San Salvador's Bucket list from a local
March 2, 2019
by Cesar Gonzalez
San Salvador is the capital city of El Salvador, with a comfortable average temperature of 23C all year round. As part of a tropical region, it only has two seasons. The dry season is fairly dry and goes from mid-October to April. The rainy season, from May to October, is characterized by monsoons that can last for a couple of days.
Culture-wise, this Central American country shares a similar history of Spanish colonization with the rest of Latin America, hence, the main spoken language is Spanish. In the capital city, it does not take too long to appreciate the Spanish colonial-style architecture in churches, city hall, districts, and other buildings. Although the astonishing beaches and their waves have helped to grow this country’s popularity as a perfect surfing destination, there is certainly much more to experience and enjoy in the capital city. As a native Salvadoran and resident of San Salvador for most of my life, I think the following list of things to experience, see and eat make a good set of options if you are visiting this lovely city.
San Salvador volcano
Located to the northwest of the city, the heights of this sleeping giant are by far my favorite spot in the city and a must. Almost two decades ago, the government built a paved road that goes across the whole mountain. This has allowed many entrepreneurs to build creative and extremely cozy coffee shops and restaurants, such as Las Brumas and Linda Vista Gardens, that offer traditional food, all while surrounded by nature and pure air. While you are here, you must try our king dish, pupusas (in fact, you cannot say you visited El Salvador without eating pupusas), with hot chocolate. Or if you feel for something sweet, try our plantain patty (empanada). It only takes about 20 to 30 minutes from the city to be at 1600 meters above the sea level and enjoy truly epic views of the city in the valley. If you are looking for a more adventurous time, I recommend visiting the Ecopark and El Boqueron National Park.
City center tour
The local government has been investing a significant amount of resources to restore the undeniable charm of the historical city center. Ironically, once regarded as one of the most dangerous areas of San Salvador, today many locals plan a cultural trip here during the weekend with a special interest in the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Rosario Church. Fortunately for visitors, most of the attractions here are just at a walking distance.
It began as a small town with colorful houses. Now, it is the center of the surrounding suburban area, and where many locals come to enjoy real typical Salvadoran snacks and dishes during the weekend. You cannot leave without trying out the Riguas, Corn Atole or Pupusas in the afternoon, sitting on one of the benches of the main plaza.
In this traditional market, one can find a wide variety of seasonal fruits, vegetables and other commodities at really cheap prices. But what really makes people of all kinds (say, office workers at lunchtime) to come to this place is the fantastic “food court” where you can choose from steak, beef soup, roasted chicken, or fresh seafood prepared at the moment with a very lively and welcoming atmosphere. Very few things can get more local than this.
This crater lake on the east of San Salvador is becoming more popular every year due to the improved accessibility and security reinforcement. The restaurants and resorts on its shores offer a spectacular view of the lake waters and the volcano range spreading to the east. It is also possible to take a boat tour and visit the islands inside the lake.
The closest beach from San Salvador is probably La Libertad pier, located at around one hour by car. We Salvadorans love beach life, and it is quite common to even go to this pier for lunch, dinner, or for the weekend. There are plenty of options for delicious seafood, steaks and fast food with a breathtaking view of the ocean. I recommend La Ola Betos (their pizza) and La Pampa (the joint dish with beef and shrimps).
City Mall Hopping
Consumer goods in El Salvador are one of the main activities that keep the economy growing, and this can be confirmed by the number of new shopping malls emerging practically every year. The commercial real estate industry in El Salvador does not just build big spaces for tenants to sell their products, instead, they compete in terms of architectural design and to give the visitor the best experience. I recommend visiting Metrocentro, once considered the biggest in Central America, Multiplaza, La Gran Via and Galerias.
The Rose Zone
This area is well-known due to its main road full of pubs and restaurants, and because of the President Hotel, one of the most prestigious hotels in the city. Just next to this hotel, the Museum of Art (MARTE) and the President Theatre can be found, along with several smaller budget hotels.
Last few tips
Rent a car or use Uber. Public transportation still will take some time to become optimized for tourists. Since Uber has made its way into the country, it has quickly become one of the cheapest and fastest ways to commute, even for locals. Rush hours are still a big issue, so try to avoid hours between 7-8 am and 5-7 pm. If you want to go to outskirts of the capital or to other departments of the country, ask your hotel or hostel to help you book transport.
Beyond San Salvador, old colonial towns await you just a couple of hours away. I recommend visiting Suchitoto for its colorful colonial houses and cafes, the Flower Route for the exquisite coffee you can get there, and Cojutepeque for its remarkable pastry and sausages. Each one of these places can be explored in a single day from the capital city.