Joya de Ceren is an archaeological site featuring ruins of a Mayan farming village that was buried by a volcano.

© Luis Siguenza/Lonely Planet

Joya de Cerén

Top choice in Central El Salvador

Known as the Pompeii of America, Unesco World Heritage Site Joya de Cerén was a small Maya settlement that was buried under volcanic ash when the Laguna Caldera Volcano erupted in AD 595. Residents fleeing the eruption left behind a wealth of everyday items that provide clues about ancient planting, home building and food storage. Preserved structures include the village shaman's house and the tamascal sweat lodge. There is excellent signage in English and Spanish.

A small museum (closed for renovations during our last visit) displays artifacts and models of the villages. One compelling piece is a small dish showing fingerprints smeared in the remains of an interrupted meal.

To get here, take bus 201 (US$0.85) from San Salvador (36km) or Santa Ana (42km) to the turn off for Opico, and then bus 108 (10 minutes, US$0.50) from outside the gas station at Sitio del Niño. Get off after crossing the bridge over the Río Sucio; the ruins are signposted.