San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador in more than just name as the city is home to one-third of the country's population and half of its total wealth. It is set in a basin surrounded by volcanoes, sometimes lending it an out-of-this-world feel, though anyone arriving in San Salvador will be well-advised to give their visit plenty of time. Not only is it the biggest city in San Salvador, it is the second largest in all of Central America so there is a lot to it.
However, there is more to San Salvador than the amenities of a metropolis. It is also a place that celebrates its long history. Don’t expect to find many buildings dating back to the furthest reaches of its existence. The city has had to deal with more than its fair share of catastrophe in the form of destructive earthquakes and the most recent of these levelled much of the city in 1854. Nevertheless, there are still many landmarks in existence to attract visitors including the Teatro Nacional de El Salvador – one of the grandest theatres in Central America, the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Presidential House.
San Salvador climate
The San Salvador climate is tropical but the key thing to remember is that there are only two seasons here: rainy and, well, not rainy. The former starts in May and carries on through the traditional Northern Hemisphere summer months until November.
When to fly to San Salvador
The most popular time to visit San Salvador is during the dry season – i.e. between November and April. The most popular times within that window are the start and end of the season when many local events and festivities take place. Among these is Holy Week, or Semana Santa, which starts on Palm Sunday and continues through to Easter Sunday and features carnival-style fiestas throughout San Salvador and indeed El Salvador.
In addition to the precipitation that is to be expected during the San Salvador rainy season, hurricanes, floods and landslides can also occur at this time, making it an unpopular time to visit despite the reduced hotel and air fares at this time.
Getting around San Salvador
Flights to San Salvador arrive at El Salvador International Airport, which is in Comalapa. From here it is advisable to take a taxi or rent a car from one of the many car rental agencies represented at the airport.
Many of the attractions in the city are quite far apart, making walking an unlikely transportation option. Although domestic bus services are by far the cheapest way of getting about, the service leaves a lot to be desired in terms of organisation. Destinations are rarely displayed and instead it is common for the locals to ask the drivers where their buses are going – this may work for the locals but may pose its own problems for visitors with fledgling language skills.
Driving around San Salvador poses its own problems though many of the major thoroughfares are long and straight even if the smaller streets are not, making local navigation relatively straightforward.
San Salvador insider information
- The Joya de Cerén Archaeological Site discovered in 1976 features the remains of an ancient farming community that was buried under several layers of volcanic ash for more than a 1,000 years. The Caldera volcano erupted in about 600AD, burying the community that lived in its shadow and preserving the ruins much like those at a similar site in Pompeii.
- Much like any major city, San Salvador is full of museums, galleries and other historic sites. The best of the lot that should not be missed by travellers visiting San Salvador are the David J Guzman National Museum of Anthropology and the Word and Image Museum though the National Theatre, the National Palace, and the National Cathedral are all also worth checking out.
- For a change of pace from the often hectic feel of the city head for La Laguna Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of the capital where a relaxing alternative to shopping and sightseeing awaits. Situated at the bottom of a no-longer active volcano, the gardens were built around a central lake and feature a staggering array of wildlife in the form of 3,500 species of plants. These are divided into 32 categories that include orchids, medicinal plants and begonias.
- Several areas in El Salvador are accessible from the capital and can be explored on day trips. These include La Libertad, a popular area for surfers; the Montecristo Cloud Forest which is about four hours' drive north as well as the Maya ruins of Tazumal, which can be reached in about two hours.
- Take in San Salvador's upscale nightlife at the Zona Rosa. Wealthy locals and tourists mingle in the area where local favourites include Senor Frog's, Stanza, Guadalajara Grill and Club Code. Remember that it is advisable to take a taxi back to your hotel after a night out.