San Salvador

Surrounded by a ring of mountains in a valley known as 'Valle de las Hamacas', San Salvador has suffered from both natural and man-made disasters. El Salvador's capital is a bustling cosmopolitan city with a rich blend of architectural styles; modern, yet retaining the charm of the Spanish era with the privilege of being one of the first European cities in the New World. Today, crumbling buildings await renovation and restoration, or the arrival of the next earthquake to deliver the final death knell. As always, some areas speed to recovery, and the shopping malls and wealthy suburbs to the west stand out in the pollution-filled valley. The further northwest you get from the city centre the higher you climb and the cleaner the air becomes.

San Salvador itself does not have many natural attractions, but there are several day trips to nearby volcanoes, crater lakes and beauty spots such as Los Planes de Renderos, the Puerto del Diablo and San Salvador's own volcano, Boquerón, which has a newly inaugurated paved road all the way to the top. There are, surprisingly, many green areas and trees planted alongside the streets giving the city a refreshing atmosphere. If you spend a few days in the city and surrounding area you could be pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to get around and how much there is to do.

Getting there

international airport
) is at Comalapa, 62 km southeast of San Salvador towards Costa del Sol beach, reached by a four-lane, toll highway. Some domestic flights use the old airport at Ilopango, 13 km east of the capital. Most
international buses
arrive at the Puerto Bus terminal, although luxury services and
have their own terminals. Domestic bus lines use terminals at the east, south and west ends of the city.

Getting around

The main focal points of the city are the historical centre, the commercial district some 3 km to the west around Boulevard de los Héroes, and the residential and commercial districts of Escalón and Zona Rosa another 2 km further west. City buses and taxis are needed to get between the three .

Four broad streets meet at the centre: Avenida Cuscatlán and its continuation Avenida España run south to north; Calle Delgado and its continuation Calle Arce, with a slight blip, from east to west. This principle is retained throughout: the
run north to south and the
east to west. The even-numbered
are east of the central
, odd numbers west; north of the central
, they are dubbed Norte, south of the central
Sur. The even-numbered
are south of the two central
, the odd numbers north. East of the central
they are dubbed Oriente (Ote),
west of the central
Poniente (Pte). Sounding more complicated than it is, the system is straightforward and quickly grasped.

Tourist information

Corporación Salvadoreña de Turismo (Corsatur)
, Good information on buses, archaeological sites, beaches and national parks. Texaco and Esso sell good maps at some of their service stations. The
Instituto Salvadoreño de Turismo
, has useful information about the 13 government-run
recreation and water parks in the country and on Cerro Verde and Walter T Deininger national parks.

Best time to visit

The climate is semi-tropical and healthy, and the water-supply relatively pure. Days are often hot, especially in the dry season, but the temperature drops in the late afternoon and nights are usually pleasantly mild. Since it is in a hollow, the city has a very bad smog problem, caused mainly by traffic pollution. Efforts are being made to reduce vehicle emissions.


The city centre is considered by many to be dangerous after dark, but the area north of Bulevar de los Héroes up to around San Antonio Abad is quite safe. As a general rule, stay out of poorly lit areas and keep to main roads where there are more people around. At night, taxis are a sensible alternative if you don't know where you're going exactly.

Armed security personnel are commonplace. There is a heightened atmosphere of tension in some areas. In downtown markets, don't carry cameras, don't wear watches or jewellery and don't flash money around.


San Salvador was first established by Gonzalo, brother of the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, in 1525. The settlement was named in honour of Christ the Saviour who, Pedro believed, had saved him from death in his first attempt to conquer the peoples of
, as the region was then known. In 1528 the town was moved to a site near present-day Suchitoto, only to be relocated 20 years later to its present location. Over the next three centuries it developed into the capital of the province of San Salvador. The city has been destroyed by earthquakes 14 times since 1575, the last being in 1986. Nowadays the buildings are designed to withstand seismic shocks, and most stood up well to the earthquake of 2001.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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