Just capital!

Days: 141-142

Total distance travelled: 31,028.3 kilometres (19,272.2 miles)

San Salvador, capital of this small country that seemingly lacks tourists and bears a name so similar (El Salvador) it isn’t funny, just I’m sure at times, confusing.

Finally back in town after a string of short adventures on the coast and in the mountains, we’d this time given ourselves pretty much a full day here to try and gain for ourselves, a good impression of El Salvador’s largest city.

Arriving back at the city’s eastern bus terminal (by terminal, I pretty much mean dusty, gravel parking lot with many food vendors and a corrugated iron roof shed), we put our legs to good use walking across town to a neighbourhood closer to our next departure point, the western bus terminal (just over 3 kilometres).

We’d identified a couple of likely hostel candidates in our guidebook, but despite repeated viewings of our map, couldn’t find either of them where it was suggested. We instead settled for another, ultimately cheaper option, another safe and secure (yes it was again with the option of the pay by the hour rate) hotel not far from where we found ourselves.

Some of San Salvador's gritty charm

Some of San Salvador’s gritty charm

So what was San Salvador all about?

Well it’s certainly not a tourist city, as in our entire time spent there we didn’t see a single one (your best chance to spot any would likely be at one of the bus stations), but it is a living a breathing Central American capital, full of gritty charm.

Reminders of former grandeur abound in some colossal and stunning churches, plazas and public edifices (the national theatre and palace two such impressive examples).

We didn’t go beyond an external viewing of the theatre, however a good wander through the centrally located palace on a beautifully sunny morning was a nice interlude from the hustle and bustle on the streets without.

San Salvador’s impressive palace

San Salvador’s impressive palace

One of the stunningly decorated rooms

One of the stunningly decorated rooms

Like any self-respecting Latin American city, religion plays a major role in everyday life, and accordingly the city is home to a myriad of churches and cathedrals, the compact nature of the downtown area making it rather easy to visit many, without consuming much time at all.

We wandered the stunning main cathedral on our first evening in El Salvador (when we were headed to El Cuco on the Pacific coast), but this city was home to several other dramatic religious structures.

Basilica Sagrado Corazon. Something traditional and imposing

Basilica Sagrado Corazon. Something traditional and imposing

Not all of its examples proved as orthodox, or aesthetically pleasing to the eye, or at least not initially in any case.

Situated on the fringes of Plaza Libertad stands Iglesia El Rosario, a concrete monstrosity that wouldn’t look out of place beside some of the most famous examples of Cold War Soviet architecture.

Perhaps it was our subconscious trying to prepare us for Cuba, to where we were headed in about a weeks’ time?

They do say however that beauty is only skin deep, venture inside this structure (at least before the sun has set) and you’ll truly appreciate why it took our breath away…

Iglesia El Rosario, with all the charm of a multi-level carpark

Iglesia El Rosario, with all the charm of a multi-level carpark

Take a peek inside to understand why you should never judge a book by its cover!

Take a peek inside to understand why you should never judge a book by its cover!

Now some of our favourite markets have been small, well contained affairs and others, well they’ve been huge!

But I don’t think we’ve really truly experienced anything like the markets that really are just daily life in San Salvador.

Some sections appear to have their roots in what were once dedicated market spaces, but they have all long since grown beyond this, spilling onto the streets and spreading like tendrils until they have essentially become one.

In San Salvador, it is the streets themselves that are now the market.

You won’t find tourist junk here however, this is a real market, one for the local people.

Every day is market day on the streets of San Salvador

Every day is market day on the streets of San Salvador

Vendors sell vegetables and fruits, you’ll see old car parts, accessories for cell phones, batteries, all manner of clothing (Sarah bought herself some new leggings), plastic Christmas trees (well it is that time of year) and much more.

Let’s not forget the dining options, and with a slight rumbling in our stomachs, lunch was obviously something we felt we’d certainly earned.

Little stalls sold fried chicken, charcoal blackened bananas and that very El Salvadorian (and delicious) street snack, Pupusas.

Pupusas are probably the best street food we’ve encountered since the culinary delights of Mexico.

Tortillas filled with beans, or perhaps fried onion, or possibly cheese (these are but a few options of many) then fried over a hot plate, they’re a pretty cheap and tasty affair.

They however were not our selection this day, instead we opted for a princely priced (okay, it was $1.50 US each) hamburger and licuado combination in a covered food hall.

The burger was terrible, but edible (barely). The licuado however (ours a concoction made of orange juice, crushed ice, sugar and vanilla) was delicious!

Certainly a different culinary experience. A delicious juice and a horrible burger, served by lovely people

Certainly a different culinary experience. A delicious juice and a horrible burger, served by lovely people

With a reputation as an unsavoury place once the sun sets, we were certainly not going to suddenly become cavalier and boldly wander about in the dark.

That said, we were never going to cower in our rooms all day and into the evening.

To that end, to try and both get under the skin of this city as well as quench our thirsts after a hot days walking on the streets, we found ourselves seated in a local cantina, where all of a sudden, whether they knew a little English, or even none at all, we felt like everybody’s friend.

People were genuinely happy to see us in their city, although admittedly many of their conversations either in Spanish or broken English were at times decidedly slurred, we had a great time.

So much so, we went there on two separate occasions!

First for the beer, but also for some of their bar snacks, our favourite of which was the Papas Fritas con Queso, Catsup y Crema.

Hanging out in our favourite beer hall

Hanging out in our favourite beer hall

The beer snack of champions! Fries with ketchup, cheese and cream

The beer snack of champions! Fries with ketchup, cheese and cream

San Salvador is a charming, compact city, and like the bulk of El Salvador, is incredibly friendly!

Ignore the tales of danger and woe, and come and check this place out for yourself.

It’s a little rough around the edges at times, but for us it has an undeniable charm!

San Salvador: Check it out for yourself!

San Salvador: Check it out for yourself!



* A short bus ride from Alegria to Berlin again cost us $0.30 US, and we caught the bus from just on the edge of the main plaza.

* From Berlin to the main highway was another $0.50 US each, where we were fortunate to immediately board a coach bound for San Salvador at a cost of $3.00 US per person.

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6 Responses to Just capital!

  1. Tracie Howe says:

    I’m glad you guys didn’t cower in your room! It sounds like the cantina was one of your favorite experiences. You gotta love being popular among the locals!

  2. Rachel says:

    I think your description of it as “gritty” sounds about right! But is it safe to eat street food or to drink drinks with ice there? or do you take something ahead of time to avoid “Montezuma’s revenge”?

    • Chris says:

      We ate plenty of street food in San Salvador (and in every country we’ve been) with no ill effects. I think you’re more likely to get sick if you never expose yourself to some bad germs 😉

  3. LaVagabonde says:

    This is exactly the kind of place that I love to visit. Gritty charm and locals who are genuinely happy to see you. That Iglesia el Rosario is awesome. Soviet-like structures often hold surprises.

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