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At Joya de Cerén you can wander around the beautifully preserved earth homes of Mayan farmers from the sixth century AD, as well as a sweat bath (temazal), excavated from the ash and dirt, in situ.In total some eighteen structures have been identified and ten have been completely or partially excavated.

Aficionados should also check out the closely related but smaller, grassy ruins of Casa Blanca, an important Mayan centre between 200 BC and 250 AD, just a five-minute taxi ride from Tazumal (it’s right on the main highway on the north side of Chalchuapa).

Visit in mid-winter and the site is smothered in pink madrecacao blooms.

The people here were simple manioc and maize farmers who had settled in the village only a few decades before, and in desperation they decided to flee, leaving virtually everything they owned behind.

Soon after, the volcano blew its top and the village was buried under more than six metres of burning hot ash in just a few hours. For hundreds of years the site lay abandoned and overgrown.

One of the most intriguing is thought to have been a religious building where a shaman practiced.

Cerén was probably home to about two hundred people, and although no human remains have been discovered, everyday objects found here include petrified beans, maize, utensils and ceramics.The ruins were partially buried by another volcanic eruption in 1658, and today only sections of the ceremonial centre have been excavated – seven crumbling but enigmatic structures including the Acrópolis complex and a seventeenth-century Spanish indigo works.You can stroll freely around most of the site, which is also a popular picnic spot for locals at the weekends, though the tallest pyramid (“La Campana”) can only be viewed from a distance.El Salvador’s Mayan ruins can’t be compared with the great Mayan centres in Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, but they have their own powerful charm – and on most days you’ll have the sites completely to yourself.Stephen Keeling went to explore El Salvador’s rich but oft ignored Mayan heritage.Finding them is easy with our totally FREE El Salvador dating service.

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