San Salvador, El Salvador

Photo: Idea SV (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
San Salvador is surrounded by volcanoes. Its Centro Historico is home to eclectic architecture and beautiful monuments. Central America’s largest airport, biggest soccer venue, and two widest boulevards are here, too. The Salvadoran people are friendly and religiously tolerant. While roads, among the most well maintained in all of Latin America, extend to nearby beaches, mountains, and Mayan sites. The only thing missing is tourists.

The capital of El Salvador has a bad reputation. When the 12-year Salvadoran Civil War finally ended in 1992, the maras (gangs) took over. Central America’s smallest country became the most dangerous place in the world. But the crime rate has been steadily declining since 2011. San Salvador is now safer than more popular destinations in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Honduras.

So now, before everyone else catches on, is the time to start exploring San Salvador. The hilly city was called Cuscatlán by the Pipil people. They abandoned their home to avoid being conquered by the Spanish. The Holy Savior was then founded in 1525. Few buildings remain, thanks to earthquakes and the war, from the colonial period, though. Many of the Centro Historico’s buildings—including the National Palace, the National Theatre of El Salvador, and the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior—were built in the 20th century. Wide plazas, large parks, and exciting museums extend beyond the historic downtown. The result is a modern city that’s rapidly changing.

Photo: Nico Urban Hotel

New hotels are part of that change. For years, you had to decide between big international brands and traditional inns. It made San Salvador trips feel either too impersonal or way too personal. Boutique hotels are now popping up all over the city, though. The stylish properties offer unique locations, local food, and personal service. But, most importantly, they feature modern rooms.

Your choice for your first San Salvador trip should be Nico Urban Hotel. The small hotel is in Colonia San Benito, a neighborhood known for its international embassies, old homes, and the popular Museo de Arte de El Salvador (MARTE). The hotel was once a private home; it was renovated to become a six-suite hotel in 2011. Though each of the suites is unique, they’re all minimal spaces with garden views. Suite 1 is known for its king-size bed, pops of red, and terrace that opens onto the garden. The minibar is stocked with local treats, including chocolate and nuts. Fresh fruit and espresso are always available at the coffee and fruit station in the lounge, as well.

Then there’s the food. Traditional Salvadoran dishes are served in the courtyard for breakfast. The corn pancakes will change the way you look at the standard morning dish. Lunch and dinner are Italian, though. Traditional dishes, based on the owner’s grandmother’s recipes, are served at Il Bongustaio. The handwritten menu might feature grouper carpaccio or homemade tagliatelle with sweet lobster. Plus mango ice cream is made with just-picked fruit. It’s one of the best restaurants in the city, and it’s right at your hotel. It looks like you’ve run out of excuses to avoid San Salvador.

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