El Salvador is a country in Central America and, geographically, is part of continental North America. It is bordered on the southwest by the Pacific Ocean, and lies between Guatemala and Honduras.
El Salvador covers an area of about 21,040 square kilometers (the smallest country in Central America), although it is the most densely populated. El Salvador is home to more than 6,500,000 people. It is divided into 14 sections called Departments. It has 25 volcanoes, 14 lakes, and four large cities. The capital is San Salvador. Its origin comes from the ancient civilization of the Pipils, who called the region Cuzcatlán (Land of precious things).
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.
The Spanish Admiral Andrés Niño lead 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 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, a feeling of a need for freedom arose among the people of Central America and the moment to break the chains of slavery 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. After many internal fights, the Acta de Independencia (Act of Independence) of Central America was signed in Guatemala on September 15th, 1821.
In December of 1931, the corrupt and incompetent regime of the Labour Party, headed by Manuel Araujo, was overthrown and General Maximiliano Hernández Martínez assumed the presidency. 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.
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 Football war (Soccer War), as it was named by the international mass media, broke out in July 1969. 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 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 Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (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 in order to escape the violence.
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.
|Date||English Name||Local 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 Labour 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.|
|November (final week)||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 12AM to welcome Christmas with a huge "arsenal" of firecrackers|
|December 31||New Year's||Año nuevo||Salvadorans stay up on December 31st until 12AM 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. 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.
Visitors traveling by plane arrive at El Salvador International Airport in Comalapa, located forty-five minutes outside of the capital's city limits. The airport code is SAL.
TACA Airlines is the national airline of El Salvador. TACA acquired the national airlines of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala so it also serves those countries. TACA flies a fleet of new A319s, A320s, and A321s throughout North, Central, and South America. However, Taca regularly has the highest ticket prices and savvy buyers would do well to compare options using an online service such as kayak.com.
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 and the amount you must pay will vary from US$0 - US$32.
The Pan-American highway travels through El Salvador and is a safe route for entering the country.
Numerous buses also traverse the highways of the country. Domestic bus services are typically very cheap (not more than two or three dollars for even the longest rides) and difficult to understand. 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. 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, so it is best to just ask the cobrador where the bus is going and when. Most are very friendly and helpful, but do watch out for scams on the buses.
Anyone riding the buses (visitor or local) must take caution in riding the buses and microbuses that are seen around the country. The buses are often crammed and it is very easy to be robbed. The buses are cheap and are a great way to get around, but remember that as a visitor you are at a higher risk of being robbed. If you must ride a bus take extra care of yourself and your belongings.
The following bus companies offer luxury (and safer) bus travel between El Salvador and other Central American destinations:
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 to 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 is hopefully a sign of future reopening of more of the extensive rail network.
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 75 feet into the air. The on-site museum showcases artifacts from the Pipil culture (the builders of Tazumal), as well as 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, as well as plenty of shopping, entertainment and nightlife.
The official language in El Salvador is Spanish. And some people in Izalco and other towns with a population of Indians speak Nahuat, the Pipil language. This is rarely seen because of the cultural impact to be called "indio". Most nahuat is spoken within a family household and not in public.
El Salvador is gaining a reputation for having some of the best surfing in the world. Tourists from all over the world are discovering the surfing meccas of La Libertad (near San Salvador), El Sunzal, El Zonte and the wild El Este (the east), transforming El Salvador into the fastest growing surf tourism hot-spot in Central America.
El Salvador's official currency is the US Dollar (since 2001). Carry only $1, $5, $10 or $20 dollar 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.
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 & 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.
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. The one drawback to this is that 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. Take note of the prices that street vendors sell their products because at times they will take advantage of people that look or sound foreign by raising their prices dramatically.
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 (Paradise, Alo Nuestro, 503).
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.
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.
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.
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
The trendiest night spot to visit is called La Zona Rosa. Some of the best hotels are located there, including the Sheraton Presidente as well as one of the most luxurious hotels in Central America, the Hilton Princess.
Although La Zona Rosa doesn't cover a large area (around 1sq mile), it's home to many exclusive, upscale bars and nightclubs (Code), and the best restaurants in town (Paradise, 503, A lo Nuestro). If you want to visit a nightclub without the probable inconvenience of not being let in, you should visit Las Terrazas (Stanza, Envy) at Multiplaza Mall or La Gran Vía (Llenya, El Alebrije), a life style center.
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.
Another organization offering volunteer work in Santa Tecla and on the Islands in the south is Travel to Teach .
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, 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 such as jewelry, expensive cameras, and watches if you are walking on the public streets. Females 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.
It is a good idea for any person 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 traveler'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 id 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 acclimate. 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. That said, 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.
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.