Plaza Barrios is San Salvador's main square. On it stand both the cathedral and the Palacio Nacional. There is a small park in the middle, with benches and street vendors. Taxis will drop you off and pick you up here, but they are not allowed to wait on the plaza itself. You will find all walks of life on the plaza and it is heavily policed.
La Catedral Metropolitana is one of San Salvador's landmark buildings and marks the exact centre of the city. The modern cathedral was completed in 1999 and replaced an earlier cathedral which burned down in 1956. Below the main floor is the tomb of Archbiship Oscar Romero, which was visited by Pope John Paul II in 1999. The cathedral's most distinctive feature is its colourful facade painted in campesino style by "El Salvador's National Artist", Fernando Llort. Look closely at it and you will see campesinos and indigenous people with hands clasped together in prayer.
Admission is free and photography is permitted inside.
San Salvador's Palacio Nacional was built in neo-classical style, with Italian marble, in 1905 and was the government headquarters until it was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1986. It has since been renovated.
When the sounds and the smells of the city get to be too much, take the 44 bus from Metrocentro and head out to the peaceful and lovely botanical gardens in Antiguo Cuscatlán. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9-5; admission costs $1 for adults, $0.50 for children. In addition to a fine collection of native and non-native flora, the grounds (which are located at the base of an ancient volcano crater) are also home to some interesting fauna. Keep your eyes open, and in addition to the many resident lizards, you’ll probably also spot a cotuza (a rodent that resembles a small, tail-less beaver) walking along the paths. For more pictures of the gardens, check out my Jardin Botánico “La Laguna” Travelogue.
Does a church that is located less than three blocks away from the main cathedral of a country’s capital city really qualify as an “off the beaten path” destination? I say it does if nobody knows that it’s there. Facing the Parque Libertad, just two blocks east of the Plaza Barrios that fronts the national cathedral, you’ll find the Iglesia El Rosario, one of the most awe-inspiring churches I’ve ever visited. Believe me, it’s well worth the short walk. Why El Salvador’s “Centro Nacional de Registros” decided to leave the Iglesia El Rosario off their official tourist map of San Salvador is a mystery to me.
The military history of El Salvador may not be for everyone and can be depressing the more you know. In this museum the evolution of weapons and equipment used by the El Salvador Army is shown thru displays in a series of individual rooms. The origins of the weapons spans the globe, including the U.S.
Interesting exhibits include:
1) Domingo Monterrosa Barrios - Commander of the elite Atlacatl Battalion. Does the name El Mozote mean anything to you?
2) "Soccer War" with Honduras.
3) FMLN - Farabundo Marti National Liberation - Weapons used including a U.S. M-16 that ended up in guerillas hands after being lost in Vietnam. The FMLN went to Vietnam for training. Also land mines used during the civil war. Note that we are told that there are no more land mines in El Salvador. But seeing a one-legged man is not uncommon.
4) Popemobile - Built for the Pope's 1983 visit. Said to be the strongest ever built. Built like a tank. Could withinstand a roadside mine blast. These were the worst of times in El Salvador.
5) One corner of the barracks was bombed to quel a revolt during the civil war. This is not part of the tour but someone in-the-know can show you where the shells landed.
6) Relief map of the country of El Salvador.
7) Large park and memorial to heroes of the war of independence from Spain in 1821. Built over a Mayan pyramid with the contours of the pyramid clearly descernable.
8) The old Presidential Palace is visible. Vacated in 2001 after an earthquake compromised its integrity. Now falling into disrepair but plans are to create into a museum.
When in San Salvador and in need of a tour guide, consider Abraham Rodriquez at InterTours. Abraham has an encyclopedic mind about all things El Salvador including flora, fauna, history, social changes, the civil war, geology and the many volcanoes. He can tell you what the Spanish were looking for in El Salvador and if they found it?
My list was short. I wanted to see the Teatro, National Cathedral, Archbishop Romero's grave, Plaza Libertad, and the National Palace. But how can I safely realize this dream without a guide? The answer came from Stephanie at the Hotel Terraza. She reached over and took a brochure from a stand on the counter and gave them a call. Soon enough I was schedule for a tour. No reservations, just a phone call and agreed upon time.
When the tour was over I tipped Abraham considerably. I was grateful for his personal service, good english, and the generalist knowledge of his country. Prior to arrival, I had done my homework, and he exceeded my knowledge and left me speechless. I'm still absorbing all that he spoke about. When I arrived back at my hotel I transcribed my thoughts into notes. Abraham comes highly recommended from me. Thanks Abraham.
Don´t miss it, possibly the most beautiful part of El Salvador. La ruta de las flores is the name given to a series of little mountain towns in the western part of El Salvador where most of the gourmet coffee is grown. Every little town has it´s charm of it´s own, Nahuizalco famous for its handicrafts, Salcoatitan is the second town, very little and quiet, Juayua where every weekend all the locals do a food fair and the entire town becomes an open air restaurant when you can find local (and exotic) food and international, Apaneca it´s the El Salvador´s high altitude town ( 2600 meters) and fully surrounded by coffee plantations, and it´s the best town to stay at, try the Santa Leticia hotel wichi is an organic coffee plantacion with it´s own archeological treasures, nearby are small lagoons in the site of old volcano craters (laguna verde and laguna de las ninfas), and last Ataco another quite mountain-coffee town, the wheater it´s simply heavenly, and best of all it´s only a 1 hour drive from San Salvador, many tour operators can get you there, you won´t regret it if you are into a quiet hideaway. Don´t expect a bustling nightlife (there isn´t a nightlife) or your avergae "gringo town", it´s quiet, it´s beatiful and not to known until now.
We were quite surprised when we went to the Museum of Modern Art in San Salvador. We didn't expect to see such a collection of fine art! It's really a treat for people who like Modern Art. The museum's got sculptures, paintings and other wonderful stuff. Really worth a visit!
An astonishing (and horrifying) collection of film, photos, posters and audio recordings that chronicle El Salvador's brutal history during the civil war. Be sure to ask the museum to play some of their most interesting videos for you.
From the museum: " The Museum of the Word and the Image is a citizen´s initiative dedicated to investigating, recovering, preserving and displaying to the public, cultural and historical elements of El Salvador.
It has an extensive archive with collections of photography, audio, film, video, posters, objects and publications given to the museum through the enthusiastic colaboration of society, which has responded to our call “against the virus of the forgotten memory.”
This important archive, that was in danger of dissappearing, is being classified and digitalized.
We present circulating expositions on the themes of identity, culture, and historical memory. We also produce books, audio-visual presentations, and numerous educational and cultural activities.
Among the future plans, are the installation of a permanent exposition space in San Salvador, and to maintain the activities in the most remote areas of the country."
Through rocky paths and stairs, you can climb to the highest viewpoint (1,170 meters above sealevel) where you can see a great panaramoc view of the city and mountains. Don't worry, we only had to climb for 5-10 minutes, it wasn't strenous.
The Centro Romero was founded to commemorate the murdered bisshop Romero. The little museum gives you a view on his live, work and the past civil war.
It is not for nothing that the museum was founded here in the UCA univercity!
On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests - Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin Lopez y Lopez, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado Lopez - were murdered by the Salvadoran military on the campus of the University of Central America (UCA) in San Salvador, El Salvador. Their housekeeper, Elba Ramos, and her daughter Celia Marisela Ramos, were murdered there as well. The Jesuits were labeled subversives by the Salvadoran Government for speaking out against the oppressive socioeconomic structure of Salvadoran society. Their assassinations were ordered for their unwavering defense of the poor.
The Jesuits were six of over 70,000 victims who died in El Salvador’s civil war which raged in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. The vast majority of these victims were civilians killed by El Salvador’s armed forces and paramilitary death squads. The death of the Jesuits brought international outrage and condemnation upon the Salvadoran Government and pressured them to negotiate an end to their country’s civil war.
Color-pictures of this incident are still to see in the museum, but I have to warn you their very confrontating! I came out (half) depressive, but I've to say it positivly chanched my mind about some things!
The centro Romero is located in Santa Tecla on the Univercity domain of the 'Universidad Centro-Americana'. If You'll ask the way there they'll show you certainly.
This beautiful cathedral is the burial place of the assassinated Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, martyred hero of the civil war. He was murdered by rightwing paramilitary forces while serving communion the day after he exhorted soldiers to reconsider the senseless killings that were occuring at the time.
New building to house salvadorean archeological treasures. The museum is divided into 5 halls tracing the history, traditions, culture and religion in El Salvador from the Mayas to our time. Excellent place to start learning about this country. The museum guides are very friendly and offer guided visits in spanish and english. Great petrogligh and sculpture garden.
Fernando Llort, one of El Salvador's most famous artists has a wonder gallery, restaurant and gift shop that I have visited on three occasions. The original pieces in the gallery range from US$100 to $3000. The prints run less than $100. I bought a framed print in the gift shop for about $47. There are also shirts, tablets, books and ceramic tiles available. I purchase two 8" square tiles with Llorts artwork on them which I will use for a bathroom remodel soon.