The capital of El Salvador: A quick guide for San Salvador

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The capital of El Salvador: A quick guide for San Salvador

The capital of El Salvador is San Salvador, located about 45 minutes away from the international airport. If you plan to visit El Salvador, you shouldn’t miss this vibrating city to get an idea about “the heart of El Salvador.” We want to give you some useful information and an idea about what to expect on a visit to the “Holy Savior” – the capital of El Salvador.

El Salvador capital
El Salvador's capital: San Salvador and the volcano "El Boquerón"

San Salvador: Some history and quick facts

About 2.5 million people are now living in the metropolitan area of the capital of El Salvador – that’s about one-third of the whole population of the country. The city was founded in 1525 by Spanish conquistadores and changed location twice, in 1528 and 1545. Before the Spanish conquistadores claimed it to be “their” territory, the “Pipil,” a native tribe, established their capital, “Cuzcatlan,” near the current location of San Salvador. One part of the city is still called “Antiguo Cuzcatlan” until today.

Unfortunately, there’re no proved historical sources about the historical circumstances. If you have a look at the top of the National Palace, you will see a notable relief showing the most influential chief of the Pipil tribe who fought against the conquistador: “Atlacatl.”

Capital of El Salvador
The relief of the National Palace in San Salvador: Is it "Atlacatl"?

The capital of El Salvador has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and tropical thunderstorms. The eruption of the volcano “San Salvador” in 1917 damaged the city so that the capital of El Salvador was moved to Santa Tecla, which is part of San Salvador today.


The most exciting part of San Salvador for tourists is probably the historic city center that has been renovated by the actual president, who was the mayor of the capital of El Salvador from 2015 until 2018.

El Salvador capital San Salvador
San Salvador: The historic center with the national palace and the cathedral in the background

San Salvador: Is it safe?

A few years ago, we wouldn’t have recommended going to the city center. El Salvador’s capital had a bad reputation because of the gang violence that made many people avoid going there for touristic purposes. Today, we can recommend it because it will give you a more authentic view of what El Salvador is all about.

The former mayor, Nayib Bukele, did an excellent job renovating the historic center, making it way more secure and considerable. If you don’t walk around alone in the dark in areas that you don’t know, waving around your newest iPhone 11, you will be fine. But we recommend a local tour guide. Be prepared that a lot of people will be happy to see you, normally, they don’t want to sell you something, they want to talk to you, and they’re proud that a tourist came to see the capital of El Salvador.

Romero El Salvador
Street art of the national saint in El Salvador: "Óscar Arnulfo Romero"

The capital of El Salvador: Places to visit

It takes you at least about 2-4 hours to see the essential places in El Salvador’s capital. There are three places that you may not miss: The church “El Rosario,” the national palace and the Cathedral of San Salvador with the crypt of the national saint “Romero.”
El Rosario is a beautiful church that was finished in 1971 and has an astounding architecture and beautiful colorful windows.

El Rosario San Salvador
The church "El Rosario" in San Salvador - a must-see!

The Cathedral of San Salvador is right in the city center. It is the final resting place of “Óscar Arnulfo Romero” who was murdered by death squads during the Salvadoran civil war because he spoke out against social injustice and violence against the poor. Do some reading before and be prepared, the place itself is not that spectacular, but you will notice the “holy” atmosphere in this place. This place means a lot to many Salvadoran people.

San Salvador El SAlvador
The Cathedral of San Salvador - Don't forget to try a "minuta"!

The National Palace is also worth a visit and should be on your list. The architecture from the beginning of the 20th century is beautiful and shows some historical artifacts from this time. Be sure that it’s open before you go. Usually, it’s closed on Mondays.

Palacio Nacional San Salvador
Inside the "Palacio Nacional" - San Salvador, El Salvador

Besides that, you should stroll around a little bit and enjoy the atmosphere. Have a seat somewhere and watch the people doing their daily business. There’re some charming cafés where you can rest your tired feet about walking around the local craft market.

Capital of El Salvador
Business as usual in the capital of El Salvador!

How to get to the capital of El Salvador?

It’s possible to go to San Salvador by public transport from typical tourist hubs like El Tunco of El Zonte. It’s cheap (about US$3 for the whole trip), but it also takes you a lot of time, and it’s better to speak some words of Spanish to ask the bus driver where to stop. Be prepared that Salvadoran bus drivers are maniacs sometimes and that the buses are mainly refurbished school buses from the USA. And there’s a reason why no one uses them in the USA anymore. 

Anyway, it’s possible. Please a trustful local before going with public transport or check out this very useful website: Centrocoasting.

Capital of El Salvador
Have a seat and watch what's going on in San Salvador!

Another option is to take a guided tour, which we recommend. It might be more expensive, but you will see more in a shorter period. If you get an excellent tourist guide, you will also get fascinating extra-information and discover places you probably wouldn’t have found if you are doing it on your own.

We can recommend Salvatore from Tunco Life (El Tunco) or Rivas (El Zonte). A tour might cost you about US$50 depending on the number of persons participating on tour and the extra activities. Sometimes you can do it all together in one day: San Salvador historic center, San Salvador Volcano and Lago de Coatepque!

Teatro Nacional San Salvador
The National Teatre in San Salvador

San Salvador: Hostels and Hotels

We don’t recommend you to stay in San Salvador, not because it’s too dangerous, mainly because there’s no that much to do. In general, the capital of El Salvador is not an excellent hub to discover this beautiful country. There are some hotels and hostels where you could stay, but we believe that as a tourist you would enjoy more place like Suchitoto, El Zonte or El Tunco.

If you have any more questions or information to add, please don’t hesitate to write us an email or a comment.

San Salvador El Salvador

Things to do in El Salvador

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