Poor, poorer, poorest, San Salvador: that is probably the feeling you get when you finally reach the capital and you are travelling from Mexico in the north to Costa Rica in the south. And yes, some areas of San Salvador are crime-infested because of the drug gangs. But the city also has some incredible landmarks and stunning scenery, perched between the hills.
So yes, you should actually visit San Salvador. Make up your own mind. Enjoy the art. Enjoy the chaos. 24 hours does not do this city justice, but it’s a good first taste…
The proper Latin American thing to do is obviously to have lunch in one of the many markets. The mercado Ex-Cuartel is one of the loudest and will strip you of any fears to indulge in local society. This one is always busy, so take care of your belongings and keep smiling.
If a market is too much chaos for you, the stretch of Calle Delgado around Morazan square is a safe bet. Prices for a lunch are almost at European levels here, so no risk of bad surprises here.
Good to know
- Obviously, the city is too big to cover in one day. We’ll get back here for a 72-hour-stretch in the future, but to give you some ideas how to spend your time here:
- Panchimolco: a couple of kilometres south of the city, this art village is a haven of peace compared to San Salvador and a good daytrip
- Volcan El Boqueron is on the western edge of the city. There is a paved path (around $3 entrance) towards a beautiful view point of the city. Check the weather forecast beforehand though because it can be foggy and smoggy
- Centro Historico Monsenor Romero: dedicated to the murdered archbishop, this place tells the story of his life. Located south of the UCA university grounds
- Jardin Botanico La Lagunba: after visiting the Romero center, this botanical garden in the same area is a treat of nature
- Colonia Escalon: full of shops and cafes, this is a pleasant suburb to spend walking around, also in the evening
- Safety: the reputation of San Salvador is not entirely undeserved, especially if you look at the crime statistics. On the other hand, just as in other Central American capitals crime is almost always connected with drug gangs and/or extreme poverty. Use common sense (no visible valuables, no huge amounts of money, only one payment card, use cash machines in public places) to avoid obvious trouble. Downtown is alright during the day, avoid it after dark. The eastern neighborhoods should be avoided at any cost. Zona Rosa and Colonia Escalon are in general safe. If in doubt, use a taxi, especially in the evening
- Getting there and around: the capital is obviously well-connected to other places in Salvador, mainly by chicken buses and minivans. Most of them leave or pass the Terminal Occidente (destinations in the west), Sur (south & southeast) and Oriente (north and east), from which you can walk or take a taxi to your final destination within the city. Buses ron until around 7.30pm, after that you need a taxi anyway. International connections are best done by luxury coaches, with the additional benefit that the personnel is used to crossing borders and can assist you with the procedures if there are any problems. Platinumcentroamerica.com has services to and from Nicaragua (Leon and Granada, sometimes through Esteli as well). Tica Bus is doing the same, both have offices in the Zona Rosa (and Tica near the city centre in Calle Concepcion as well). An alternative is to travel to El Tunco and book a minivan through Gekko Trail Explorer. All these companies also have connections to Guatemala, usually Antigua and Guatemala City. In all cases the website doesn’t always show reliable schedules, it’s best to pay them a visit