El Valle de Las Hamacas: The Valley of Hammocks
Continuing southeast on our Central America trip after Guatemala and Honduras, we arrive to San Salvador, the capital city of the next country in our list. Country visited number 75 to this date! That’s a whopping number already, and for the many more to come year after year, fingers crossed. And what a day to arrive here, New Year’s Eve. This is not the first time we are at some random destination and/or trip for this date. I can still remember Mexico City 2 years ago, Hong Kong 3 or Varanasi already 4 years ago. I do not need to have a party at all on this day, I rather prefer travel anywhere, and even if I have to eat for dinner a take away, I would be very happy to do so, as long I am somewhere in the world. We had in any case a really nice dinner and party at the hotel.
El Salvador, likewise any other Central American country, lies in the extremely active Ring of Fire, with many active volcanoes everywhere. You do not need to look any far from the city, and you will clearly see San Salvador Volcano (or Quetzaltepec). Volcano eruptions and earthquakes are responsible for the destruction of majority of the original historical buildings from the Spanish colonial times. The current reincarnation is a modern city with quite poor and decaying infrastructure that will barely coop with a possible strong earthquake. No wonder why the Spanish nicknamed it “El Valle de las Hamacas (The Valley of Hammocks)” in allusion to the need for beds that would sway with the earth’s movements during an earthquake.
Classical, ne-Gothic, art-deco and modernist architecture now fills the streets, with an ongoing frenetic construction round the clock in the new outskirt areas around the wealthier neighbourhoods. Still, if you are having in mind visiting the city, you will be certainly disappointed. Really few buildings are worth, while the rest of the city centre is an eyesore of chaotic and dirty rundown streets among an uncertainty of safety concerns. I can honestly say that walking around San Salvador has given me the feeling of one of the most unsafe place I’ve ever been to, however and very important to mention here, it was also one with such a thriving nightlife and amount of bars and discos full of great people, that somewhat it really confused me when having this points in a balance.
The major reason why to come here is because of its location, more or less at the centre of the country, making it a perfect base for touring the rest of country on day trips. This was our plan for the next 5 days, yet still, we could not let go the chance to visit the city that was established as the first capital city in Central America by the Spanish in 1525. Give yourself something like 4 hours maximum and you will be done. For us, the rest of the day was well spent at the hotel’s pool and resting after the busy long days we had before.
For more information about San Salvador check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. The currency in El Salvador is the North American Dollar. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in San Salvador
- Plaza Civica (or Gerardo Barrios) Is the religious heart of the city since the foundation by the Spanish. Located between 2A y 4A Calle Oriente
-Metropolitan Cathedral Built in the 1950s is the largest in the country and seat of the Archbishop of San Salvador. A blend of baroque and eclectic styles.
-National Palace Occupying one of the sides is this glorious building constructed in 1905 in as a mix of Gothic, neoclassical, and renaissance styles on the place of the previous palace. Now it’s the National Archive.
-National Theatre Built in 1917 in French renaissance style with rococo and art-nouveau touches, is considered as one of the most elegant in Central America. The main façade overlooks the smaller Morazan Square.
-Gerardo Barrios Statue Unveiled in 1909, in the middle of the square, depicts the battle scenes and the shield of El Salvador.
- Plaza de La Libertad (Freedom Square) Is the true heart of the city from where all the streets were laid out following the Spanish grid urbanism. Unfortunately after the 1986 earthquake, most of the colonial structures were flattened and an ongoing revitalisation and reconstruction project is still in place but on hold. Located between 2A y 4A Calle Oriente, meters away from Plaza Civica.
-Monument to the Heroes Commemorates the first centenary of the “First Cry of Independence” in 1811. It depicts and angel holding a laurel wreath in both hands.
-Portal la Dalia and Portal de Occidente Both built between 1905 in 1917 to further enhance the unity and beauty of the square and commercial activity with their arched porticoes at street level.
-El Rosario Church Built in the 1970’s it resembles an airplane hangar from the outside. Don’t just judge the awkward exterior appearance, inside can be unexpectedly beautiful because of the multi-colour glass.
- 1A Calle Through the old town crossing from west to east is one of the main thoroughfares in the city together with Arce and 2a Calle.
- Calle Arce (Maple Street) Running parallel to 1a Calle Poniente is the nicest across the old town. The ongoing “Old Town” rehabilitation project should give back a nicer appearance once finished.
- 2A Calle (Ruben Dario) Is the third of the main avenues crossing west to east the old town, also parallel to the others, in this case south of Calle Arce.
- Casa de las Academias Also known as Casa Dueñas, once belonging to coffee farmer Miguel Dueñas, built in 1920; later used for diplomats and now it’s a cultural center
- Basilica Sagrado Corazon To the west of Calle Arce few blocks from the Cathedral.
- El Calvario Church Although the first church was built in 1660, the current reinforced concrete gothic style structure was consecrated in 1951. Located few meters to the southwest of the National Palace, in 6A Calle Poniente.
- Police Building Nicknamed “The Castle” is meters south of Plaza de la Libertad. Built in 1932 combines Victorian and Baroque styles.
- Our Lady of Candelaria Church The current structure dates from 1879, completely in laminated wood. A beautiful example of its kind. Located to the south of Plaza Civica along Cucusclan Avenue, at the major intersection of the highways.
- Monument to the Saviour of the World To the west of 2A Calle Poniente, consists of a statue of Jesus Christ standing on top of a global sphere of planet earth. You can get on a local bus to Estacion Salvador del Mundo.
- Santa Tecla Farther to the west (you need a bus or taxi to get there) is this nice small city with dozens of restaurants, bars and discos. The best place to go out in the evening without doubt. The streets retain many of the original colonial buildings and a nice cathedral.
Comalapa International Airport is the largest in the country, and third largest in Central America by number of passengers transported. It is located 50 kilometres to the south from downtown San Salvador. The cheapest option to get to the city (yet not the fastest) is by taking bus 138 at the cost of only US$0.7o. A much faster way is to take one of the shuttles offered by Taxi Acacya, for a fixed price, that departs from the arrivals terminal to their office at 3A Calle Poniente with 19A Avenida Norte. A normal taxi has the fare set to US$28. If they ask you for more then try to negotiate or wait for another.
Overland transportation from other Central American countries is very popular and extremely reliable in absolutely comfortable buses. Most of the services within countries are first class and include meals on-board in the price of your ticket, plus refreshments and tea/coffee. This is how we came from Guatemala City, on the Pullmantur Bus service, departing at 07.00 am and arriving in San Salvador at 12.00 pm. *Please note that the duration of the journey can be longer, and depends on the border crossing and passport control.
Within the city it is easy to grab a local bus along any street. There are everywhere and all are clearly numbered. People will help you with the route (if they speak English), but other than that, the only option left is taking a taxi should you need to go any farther, otherwise the old town area is perfectly reach on foot where you can visit the majority of the sights. Distances are not big within this area of the city, and the farther you might need to go is to the Monument to the Savior of the World for which I will not recommend you to walk all the way as the city is not very safe, but instead take a bus there. Any bus heading to the west or Santa Tecla will have a stop right there.
San Salvador has a great choice of hotels of any kind. Notorious are the large international properties on the outskirts around the up-scale neighbourhoods. However, finding a deal was not an easy task. The same hotels we saw at one website were having a completely different price on other sites, and while at some pages the fare was including breakfast, at others it was not. It took quite a while to figure out what would be the best option, but it really paid off and we hit jackpot to be honest. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Real Intercontinental, on Bulevard Los Heroes with Avenida Sisimiles on the west of the city. It was a great decision to stay here, knowing we will be having some free time every day after our daily tours, hence the reason for a hotel with a nice pool and all the facilities alike. The staff was really nice with great attention to detail. Large modern room with anything we needed, and very large top quality breakfast. And if thinking on what you could do for dinner for example, don’t worry, just across the road, literally over the foot bridge across the main road was the largest shopping mall not only in the city but in the country. Plenty of choice of everything!