go for archaeologically – I had never really heard about the Mayan ruins here – I think Mexico seems to steal all the fame for sites like Chichen Itza etc. Amazing that there’s still so much to be excavated too. Looking through your photos of Joya de Ceren definitely brings me back to my visit to Pompeii – with startling similarities. But unlike Pompeii, it’s heartening to hear that the villagers here escaped in time (albeit didn’t get time to finish lunch it sounds like!!)

    What an incredible way to experience history.

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:44 pm

      Both sites were fascinating and so much history. Hopefully they will get to finish the excavation of the Mayan Ruins of San Andrés as the original site is huge.

  7. January 21, 2018 / 9:49 pm

    I didn’t realise El Salvador had Mayan ruins like these. It’s amazing how little has been uncovered (relatively) in San Andrés since it was uncovered. But I suppose being covered by 2 lots of volcanic ash makes these ceremonial sites hard to find! I remember being in awe at Pompeii, so I can imagine it is a similar feeling in Joya de Ceren, to imagine all those people having to flee for their lives. Incredible how it so well-preserved!

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 23, 2018 / 2:14 pm

      There is a lot of ash and also they do not have the resources to do so much unfortunately. Joya de Caren is amazing, but feels strange when you walk through.

  8. January 22, 2018 / 11:30 am

    My only venture in to Central America was when I did an study abroad program with my high school and that was 21 years ago now! I spent a semester in Costa Rica and I absolutely loved it. I think it’s high time I return to the region and I’d love to show my husband Costa Rica. I didn’t really know that there are Mayan ruins in El Salvador, so I’d love to go and see them.

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 23, 2018 / 2:01 pm

      El Salvador was very interesting and if you liked Costa Rica, I’m sure you will enjoy El Salvador.

  9. authenticfoodquest
    January 23, 2018 / 4:46 pm

    What a fascinating history of the Mayan ruins in El Salvador. The ruins look amazing and so interesting to learn about the ‘Pompeii of the Americas.’ I’d love to visit and hoping to make to Central America this year! Thanks for sharing.

  10. January 23, 2018 / 9:30 pm

    I don’t know much about Salvador so learning about these Mayan ruins was a nice discovery. I would love to visit especially la Joya de Cerén. If it is like Pompeii, which I know well, wandering around this buried city must be like a step back in time!

    • lucywilliamsglobal
      January 24, 2018 / 1:47 pm

      Both sites were so interesting to walk around. Joya de Ceren was fascinating to see what was preserved, but luckily no people!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.