San Salvador, El Salvador

The cosmopolitan center of El Salvador is a city cranking with energy. Witness the buses stuffed with limbs akimbo, bountiful bars and downtown, where vendors overtake the pavement, allowing traffic a cool inch on each side. Commerce, from street to swanky mall, thrives. It is partly about consumption, partly about curiosity – San Salvador’s appetite for the new is voracious.

It’s easy for the first impression of the city to be daunting. Crime, after all, looms large. Travelers may see headlines of gang violence, meet survivors of the war or bump into the rifleman guarding the neighborhood ice-cream parlor. As San Salvador may be a city of impressions, however, it’s also one of encounters. People are unusually eager to greet visitors and offer a hand. This confident, lefty metropolis has great music and museums on offer, as well as hipster bars and coffee shops. There’s enough going on here to extend a trip a day or two, or even a week, in order to explore.

Travelers should visit the parks and centro during daytime only, and take taxis after dark. The gang area of Soyopango (east of town) should be avoided. If you’re at all intimidated, exploring the city on a Sunday offers a slow start.

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