ABOVE PHOTO: Elements of indigo in Suchitoto, El Salvador
While many would welcome an escape to paradise to delay the onset of winter, there are those of us who crave a getaway that takes things a step beyond the usual basking, rest and relaxation.
In fact, according to a 2016 survey by market research company Gfk, 35 percent of respondents said they prefer vacations that are active and offer opportunities to try new things.
While an “active” vacation may conjure ideas like zip lining through the tree tops or riding the waves on a surfboard, don’t overlook the fact that an active vacation in a tropical land can also mean discovering unique ways to interact with and learn about a new culture.
For example, in El Salvador, there is ample opportunity to watch and speak to artisans at work in mediums from indigo powder to red clay. If you’re feeling inspired, you can even make your own version of these crafts at one of many workshops open to visitors.
Plan a road trip along El Salvador’s artisan trail, and you can return home with a suitcase of souvenirs like hand-dyed scarves, colorful woven mats and clay figurines – all that you made yourself. Here are four picturesque El Salvadoran towns and their fascinating specialties where you can enjoy a hands-on immersion in an artisan paradise.
The murals of La Palma
A walk through the streets of La Palma is a journey in living color because just about every wall and entryway is covered in vibrant murals depicting the people, animals, flowers and things in and around the town. These works are painted in a simple folk-style called Arte Naif that features plenty of Mayan influences, making it easy for even a beginning artist to create a pocket-sized La Palma-style mural. Taller Paty (artesaniaspaty.com) offers workshops to visitors that take them through the steps of rendering a colorful design on a wooden box or inside the “frame” of a copinol seed.
The indigo art of Suchitoto
As you wander along cobblestone streets in the village of Suchitoto, you’ll be charmed and inspired by the colonial Spanish architecture as well as the art for sale in its many galleries. Along the way, make plans to stop at the Arte Añil Gallery, which features a workshop where you can learn to dye fabric with indigo.
Indigo is a blue powder extracted from a blue flowering plant with a long and fascinating history. The Mayans were just one ancient civilization that cultivated and prized its deep blue color, incorporating this striking hue into their murals and pottery. After this workshop, you’ll have your own indigo accessory, either a hand-dyed scarf or a bag, as a memento of your trip.
The red clay of Ilobasco
Ceramics runs deep in the identity of this town, a history that is owed to both the skill of the artists and the abundance of red mud the artists harvest and prepare into clay. Watch as they shape this lump of earth into intricate miniatures, ranging from tiny human forms to little egg-shaped figures called sorpresas that open and reveal a daily activity of the town.
Engage with one of these artists, and you may be treated to fascinating tales of their artistic lineage – of those who had passed down the knowledge and skill through the generations, sometimes dating back to the 1700s. Then, you can take part in one of the many workshops and shape your own Ilobasco miniature in the red mud.
The woven textiles of San Sebastian
The town of San Sebastian is famous for its colorfully banded textiles made with a traditional loom called the Telares. Here, you’ll find ample opportunity to observe a master weaver at work at Casa de la Cultural de San Sebastian. As they work the looms with hands and feet, it’s mesmerizing to watch the motions of man and machine create beautiful blankets, hammocks and mats. Here, you can try your hand (and your feet) at a Telares in a unique and intimate setting – in the home workshop of a master weaver.
Wherever you begin your artisan journey, El Salvador has much to offer for anyone who loves to create. To help you start planning your hands-on excursion, visit elsalvador.travel/en/tipos/artisan-route.
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