It's Wandering Week! Let's take a walk in the center of San Salvador

Metropolitan Cathedral as seen from inside the National Palace (©2023)

The historic center of San Salvador is an absolutely great place for walking. Grab your hat and a water bottle. Take a bus, take an Uber or take your car. Wander the pedestrian walkways, hang out in the plazas, and take in a few sites along the way. There are cafes, hole-in-the-wall eateries and some great new restaurants where you can grab lunch, coffee or an early supper. Day or night, the city center is a safe place to wander. (As always, use common sense, and remember it is most fun to go with friends). 

Beautiful artwork can sometimes be found in unlikely locations. When walking, look around at the famous things, and also, keep your eyes open for unexpected beauty. This painting is just outside of the rather rustic parking garage, facing Plaza Morazán. (©2023)

If you have your own vehicle, I recommend parking in the parking garage which is located next to the National Theater, off of Plaza Morazán. Wander around the plaza, and if you are an architecture person, grab a couple of photos of the buildings and streets in the area. The Teatro Nacional de San Salvador is the oldest theater in Central America, constructed between 1911 and 1917 in a French Renaissance style. (Check the National Theater website for free concerts and cultural events.)

Plaza Morazán, from the parking garage, with the National Theater on the left and the cathedral in the background. The exterior paint on the theater has recently been restored to original colors. (©2019)

From Plaza Morazán, follow the pedestrian road along the side of the Metropolitan Cathedral. You will notice a shaded street behind the cathedral where there are shops and restaurants. It can be convenient to return to this walkway around lunch time to grab something to eat. If you are walking with a big group, pop into your chosen eatery in the morning to give them a heads-up so they can prepare.  

The pedestrian walkway behind the cathedral is a fun place to hang out, do a little shopping, or grab a bite to eat. (©2023)

We recently enjoyed a great meal at Restaurante Pipiris Nais located on the main pedestrian street behind the cathedral. The menu includes original dishes best described as Salvadoran-Mexican fusion. (©2023)

If you want to include visits along your walking route, mid-morning is a good time to step inside the cathedral. Use the stairs past the black iron gate to visit the lower level and see the burial crypt of Saint Oscar Romero. (There are restrooms located to the right of the stairway before you head down.) Go up the stairs to access the main level of the cathedral. It's a good idea to do some reading about the spiritual and historic significance of places you may visit during your walk, or, go walking with a local guide.

From the main floor of the Metropolitan Cathedral, you can exit out the front doors and walk to the center of Plaza Gerardo Barrios. Walk around, sit in the shade, and duck when the pigeons take off. From Plaza Barrios, you can appreciate the facade of the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and the new national library currently under construction. 

Don't spend too long hanging out in Plaza Barrios, because you want to leave plenty of time for walking just one block east to Plaza Libertad (Freedom Plaza).  Plaza Libertad has not always been the safest spot for walking, but today's vibe is one of fun, music and dancing. Wander around the perimeter of the plaza and check out whatever is happening there. On the east side of the square, be sure to make a stop at El Rosario church. If you want to go inside, walk down the street to the right as you face the facade, and look for a marked, gated entrance about halfway down the block.
The walk between Plaza Libertad and Plaza Barrios (©2023)

It is totally cool to join in the dancing fun. If musicians have buckets out for tips, be sure to compensate them for their talent and work. (©2023)

The statue in Plaza Libertad was erected on the 100th anniversary of the "first cries of freedom" - November 5, 1811, when Central America called for independence from Spain 

The Church of the Rosary (El Rosario) is one of my favorite stopping points during a central city walk. The church now charges visitors a small fee in order to enter, to help with the upkeep and restoration efforts. There are signs inside the church which give some information in English. Again, studying ahead of time or visiting with a guide will make a stop at El Rosario much more meaningful.

From Plaza Libertad, you can navigate your way back to Plaza Barrios or Plaza Morazán. The vendors who worked from small stands lining the streets in this area have mostly been removed, making it a little easier to spot landmarks. 

My first memory of walking in the historic center of San Salvador is from December 2001. On one day during that Christmas week in El Salvador, Pastor Santiago led our delegation of families on a tour of historic sites. This included walking from the Metropolitan Cathedral, to Plaza Libertad, to the Mercado Ex-Cuartel. What I remember from that walk: not knowing where I was going, being at the end of the line to make sure we did not lose any of the 8 kids in our group, and navigating our way through some tight crowds by making each kid stick like glue to the person in front of them. We were nervous. We were fine.

Snapped this pic when we got into an open space (©2001)

I suppose with young children, I would still walk the streets in "mama duck mode." It is true that over the last 22 years, there have been times when our Salvadoran friends made it clear that we could not walk from one plaza to another, or hang out in Plaza Libertad. The work that the Salvadoran government has done to make the historic center a safe, touristic destination is mostly good. I do worry about all the vendors who were expelled and wonder if they have found ways and places in which to make their livelihood.  I hope as walking and historic tours continue to develop in San Salvador and other urban centers, tourists are mindful and supportive of local entrepreneurs. 


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