San Salvador

San Salvador is the capital city of El Salvador, approximately in the center of the country in a valley near the base of the San Salvador volcano. The city has a long history, with origins dating back to the Spanish conquest of the Pipil tribes.

The new National Cathedral, facing Plaza Barrios in the city centre

Background

San Salvador lies in the "Valle de las Hamacas" (literally "Valley of the hammocks", as it was called by the Pipil, due to its intense earthquake activity) at the foot of the San Salvador volcano. It covers an area of 600 square km and is home to nearly 2 million people. It is home to one-third of El Salvador's population and one-half of the country's wealth. The downtown area is filled with shops and modern buildings, but unfortunately earthquakes have damaged or destroyed many of the city's historic buildings.

The people of San Salvador are generally friendly, though as in any large city, less inclined to engage in conversations with strangers on the street as opposed to other parts of the country. The wealthy live in exclusive suburbs behind tall security walls or luxury condominium buildings. Wealthier areas such as San Benito, Colonia Escalon, Colonia San Francisco, Colonia Maquilishuat, Santa Elena (where the US embassy is located) and Ciudad Merliot have tree-lined avenues, the biggest malls in Central America, bars, clubs, gyms, restaurants, luxury hotels, modern high-rise buildings, plazas, boutiques, cafes, luxury salons, jewelry stores, etc. Some of these neighborhoods are located in the hills surrounding the city and have breathtaking views. A number of new gated housing communities complete with parks, swimming pools, fitness facilities and tight security are popular with middle class families. Most of the city's hotels can be found in these suburbs.

There are middle class neighborhoods and residential areas close to the wealthy neighborhoods. Poorer areas are located in the northern and eastern districts, along with an abundance of shanty towns sprawling along the city's fringes.

San Salvador's climate is tropical, although the weather can vary; the nights may be cool (especially in December), however, most of the time it is sunny and warm. Wearing t-shirts, jeans, and possibly a light rain jacket is usually sufficient.

Whilst not on most tourists' "to do" list in El Salvador, the capital provides a good base for exploring the rest of the country as it's a transportation hub, with most major roads running through it due to its central location. Spending a few days exporing this cosmopolitan and internationally-conscious city can be a rewarding experience. Whilst parts can seem like a maze of confusion, rich vs poor, modern vs dilapitaded, cars vs pedestrians, the city has played a major role in defining and shaping the rest of this small yet intruiging country, once at the forefront of the Cold War. To understand this polarized country, it is essential to understand its political, cultural and social headquarters.

Get in

By plane

Visitors traveling by plane usually arrive at Comalapa International Airport (recently renamed after Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez) in Comalapa (IATA: SAL), located 50km or a forty-five minutes' drive south of the capital city.

A US$32 departure tax must be paid upon departure. Depending on the airline, the full amount or part of the tax may already be included in the price of your ticket and the amount you must pay will vary from US$0 - US$32.

Other airlines that fly into San Salvador include:

From the airport Taxi Acacya,  +503 2271 4937 or 2222 1202. offers limited colectivo services up into several major hotels in San Salavdor. At other times they offer a private taxi to a destination of the passenger's request.

There are no regular bus service to the airport per se. The closest thing is the #138 bus between Comalapa and San Slavador's Terminal Sur bus station just south of San Salvador. To get to the stop, for this bus, go across the parking lot in front of the airport terminal to the other building on the other side. Go through the building's breezeway (or open corridor) to the stop located on the other side of the building. Bus makes multiple stops en-route along Hwy 5 and gets crowded.

By bus

The following are international first or deluxe class (pullman) buses that go into San Salvador and Guatemala City. There are other lines that also go to Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and/or Costa Rica as well. TicaBus is the only company serving Panama City. They offer direct service to the said destination, without stopping and depart during the morning hours to arrive in the afternoon hours thus making them safer to travel in. Their service usually include reserved seating, movies, on board restrooms and air conditioning. On more deluxe classes they can offer more space to allow the the seats to recline further down and stewardess service for drinks and snacks. Most of these companies have their own terminal or an office or desk within a hotel in Colonia San Benito and/or El Centro.

Pullmantur, Sheraton Presidente San Salvador @ Ave De La Revolucion, Col. San Beneito,  +503 2526-9900. They serve San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua and San Jose.
Trans Galgos Inter, 7a Avenida 19-44 Zona 1, Guatemala City,  +502 2331-4279 or 2361-1773. Once daily departures to Tapachula via Retaluleau and Coatepeque (up to $43 o.w.) on one route and to Guatemala City ($13 o.w.) on another. Passengers transfer in Guatemala City to get to Quetzaltenango/Xela.
Platinum Centroamerica (King Quality), (Centro) 19 Avenida Norte y 3era. Calle Poniente; (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo, Pasaje 1, Local 415,,  +503 2281-1996, 2241-8704 or 2241-8787. They serve San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua and San Jose.
Comfort Lines, (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo Pasaje No. 1, 415; (Centro) 19 Ave. Norte y 3ra. Calle Poniente Esquina (ex Shell gas station),  +503 22418713/14 and 2281-1996. Only between Guatemala City, San Salvador, San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa and Managua. $25 o.w. or $50 rt.
Ticabus (Transportes Internationales Centromaericanos), (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo Local 301; (Hotel San Carlos) Calle Conception 121,  +503 2243-1188. The next stops from San Salvador are in Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and Managua. They travel to the major cities in all countries in Central America except Belize.
Transportes del Sol, Av La Revolución No 159-A, San Benito,  +503 2133-7800.

By car

If you drive to San Salvador from Comalapa, please exercise extreme caution. There are many residents who walk this highway as well as cross it. There are many accidents with vehicles speeding as well as people who are hit.

Get around

Old Micro Bus in San Salvador. These "micros" were replaced by new ones in 2010

If driving, rental car agencies include Budget , Alamo , and Hertz . Buses and taxis also provide good ways of getting around. Negotiating the cost of your taxi, Before you step in, is common practice and expected. Carry small denominations of money and have exact change for your taxi fare. If you do not have exact change, taxi drivers will try to convince you to make the change a tip instead. Distances between sights make walking an unpopular option, as does the street layout in the city; San Salvador is not a square city but has long avenues that are straight and streets that are not. That said, in some areas walking is a great option, such as from Zona Rosa to Las Terrazas (Sheraton hotel) which are close together and within sight of one another.

See

Boulevards

San Salvador has wide avenues and boulevards, including the two widest boulevards in Central America: Boulevard de los Proceres and Boulevard de los Heroes. Other important boulevards include Alameda Roosevelt, Paseo General Escalon, Av. Jerusalem, Boulevard Constitucion and Av. Juan Pablo Segundo.

Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, also called Plaza Las Americas

Monuments

San Salvador has many beautiful monuments, some of them dating back to the early 20th century, while others are more modern. Some of the most important monuments include the National Palace, Plaza Gerardo Barrios, Plaza Morazan, Water Clock, Monument to the Sea, Atlacatl Monument and the Proceres Monuments (it has 10 monuments). One of the most recognizable monuments in El Salvador is the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, or "Monument to the Saviour of The World".

The Metropolitan Cathedral has the tomb of Monsignor Oscar Romero (enter from right-side entrance), open from 8 AM to 12 PM, 2 PM to 4:45 PM daily.

Business

Feria Internacional de El Salvador is the largest convention center in Central America. El Salvador is rated the third best place for investment in Latin America by Moody's. Some of the very wealthy business families in San Salvador and throughout El Salvador are Siman (owners of the largest department store chain in Central America), Poma (owners of Grupo Roble and Grupo Poma), Quiros (owners of Grupo Q in Central America), Kriete (owners of TACA Airlines), Dueñas (owners of La Gran Via), the family that owns Biggest, Pops, Nash and Mister Donut, and a lot of other important families. In addition, San Salvador is one of the only two cities in Central America that have a World Trade Center.

Parks

San Salvador has a large urban park, the "Parque de los Pericos". There is another park called Parque Cuscatlan (close to downtown), which is very elegant, with lights, trees and paths. Popular with locals, the beautiful botanical gardens of La Laguna (close to the U.S. embassy) showcase much native fauna. Zoologico Nacional (The National Zoo), and Parque Saburo Hirao (with a collection of native plants) are in the SE part of the city by the old Presidential House.

A statue of the Aztec god Xipe Totec in the David J Guzman Museum

If you don't get a chance to visit smaller towns and villages outside the capital, a must see destination is Los Planes De Renderos. 1000 Meters above sea level, and it offers a spectacular view of San Salvador. This is a popular oasis for locals from the hectic city life. Check out the restaurants, and near-by parque Balboa, (Balboa Park) with lots of trees and green lawns, ideal for picnics. Indulge yourself eating the tasty salvadorean treat known as pupusas! Visit the nearby colonial town of Panchimalco, one of the few towns in the country with a large indigenous population. Another interesting spot not to be missed is the spectacular natural formation and viewing area known as Puerta del Diablo (devil's gate).

The David J Guzman Museum of Anthropology

Museums

San - Salvador has many museums, the two most important are "Museo David J Guzman" and "Museo de Arte MARTE". David J Guzman National Museum of Anthropology contains a variety of Mayan and Pipil artifacts, while Museo de Arte MARTE displays an extensive collection of international art. Both are located in the Zona Rosa district. There is also a children's museum, the Tin-Marin museum, where kids can experience the world in a fun way. The old national palace is being restored to house the "National Archives," and the "National Museum." Also a new display of early mammal fossils, including a giant sloth, mastodon and more than twenty other species is being set up in the "Museo de Historia Natural," or "Natural History Museum" situated in the SE section of Saburo Hirao park by the National Zoo. Close to the zoo is the "Museo Militar," or Military Museum which is housed in the old castle-like "El Zapote" barracks built in 1895. In the military museum you can find weapons and army uniforms from the 17th, 18th, and early 20th centuries, which were historically used by the Salvadoran army. Other highlights of this museum include the original copies of the 1992 peace accords and the Pope Mobile used when Pope John Paul II visited the country. Entrance is free and a guide service is provided at no charge.

View of MARTE museum's courtyard and Teatro Presidente in the background

Theaters

San Salvador has numerous theatres, including the beautiful Teatro Presidente (located near Zona Rosa), where the symphony regularly performs expensive and inexpensive concerts, and the Teatro Nacional (downtown), which was recently restored to its full splendor. Here you can step back and experience the grandeur once reserved for the city's elite in the early 1900s.

The National Theatre (Teatro National) in downtown built in the early 1900's

Entertainment

San Salvador has several entertainment venues. You can go to restaurants, bars, clubs, casinos, or if you are traveling with kids you can go to the cinemas, bowling, bingo, arcades etc. Cinemas in San Salvador include

You can also play video games at World Games and El Mundo Feliz. Families may also want to visit Central America's largest toy store:

The trendiest night spot to visit is called Zona Rosa. Some of the best hotels are located there, including the Sheraton Presidente as well as one of the most luxurious hotels in Central America, the Hilton Princess. Although Zona Rosa doesn't cover a large area (around 1sq mi), it's home to many exclusive, upscale bars and nightclubs (Los Alambiques, Code), and the best restaurants in town (Paradise, 503, A lo Nuestro). If you want to visit a nightclub without the probable inconvenience of not being let in, you should visit Las Terrazas (Stanza, Envy) at Multiplaza Mall.

Learn

There are many private schools and universities, including numerous language schools. Some of the best private schools are

Buy

Multiplaza, one of the new malls in the country, San Salvador volcano is in the background

Malls

Some of the shopping malls include: Loma Linda, Multiplaza, Las Fuentes, Galerias (elegant), Metrocentro (said to be the largest in Central America), El Paseo (expensive), Plazamundo, Plaza Merliot, La Gran Via (a lifestyle center / "city walk"), Las Cascadas, Basilea (unique), Plaza San Benito, Villas Españolas and many more. These malls have luxury boutiques, the latest in international fashion, specialty stores, large foodcourts (some even have 3 food courts) and many other amenities.

Inside Multiplaza Mall

Local Crafts

For local arts and crafts, visit the Ilopango markets east of the city. Test your bargaining skills and take home some unique, handmade goods. For cheap souvenirs such as hammocks and other local crafts try the Mercado Cuartel. A good hammock can be yours for under $15 US, depending on bargaining skills.

Fuel

There are many gas stations, including Texaco, Shell, Puma, Petrotec, Esso and others all over the city. Many offer full-service.

Department stores

San Salvador and some Mexican cities are the only cities in Latin America with Sanborns (restaurant and store chain) and Dorians (or Sears). Other department stores include Siman, Carrion and Almacenes Europa.

Supermarkets and Other Retail Stores

Eat

The restaurant scene in San Salvador is influenced by many different cultures. Food options include Italian, Korean, Japanese, Thai, French, Chilean, American, Peruvian, Mexican, Spanish, Middle Eastern, German, Chinese, Argentinian and others. Local food options include Tipicos Margot where one can purchase the famous Salvadoran Pupusas. Perhaps the biggest indictment against the quality of the San Salvador restaurant scene however is the sheer number of chain restaurants referenced in this article.

Budget

When you are in El Salvador you won't have to worry about finding a place to eat, there is food everywhere you go.

Mid range

Splurge

If you need to buy something, there are a lot of supermarkets in this city. Some are international, which come from Guatemala, the USA and other countries that are interested in bringing supermarkets to San Salvador. The supermarkets contain products such as food, clothing, candies, tools, shampoos, toys, cosmetics, soaps, etc.

Drink

San Salvador is well-known for its nightlife. Clubs and bars can be found in the Zona Rosa, Basilea Mall, La Terraza (Sheraton Hotel), Las Terrazas (Multiplaza Mall), Boulevard de Los Heroes, Temptation Plaza, and the bars and restaurants area in La Gran Via (Mall and night lifestyle center). These places have many bars, discos, restaurants, DJ centers and boutiques.

Visit the laid back bohemian bars (university crowd) around Calle San Antonio Abad to meet interesting locals or head to the Zona Rosa/Multiplaza Mall area to dance the night away with the city's style-conscious upper class youth.

Bars and Clubs

For the latest information on gigs, raves,dance parties, international acts and concerts in San Salvador check here: (Spanish). Larger events and conventions are generally held in the Feria Internacional .

Sleep

Budget

Mid range

The staff of all the hotels speak English and Spanish, but there are also others who speak other languages. All the hotels include room service.

Splurge

Stay safe

San Salvador has had a history of violence. San Salvador was considered the most dangerous city in the world in 1992. Today, El Salvador experiences some of the highest homicide rates in the world, and it is considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. Crime rates in general have been steadily growing throughout the years. Most tourists will experience few problems in the city as they are not specifically targeted. Most murders are committed by gang members against members of other gangs.

To stay safe:

You are not likely to have a problem in the malls or inside major stores or museums, and most public buildings are full of security guards, alarms, fire extinguishers, etc.

There is much gang violence in El Salvador, but in San Salvador the downtown areas, the malls, the Zona Rosa, most tourist attractions, and the upmarket neighborhoods are generally safe. Doing your homework and avoiding gangland areas will ensure you have a hassle free and enjoyable experience.

No matter how adventurous you may feel, it is strongly advisable to stay away from the city's poorer districts of Soyapango, Barrio Mejico and Apopa and its surroundings on the east and north sides of the city.

Cope

Health services

San Salvador is a city full of pharmacies. Hospital services are also very good and facilities include Hospital de Diagnostico in Villavicencio Plaza.

Banks

Finding a bank is not a problem within the city. Banks include HSBC, Citibank, Banco Agricola, BanTpym, Banco Centromericano, Scotiabank, Procredit and others.

Embassies

Go next

You can get out of Comalapa International Airport or rent a plane for a moderate fee in Ilopango Airport to give you a ride to other of the countries important cities. The rent a plane service is available to go to Santa Ana, San Miguel and La Union (on Tamarindo, near the Gulf of Fonseca where you can board a ferry to take you to the other Islands)

If you are looking for an excursion out of the city, check the classified section of the newspaper El Diario de Hoy ("Asesores de Viaje y Excursiones" heading) for any reasonably priced tours that may be departing soon.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.