"Chalatenango, Tierra Bendecida" Departamento de Chalatenango by thelukey

The city of Chalatenango, capital of the department of the same name, is an emblematic exemplar of a mid-sized Salvadoran market town – commerce is the name of the game, and there really isn’t much to do there besides buying and selling. Its church, supposedly dating from the 18th century, is none too impressive once you approach it, but it is fairly attractive (or at least picturesque) when viewed from a far.

The residents of more than a dozen surrounding municipalities flood into Chalatenango every morning in order to sell the fruits, vegetables, and grains that they produce, buy cheap second-hand clothes and other essential supplies, and (most importantly) stand in line outside the town’s many banks waiting to withdraw the “remesas” (remittances) sent from relatives in the US, money that forms the backbone of the local economy of many area villages. A large swath of the city of Chalatenango is taken over by this invasion of commerce, making the entire town feel like one big, loud, dirty, and uncomfortably hot marketplace (especially on Tuesday, when it becomes difficult to navigate the sidewalks due to the influx of buyers and sellers). Once the market activity dies down in the early afternoon, Chalatenango becomes eerily quiet, and the large military barracks that face the town’s park seem doubly menacing.

Since Chalatenango is the closest “city” to my Peace Corps site, I’ve been there countless times during the past four years in order to do a variety of mundane errands. Every now and then I see a few backpackers lugging their belongings through the streets, and every time I do, I’m always left wondering what earthly reason might have brought them to the city of Chalatenango.

That said, the town is a transportation hub for people heading to a variety of nearby attractions: Concepción Quezaltepeque (a hammock-producing village), La Montañona and El Manzano (two small forest reserves), Arcatao (a wartime and present FMLN stronghold), Petapa (located on the Honduran border, with good swimming in the surprisingly clean Sumpul and La Garza rivers), San Fernando (an isolated little town surrounded by mountains and wilderness), and the lakeside towns of San Francisco Lempa and San Luis del Carmen (where boats can be hired to take you across the Cerrón Grande artificial lake to Suchitoto). There’s nothing too spectacular to be seen, but there is an abundance of nice mountain scenery and plenty of friendly small villages in the area.

  • Last visit to Departamento de Chalatenango: May 2010
  • Intro Updated May 13, 2010
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