My first trip to Central America was so colorful that I have been living in monochrome ever since. I urge anyone with a penchant for pastels, a fetish for fluorescents or a bias for bolds to visit. Here are my most colourful moments from Guatemala and El Salvador.
The markets of Santiago, Lake Atitlan
Take a boat across Lake Atitlan and arrive at the small Mayan town of Santiago. You will see local people fishing and washing clothes - it's all blissfully serene. 85% of the population here are traditional Mayan and the female weaving co-operatives hand make the clothing sold at the markets. As soon as you step off the boat you are bustling through groups of women dressed mainly in vibrant blue and purple. Top tip: look closely at the pattern on the women's clothes; each town on the lake has a different symbol. In Santiago, you'll see beautifully detailed birds embroidered onto the textiles.
For a sensory overload, follow one of the charismatic locals into the indoor food market. Fruit and veg is piled high and sold from hundreds of rainbow coloured dishes. As you tip toe down the walkways you'd be forgiven for feeling mildly claustrophobic; there's a banquet-sized table of mutton soaked in brine to negotiate, which segues brilliantly into my next colour: green.
Climbing to the top of Temple IV, Tikal
Once home to 100,000 Mayan people, Tikal is complex of pyramids built in the Classical period and easily explored on foot. Get lost in the cloud forest (there is also a well worn path if you don't fancy the Indiana Jones cliché). Get familiar with howler monkeys, and, if the road signs are to be believed, some very elusive jaguars.
No matter how much you love learning about history, (apparently Mayan kings used to climb to the top of the pyramids to party and hallucinate), what you're really going to be thinking when you see a towering pyramid in front of you is, how do I get up there? Unlike other worldly wonders, you can clamber to the top of the tallest temple and look out over the bright green jungle canopy. Go early and watch the sunrise; it's real bucket list ticking stuff.
The street art of Ataco
Head to Ataco and you are probably in search of El Salvador's coffee plantations. What you might not realise, and you're in for a treat, is that the sleepy town is painted top to bottom with brightly coloured, and often witty, murals. The colour turquoise is ubiquitous in Guatemala and El Salvador and Ataco is my favourite example of how artists and painters in this part of the world use colour like no one else; deep purples next to grassy greens, or cute corals jammed next to a rich cobalt. The buildings come alive and juxtapose the quiet residents, who have very nearly nodded off to sleep for the evening. Ataco is well worth a visit.
Tie dying in Suchitoto
Indigo. Indigo. Indigo. No trip to El Salvador is complete without a t-shirt dyed with Indigo - El Salvador's biggest export during the Spanish colonial era. Unleash your inner 90s kid and have a go at tie dying, before marveling at the intricately designed dresses, wall hangings and blouses. Perhaps even more striking is that the designers wear pure white cotton while they work, without a drop of dye falling on them!
The sunset over La Libertad
El Salvador's most famous beach is a surfing hot spot and it's as arduous to walk along as it is to try and paddle out with a board. La Libertad does chilled vibes very well though and there's a string of low-key bars to hang out in. The sunset is sickeningly good and the black volcanic rocks make the scene look almost apocalyptical. It's a perfect ten for atmosphere but sunbathers beware.
Iglesia de Rosario
The last stop on my whistle stop tour of El Salvador and the most beguiling church of them all, there had been many, was saved until the very last moment. You'll still see the bullet holes from the civil war in the walls of Iglesia de Rosario and the concrete is tired. Take a step inside however and the space is transformed by light shining through coloured stained glass. The feeling is indescribable but neatly captured in the image on the right.