San Salvador - My visit to the MURDER capital of the world

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Salvador del Mundo, the National Monument


my visit to the murder capital of the world, the dirtiest marketplace of my journey, bad food and rich neighborhoods of US-American style


After four nights in Santa Ana it was time for me to leave my super hostel there and move on to San Salvador, the capital of the country.

The metropolitan region has about 1.7 million inhabitants. It is located at the foot of the volcano Boquerón and has been affected by earthquakes several times in its history. The worst earthquake in 1854 almost completely destroyed the city.

The press had only recently chosen the city as the new "murder capital" of the world, as it lead the inglorious list of cities with the highest murder rate in the world. 60% of all killings in San Salvador were committed by the local youth gangs, the maras. Characteristic for the gang members are the tattoos, often also in the face, with which the affiliation to the respective gang is expressed. So when the police do a check, they usually lift the persons' shirts to see if and to which gang the respective person belongs.

special troop in a territory controlled by the gangs in San Salvador
special troop in a territory controlled by the gangs in San Salvador
members of the Mara with their distinctive tattoos © guardian.com
members of the Mara with their distinctive tattoos © guardian.com

stranded on the highway in San Salvador


Early in the morning I left for San Salvador. My buddy from Bulgaria had already gone there the day before and told me that he had even caught an air-conditioned bus. Well, then I wasn't so lucky. All seats on the bus were occupied and there was no air conditioning. I spent the whole 2 hours of the journey standing, surrounded by many other passengers.

Finally, the bus dropped me off in the middle of a busy highway in San Salvador. Again I didn't know how to get to the hostel from here. I was at a small bend where a couple of women next door sold some pupusas and fruit.

"Is it safe to walk here alone with my big bags?" - I asked

"More or less" - she replied

I waited for minutes to cross the highway. In vain! One car after the other rushed by! It was Saturday morning. After a while one of the saleswomen led me to a spot further down where it was easier to cross the motorway. Only in full sprint I made it. It cost me some nerves.


Drive into the centre of the car with dark-tinted windows


About half an hour later I finally reached my hostel, the La Zona Hostel. A hostel in the more upscale part of the city directly opposite the Tika bus station, where buses run to the neighboring Central American countries. There the Bulgarian I had met in Belize was already waiting for me.

In our hostel room was, of course, as so often another German. He had worked here for a year and now visited his sweetheart here. Me and the Bulgarian were planning to visit the city centre. The other German offered us a ride in his rental car, because he also wanted to go in this direction.

The windows of his car were black so no one could see inside. This is standard here for security reasons. On the way to the center he also told us about the widespread crime here and that he even knows people who were shot because of a few dollars.

In the center of San Salvador we attracted the attention of almost all the people. It is rare for a tourist to come here. Even locals avoid the center because it's too dangerous. I know someone who has spent his whole life in San Salvador and has never visited the center and just thought I was crazy to visit it.

church in San Salvador
church in San Salvador
fountain in San Salvador
fountain in San Salvador
Statue in San Salvador
Statue in San Salvador

A beautiful church


However, the centre is home to Iglesia El Rosario, one of the main attractions of the city. While this church looks quite ugly from the outside, it shows its full beauty inside. The ornaments at the window let the light pass exactly in such a way that the benches of the church shone in bright colours.

church Iglesia Rosario in San Salvador
church Iglesia Rosario in San Salvador
inside the Church of Iglesia Rosario in San Salvador
inside the Church of Iglesia Rosario in San Salvador

Spoiled food in the dirtiest marketplace of my journey


We moved further into the city and visited a market place. No doubt this was the dirtiest marketplace I've ever seen. Garbage lay around everywhere and between the stands the small buses drove by. Many of the buildings there were in a pretty dilapidated state. In the middle of the sidewalk I almost flew over an old broken TV, which had simply been disposed of there. Elsewhere a couple of prostitutes waved at us from the shabby buildings.

center of San Salvador
center of San Salvador
Market in the center of San Salvador and bus
Market in the center of San Salvador and bus
Old building in San Salvador
Old building in San Salvador
TV in the middle of the sidewalk in the center of San Salvador
TV in the middle of the sidewalk in the center of San Salvador

The many small shops in the centre are almost all guarded by an armed private security guard. Even extremely run-down jewelry shops or low revenue grocery stores are no exception.

Security guard with a long shotgun in front of an old jeweller's shop in the centre
Security guard with a long shotgun in front of an old jeweller's shop in the centre

We moved on to have a beer and watch some football in a local pub, ideally also a FC Barcelona fan club.

FC Barcelona bar in San Salvador
FC Barcelona bar in San Salvador

Afterwards, a little away from that, we sit down at a small stand to eat something. I don't share the local preference for chicken and so I had no choice but to order some rice and beans. What I was served here is one of the worst and dirtiest meals of my life. The rice stuck together like glue and was already burned black. The next morning I bitterly regretted having eaten here.


Destroyed like an old man the next day


I was pretty fucked up after the long hike through the centre and returned alone to the hostel with a few old buses. The never-tired Bulgarian walked on. When he came back, we went to a big supermarket to buy some food. We were surprised about the high prices, especially for cosmetics.

This was the last time I saw the Bulgarian. He mercilessly kept up his pace (1 week in every Latin American country).

In the evening I intended to explore the nightlife of the city. I had arrived on Saturdays especially for that. Discos are often located in huge shopping centres, as they are among the safest buildings in the city. That's why many of the richer people like to spend their free time here.

Who wants to participate in the night life in San Salvador, cannot avoid getting a car or taxi. Using public buses in the dark or walking is a risk.

Fortunately I knew a Salvadoran woman who even wanted to pick me up from my hostel to visit one of these discos. However, the day had been so exhausting that I had to cancel it.

Despite that, the next day I felt totally wrecked and fucked up, as bad as never before in my life. My stomach was doing somersaults from the bad food the previous day. Montezuma's revenge had gripped me. In addition, I hadn't really cured my cold from Guatemala yet, because I had simply always moved on. Like an old man, I felt every bone separately.

I literally spent the whole day in bed regenerating. I was only woken up by the farts and snoring of the older Salvadoran under me, who apparently lived there.

The next day I had more energy again, but my stomach took days to recover.


the rich part of San Salvador in the US style


I was walking around near my hostel and seriously thought I was in some American city. Everywhere McDonalds, Pizza-Hut, Starbucks, Wendy's & co. and beside it there were beauty salons and new-fashionable restaurants. It was a stark contrast to the centre of the city, where the inhabitants haggle for every cent.

Beauty salon in the richer part of San Salvador
Beauty salon in the richer part of San Salvador

The more rich locals, like the Americans, seem to travel every meter by car. Almost nobody moves on foot. No wonder, as pedestrian-hostile as the city was designed.

Most cars that drive there are in very good condition and often are large sports cars. People who have money in El Salvador often have a lot of money. There is almost no middle class.

The houses of the inhabitants in this district were more glamorous than most of the houses I knew from Germany. Almost every house has a swimming pool and a private security guard who guards the house with a loaded shotgun. Barbed wire fences wind over the entrances of the houses to prevent robbers from entering. The property walls are already several meters high anyway. In Germany, prisons look like this, here they are ordinary houses.

Boundary wall to a property in San Salvador
Boundary wall to a property in San Salvador
Entrance to the house of a rich man in San Salvador
Entrance to the house of a rich man in San Salvador

The Beautiful National Monument


I walked on and reached the Monumento al Divino Salvador del Mundo, a monument to Jesus Christ, the Redeemer (Spanish: El Salvador). It is the national symbol and landmark of the country. There were hardly any people there. I could take my time to take my pictures. For me it was the most beautiful place in town.

I walked a little further and then turned back when I realized that I was over a settlement of half-decayed mini metal houses. That's how fast you get from the richer neighbourhoods to the poorer ones.

Salvador del Mundo Monument in San Salvador
Salvador del Mundo Monument in San Salvador
Salvador del Mundo Monument in San Salvador (close)
Salvador del Mundo Monument in San Salvador (close)
small houses in San Salvador
small houses in San Salvador

The next day I visited the colonial town of Suchitoto. I also intended to visit a national park with a volcano nearby, but as so often in this country there was no tourist infrastructure. And I didn't want to go there alone with my limited Spanish. Instead, after 4 nights in San Salvador, I decided to continue to El Tunco on the Pacific coast of El Salvador.


Posted by Marc - Aug 16, 2018


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Hola, my friends! I'm Marc! Here you find some stories of my trip through 17 Latinamerican countries!

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