Although El Salvador only covers an area of about 21,040 km2 (the smallest country in Central America), it is the most densely populated. El Salvador is home to more than 6,500,000 people. It is divided into 14 sections called Departamentos. It has 25 volcanoes, 14 lakes, and four large cities and is divided in to East, Central and West with the capital San Salvador in the central region, Santa Ana in the west, and San Miguel, the largest city in the east.
Pre-Columbian to early independenceEdit
The civilization of El Salvador dates from the pre-Columbian time, around 1500 B.C., according to evidence provided by the ancient structures of Tazumal in Chalchuapa.
|Currency||United States dollar (USD)|
|Population||6.4 million (2018)|
|Electricity||115 volt / 60 hertz (NEMA 1-15, NEMA 5-15)|
|Emergencies||911 (police, emergency medical services, fire department), 913 (fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
The Spanish Admiral Andrés Niño led an expedition to Central America and disembarked on the Island Meanguera, located in the Gulf of Fonseca, on May 31st, 1522. This was the first Salvadoran territory visited by the Spaniards. In June 1524, Spanish Captain Pedro de Alvarado began a predatory war against the native tribes of Cuzcatlán. During 17 days of bloody battles many natives and Spaniards died. Pedro de Alvarado was defeated and, with an injury to his left hip, abandoned the fight and fled to Guatemala, appointing his brother, Gonzalo de Alvarado, to continue with the conquest of Cuzcatlán. Later, his cousin Diego de Alvarado established the Villa of San Salvador in April 1525. King Carlos I of Spain (who also ruled in what is now Germany as Karl V) granted San Salvador the title of City in the year 1546. During the following years, El Salvador developed under Spanish rule.
Towards the end of 1810, the criollos (European descendant people born in the Spanish colonies) who had long been excluded from most real power in the colonies, wanted to overthrow the tiny elite of peninsulares (people born in mainland Spain) and the colonial administration. The moment to fight for independence from Spain arrived at dawn on November 5th, 1811, when the Salvadoran priest, Jose Matías Delgado, sounded the bells of the Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, making a call for insurrection. As with most former Spanish colonies, independence was made likelier by the fact that Spain was occupied by Napoleonic troops and the colonial administration was unsure whether they should be loyal to the former king or the new king of Napoleon's choosing. After many internal fights and setbacks that made independence seem unlikely, the Acta de Independencia (Act of Independence) of Central America was signed in Guatemala on September 15th, 1821. Like the other four Central American states that gained independence that day, El Salvador joined the short lived United Provinces of Central America, the closest those five countries have ever come to a meaningful form of political unity since.
While independence brought more political participation (at least in theory) to the (white) land-holding elites and urban middle class, the indigenous population didn't benefit at all and in fact continued to be disenfranchised and dispossessed even more. By 1900 over 90% of the land was in the hand of just 0.01% of the population, a situation that would prove to threaten the country's political stability for much of the time to come.
The fraudulent elections of January 1932 were the detonating factor of the social outbreak. Several voting sites were suspended in populations in which the Communist Party had a strong presence. A new insurrection began. After two frustrated assaults on the Cuartel de Caballería (Cavalry Quarters) were conducted by the rebel forces, the government ordered martial law. Strict censorship of the press was implemented. In the following days thousands of farmers and workers, carrying machetes and some few "Mauser" rifles attacked police stations, municipal offices, telegraph stations, warehouses, and wealthy landowners' properties. This insurrection was crushed. On January 31st, Manuel Antonio Castañeda sentenced Farabundo Martí to death. He was shot and killed on February 1st, 1932. Another sad consequence of the uprising and its suppression was "la Matanza", a mass slaughter of indigenous people (many of them sympathetic towards Martí but many of them not) simply for being indigenous, looking indigenous, wearing clothes deemed to be indigenous or speaking indigenous languages. While not all indigenous people were actually killed, it dealt a huge blow to indigenous culture and even today less than 1% of Salvadorans self-identify as indigenous, the lowest number in all of Central America. While this is in part due to fear of being discriminated against or stereotyped when identifying as indigenous, there are some people of indigenous descent that have lost all ties to the culture of their ancestors and don't self identify as indigenous because of that.
Over the next decades, many coups d'états followed, including the one that overthrew General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez.
Relations with Honduras deteriorated in the late 1960s. There was a border clash in 1967, and a four-day so-called guerra de futbol (Soccer War), as it was named by the international mass media, broke out in July 1969 after a FIFA world cup qualification match between the two countries. The war ended with a cease-fire prompted by pressure from the United States and the Organization of American States. The Salvadoran forces that had invaded Honduras were withdrawn. They were just a few kilometers outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras' capital.
A movement of organized leftist guerrillas sprang up in 1974 and 1975, amid increasing political violence. In 1980, three of the leftist organizations united to coordinate a fight against the government. This movement was called FMLN (Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional. English: Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front). In March of the same year Monseñor Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while he was celebrating mass. It is widely believed that the order for his execution came from Major Roberto D'Abuisson, the founder and leader of ARENA, a right-wing party. D'Abuisson is best known for his suspected involvement in death squad murders. He died of cancer in 1992. On January 16th, 1992, the government of El Salvador and the FMLN signed Los Acuerdos de Paz (Peace Accords) in Chapultepec, Mexico, putting an end to one of the most painful chapters in the history of El Salvador. The 12 years of armed conflict claimed the lives of over 75,000 people and caused the exodus of hundreds of thousands more who fled to the United States, Canada, and other countries to escape the violence.
The FMLN today is a legal political party today and has done quite well in recent elections. Apart from economic woes a big problem the country still faces is also somewhat of a legacy of the war as some people who left El Salvador ended up in American jails and upon release were deported to El Salvador bringing with them US style gang culture. As many of these people were very young when they left El Salvador more or less their only source of identity was gang culture, and thus combating these extremely violent groups has proven to be extremely difficult.
Today, El Salvador is stable and with a growing economy, leaving behind its painful history.
Tropical; rainy season (May to October); dry season (November to April); tropical on the coast; temperate in the uplands.
As this is a tropical country, temperature doesn't depend all that much on season but rather altitude and time of day. If you have never been to the tropics and want to capture a sunrise or sunset be very quick, as the sun sets and rises much faster than in the temperate or even polar zones.
|Date||English Name||Spanish Name||Remarks|
|March/April||Easter||Semana Santa||Celebrated with carnival-like events in different cities by the large Catholic population|
|May 1||Labor Day||Día del Trabajo||International Labor Day|
|May 10||Mother's Day||Día de la Madre||.|
|August 1-7||August Carnival||Fiestas Agostinas||Week long festival in celebration of El Salvador del Mundo, patron saint of El Salvador.|
|September 15||Independence Day||Día de independencia||Celebrates independence from Spain, achieved in 1821AD|
|October 12||Columbus Day||Día de la Raza||This day commemorates the arrival of Europeans in the Americas|
|November 2||Day of the Dead||Día de los Difuntos||A day on which people usually visit the graves of deceased loved ones.|
|Final week of November||San Miguel's Carnival||Carnaval de San Miguel||Week long carnival in San Miguel|
|December 25||Christmas Day||Navidad||Salvadorans stay up on December 24th until midnight to welcome Christmas with a huge "arsenal" of firecrackers|
|December 31||New Year's||Año nuevo||Salvadorans stay up on December 31st until midnight to welcome the New Year the same way as Christmas (You can hear the deafening sound of the firecrackers on both days all over the country).|
Immigration requires that visitors entering El Salvador have their passport and one of the following documents: visa or tourist card. Visas are issued by the Consulate of El Salvador accredited in the countries where these type of diplomatic missions exist; and the tourist card is generally issued for 90 days and can be purchased for US$10 at the port of entry.  [formerly dead link] Passports of certain countries might need to obtain a visa before entering El Salvador such as Malaysia. Visa for U.S. citizens is free. Some countries pay a fee for the issuance of the visa.
A US$32 departure tax must be paid upon departure. Depending on the airline, the full amount or part of the tax may already be included in the price of your ticket.
Airlines that fly into El Salvador include:
- Avianca has been the national airline of El Salvador since its merger with Taca. They have a monopoly and high ticket prices, especially for travel within Central America. Shop around for deals.
- Aeromexico Connect (Mexico City Benito Juarez Airport).
- American Airlines (Miami Airport and Dallas Fort Worth Airport)
- Copa Airlines (Panamá City Tocumen Airport)
- Delta (Atlanta Airport)
- Iberia (Madrid Barajas)
- Spirit Airlines (from Fort Lauderdale)
- United (Houston Intercontinental Airport and Newark Liberty Airport)
The Pan-American highway travels through El Salvador and is a safe route for entering the country and travelling between San Miguel in the East and San Salvador in the West
The following bus companies offer luxury (and safer) bus travel between El Salvador and other Central American destinations:
- Pullmantur, Sheraton Presidente San Salvador @ Ave De La Revolucion, Col. San Beneito, ☏ . They serve San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua and San Jose.
- Trans Galgos Inter, 7a Avenida 19-44 Zona 1, Guatemala City, ☏ , . departs 13:00. Once daily departures to Tapachula via Retaluleau and Coatepeque (up to $43 one way) on one route and to Guatemala City ($13 one way) on another. Passengers transfer in Guatemala City to get to Quetzaltenango/Xela.
- Platinum Centroamerica (King Quality), (Centro) 19 Avenida Norte y 3era. Calle Poniente; (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo, Pasaje 1, Local 415,, ☏ , , . They serve San Salvador, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Managua and San Jose.
- Comfort Lines, (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo Pasaje No. 1, 415; (Centro) 19 Ave. Norte y 3ra. Calle Poniente Esquina (ex Shell gas station), ☏ , . Only between Guatemala City and San Salvador. $25 one way or $50 return.
- Ticabus (Transportes Internationales Centromaericanos), (San Benito) Boulevard del Hipódromo Local 301; (Hotel San Carlos) Calle Conception 121, ☏ . The next stops from San Salvador are in Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa and Managua. They travel to the major cities in all countries in Central America except Belize.
- Transportes del Sol (Av La Revolución No 159-A, San Benito), ☏ .
- Arsotur, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Direct shuttle service from Antigua, Guatemala to El Roble Hostal, Playa San Diego and other beaches of El Salvador.
If driving, rental car agencies include Alamo and Hertz. Buses and taxis also provide good ways of getting around. Distances between sights make walking an unpopular option, 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 aren't. That said, in some areas walking is a great option, such as in Zona Rosa.
El Salvador now has a well developed GPS navigation system called QFind that can help you move around either in urban or rural areas. This is a fully functional system with thousands of points of interest and turn by turn routing to your destination.
Another option for luxury transportation is Linea Ejecutiva, they bring private transfer. If you want, you can contact the Bureau of Conventions of El Salvador to visit the country.
All rail transport in El Salvador was suspended in October 2002.
In 2006 a pilot scheme for reviving the rail network commenced and in 2007 a service between San Salvador and Apopa was restarted with two return trips each morning and evening aimed at commuter traffic. Whilst this will be of little use to travellers, it may be a sign of a future reopening of more of the extensive rail network.
Numerous buses traverse the highways of the country. Domestic bus services are typically very cheap (not more than $2-3 for even the longest rides) and difficult to understand except they are consistently numbered. Single and double digit numbers designate local, in-town routes while buses numbered in the triple digits travel between cities and towns. The buses themselves are often very well painted and adorned with all kinds of posters and trinkets, ranging from the religious to the pop-culture. As chaotic as it may seem they do run consistently and frequently. Longer bus rides may include a stop in some town where plenty of mujeres, and sometimes their children, too, will board hawking mangos, nuts, water, and even sometimes fried chicken in a box. There is no central agency that coordinates bus routes and schedules except to see HorarioDeBuses.com to get an idea as to which bus to take get there and from where. The site also includes a map showing where the bus stations are at. It is best to just ask the cobrador or anyone at the bus station where the bus is going and when. Most are very friendly and helpful, but do watch out for scams on the buses
Microbuses are an inexpensive way to get around, but they are often very crowded, and it is very easy to be robbed.
The official language in El Salvador is Spanish, however a large population does speak English. Around 1% of people speak Izalco or Nahuat, the Pipil language.
The countryside of El Salvador is breathtaking, with volcanoes and mountains offering "green" adventurers exactly what they are looking for. Many of environmentally-oriented community-based organizations promote eco-tourism, and there are a number of beautiful and secluded beaches and forests scattered throughout the country.
A well-maintained and practically deserted national park is found in the west at Bosque El Imposible. Additionally, there is Montecristo Cloud Forest, and a quaint fishing village with incredible local hospitality and remote coconut islands in La Isla de Méndez. Isla de Olomega in the department of San Miguel is an excellent eco-tourism destination, as are the beautiful Isla El Cajete in Sonsonate, Isla San Sebastian, Conchagua, Conchaguita, Isla Conejo, Isla Teopan, and Isla Meanguera.
One should also visit the colonial towns of Apaneca, Juayua, Panchimalco, and Suchitoto as well as the Mayan sites of San Andrés, Joya de Cerén (the Pompeii of Central America and an UNESCO World Heritage Site), and Tazumal, whose main pyramid rises some 33 m (75 feet) into the air. The on-site museum showcases artifacts from the Pipil culture (the builders of Tazumal), and paintings that illustrate life in pre-Hispanic El Salvador. Souvenir hunters will find some of the best artisans in San Juan el Espino and in La Palma (the artisan capital of El Salvador).
The capital, San Salvador, is a cosmopolitan city with good restaurants highlighting the country’s fresh seafood, and plenty of shopping, entertainment and nightlife.
San Miguel in the East offers tourists a more authentic way to see El Salvador by getting off the beaten track to see its countryside, coastline and lakes
- Surfing El Salvador is gaining a reputation for having some of the best surfing in the world. Tourists from all over Central America are discovering the surfing meccas of La Libertad (near San Salvador), El Sunzal, El Zonte and El Cuco (near San Miguel ), transforming El Salvador into the fastest growing surf tourism hot-spot in Central America.
- Stand-up paddleboarding at the famous Intipuca Beach
- Water skiing, tubing, wake boarding, para sailing, jet skiing in Playa El Esteron, one of the most beautiful beaches in El Salvador
- Volcano hiking up Chaparrastique - One of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador
- Nature hikes and lake tours to Isla de Olomega on Lake Olomega
- Waterfalls and hot springs
- 'Drink! - stay up all night long in Zona Rosa
Exchange rates for U.S. dollars
As of 23 June 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
El Salvador's official currency is the U.S. dollar, denoted by the symbol "$" (ISO currency code: USD). Carry only $1, $5, $10 or $20 bills. Most stores, supermarkets and department stores won't accept $50 or $100 bills. If you need to exchange to lower denominations, you can go to any bank.
If you have money from other Central American countries on you the banks of those countries are usually your best bet, as they almost always exchange their own currency for dollars at pretty decent rates. You can also get dollars in many ATMs in countries such as Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Large bills ($50 & $100) are almost unspendable. Get change wherever you can -- gas stations are always a good bet. A good idea is to visit a bank and ask for small bills and nothing larger than a $20.
Expect to pay $30-60 for a room in a hotel, $3-5 for a simple meal, $0.25-0.35 to ride a San Salvador city bus, $1/hour to use the Internet, and $0.25 for a bag of sliced mangos. Take note of the prices that street vendors sell their products because at times some of them will take advantage of people that look or sound foreign by raising their prices dramatically (for example, most fruits and vegetables will cost $0.25-0.50, if they believe that you are from the first world (white and have a funny accent), they will charge you $1).
El Salvador has the largest malls in the region (MetroCentro - MetroSur), especially in San Salvador, with many upmarket international stores. Goods can also be purchased from markets, including national and international supermarkets.
San Salvador has a number of large modern shopping malls stocking the latest in international fashion, accessories and cuisine. These are generally found in the city's upscale suburbs such as Escalón, Santa Elena, and their surroundings. These malls include:
For those shoppers interested in purchasing fairly traded crafts and organically grown produce, a local alternative market is held every other Saturday in the San José park in the San Luis area just west of the National University.
El Salvador has an electronics and luxury tax, meaning that electronic devices and high-end products have prices increased from 30-75 percent depending on the demand. (A $300 electronic product will cost $450-500.)
The restaurant scene in El Salvador is influenced by many different cultures. Food options include Italian, Korean, Japanese, French, Chilean, American, Peruvian, Mexican, Spanish, Middle Eastern, German, Chinese, Argentinian and others. You can also easily find American fast food chains such as Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, KFC, Subway, Quiznos, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's, and Domino's, in the largest cities in the country such as San Salvador, Merliot/Santa Tecla, and Santa Ana. Other franchises include Tony Romas', Bennigans and others. Some of the best restaurants are located in Zona Rosa.
The typical Salvadoran diet includes lots of rice and beans, seafood (particularly among those who live on the coast), and the most common Salvadoran dish, the famous Pupusa, a round corn tortilla filled with cheese and other elements, usually chicharon (shredded pork meat). It's widely agreed that the best pupusas in the country can be bought in Olocuilta, which you can get to along the highway on the way to the Comalapa airport. You will find more than 50 pupusa stands there, competing for business.
Also Salvadorans eat fried sliced plantains (platanos) usually with beans, sour cream, cheese and sometimes eggs, yuca con chicharron, pastelitos de carne, panes con pavo (turkey sandwiches), hand made tortillas among other very delicious Salvadoran foods.
If you are staying on the coast, make sure you try the cóctel de conchas. It is a mix of black clams, lime juice, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and chiles in a spicy black sauce. You can find them for about $3/bowl, using freshly harvested clams. A wide range of other seafood dishes can also be found.
Many large modern supermarkets are scattered throughout the capital and in large towns, such as La Despensa de Don Juan and Super Selectos, which sell local produce and a large variety of international products. Like anywhere else in the world, these are a cheaper alternative to eating out every night.
Typical beverages and fruitsEdit
Try the most delicious Horchata (made from rice and "morro" seeds) and Cebada (a smooth and sweet pink barley refreshment). If you prefer (at your own risk) to drink natural juices, such as: guava, jocote, arrayan, chirimoya, granadilla de "moco" and marañon. Furthermore, you should try to savour the local fruit, as: jocotes, marañon japones, green mango (with salt, lime, alhuaiste (ground pumpkin seed), manzana pedorra (orig.from Los Planes de Renderos), "nance", "red or yellow almendras" salvadorenias, "hicaco", "paterna" (also try the cooked paterna seed with lime and hot pepper, and don't miss the suave and liquory aroma of "carao".
In San Salvador, The trendiest night spot to visit is called La Zona Rosa. Although it doesn't cover a large area, it is home to many exclusive, upscale bars and nightclubs, and the best restaurants in town. A famous spot to go is a mall named Multiplaza, where it has several clubs and bars. There's also Paseo del Carmen.
In San Miguel the famous Av. Roosevelt that hosts one of the biggest festivals in Central America in November is where you will find numerous bars and clubs for sexy nightlife.
San Miguel has high end hotels on Av. Roosevelt by the Metrocentro mall and budget hotels near the bus terminal
Finding employment in El Salvador is difficult for both Salvadorans and extranjeros (foreigners) alike, although bilingual schools are constantly looking for English speakers, as well as other foreign language teachers. Bilingual schools offer competitive salaries for foreign teachers. For current vacancies see the schools websites (above). Most foreigners find themselves volunteering with one of a number of local community organizations or NGOs. The Centro de Intercambio y Solidaridad  is often looking to hire bi-lingual project managers and liaisons, and offers both Spanish classes and numerous volunteer and cultural opportunities.
The recent incursion of the call center business has raised the bar in the need for a bi-lingual workforce.
El Salvador has a bad reputation due to the civil war of the 80s. The Consular sheet from the US State Department indicates that El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. Crime is an issue, and most of it is attributed to street gangs, though statistics from official sources do not support that claim. You must use common sense and avoid entering into a zone that does not appear safe, just like you do in any country of the world. Avoid carrying fancy items such as jewelry, expensive cameras, and watches if you are walking on the public streets. Women should avoid traveling alone as they may catch the occasional cat-calling and perhaps get felt up on tightly packed buses. As a foreigner the kind of response you might get from the police is "hit or miss." If you have been pick-pocketed or otherwise robbed without harm to your person, a visit to the police station will almost certainly be an exercise in frustration. Police officers have also been known to harass or to be inappropriate to female travelers.
Many Salvadorans are armed, and shootouts are not uncommon. Foreigners, however, may not carry guns even for their own protection without first obtaining firearms licenses from the Salvadoran government. Extortion tactics have included indiscriminate grenade attacks on buses, businesses and restaurants, resulting in the death or injury of dozens of people, including children. These types of attacks are unpredictable and the U.S. Embassy advises its personnel to remain alert to their surroundings and to minimize risk to themselves.
It is a good idea for anyone visiting El Salvador to keep only necessary forms of identification, such as a driver's license, when exploring the city or tourist locales. If you must keep your passport on you at all times, a traveller's pouch would allow you to have it safely with you. Police officers routinely ask tourists to present their passports, most can be convinced that a copy of the passport and another form of identification is sufficient. Others will insist on accompanying back to your hotel to retrieve your actual document. Most tourists prefer to stay within the safe areas of El Salvador such as La Zona Rosa where there is relatively no crime. In case you are not staying at one of the country's 5-star hotels, remember to ask if the city or town you are visiting has a high level of gang activity.
In 1996 San Salvador was considered the second most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere, according to statistics. Since the end of the civil war in 1992 El Salvador has not seen a reduction in crime rates. Today San Salvador, and El Salvador in general, experience some of the highest homicide rates in the world, it is also considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. The homicides reported in 2006 reached up to 3,906, in 2005 3,779 were reported; 57.2 violent deaths per every 100,000 people. Crime rates in general have been steadily growing throughout the years, from 2005-2006 crime rose 7.5%.El Salvador is the most dangerous and violent country in Central America. The government tried controlling the gangs with a tactic called "Super Mano Dura" which means "Super Strong Hand", however it has not been successful and crime rates have continued to rise.
If you are not accustomed to food sold by street vendors, you might want to stay away from food sold on the streets until you acclimatize. If you want to try a pupusa, you should try to find a restaurant to taste this popular dish rather than buying them from street vendors. Street food that you see cooked can sometimes be safer than restaurant food that you do not see cooked.
'Agua en bolsa' (water in a plastic bag) is very commonly sold in the streets and corner stores of El Salvador. Don't drink tap water.
Pharmacies are easily found all over the country. Be sure to have a first-aid kit if you travel to the countryside and to archaeological sites. Mosquito repellent comes in handy.
Salvadorans are known for their great hospitality. They are among the nicest people in the world. They are friendly, industrious people always willing to help anyone. That is what has earned El Salvador the nickname of "the country with a smile". When speaking with people you don't know, it is customary to address them in a formal manner, using señor, señora and/or usted.
The international country code for El Salvador is 503.