Earth : North America : Central America : El Salvador : 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.
San Salvador lies in the "Valle de las Hamacas" (literally "Valley of the hammocks", as it was named by the colonizing Spaniards, 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, luxurious shopping malls, 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 exploring 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 dilapidated, cars vs pedestrians, the city has played a major role in defining and shaping the rest of this small yet intriguing 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.
Travelers arriving by air will fly into Comalapa International Airport (SAL), the biggest airport in Central America, which is located 45 minutes by highway from the city. One important thing to note about the airport is that it is located on the beach, and therefore only 20 minutes away from major beach destinations. Often tourists think they must go to the city in order to reach the beach, making what should be a 20-30 minutes drive 1.5 hours instead!
For budget travelers the local bus can take you from the airport into downtown San Salvador for $0.70 US. It is slower than the shuttles and can take up to an hour to get into town. To reach the local buses; cross the big parking lot. Then go through an open building to reach the road. There is a bus-stop.
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.
By far the cheapest option to get around is the public bus system. Generally speaking, bus fares run about $.60 per hour, making transportation to almost any tourist destination in the country less than $5 per person. Despite tourists' complaints, there are schedules to the busses; they run pretty regularly and reach any destination you wish to go.
Major car companies in El Salvador have a habit of being unreliable and for charging for damages that renters did not do. Safeguard yourself by thoroughly checking the car and taking good photos of it before leaving. Alamo has a particularly bad reputation for service and quality. National Rental Car has a fair reputation. The others fall in between. Private parties often rent their vehicles and are more honest than dealing with chains. Just make sure that the car comes with insurance as you will be responsible for damages in an accident or end up in jail until things can be sorted out!
Taxis also provide good ways of getting around. Negotiating the cost of your taxi before you step in is common practice and expected. Expect to pay around $25-35 between the airport and San Salvador or the airport and Playa El Tunco. Carry small denominations of money and have exact change for your taxi fare. It is not common to tip taxi drivers, although they may try to convince you to leave some spare change!
Distances between sights make walking an unpopular option for those in a hurry 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 the short, 15 minute walk between Zona Rosa and Las Terrazas (Sheraton hotel) which are close together and within sight of one another. If you are interested in Art Deco and Salvadoran architecture, walking is a perfect option to get around the city. One favorite stroll is along Paseo General Escalon (Colonia Escalon) to Central San Salvador - a 45 minute walk that takes you past many historical sites and interesting photo ops. Another great walking option is through Parque Bicentenario, a large green space in Antiguo Cuscatlan with paths and playgrounds, perfect for families.
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.
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 La Libertad, Plaza Morazan, Water Clock, Monument to the Sea, Atlacatl Monument and the Proceres Monuments (it has 10 busts of famous Salvadorans that line the street).
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 Saviour is San Salvador's Patron Saint and is celebrated with massive festivities during the first full week of August every year.
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.
One of the most surprisingly beautiful architectural gems in El Salvador is the Iglesia Rosario, a church built by sculptor Ruben Martinez in the 1970's. Resembling an airplane hangar from the outside, it is visually stunning as you step through the doors. The best time to visit is 4-5 pm.
Feria Internacional de El Salvador is the largest convention center in Central America. 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.
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 located at the bottom of a volcanic crater 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.
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! Puerto del Diablo is another interesting place near Los Planes, a natural rock formation that holds a morbid place in El Salvador's historical civil war. Rock climbing is abundant near here and you can find climbing activities with the Federacion Salvadorena de Montanismo Escalada. Visit the nearby colonial town of Panchimalco, one of the few towns in the country with a large indigenous population.
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.
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.
There are plans for an aquarium to be built in El Salvador. This Aquarium will be built in El Parque de los Pericos, next to the Multiplaza mall.
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.
One of the best Spanish Language Schools is:
Started by the former guerillas and a network of foreign aid, CIS strives to better the lives of the Salvadoran people. Their popular language school offers private and group classes, and often hosts lectures by former combatants and other notable people from El Salvador's recent history.
Top international schools (K-12) are:
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.
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. For Fair trade crafts from all over the country you can shop at the NGO Centro de Intercabio y Solidaridad. They have a store with diverse products and they support many small artisans.
There are many gas stations - the most notable being Texaco, Puma and Uno throughout the city. Many offer full-service for a higher price, so be sure to check if you are at the full service or the self-service pumps. Gasoline fluctuates between $4-$5 a gallon, averaging about $4.50 for Premium gas. Regular gas is often mixed with kerosene and other cheap liquids, which will eventually ruin your engine. It's advised to buy the premium at all gas stations, unless you want to deal with blown head gaskets!
All gas stations will raise their prices as much as $.50 per gallon for 2-3 weeks before any major holiday - first week of August, Easter and Christmas being the biggest ones in the country.
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
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.
When you are in El Salvador you won't have to worry about finding a place to eat, there is food everywhere you go.
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.
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 .
Owned by expat, Malcolm Collins who married a Salvadoran and has a passion for exploring his new home, Hostel Cumbres del Volcan is the quintessential bed and breakfast experience. Malcolm and his staff make visitors feel at home and can answer any questions you have about San Salvador. Ask Malcolm to see his photo collection of San Salvador dating back to the 1920's - he can point out the exact places in the city where the old building still are or were! Walking distance to many great bars, malls and all the amenities you might need. Dorms - $8 (tax included), Private rooms start at $25 (breakfast and tax included).
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.
Visit the hotel websites for specials.
San Salvador has had a history of violence. San Salvador was considered the most dangerous city in the world in 1992 due to the 13-year civil war that was just ending. Since then, San Salvador has seen a significant reduction in crime rates; however, until recently, it experienced some of the highest homicide rates in the world, next to Honduras and Guatemala. All three countries have been battling high amounts of gang activity although, in El Salvador, it was rarely directed towards foreign tourists. Within the last year, the Catholic Church has brokered a deal with gang members to reduce violence in exchange for job training programs, special amenities for leaders in prison and other requests made by the leaders of the MS 13 and 18th Street gangs. Since the beginning of this gang "truce" homicide rates have dropped by more than half. 
Some advice to staying safe:
Salvadorans consider malls, major stores and museums to be the safest places to spend time in the city. Often, wealthy Salvadorans will not go anywhere not surrounded by a high wall, barbed wire and an armed security guard. Foreign tourists are afforded a little more safety as the gang members do not know their private history, family name and how much money they have, and therefore should be relatively safe when using common sense while walking around the city and talking to people.
Some areas considered safest by Salvadoran elite and middle class: Colonia Escalon, Colonia San Benito, Zona Rosa, Santa Tecla and Antiguo Cuscatlan.
Areas considered more dangerous are: Soyapango, Mejicanos and Apopa, although with common sense and daylight hours, there are many interesting areas to explore in these parts of the city as well.
San Salvador is a city full of pharmacies. Hospital services are also very good and facilities include Hospital de Diagnostico in Villavicencio Plaza.
Finding a bank is not a problem within the city. Banks include Davivienda (formerly HSBC), Citibank, Banco Agricola, Banco Centromericano, Scotiabank, Procredit and others.
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.