America,  El Salvador,  TDM,  Travel Journal

2 days in San Salvador: Old Town & Volcano of El Salvador, El Boqueron Park

After a month in Nicaragua, we take an international bus from Leon to San Salvador (more details here). The trip is very long but at least the seats are comfortable and the border crossing (Nicaragua – Honduras – El Salvador) is rather smooth.

We hesitated a lot to stay a little longer in Nicaragua, but we thought it would be better, even if we were there, to visit as many Central American countries as possible. These countries are so geopolitically unstable that it only takes a little trick to make them inaccessible for months or even years. Instead of going directly to one of the beaches of El Salvador, like all other backpackers, we prefer to give a chance to San Salvador, considered as the most beautiful capital of Central America.

Part 1: Travel Diary Part
2: Practical Tips

Part 1: Travel Diary

Day 0 : Arrival in El Salvador

Dropped off at the bus terminal, we have to take a cab or Uber to our hotel. Uber works here so let’s take advantage of it. 2.5$ later (only US dollars are used in this country), we are dropped off at the hotel.

The gentleman at the reception is super nice Hotel Armonia (Booking link, 29€ per night) and gives me a geography course of El Salvador as well as the not very safe places to avoid: the east of the capital, and the way between San Salvador and Suchitoto (basically, you can cross by car but it’s better not to stop on the way). Looking at the map, we realize that we are higher vs. Nicaragua, hence the cold felt in the evening.

El Salvador is very green, and the country is very small. Here is a picture taken from the plane near San Salvador :

Day 1: Visit of the old town & test of public transportation

First observation: too many cars, too many beautiful and big cars. Too much pollution. The pedestrian isn’t a priority and can be crushed like a fly.

We immediately go to the central square in front of the big cathedral (in Uber) to buy a Salvadorian SIM card. Our Nicaraguan SIM card still works but we didn’t know it and hadn’t thought about re-crediting it for another 2 weeks.

Either, we quickly visit the cathedral, which has a very nice dome. Monsignor Oscar Romero, considered a hero and martyr in his country, is buried in the crypt of the cathedral. Murdered for daring to raise his voice against oppression and violence, he was beatified and then canonized.

Right next door is the former National Palace. Entrance is paying (3$, cash only), an english speaking guide shows us the empty interior of the palace. The most interesting part remains its garden with 5 huge fir trees representing the 5 countries of Central America (at that time Panama still belonged to Colombia and Mexico isn’t really considered as part of Central America). There is the National Theater next door, with French architecture, but we didn’t have time to go there.

where is Anh in the picture?

The guide of the National Palace tells us that the new president of El Salvador was mayor of San Salvador and in a few years he transformed the city, making it much safer. This speech was confirmed by the owners of our hotels in San Salvador – who notice a notable change in the last 2 years in the city center. With the creation of green spaces (central squares) that are well lit and pleasant. They are delighted because it brings tourists.

We wanted to visit El Rosario Church for its extraordinary light-transmitting glass, but we arrived just between 12 and 2pm, when the church is closed. Never mind!

Instead, we decide to go to the Monument to the Divine because there is the largest fir tree in the city at the moment, in addition to the illuminations. We could have opted for an Uber, but instead we wanted to play the game and take public transport.

After various information taken from the locals, they show us a busy bus stop a few blocks away. It isn’t really a bus stop but a sidewalk where several buses stop(Google Maps coordinates). I was given the number of the bus (102D) to take, but I spotted a mini-bus (44B I think) with “Salvador del Mundo” written on it. Be careful not to confuse with Plaza Mundo which is on the other side of the city. The bus costs only 0.30$, and we discover for the first time the small dollar coins (which are only used here, you have to sell them before leaving the country). Here is the monument in question, not so impressive in the end – but the locals told me about it with so much pride that I had to see it myself.

In San Salvador, we often see this magnificent volcano, seen without difficulty from several places in the capital. I think it is the view of this volcano that makes the capital even more beautiful.

I don’t know if it’s because we’re old, if it’s the heat or the stress caused by public transportation, but we have to land at McDonald’s to get our strength back ahahah before trying to find another bus to the MetroCentro shopping mall. The Black Friday day in addition! Suicide mission! On the plan, the mall is huge so we want to see what it looks like. A local indicates us the bus 30B. Fortunately he specified the number because the destination was not clearly indicated on the windshield.

The mall, all in length, is indeed huge. We were able to buy SIM cards there, but that’s it. There are a lot of imported products and the food court is mainly fast food.

Day 2: Visit of El Boqueron Park

In spite of the heat, we are motivated to make a tour to the park El Boqueron. But it is necessary to eat first. We take an uber to La Pampa Restaurant, a steakhouse and opt for beef, real beef… (still count 25$ minimum + 10% tip). The cooking is perfect, they know how to handle the barbecue like nobody else in Latin America. It is very good, but not as good as in Argentina or Uruguay.

While we try to stop a cab and negotiate a round trip to El Boqueron, a guy coming from nowhere (he’s in a white shirt and looks like a valet or a guard from an establishment across the street) asks us if we are looking for a cab. He runs to look for another guy – super nice – who offers us the ride for 40$ (with unlimited waiting). We negotiate at 35$ by saying that we remain only one hour on the spot. On this, we go up on his car (very sport which makes vroum vroum…).

Well, at that moment, we tell ourselves that we’re not very careful to get into a perfect stranger’s car, in El Salvador in addition – but the current passes very well with him, we type the discussion and ask for more information about his engine. JB takes care to take a picture of his license plate before getting in. He seems to like cars a lot because even the interior is nickel, leather, with all the comfort accessories

Well, since he’s not a cab, he got the wrong place and dropped us off 15 minutes earlier near the restaurant La Terraza. The viewpoint and the view on San Salvador is breathtaking, but it isn’t what we are looking for. We find our driver at the parking lot (1$ the parking) and ask him to drop us off at the park El Boqueron.

He doesn’t moan at all and takes us there without waiting. We are lucky to get the last place in the official parking lot (1$ against 2.5$ for the unofficial parking lots). We pay 2$ the entry/person (+ 1$ for the driver when he doesn’t even visit) and follow a small path leading to the crater.

There are 3 watchtowers in all and the path is very easy and well marked. This path has become safe, with policemen everywhere

Unfortunately we go there in the afternoon and the sun isn’t well positioned for the photos. But we see nevertheless the small crater within the big crater. Before, it was a nice lake, but an eruption emptied all the water of the lake and we can see now only the small crater from far (it is possible to go down to the bottom but nobody does it).

We return to the parking lot and there is another viewpoint that offers an exceptional view of the surroundings. The view is unbeatable and so clear, it’s incredible!

On this, we return to the hotel, delighted of our small day. The driver makes a phone call to someone and seems to speak about us. But he speaks so fast, swallowing the vowels (typically Salvadorian Spanish). Several times, he asks us to confirm that we have to pay him 35$. Then he explains us the why of how he talked about us on the phone, I just understood “amigo” and the name of our neighborhood. In short. Usually, I would have been pissed off and would have been mad at myself for not understanding Spanish better, but the heat made me dumb.

I only ask JB if there is a risk that we have stumbled upon a mars who wants to kidnap us. And he tells me that a maras would have been tattooed from head to toe, not like our driver. Moreover, JB was even in a sento, in the middle of a Japanese mafia meeting and it went well anyway . I can imagine a lot of things: maybe he calls to ask for access to our neighborhood, since his gang isn’t allowed there? Or maybe he’s going to drop us off in front of his amigo, who’s going to rake us over the coals? Yes, I have a vivid imagination.

Finally, he drops us off in front of the hotel as planned and tells us to call him back if we need a driver. We give him 40$ instead of 35$ because the cab drivers would have asked much more (40$ the outward journey!!), he seems super super happy.

It went well for us and I admit that we are in “relax, nothing can happen to us” mode but I wouldn’t recommend you to get into the car of a complete stranger in El Salvador 😀 Stop a real cab next time.

The next day we leave for Concepcion de Ataco, I told you about the local transport here

Did you like this article? Consult all our travel diaries & tips in El Salvador here

Part 2: Practical Tips

How to get there

  • Public transport in San Salvador :
    • several buses (mini bus, chicken bus – American school buses, normal buses) serve the city very well. It is necessary to ask the number of the buses to the locals because there is no detailed map. It is quite crowded so only take the necessary with you
    • To cross the whole city, there are Sitramms, which are big buses with a special lane.
  • How to get to El BoqueronPark :
    • to privatize a cab: we were able to pay 40$ the round trip with the wait of one hour. Cabs can ask for double, so negotiate
    • take a bus: n°103 qui part d’ici (Santa Tecla neighborhood) and drop you off at the foot of the village here. you have to finish walking (15 minutes) to the park, the path is safe with houses, restaurants and souvenir stores. The way costs 0,25$/person
    • take an Uber: the Uber can drop you off at the park but it will be difficult to find one on the way back. In the worst case, you can come in Uber and get off by taking the bus 103, which leaves regularly (besides it is the terminus, you will have no trouble finding a seat)
  • How to get from San Salvador : for bus schedules to the West (Ruta de las Flores, Santa Ana, Ahuchapan etc.), consult the schedules and bus numbers on the official website of Terminal Occidente. Small explanation of the levels of comfort
    • ordinario: chicken bus (former American school bus), without air conditioning, without dedicated luggage space
    • special: with luggage holds, with air conditioning (recommended)
    • exclusivo: with luggage compartments, more comfortable seats (recommended)


  • Hotel in San Salvador: correct wifi, air conditioning, hot shower, parking spaces in a residential area: Hotel Armonia (Booking link, 29€)
  • Public bus: between $0.25 and $0.35, with or without air conditioning. It is necessary to ask for the number of the buses to the premises because there is no detailed plan

SpeedTest in San Salvador

The connection speed is excellent for Latin America, up to 39Mbps downlink and 20Mbps uplink (3G and Wifi combined). However, it depends a lot on the hotel too, ours, Booking link, has a good connection. We came back to San Salvador later in another hotel in the same area and the connection was around 2Mbps 🙁

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