Sprawling across the Valle de las Hamacas at the foot of the mighty Volcán San Salvador is the urban melee of SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador's mercurial capital. Founded in 1545, it remained a pretty minor place until 1785, when it was named the first intendencia within the Reino de Guatemala. Father José Delgado first made the call for independence here, and the city was the only capital of the Central American Federation, before being named capital of El Salvador when the federation dissolved in 1840. Not much remains of this illustrious history today, though: a series of earthquakes throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and bombings when the FMLN seized portions of the city in 1989, have levelled most of the centre. Little you can see predates the nineteenth century.
The atmosphere of the place is quite different, however; after two progressive mayorships and a more proactive chief of police, the city is going through something of a renaissance. Pleasant suburbs, great little parks, genuinely interesting museums, a bustling centre and thriving commercial zone make for an exciting place to explore, while a bohemian arts scene, good bars and safe clubs provide fun night-time distractions.
Northwest of the city, Volcán San Salvador looms over the valley and the suburb of Santa Tecla, while to the south the extensive Parque Balboa gives vistas the length of the coast. Tucked beneath the park, the village of Panchimalco's splendid colonial church belies its predominantly indigenous populace. Fifteen kilometres east of San Salvador sits the country's largest crater lake, beautiful Lago de Ilopango, with views on a clear day across to the peaks of Volcán Chichontepec. To the west are the natural gorge and pools of Los Chorros, a favourite weekend retreat for Salvadoreños from the city, and for those with an interest in archeology, the ruins of Joya de Cerén, which are of international importance for their remarkable state of preservation. The ruins at San Andrés nearby are rather more traditional in form, with pyramids and temples.