The Archaeological Parks of El Salvador

The Archaeological Parks

Park Operating Hours and Fees

Visitor Statistics

Administration of the Archaeological Parks

Future Archaeological Parks


The Archaeological Parks


El Salvador has 5 national archaeological parks. Click on their names in the map or below for information about each park:


Operating Hours and Fees

All 5 parks share the same operating hours and fees:

Operating Hours :

Tuesday through Sunday, 9am - 4pm (closed on Mondays).


  • $1.00/Salvadorans, $3.00/foreigners.
  • $1.00/cars, $2.00/buses
  • Entrance is free for Salvadorans under 8 or over 60 years of age.
  • Other Central Americans subject to same fees as Salvadorans.


Visitor Statistics

The archaeological parks of El Salvador rank high amongst the most visited in Central America. The number of visitors to San Andrés or Tazumal alone is only exceeded by Tikal (Guatemala) and Copán (Honduras).

During the year 2009 we recorded the following visitor statistics for the 5 parks:

San Andrés
Joya de Cerén
Casa Blanca

NOTES: Tazumal and San Andrés received larger numbers of visitors in December due to celebrations for Baktun 13, leading to aout 20,000 addtional visitors at Tazumal and 3,500 at San Andrés. Casa Blanca was closed through July and the data here are for August through December. The gran total of park visitors is 159% greater than in 2009.

The parks hold great importance for local education and tourism; 90% of total visitors are Salvadoran (and many of these are student). 10% are foreigners from diverse countries.

The number of students visiting the parks (particularly San Andrés, Joya de Cerén, and Tazumal) has many times far exceeded their capacity, and we have witnessed moments when over 3,000 students have been in a park, leading to a multitude of problems: parking lots crowded with buses, site museums filled to bursting, destruction of restroom facilities, impossibility of adequate supervision by school teachers, encumbrances created with regard to other park visitors, and so on.

FUNDAR introduced measures to address this previously tolerated overuse of the parks. Now it is requested that schools schedule their visits in advance so that we can coordinate their dates and avoid the massive crowds which are mostly a thing of the past. We have also attempted to limit the size of each school group (which formerly could be over 400 students) and ensure that there are sufficient teachers for supervision so that these visits can be a real opportunity for learning about prehispanic heritage.


Administration of the Archaeological Parks

September, 2009

FUNDAR Decides to End its Participation in the Archaeological Parks of El Salvador

In September 2009, after working with enthusiasm for 10 years at Cihuatán, 5 years at San Andrés and Joya de Cerén, and 2 years at Tazumal and Casa Blanca, FUNDAR notified the Secretaría de Cultura that it would not seek to renew its contract of cooperation for the development and care of these parks expiring on December 31st, 2009. We believe it is time to open opportunities so that other individuals or institutions may also participate in this important endeavor.

FUNDAR accepted the challenge of managing these parks when the authorities in charge of cultural heritage asked for our help. From the onset we knew that this would be a difficult task, but also that we were being given a magnificent opportunity to improve the parks.

Years ago, when we began our cooperative efforts, we found these parks in various degrees of neglect and some in appalling abandonment. We enthusiastically dedicated ourselves to their betterment in every sense. Now as we end our involvement, with great satisfaction we can affirm that our efforts to improve the parks are very evident. We established norms for cleanliness and maintenance. We have implemented signage and the zonification of various areas in the parks according to their uses. We have built and repaired rest rooms. We have installed and repaired water pumps and irrigation systems. We have established regular and effective grounds maintenance in the extensive gardens we have planted. We have undertaken many actions for the conservation of archaeological structures. We have also opened new interpretative trails for visitors. We have created picnic areas. You can see these and many other improvements on this website under the sections for each park.

Throughout these years we have also advanced in archaeological investigations as well as in public education and other contributions to disseminating our cultural heritage. We have over many years been actively collaborating to combat archaeological depredation through testimony for the establishment and renewal of international treaties, and cooperation with international agencies seeking to enforce laws against the export and sale of our archaeological heritage. We have made numerous official denouncements of incidents of looting and destruction of archaeological sites and colonial churches. No other individual or institution has fought cultural depredation in El Salvador as much as FUNDAR. These actions are described in other sections of this website.

All of this has been achieved with a modest state budget and, most importantly, with donations which FUNDAR sought and channeled from individuals, businesses, granting agencies, and international organisms. Nor can we fail to mention the outstanding group of collaborators who work directly in the parks and jointly with FUNDAR dedicated their best efforts to improve them. El Salvador is in debt to all of these people and entities for their contributions to our archaeological heritage.

We take great pride in having converted Cihuatán into a true archaeological park. We provided the infrastructure necessary for visitors, including electricity, running water, rest rooms, an interpretative trail, and a site museum, the “Museo Antonio Sol”, in addition to the extraordinarily important discovery of the royal palace of Cihuatán and the first excavations there. Other activities, including excavation and consolidation of a temple to the Wind God, consolidation of Temple P-12, and the repair and consolidation of the northern wall of the Western Ceremonial Center, a 75+m long construction that was in a state of dire collapse, have been documented here on our web site, on the Cihuatán web site (, and in the reports, publications, and other materials relating to our archaeological activities which are posted on both sites. All of this was accomplished with over $300,000 from private and international sources. This was without precedent in the archaeology of El Salvador.

Although much remains to be done, we end our participation with the immense satisfaction of having fulfilled our self-imposed task of altruistic collaboration in caring for the archaeological heritage of our nation.

Now that the serious responsibility of caring for the archaeological parks has been completely assumed by the Government, FUNDAR can fully dedicate itself to the goals for which it was established: archaeological investigation and its dissemination by publications and other means in order to enrich the knowledge about the past of El Salvador.

FUNDAR extends its deepest gratitude to the past authorities of CONCULTURA and the present Secretaría de Cultura for entrusting to us this delicate and difficult task, and we make patent our disposition to continue collaborating with the Secretaría de Cultura in other aspects related with the protection, investigation, and public education of our archaeological heritage.

To all those individuals and institutions who have believed in us during the past 10 years and who support us, we extend our deepest gratitude as we continue with our projects.

Rodrigo Brito, President of FUNDAR, December 31st, 2009

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July 12, 2010

FUNDAR Signs an Agreement to Continue in the Co-administration of Cihuatán

On July 12, 2010, FUNDAR and the Secretaría de Cultura signed an agreement for the co-administration of Cihuatán. Click here to read more.


The parks belong to the Nation and are under the direct responsibility of its cultural organ, the Secretaría de Cultura (which superceeded CONCULTURA in July, 2009). Some parks were purchased (Cihuatán, Casa Blanca, Tazumal), while others were acquired under the agrarian reform laws (San Andrés and Joya de Cerén).

FUNDAR participated over several years in the co-management of the parks under yearly contracts subscribed with the Government which specified the projects which FUNDAR was to carry out at each park during the year in question under its “Resources Transference Program”, or PTR (Programa de Transferencia de Recursos). Over 20 different non-governmental organizations (NGOs) participated in PTRs with CONCULTURA.

Regarding the financing of PTR projects, 80% was provided by the Government and 20% by FUNDAR. Quite apart from the PTR projects have been FUNDAR’s contributions to park development and archaeological investigation at Cihuatán, valued at over $300,000.

The execution of FUNDAR’s projects was rigorously supervised and documented. FUNDAR made three reports per year to CONCULTURA which documented activities in each park and included financial reports prepared by an accountant and subject to audit. This information is in the public domain.

In addition, the Government designated a special committee to supervise each PTR project. The committee for FUNDAR’s projects included one representative from our foundation and two from the Government, normally including the Chief of the Department of Archaeology (Archaeologist Fabricio Valdivieso from 2005 to 2007). This supervision was additional to that of the “monitors” assigned by the Government to supervise investigation projects.


Left: The PTR supervision committee at San Andrés in 2007, composed of Fabricio Valdivieso (then Chief of Archaeology, CONCULTURA), Paul Amaroli (FUNDAR), and Ivonne de Torres (CONCULTURA); Rafael Amaya (FUNDAR’s parks manager) appears to the right of this photo. Center: Fabricio Valdivieso and Rodrigo Brito (FUNDAR) in the area of the tunnel at San Andrés. Right: Marlon Escamilla (then of the Department of Archaeology) represents CONCULTURA in an interview with the media in 2007 about the tunnel in San Andrés (a PTR project).

Over many years time, the Government has worked successfully with different NGOs in the co-management of archaeological parks. Joya de Cerén and San Andrés were developed and inaugurated as parks by the Patronato Pro-Patrimonio Cultural (now defunct), and subsequently managed for several years by this NGO under contracts subscribed with CONCULTURA. Tazumal and Casa Blanca were co-managed during a period of time by an NGO called Comité de restauración y conservación de la iglesia colonial Santiago Apóstol de la ciudad de Chalchuapa. The archaeological site – and future park – Ciudad Vieja was managed for several years by the Academia Salvadoreña de la Historia. It is also relevant to mention that the largest national park in El Salvador, El Imposible, is managed by the NGO SalvaNATURA; while this park was created to protect a primary forest, it also includes 7 recorded archaeological sites (one of which, Piedra Sellada, is in public access).

Two of the NGOs mentioned above, the Patronato Pro-Patrimonio Cultural and the Academia Salvadoreña de la Historia, also conducted archaeological investigations in the parks.

On a world-wide level there are many other important examples of the model of co-management by NGOs of cultural heritage sites belonging to states and nations. Here are some examples:

Panamá Viejo (Panamá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), managed by the NGO Patronato Panamá Viejo.

Cahokia (State of Illinois, USA, a UNESCO World Heritage Site), managed by the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society.

El Mirador (Guatemala, a National Monument), the Foundation for Cultural and Natural Heritage Maya (PACUNAM) is the leading participant in the management and investigation of this site and its region.

El Brujo (Perú), the Wiese Foundation leads the investigation and conservation of this site and recently inaugurated a museum.


Future Archaeological Parks in El Salvador

Of the archaeological sites currently known in El Salvador, there exist several which clearly should be protected and managed as archaeological parks. Amongst these, there are 4 sites where the State has acquired land, and in others there are proposals to do so. These sites include:

The Gruta del Espíritu Santo is located a kilometer (0.6 miles) north of the town of Corinto (Morazán Department). This is the only future park currently recommended for visitors. This site has park guards who can accompany visitors during the same operating hours specified for the parks. There is no entrance fee. The site has a large rock shelter harboring pictographs (paintings on the rock face) which may possibly date to the Archaic Period (approximately 8000 to 1800 BC).

Ciudad Vieja, located in Cuscatlán Department near the road between San Martín and Suchitoto. This site is not recommended for visitors without a guide. Ciudad Vieja was the site of San Salvador from 1528 through 1545 when it was moved to its present location. It is one of the very few well-preserved Spanish sites from the conquest period.

Cara Sucia is located near the border with Guatemala, 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) south of the Litoral Highway near the “canton” Cara Sucia (Ahuachapán Department). Although this site is national property and has park guards, its structures are usually immersed in tall scrub, much to the frustration of its few adventuresome visitors. Cara Sucia’s occupation begins around 900 BC and this apparently Maya settlement continues until the Ilopango eruption in the 5th century AD. After a hiatus, the site was resettled and constituted one of the easternmost centers of the Cotzumalhuapa culture which flourished between AD 600 and 900 (the Late Classic period) along much of the Guatemalan coast as far as the western edge of Salvadoran territory.

Quelepa (San Miguel Department) is a very extensive site with a long occupation, stretching from about 500 BC to AD 900. Its apogee was in the Late Classic as one of the two known regional centers of the Shila and Lepa phases (the other is Tehuacán). The Government owns part of the site but it lacks guards and other minimal conditions for the visitor.

Las Marías (or “Pueblo Viejo Las Marías) is the largest archaeological site known in El Salvador, and is closely affiliated with its neighbor, Cihuatán (12 kilometers / 7 miles distant). CONCULTURA has a project to acquire land at the site for a future park. It is presently divided between dozens of owners and is not recommended for visitors.