San Salvador is at first sight a quiet city, with lots of contrasts between the modern, the old and the poverty. San Salvador has gone through significant changes since the peace accords were signed in 1992 and ended a war that lasted 12 years. This condition of peace led to much foreign investment, and people began seeing San Salvador as a place to start businesses. Now the city is full of foreign franchise, restaurants and malls.
The Valley of the Hammocks
San Salvador was founded by Pedro de Alvarado in the year 1525, but moved to north to an area known as "La Bermuda" 3 years later (at 8 miles from the town of Suchitoto) due to the constant earthquakes. Finally, in 1532 the city returned to where it is currently located, on the skirts of the Quezaltepeque Volcano. In fact, the city got its nickname from the Spaniards who called it the "Valley of the hammocks", due to its constant seismic activity.
The Historical Center or Downtown
As dirty and chaotic as it may seem at first sight, downtown San Salvador has witnessed much of the history of El Salvador. There's amazing scenery that can belie the cruel past of slaughter during wars, the chaotic change prompted by protests, ensuing peace marches, and heading to the podium for political campaigns. "El Centro" - as everybody calls it, has not yet been able to recover the beauty it possesses. But it's well on its way.
The Cathedral of San Salvador
The Cathedral today isn't the same as the one built in 1888. That's because a fire devoured the original wood structure and massive reconstruction has been undertaken throughout the cathedral's history. Due to the number and devotion of the Catholic people in El Salvador, the cathedral was always taken as hostage during protests from left wing groups during the war. This led to delays in its final reconstruction, and the Cathedral wasn't fully finished until 1994. The final architecture is a wonderful mix of Byzantine Roman art along with a modern touch added by the façade, which displays colorful tile paintings done by the country's most representative artist Fernando Llort.
Hidden away underneath of the cathedral's main alter lies the crypt with the tomb of the Salvadoran martyr, Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was assassinated while offering a mass in March 1980 in the chapel Divina Providencia, in Colonia Miramonte north of the capital.
The National Palace
Located on the corner opposite of the Cathedral and across from the main square, Plaza Barrios greets visitors with two statues: Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella II from Spain. The National Palace was once the gathering place of the House of Representatives. Now it is home to the nation's general files.
This building was severely damaged during the earthquakes in October of 1986 and in January and February of 2001. Because of this, the building is not completely open to the public, except for on those rare occasions when there happens to be an important cultural exhibit.
The National Theater
Located behind the Cathedral is a truly magnificent building painted by Italian mural painters and built back in 1911. Just like the National Palace, the Theatre was also severely damaged by the earthquakes and restoration works continue. Soon, it too will be open to the public.
There are plenty of other interesting places to visit in the downtown area, such as the market, "Ex Cuartel" or handcraft market (on the 1ª Calle Oriente); the portal "la Dalia" (business center built in 1888), and the impressive church El Rosario with its colorful glass windows, both of which are located across from the Park Libertad.
Colonia San Benito
This is one of the oldest colonias in the capital, yet one of the most modern and expensive ones. This is where the famous "Zona Rosa" is located - an area with five star hotels, bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as the home of the MUNA (or Museum of Anthropology), MARTE Museum of Arts, Presidente Theatre and the International fair.
Los Heroes Boulevard
Here you will find a slightly different night atmosphere, full of discotheques, bars and restaurants, and 2 to 5 star hotels. Metrocentro, the biggest mall in the whole Central American region, is also located along the main road.
Paseo General Escalon
New shopping malls and numerous restaurants are located along this main road, which basically runs along the capital city from north to south until reaching the monument "Divino Salvador del Mundo" - patron of San Salvador. The honor the patron saint, the capital city celebrates its patron saint festivities every year during August.
The Pan-American Road
Where the Pan-American Road divides San Salvador from the department of La Libertad you'll find the point where a little more than 2 years ago, three of the most modern shopping malls were built. These additions transformed the commercial and night life of the people from the capital. Many bars and discotheques are located inside the premises, especially inside Multiplaza and La Gran Vía. The number of people flocking to this mall creates a lot of traffic, especially during peak hours (7am - 5pm).
Located southeast of the capital, this volcanic lake is the biggest one in El Salvador. There are many restaurants, as well as sport activities, you can enjoy while there, such as: fishing, snorkeling, kayaking and golf playing.
The Quezaltepeque Volcano
Better known as the San Salvador volcano, it is in reality a 3 peak complex made up of the cerros: Jabalí, Picacho and Boquerón - with an altitude of 1997 meters above sea level.
The last recorded erruption happened back in 1917. When it did, the lava flow coming out of the Boqueron crater headed north toward the city of Quezaltepeque. The Boqueron crater can easily be accessed in less than 20 minutes, through the recently paved road coming in from Ciudad Merliot.
Antiguo Cuscatlan is a nice and cozy city that reminds us of the old times. There are a lot of "pupuserias" (small restaurants where pupusas are made), so the city is always crowded during the weekends. There is a nice clean main park with the small church "Santos Inocentes". Its narrow cobble stone streets will set your memories back to the good old times.
Plan de la Laguna
What is now known as El Plan de la Laguna is a volcanic crater that erupted last some estimated 2200 years ago. After the eruption, a small lagoon remained but later cracked during an earthquake in the early 1900s, which eventually forced authorities to entirely drain the remaining water. El Plan de la Laguna is know as an area full of industrial factories, but it also preserves a botanical garden where you will find a selection of the flora and fauna found in the country. The area also features plant nurseries and a Mayan monolith of great interest to scholars and eco-tourists alike.