In Part 2 I talked about some of the places to explore around El Salvador. San Salvador deserves its own post – it’s a busy, hectic capital city where we find something new to enjoy each visit. If you’re cruising and decide to visit El Salvador, you’ll probably want to make at least one trip to the city for provisioning and to get hold of whatever odd stuff you need to fix your latest boat problem. While you’re there, try to take time to do some of the historical and cultural stuff too, as it’s a great way to learn more about this fascinating country and a nice change of scene, pace, and temperature from Estero Jaltepeque.
Getting to San Salvador from Bahía del Sol:
It’s easy and cheap to get there by bus – buses stop just outside the hotel and you can either get the direct one (495) to the South terminal, then a taxi into town, or change at Arcos where you can take the 138 micro bus into the heart of the city. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hours, each way. For a more efficient day trip it can be good to hire a car or a driver who can navigate the city’s busy streets. Another option is to get the bus there, then organize a driver to bring you and your provisions back. We like to get the bus then stay overnight at Hotel Villa Serena Escalón, right next to the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo and an easy location for walking, taxis and buses. The 138 drops you off on the corner of 2a Avenida Sur and 6 Calle Oriente, just a block from the historical centre:
The cathedral, la Catedral Metropolitana del Divino Salvador del Mundo, (including the crypt with Saint Oscar Romero’s tombstone), Palacio Nacional, El Rosario church, and the Teatro Nacional are all within a few blocks of each other and are all interesting to visit. Iglesia El Rosario, especially, is stunning and the short walk from the cathedral takes you past a few interesting old buildings in varying states of decay and use. The National Palace is mostly lots of fairly bare rooms with a few museum exhibits and a bit of information about earthquakes, but visually it’s gorgeous especially if you’re into old buildings, with cool views over nearby market streets and sunlight streaming through ornate windows. There are two cafés we like close by: for breakfast or amazing cakes and pastries, try Medrano Panadería y Cafetería. For a cool coffee shop vibe head to Café Fulanos up the same street by the cathedral.
Museums in San Salvador:
We loved our visits to the anthropology museum, Dr David J. Guzmán National Museum. There are excellent permanent and temporary exhibitions spread throughout its two floors, which give loads of information about the history of El Salvador and help understand the country’s cultural and religious life. It’s a fairly big place so allow time for taking it all in, or plan a couple of visits. There’s a café and gift shop on site, too, and there are fairly regular talks and book presentations.
MARTE, the art museum just up the road, is also a brilliant way to learn more about El Salvador’s history and culture, and enjoy some excellent art. We were blown away by the exhibition “Diálogos en el arte salvadoreño” where artists dealt with themes like immigration, poverty, the civil war, tourism, violence, and feminism in creative and moving ways.
Another museum, small but worth checking out especially if interested in civil war history, is the Museo de la Palabra y la Imagen. The museums’s director was the founder of Radio Venceremos, the rebel underground radio station during the Civil War. They have a small bookshop, too, for those who can read Spanish and want to learn more about the civil war and its impact on communities. I got chatting to one of the authors who was also involved in the clandestine radio station which really made my visit.
The Tin Marín kids museum is great for young children. There are lots of play activities, a butterfly house, and plenty of hands on learning and fun activities like foam blocks for building, water machines, and a pretend market place. There’s a pizza place and drinks and snacks for sale.
Other museums we’d like to visit are the train museum (El Museo del Ferrocarril y Parque Temático) and the military museum (El Museo Militar de la Fuerza Armada). Casa Tomada seems like a cool cultural centre with exhibitions, theatre, and other events – check out what’s on with their Facebook page.
Other places to visit in and around San Salvador:
If you’re craving a little bit of air-conditioning and a place to just chill out in familiar surroundings, head to the Galerías mall (Centro Comercial Galerías on Escalón). There are coffee shops, a food court, a good bookshop, clothes stores etc., and a cinema with some English language movies and all the latest releases. I’m not normally that keen on hanging out in shopping malls, but I enjoy heading to Galerías for a moment of calm in the bustling city and somewhere to work on my laptop.
Just up the road is the Centro Comercial El Paseo, where there are more decent cafés (places I am also happy to hang out alone to read or work) and a well stocked Super Selectos for groceries. Just opposite El Paseo mall is the cute 50s style States Diner for waffles, pancakes, and burgers. For locally brewed beer, good food, and sometimes live music, don’t miss Cadejo Brewing Company.
For a total change of pace and vibe, head to the gorgeous Botanical Gardens. We loved it there – shaded paths, little ponds, fish to feed, birds, and a fun playground for kids too with the biggest slide I’ve ever seen (just try to ignore the health and safety warnings in your head.)
A great side trip is up to El Boquerón – you can drive or catch a bus up the winding road to the top of this volcano. At the top there’s a small visitor centre, stalls selling tasty fruit and souvenirs, and shaded trails to view the crater. There are numerous places to eat and drink as you head back down, as well as great views of the city. We had a lovely time at Café del Volcan where there are garden walks and a kids play area.
Joya de Cerén, the amazing archaeological site where a village was buried in ash, and Mayan ruins at San Andrés are a short drive from the city.
Shopping for your boat:
For the practical stuff, Super Selectos seems to be the supermarket chain most popular with cruisers – it’s not the cheapest place to shop, but it has the best selection and you’ll likely find everything you want. Some branches are better stocked with imported stuff than others, so if you’re looking for something specific try the one at El Paseo mall, the one at the top of Escalón, or the one near the US embassy in Santa Elena. There’s also a Walmart, with large food section, just a few blocks from Galerías, and a Price Smart (like Costco) near the Santa Elena Super Selectos.
For hardware, try Vidri. Each branch has slightly different stuff: Vidri Venezuela seems to have a good selection of the kinds of things needed for boat repair projects. Vidri San Benito has a good array of things like fans, storage containers, cleaning products, and home decor stuff. EPA is good for stuff like paint, home depot style tools, hardware and wood supplies.
Talleres Moldtrok is a machine shop where they’ll repair or make parts to your specifications. Opposite and near there are automotive hardware parts stores for things like oil, fuel or air filters and hoses, and not far are quite a few bearings and seals shops (we visited 5 I think within a few blocks of each other and found them all super friendly!)
Electrónica 2001 Sucursal, on Escalón, next to El Paseo mall, is a music store, but has a good electronics parts section upstairs for things like solar panel components.
So, there you go! That should do as a decent introduction with ideas for your first visit to San Salvador – though you’ll probably still get lost at least once and still have to go to six shops to ask for the right part, if you’re anything like the rest of us. Let us know your recommendations in the comments and check out Part 1 for information about arriving in Bahía del Sol/Estero Jaltepeque and Part 2 for ideas about where else to go in El Salvador.
To sign up for the Annual El Salvador Rally go here.