Former War Zone Reinvents Itself with ‘Peace’ Tourism

May 15, 2009

SAN SALVADOR – Seventeen years after the last gunshots were heard echoing through the forested hills of northern MorazánProvince, where some of the worst fighting occurred during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war, the campesinos and Lenca indigenous population of this area are turning this former warzone into a budding tourism attraction.

According to local tourism promoter Jorge Portillo, the “Route of Peace” is “helping to keep alive the historical memory of the region so that it will never happen again.”

The authentic and original tour takes curious tourists to the RevolutionaryMuseum in Perkin, a former guerrilla camp, and the site of the 1981 Mozote massacre, where 1,000 civilians were slain by government soldiers.

The tours also include visits to the area’s many natural attractions, including rivers, waterfalls and natural lookouts.

Many of the tour guides are former guerrillas themselves, adding an extra measure of authenticity to the tours.

“One of the things that gives added-value to the tour is that the guides are people who know the history, who lived the history,” Portillo told The Nica Times. “In 20 years we won’t have the benefit of having these guides, because lots of the people who were involved directly in the war are now getting older.”

The initiative for the “Route of Peace” started 17 years ago with the first Perkin Winter Festival, an annual event held each year during the first week of August. At first, it was adventure tourism at its rawest – during the ceasefire and with armed groups still operating in the mountains.

“The streets of Perkin were still destroyed from the war, and the houses were riddled with bullet holes,” Portillo remembers.

Since then, the peace accords have helped bring normalcy back to the region. Now it’s one of the safest spots in the country.

With the help of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the “Route of Peace” initiative is working to improve its offering. The MCC’s local affiliate, FOMILENIO, is helping to train local cooks, hotel operators and tour guides to help them improve client services and better promote themselves, Portillo said.

That assistance, he says, has helped them to ride out the world economic crisis, which has led to dips in tourism in other parts of the country but has not affected their tours.

In the end, Portillo said, the idea of the tour is to keep history alive; not to romanticize it or distort it, but to keep it from ever repeating itself.

“History has already been written, and so it is our job to let people know about it,” he said.

For more info and tours, visit www.rutadepazelsalvador.com, or call (503) 2680-4086.

 

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