San Salvador

About San Salvador


San Salvador:

Skyline and views


City centre, Old Town, Antiguo Cuscatlan, Galerias   Night market, Quetzaltepec, La Pampa el Volcan, Romero Airport, Escalón    

Historic Downtown       Central San Salvador
Catedral Metropolitana, Palacio Nacional, Plaza Barrios, Parque de la Libertad      

Salvador del Mundo (National monument), Torre Telefonica, Centro Financiero Gigante, Metrocentro, Parque Zoologique

Zona Rosa
San Benito
  El Escalón
Torre Futura/WTC
Galerias mall
Antiguo Cuscatlan
El Pedergal, San Salvador El Salvador Mormon Temple  

San Salvador by night       Shopping malls



La Libertad
  Oscar Romero International Airport   San Salvador Volcano - Quetzaltepec
  San Luis Talpa   Boquerón Volcano Valley


ABOUT San Salvador:

Population: 568 000 (metro 1 767 000)
Capital of El Salvador
San Salvador
Tallest building:
El Pedregal Torre 1 (104m, built 2010)
Area: 71.45 km² (metro 589.91 km² )
Elevation: 658m
Year visited: August 2016

San Salvador
is the capital of El Salvador and the largest city in the country. It is situated in the southern part of the country, about 10km from the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

San Salvador, or just San Sal, was founded in 1525 by the Spaniard Pedro de Alvarado. San Salvador means "the Holy Saviour" in Spanish. The city is surrounded by green mountains and volcanos, as it is situated in the Boquerón Volcano Valley. The top of the volcano Quetzaltepec (or San Salvador Volcano) can be seen from most parts of the city. The borders of the San Salvador Municipality are Acelhuate River to the east, the San Jacinto Hill on the south east, the lower highlands of the Balsam Range on the South, El Picacho Mountain and the Bicentennial Park to the West and North by the San Antonio River. Even thought there is only 2507000-568 000 inhabitants in the city itself (the exact figure is unsure), it feels very big because the metropolitan area has almost 2 million inhabitants, and is one of the largest in Central America. There is a threat of earthquake, active volcanos, zika virus (2016), bad roads and crimes in San Salvador, but most likely that is nothing you will experience during your visit, unless you are unlucky. If you won't let that scare you, you will find a modern exciting metropolis within only a few hours drive from beautiful beaches (popular for surfing) along the shore of the Pacific Ocean, green mountains, picturesque villages, lakes, maya ruins and volcanos. And the crime rate and poverty is decreasing, the country is developing. Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) have their headquarters in San Salvador.

San Salvador consist of mountains, modern highways, fastfood restaurants, lowrise residential buildings, large advertizment signs, large luxorious shopping malls, rundown buildings next to nice buildings, shantytown and a few modern office highrises. In some way it reminds of Los Angeles.

There are 6 districts in San Salvador. The West part is the safest and richest part of the city; especially the popular Zona Rosa neighbourhood, where you find most good hotels, entertainment, restaurants and night clubs. Here is also the posh El Escalón neighbourhood, that is one of the city's best residential areas. The new World Trade Center with the 92 m tall green curved glass office tower Torre Futura is a new shopping, business and restaurant district in El Escalón with fountains and great views of the city. Centro Comercial Galerias, probably the best shopping mall in the city, is also situated here. It features a restored heritage building inside.

District 1 is the most central district, it is more rundown and less safe then the Western parts. Here you find the Historical Downtown, the Old Town. After the large earthquakes in 1986 and 2001, many historical buildings collapsed or was partly destroyed. This part of the city has since then fallen into disrepair, since the commercial center has moved to the west, that offers modern buildings and good parking lots, but lacks the historical character of the old part. Plaza Barrios and Plaza Libertad/Parque Libertad (Liberty Plaza) are the two mayor squares in the historical downtown. At Plaza Gerardo Barrios (or Plaza Civica), the heart of San Salvador, you find both the impressive white Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana), the largest church of El Salvador, with the national hero Oscar Romero's tomb inside, and the beautiful National Palace (Palacio Nacional), a neo-classical white palace, with 4 main rooms in different colours (red room, yellow room etc) and 101 secondary rooms, and a beautiful courtyard filled with palms and greenery. Both are open to visitors (and of course we visited them). Until 1974 the Palacio Nacional housed the government, including the president's office (the yellow room). The equestrian Statue of Capitán General Gerardo Barrios, guarded by soldiers, stands in the middle of the square. Other significant heritage buildings around the square are the National Theatre (Teatro Nacional), a white neo-classicial building that is the oldest theater in Central America, built in 1917, the ugly (grey modernist building that replaced the old one that collapsed during an earthquake) but popular National Library (Biblioteca Nacional), the Central Reserve Bank of El Salvador, Iglesia El Rosario (a grey modern but interesting church with a beautiful colourful interior from 1971), Iglesia El Calvario (a beautiful old grey church), Basílica María Auxiliadora (a white church with a campanile, perhaps the most beautiful church of all) other churches and the Monument to the Heroes of 1811 (Monumento de los Héroes) at Plaza Libertad, a mix of a central square and a park. The old part is where you will find most pavements to walk on, and lots of markets and cheap stores in dark passages. There are some annoying beggars, but the number has decreased the latter years. Some of the beggars will follow you if you walk in to these dark shopping passages. Casa Dueñas is a grandiose mansion, built by a rich coffee farmer in the 1920s, it housed six American ambassadors and many other businesses and governments. Many celebrities, such as Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon and Clark Gable stayed there. It was restored in 2001 and is now the Ministry of Education. Calle Arce is a major street in the Historical Downtown.

If you don't look like a local, some locals will approach you to talk, since it is rare to see non-national tourists in this part of the city. They are harmless, and probably most curious, but can of course make some tourits nervous, considering the risk of scam. This area is definately the one that felt least safe of the ones we visited, probably because of its reputation, because it is the only area we actually walked outdoors in and because it is so rundown. But it has a great potential with its beautiful heritage buildings that need refurbishment.

WARNING! It is recommended to not walk in the old town alone, without being accompanied by someone who knows the area. If you got visible tattoos, it is definately recommended to cover them, if you don't want to end up in trouble with the locals gangs (that we didn't see, but we know people that got this kind of trouble). Heavily guarded policemen stand at the squares, where locals also sit down and relax, so you can feel fairly safe here daytime. It can also be dangerous to cross the streets, there are few crosswalks, and many of the pavements, if there are any, are in really bad condition. On top of that the motorists are driving like crazy and rarely yield to pedestrians! But if you keep attention and use common sense you will most likely not get into trouble.

In the more modern parts of Central San Salvador, you also find the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, the National Monument. It is a pedestal with a globe on top, with Jesus standing on top of it. The monument was erected in 1942 and stands in the middle of a busy traffic circle, Plaza El Salvador del Mundo. The plaza was heavily upgraded in 2010. The monument was damaged in the 1986 earthquake. A monument to Oscar Romero and a large El Salvadorian flag can also be found at the plaza. Next to the plaza is Centro Financiero Gigante from 1999, that consist of some of the tallest office buildings in San Salvador, the 17-storey Telefónica towers is a wellknown landmark in the city. Here you also find Metrocentro, the largest shopping mall in Central America and the luxury hotel Real Intercontinental, situated at Boulevard de los Heroes, that is one of the main roads of San Salvador. Metrocentro is partly an outdoor mall, was built in 1970 and was the first of six Metrocentros. The mall has 760 stores (!), 88 kiosks and 45 fastfood restaurants, and a cinema complex, Cinemark, with 12 cinemas! Parque Zoologique is a wellknown but somewhat neglect zoo, in a neglect area, in the central parts. There are a lot of beautiful churches in different styles in central San Sal.

There are few highrises and skyscrapers in the city, only a few that are built around traffic circles. Most buildings in San Salvador are lowrise buildings with 1-2 floors, due to earthquake, poverty and personal taste. There are many fastfood restaurants, Mister Donut is the most popular, and serves donuts and typical El Salvadorian (fast) food, and there are no less then 4 chains that are specialized in chicken, Pollo Campello is the largest one. Mc Donald's, Burger King will be found in every corner, as well as many Subways, Dunkin Donuts, Taco Bells and Starbucks. The middle class lives in gated communities, mostly white private residences in some townhouses were you enter through the garage gate and have gratings at the windows, mostly in the West part. The decreasing number of poor people live in sheds in shanty towns, and the working class all over the city. The upper class is very small, but is extremely rich and live in mansions in the mountains, with private drivers.

The latter years, several large and fancy malls have been built all around the city, especially in the West part, District 3, that is the safest and wealthiest part of the city. Multiplaza Panamericana, Metrocentro and Galerias are the largest ones, and probably the most spectacular. There are several Walmart supermarkets in the metro area, and SIMAN is a national department store chain. In Antiguo Custatlan you find the 104m tall El Pedregal Torre 1, from 2010, that is the tallest building in the country (and a second tower is planned). It is also one of the few highrise residential buildings in the country, almost all of them are in the West part of San Salvador. Next to the highrise is the large, colourful Multiplaza Panamericana mall, opened in 2004, and a white, large mormon temple with interesting architecture, El Salvador Temple, built in 2011. Torre Cuscatlan, a significant glass bank skyscraper that was tallest building in El Salvador from 1989-2008, is also situated in the West part. It has 19 floors and is 79m tall, enough to be a skyscraper in El Salvador.

At night, it is not as dangerous as one might think to drive around, visit malls and restaurants as long as you avoid walking around in the central areas or less good areas. Despite that guide books tell you not to go out after dark. Since it turns dark already about 6 in the evening that would be a bit extreme.

The international airport is since 2014 called Monseñor Oscar Romero International Airport, and is situated 50km from San Salvador, in the suburb San Luis Talpa, right at the sea. The airport, formerly known as El Salvador International, is locally known as Comalapa. It was built in 1980, is quite small and easy to navigate. Most flights are to the USA or other Latin American countries. It is the busiest airport in El Salvador, and the 3rd busiest in Central America.


In August 2016, we made a 2 and a half week long journey to El Salvador. The base was at private homes in the Western part of San Salvador and in Santa Tecla, a suburb just West of San Salvador. From San Salvador we made many daytrips, but also discovered the city. We drove around in a rental car and visited the old town, that was the only part were we could walk (due to safety and lack of pavements), several large and fancy malls, lots of avenues, highways and the surrounding natural sights, like Boquerón Volcano Valley with the Quetzaltepec volcano, those surrounding mountains also are overlooking the city. The capital is just a few hours drive from Ruta del Flores (area in the mountains with many attractions), Santa Ana (2nd largest city) and the Mayan pyramids of Tazumal, all in the West part. It is also about 4 hours drive to Guatemala.

Despite the rumour as one of the world's most crime ridden countries, we felt that it is more likely that the locals give money to you (that happend several times) then rob you.
At one occasion, we got flat tire on our mini van, on a trafficated road in the mountains of Ruta del Flores. We didn't get robbed, but we got help from truck drivers and some other bypassers wanted to help us as well! Unlike in many other countries, you will be given the exact amount of money, and will not be fooled around at local markets and shops. Most people, especially in the countryside, are very friendly.

It can be hard to get around if you don't speak spanish, but an increasing number of, especially young people, speak more and more English. You also see a lot of English on store signs and restaurants.

Since a few years back, the currency is $US dollars, El Salvador is one of the few countries in the world that use that, except for the USA.


It is an interesting metropolis, but it is not recommended to use the local buses (sometimes called "chicken buses" by tourists), former US school buses that have been repainted and personalized by private bus companies. But since a few years back so called SISTRAMSS buses operate some lines in the central parts, a safe way to take the bus. They are light blue Volvo buses with gated stations guarded by the police in special bus stations with glass doors, it works almost as a subway. There is no subway (but proposed plans for one) and few taxis, unless you want to take a ride on the back on a pick-up "taxi", so the best way to get around is by private or rental car. To make it even more complicated for tourists to get around, the roads are not the easiest to drive on. It is hard to navigate, to not say impossible if you not are accompanied by a local or a GPS, the traffic is very harsh, roads are often in bad condition. There are many cars in San Salvador, so you can get stucked for hours in traffic jams during rush hours. That is much because public transport is so poor, sometimes nonexistant or very dangerous.


The roads in San Salvador are in surprisingly good condition, especially the highway from the airport, but as soon as you leave the big cities of El Salvador, you will find roads in very bad conditions, many holes, small roads with hard terrain and no asphalt.
The driving manners are not the best, but not as bad as in, let's say Egypt. The ones taking the largest risks in the traffic are the pick-up trucks that have people standing outside on the back (!), a common site in El Salvador. Sometimes they drive by another vehicle in curves and hills with no sight at all. Using the flashing (warning) lights with no particular reason while driving is also a common site. I was told it will take just about one month and 50 dollars to get a drivers license. There are quite few police cars, all pick-ups, and they don't seem to care at all.

People are often crossing the highways, there are even some crosswalks, cars and trucks are allowed to cross there, and sometimes the local buses stop there, or a truck driver want to take a pause in the middle road (yes that happens!). That, and the sometimes bad conditions, are the reason why only about 80km/h are allowed on the highways.

Many cars are in very bad condition, with repaired parts and you don't expect it to even be in traffic, but you also see a lot of newer cars, mostly Japanese and Korean brands, nowadays. A special feature is, that it is quite popular to paint the headlights of cars and buses in blue or green colours just for fun, so don't expect all front lights to be white!

Very few people take the bike, there are just a few, new, biking lanes, and they cross the highway intersections (!), so it is very dangerous to take the bike (plus the risk for robbery). The bikers you see are mostly sports bikers. As mentioned, the local buses (the colourful old school buses) are not safe to use. There is a brand new, light blue, bus line, that has gated stations and is guarded by polices. This one is much safer.

It is common that children and young people try to wash your window when your car stops for red light, just to make some money for food and rent. Sometimes they do acrobatic stuff in the middle of the road! However, this is less common then about 10 years ago.


El Salvador is dangerous, one of the most dangerous countries in the world actually, but it is not as dangerous to visit as one might think. Especially not if you live with locals that knows where to go and not to go.
For example, avoid the border between San Salvador and Soyapanga. Robberies are common, but several locals, all over 30 years old, told me they have never been mugged in their entire life! Personally, we didn't feel anxious about the safety at all. May be because all stores, restaurants, malls, parks and residential neighbourhoods are guarded by policemen with machine guns! They are often very helpful to show you the way or when it is safe to drive. Anyway, the most notable issue is, that despite all these rumours of notorious gangs and extremely high murder rates, we didn't see any gangs at all, anywhere in the country! You know that, because almost all of the gang members are tatooed.


Lack of water is a big problem in the whole country. If you don't live in the most expensive hotel, you will not be able to flush the toilet at night, and sometimes not in the daytime either. Most of the public toilets are dirty and poor. The lack of water can also make it hard to find a place to wash your hands. At malls, fine hotels and fancy restaurants though, you will most likely find both tapping water and toilets with very good standard. Just don't expect it in public places and private homes! A striking issue is also the large number of stray dogs. There are many of them, they are hungry, skinny and sick, but most of them are very calm and sweet and just want some food and water. In the poor areas these dogs are killed or threated really badly! Here you can contribute to help saving them.

In 2016, during our visit there was a big hype of the so called zika virus in large parts of Latin America, mostly threating pregnant women but also other people. Although there are lots of mosquitos, and you will mostly likely be stucked a few times even if you sleep in a bed with a net, but the chance is very little that it will be by a zika mosquito and it won't kill you, just give you a bad flue. So the news are a bit exhaggarated, just like the crime reports of the country, that puts people off from discovering this beautiful country.


We visited in August. The weather is humid, at the airport the heat is almost unbearable, but in San Salvador it is better since it is situated 658m above the sea, and Santa Tecla almost a kilometer above. It turns dark very early, already around 6PM all year round. It is often raining in the evenings, and every evening there was some thunderstorm in or near San Salvador. Sometimes we only saw the flash in the sky, and sometimes there is a heavy rainfall, but nothing that annoyed us. But it rarely rains in the daytime. The temperature was about 27-36 degrees during our visit, and it was sunny most of the time.


The food is generally very good. Pupusas is the local food, and brown beans. They have special restaurants for pupusas, pupuserias. El Salvador has local fastfood brands, as well as most of the international ones represented (as mentioned earlier).

We also made a 2.5 half day trip to Guatemala City, about 7 hours by the cheap luxury bus Pullmantur (a very good, safe comfortable and luxorious yet not expensive bus company) from San Salvador. They also have tours to Teguicigalpa, Honduras.

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