El Salvador

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Americas; Countries

República de El Salvador
Republic of El Salvador
Flag of El Salvador Coat of arms of El Salvador
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Dios, Unión, Libertad"  (Spanish)
"God, Union, Liberty"
Anthem:  Himno Nacional de El Salvador
Location of El Salvador
(and largest city)
San Salvador
Official languages Spanish
Demonym Salvadoran
Government Presidential republic
 -  President Antonio Saca
 -  from Spain September 15, 1821 
 -  from the UPCA 1842 
 -  Total 21,040 km² 
8,124  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 1.4
 -   estimate 7.1 million ( 98th)
 -  2008 census 5.8 million 
 -  Density 318.7/km² ( 34th)
823.6/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2006 estimate
 -  Total $38.617 billion ( 89th)
 -  Per capita $5,600 ( 103rd)
Gini (2002) 52.4 (high
HDI (2007) 0.735 (medium) ( 103rd)
Currency United States dollar ($) (2001-present)2 ( USD "$")
Time zone ( UTC-6)
Internet TLD .sv
Calling code +5031
1 Telephone companies (market share): Tigo (45%), Claro (25%), Movistar (24%), Digicel (5.5%), Red (0.5%).
2 The United States dollar is the currency in use. Financial information can be expressed in US Dollars and in Salvadoran colón, but it is out of circulation. http://www.bcr.gob.sv/ingles/integracion/ley.html

El Salvador (República de El Salvador, Spanish pronunciation: [reˈpuβlika ðe (e)l salβaˈðoɾ]) is a country in Central America. The area was originally called by the Pipil "Cuzhcatl", in Spanish "Cuzcatlan", which in Nahuatl means "The Land Of Precious Things".

After the Spanish conquest, the land was baptized by Spanish conquistadors as "Provincia De Nuestro Señor Jesucristo El Salvador Del Mundo" ("Province of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Savior Of The World"), now abbreviated as "República de El Salvador".

The country borders the Pacific Ocean between Guatemala and Honduras. With a population of approximately 5.8 million people, it is the most densely populated nation in Central America and is undergoing rapid industrialization.


In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors ventured into ports to extend their dominion to the area that would be known as El Salvador. They were firmly resisted by the Pipil and their remaining Mayan-speaking neighbors. Pedro de Alvarado, a lieutenant of Hernán Cortés, led the first effort by Spanish forces in June 1524.

The people defeated the Spaniards and forced them to withdraw to Guatemala. Two subsequent expeditions took place—the first in 1525, followed by a smaller group in 1528—to bring the Pipil under Spanish rule.

Towards the end of 1810, a combination of internal and external factors allowed Central American élites to attempt to gain independence from the Spanish crown. The internal factors were mainly the interest the élites had in controlling the territories they owned without involvement from Spanish authorities. The external factors were the success of the French and American revolutions in the eighteenth century and the weakening of the military power of the Spanish crown because of its wars against Napoleonic France. The independence movement was consolidated on November 5, 1811, when the Salvadoran priest, Jose Matias Delgado, sounded the bells of the Iglesia La Merced in San Salvador, making a call for the insurrection. After many years of internal fights, the Acta de Independencia (Act of Independence) of Central America was signed in Guatemala on September 15, 1821. When these provinces were joined with Mexico in early 1822, El Salvador resisted, insisting on autonomy for the Central American countries.

In 1823, the United Provinces of Central America was formed by the five Central American states under General Manuel José Arce. When this federation was dissolved in 1838, El Salvador became an independent republic. El Salvador's early history as an independent state was marked by frequent revolutions.

From 1872 to 1898, El Salvador was a prime mover in attempts to reestablish an isthmian federation. The governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua formed the Greater Republic of Central America via the Pact of Amapala in 1895. Although Guatemala and Costa Rica considered joining the Greater Republic (which was rechristened the United States of Central America when its constitution went into effect in 1898), neither country joined. This union, which had planned to establish its capital city at Amapala on the Golfo de Fonseca, did not survive a seizure of power in El Salvador in 1898.

The enormous profits that coffee yielded as a monoculture export served as an impetus for the process whereby land became concentrated in the hands of an oligarchy of few families. A succession of presidents from the ranks of the Salvadoran oligarchy, nominally both conservative and liberal, throughout the last half of the nineteenth century generally agreed on the promotion of coffee as the predominant cash crop, on the development of infrastructure (railroads and port facilities) primarily in support of the coffee trade, on the elimination of communal landholdings to facilitate further coffee production, on the passage of anti- vagrancy laws to ensure that displaced campesinos and other rural residents provided sufficient labour for the coffee fincas ( plantations), and on the suppression of rural discontent. In 1912, the national guard was created as a rural police force.

The coffee industry grew inexorably in El Salvador. As a result, the élite provided the bulk of the government's financial support through import duties on goods imported with the foreign currencies that coffee sales earned. This support, coupled with the humbler and more mundane mechanisms of corruption, ensured the coffee growers of overwhelming influence within the government.

El Salvador's early history as an independent state was marked by frequent revolutions; not until the period 1900-30 was relative stability achieved. The economic élite, based on agriculture and some mining, ruled the country in conjunction with the military.

The economy, based on coffee-growing after the mid-19th century, as the world market for indigo withered away, prospered or suffered as the world coffee price fluctuated. From 1931—the year of the coup in which Gen. Maximiliano Hernández Martínez came to power until he was deposed in 1944 there was brutal suppression of rural resistance. The most notable event was the 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising, commonly referred to as La Matanza (the massacre), headed by Farabundo Martí and the retaliation led by Martínez's government, in which approximately 30,000 indigenous people and political opponents were murdered, imprisoned or exiled. Until 1980, all but one Salvadoran temporary president was an army officer. Periodic presidential elections were seldom free or fair and an oligarchy in alliance with military forces ruled the nation. Atrocities of the regular troops, such as the El Mozote massacre, and the murder of Catholic missionaries and other religious aid workers, such as Jean Donovan, by death squads, established by parts of the landowners, to stop the Land reform from 1983, result in the Salvadoran Civil War (1980-1991). In 1972 José Napoleón Duarte ( PDC) was elected President but betrayed by the military Party, Party of National Conciliation, tortured and had to flee. After a Coup d'état in October 1979, the RGJunta and elections in 1984 he became president. The war lasted until the Chapultepec Peace Accords were signed in January 1991. Five different factions of the guerrillas formed the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional party ( FMLN) in order to seek office through democratic elections. Since then, the FMLN has gradually gained representation, particularly in the Legislative Assembly and local governments. Since 1989 the Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) party, founded by Roberto D'Aubuisson, has won every presidential election.

In 1998, El Salvador became one of three Latin-American countries where abortion is illegal with no exceptions, along with Chile and Nicaragua.


The political framework of El Salvador is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multiform multi-party system. The President of El Salvador, currently Antonio Saca, is both head of state and head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Legislative Assembly. The Judiciary branch is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.

Departments and municipalities

El Salvador is divided into 14 departments (departamentos), which, in turn, are subdivided into 267 municipalities (municipios).

Department names and abbreviations for the 14 Salvadoran Departments:

  1. AH Ahuachapán
  2. CA Cabañas
  3. CH Chalatenango
  4. CU Cuscatlán
  5. LI La Libertad
  6. PA La Paz
  7. UN La Unión

8. MO Morazán
9. SM San Miguel
10. SS San Salvador
11. SV San Vicente
12. SA Santa Ana
13. SO Sonsonate
14. US Usulután

Departments of El Salvador
Departments of El Salvador


Shaded relief map of El Salvador
Shaded relief map of El Salvador
The scenic Jiboa Valley and San Vicente volcano
The scenic Jiboa Valley and San Vicente volcano
San Vicente Volcano
San Vicente Volcano
San Vicente Volcano
San Vicente Volcano
Survey marker at the summit of Cerro El Pital
Survey marker at the summit of Cerro El Pital

El Salvador is located in Central America. It has a total area of 8,123 square miles (21,040 km²), smaller than that of the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It is the smallest country in continental America, and is affectionately called the " Tom Thumb of the Americas" ("Pulgarcito de America"). It has 123.6 square miles (320& km²) of water within its borders. Several small rivers flow through El Salvador into the Pacific Ocean, including the Goascorán, Jiboa, Torola, Paz and the Río Grande de San Miguel. Only the largest river, the Lempa River, flowing from Honduras across El Salvador to the ocean, is navigable for commercial traffic. Volcanic craters enclose lakes, the most important of which are Lake Ilopango (70 km²/27 sq mi) and Lake Coatepeque (26 km²/10 sq mi). Lake Güija is El Salvador's largest natural lake (44 km²/17 sq mi). Several artificial lakes were created by the damming of the Lempa, the largest of which is Embalse Cerrón Grande (350 km²/135 sq mi).

El Salvador shares borders with Guatemala (126 mi/203 km) and Honduras (212.5 mi/342 km). It is the only Central American country that does not have a Caribbean coastline. The highest point in the country is Cerro El Pital at 8,957 feet (2,730 meters), which shares a border with Honduras.


El Salvador has a tropical climate with pronounced wet and dry seasons. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation and show little seasonal change. The Pacific lowlands are uniformly hot; the central plateau and mountain areas are more moderate. The rainy season extends from May to October. Almost all the annual rainfall occurs during this time, and yearly totals, particularly on southern-facing mountain slopes, can be as high as 217 centimeters. Protected areas and the central plateau receive lesser, although still significant, amounts. Rainfall during this season generally comes from low pressure over the Pacific and usually falls in heavy afternoon thunderstorms. Hurricanes occasionally form in the Pacific with the notable exception of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

From November through April, the northeast trade winds control weather patterns. During these months, air flowing from the Caribbean has had most of the precipitation wrung out of it while passing over the mountains in Honduras. By the time this air reaches El Salvador, it is dry, hot, and hazy.


In the past years El Salvador has experienced high crime rates including gang-related crimes, and gangs in general. Some say that this was a result of the deportation of thousands of Salvadorans from the U.S, the majority of whom were members of MS13 (Mara Salvatrucha), in the mid-90s. The gangs in which Salvadorans had been involved in the United States began to show up in El Salvador. In 1996, San Salvador was considered the second most dangerous city in the western hemisphere, according to statistics.

Today El Salvador experiences some of the highest murder rates in the world, it is also considered an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. In response to this, the government has set up countless programs to try to guide the youth away from gang membership, but so far its efforts have not produced any quick results. One of the government programs was a gang-reform called "Super Mano Dura" (Super Firm Hand). Super Mano Dura had little success and was highly criticized by the U.N., it saw temporary success in 2004 but then saw a rise in crime after 2005. In 2004, the rate of intentional homicides per 100,000 citizens was 41, with 60% of the homicides committed were gang-related. The Salvadoran government reported that the Super Mano Dura gang legislation led to a 14% drop in murders in 2004. However, El Salvador recorded a total of 552 murders in January and February 2005 alone. In addition, crime rose 7.5% in just a year, from 2005-2006. Homicides are among the highest with respect to the overall crime rate. Intentional homicides reported in 2006 reached up to 3,928 from 3,778 in 2005, and a rate of 55 violent deaths per every 100,000 people.

In the first half of 2007 La Policía Nacional Civil of El Salvador statistics showed lower numbers in homicide, and extortions as well as robbery and theft of vehicles. In 2007 homicides in El Salvador had reduced 22%, extortions reduced 7%, and robbery and theft of vehicles had gone down 18%, all in comparison with the same period in 2006. Despite the lower numbers of homicides in the first half of 2007, El Salvador continues to have the highest homicide rate in Central America and one of the highest in Latin America.

Natural disasters

A landslide caused by one of the 2001 El Salvador earthquakes
A landslide caused by one of the 2001 El Salvador earthquakes

El Salvador lies along the Pacific ring of fire, and is thus subject to significant tectonic activity, including frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity. Recent examples include the earthquake on January 13, 2001 that measured 7.7 on the Richter scale and caused a landslide that killed more than eight hundred people; and another earthquake only a month after the first one February 13, 2001, killing 255 people and damaging about 20% of the nation's housing. Luckily, many families were able to find safety from the landslides caused by the earthquake. El Salvador's most recent destructive volcanic eruption took place on October 1, 2005, when the Ilamatepec volcano spewed up a cloud of ash and rocks, which fell on nearby villages and caused two deaths (Óscar Armando Guerrero Ventura and José Rafael Guevara).

El Salvador's position on the Pacific Ocean also makes it subject to severe weather conditions, including heavy rainstorms and severe droughts, both of which may be made more extreme by the El Niño and La Niña effects. In the summer of 2001, a severe drought destroyed 80% of the country's crops, causing famine in the countryside. On October 4, 2005, severe rains resulted in dangerous flooding and landslides, which caused a minimum of fifty deaths. El Salvador's location in Central America also makes it vulnerable to hurricanes coming off the Caribbean, however this risk is much less than for other Central American countries.

The Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador is currently dormant, but while it was still erupting it was very dangerous. Lago de Coatepeque (One of El Salvador's lakes.) was caused by a massive eruption.


According to the IMF and CIA World Factbook, El Salvador has the third largest economy in the region (behind Costa Rica and Guatemala) when looking at nominal Gross Domestic Product and purchasing power GDP. El Salvador's GDP per capita stands at US$5,800 , however, this " developing country" still faces many social issues and is among the 10 poorest countries in Latin America. Approximately 2.4 million (30.7%) people live below the poverty line, its GDP real growth rate is low compared to its neighbors, and 6% of the population is unemployed with much underemployment.

Most of El Salvador's economy has been hampered by natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, but El Salvador currently has a steadily growing economy.

GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) in 2007 was estimated at $41.65 billion USD. The service sector is the largest component of GDP at 60.7%, followed by the industrial sector at 29.6% (2006 est.). Agriculture represents only 7.6% of GDP (2006 est.).

The Salvadoran economy has experienced mixed results from the recent government's commitment to free market initiatives and conservative fiscal management that include the privatization of the banking system, telecommunications, public pensions, electrical distribution, and some electrical generation, reduction of import duties, elimination of price controls, and an improved enforcement of intellectual property rights. The GDP has been growing since 1996 at an annual rate that averages 2.8% real growth. In 2006 the GDP's real growth rate was 4.2%. A problem that the Salvadoran economy faces is the inequality in the distribution of income. In 1999, the richest fifth of the population received 45% of the country's income, while the poorest fifth received only 5.6%.

In December 1999, net international reserves equaled US$1.8 billion or roughly five months of imports. Having this hard currency buffer to work with, the Salvadoran government undertook a monetary integration plan beginning January 1, 2001 by which the U.S. dollar became legal tender alongside the Salvadoran colón and all formal accounting was done in U.S. dollars. This way, the government has formally limited its possibility of implementing open market monetary policies to influence short term variables in the economy. As of September 2007, net international reserves stood at $2.42 billion.

Since 2004, the colón stopped circulating and is now never used in the country for any type of transaction. In general, there was discontent with the shift to the U.S. dollar, primarily because of wage stagnation vis-a-vis basic commodity pricing in the marketplace. Additionally there are contentions that, according to Colin's Law, a reversion to the colón would be disastrous to the economy. The change to the dollar also precipitated a trend toward lower interest rates in El Salvador, helping many to secure much needed credit for house or car purchases.

A challenge in El Salvador has been developing new growth sectors for a more diversified economy. As many other former colonies, for many years El Salvador was considered a mono-export economy (an economy that depended heavily on one type of export). During colonial times, the Spanish decided that El Salvador would produce and export indigo, but after the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century, Salvadoran authorities and the newly created modern state turned to coffee as the main export. Since the cultivation of coffee required the highest lands in the country, many of these lands were expropriated from indigenous reserves and given or sold cheaply to those that could cultivate coffee. The government provided little or no compensation to the indigenous peoples. On occasion, this compensation implied merely the right to work for seasons in the newly created coffee farms and to be allowed to grow their own food. Such actions provided the basis of conflicts that would shape the political landscape of El Salvador for years to come.

For many decades, coffee was one of the only sources of foreign currency in the Salvadoran economy. The Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s and the fall of international coffee prices in the 1990s pressured the Salvadoran government to diversify the economy. The government has followed policies that intend to develop other export industries, such as textiles and sea products. Tourism is another industry Salvadoran authorities see as a possibility. But rampant crime rates, lack of infrastructure, and inadequate social capital have prevented this resource from being properly exploited and is still underdeveloped.

There are 15 free trade zones in El Salvador. The largest beneficiary has been the maquila industry, which provides 88,700 jobs directly, and consists primarily of supplying labor for the cutting and assembling of clothes for export to the United States.

El Salvador signed the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) — negotiated by the five countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic — with the United States in 2004. CAFTA requires that the Salvadoran government adopt policies that foster free trade. El Salvador has signed free trade agreements with Mexico, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Panama and increased its trade with those countries. El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua also are negotiating a free trade agreement with Canada. In October 2007, these four countries and Costa Rica began free trade agreement negotiations with the European Union. Negotiations started in 2006 for a free trade agreement with Colombia.

Fiscal policy has been the biggest challenge for the Salvadoran government. The 1992 peace accords committed the government to heavy expenditures for transition programs and social services. The Stability Adjustment Programs (PAE, for the initials in Spanish) initiated by President Cristiani's administration committed the government to the privatization of banks, the pension system, and the electric and telephone companies. The total privatization of the pension system has implied a serious burden for the public finance system, because the newly created private Pension Association Funds did not absorb coverage of retired pensioners covered under the old system. The government lost the revenues from contributors and absorbed completely the costs of coverage of retired pensioners. This has been the main source of fiscal imbalance. ARENA governments have financed this deficit with the emission of bonds, something the leftist FMLN has opposed. Debates surrounding the emission of bonds have stalled the approval of the national budget for many months on several occasions. The emission of bonds and the approval of government loans need a qualified majority (3/4 of the votes) in the National Legislature. If the deficit is not financed through a loan it is enough with a simple majority to approve the budget (50% of the votes plus 1).

Despite such challenges to keep public finances in balance, El Salvador still has one of the lowest tax burdens in the American continent (around 11% of GDP). Many specialists claim that it is impossible to advance significant development programs with such little public sector aid. (The tax burden in the United States is around 25% of the GDP and in developed countries of the EU it can reach around 50%.) The government has focused on improving the collection of its current revenues with a focus on indirect taxes. Leftist politicians criticize such a structure since indirect taxes (like the value-added tax) affect everyone alike, whereas direct taxes can be weighed according to levels of income. A 10% value-added tax (IVA ins Spanish), implemented in September 1992, was raised to 13% in July 1995. The VAT is the biggest source of revenue, accounting for about 52.3% of total tax revenues in 2004.

Inflation has been steady and among the lowest in the region. Since 1997 inflation has averaged 3%, with recent years increasing to nearly 5%. From 2000 to 2006 total exports have grown 19% from $2.94 billion to $3.51 billion. During this same period total imports have risen 54% from $4.95 billion to $7.63 billion. This has resulted in a 102% increase in the trade deficit from $2.01 billion to $4.12 billion.

Remittances from Salvadorans living and working in the United States, sent to family in El Salvador, are a major source of foreign income and offset the substantial trade deficit of $4.12 billion. Remittances have increased steadily in the last decade and reached an all-time high of $3.32 billion in 2006 (an increase of 17% over the previous year). approximately 16.2% of gross domestic product(GDP).

Remittances have had positive and negative effects on El Salvador. In 2005 the number of people living in extreme poverty in El Salvador was 16%, according to a United Nations Development Program report, without remittances the number of Salvadorans living in extreme poverty would rise to 37%. While Salvadoran education levels have gone up, wage expectations have risen faster than either skills or productivity. For example, some Salvadorans are no longer willing to take jobs that pay them less than what they receive monthly from family members abroad. This has led to an influx of Hondurans and Nicaraguans who are willing to work for the prevailing wage. Also, the local propensity for consumption over investment has increased. Money from remittances have also increased prices for certain commodities such as real estate. Many Salvadorans abroad earning much higher wages can afford higher prices for houses in El Salvador than local Salvadorans and thus push up the prices that all Salvadorans must pay.


The only airport serving international flights in the country is Comalapa International Airport (airport code: SAL). This airport is located in Comalapa, about 30 minutes southeast of the capital. The airport is commonly known as Comalapa International or El Salvador International.

El Salvador's tourism industry has grown dynamically over recent years as the Salvadoran government focuses on developing this sector. Last year tourism accounted for 4.6% of GDP; only 10 years ago, it accounted for 0.4%. In this same year, tourism grew 4.5% worldwide. Comparatively, El Salvador saw an increase of 8.97%, from 1.15 million to 1.27 million tourists. This has led to revenue from tourism growing 35.9% from $634 million to $862 million. As a reference point, in 1996 tourism revenue was $44.2 million. Also, there has been an even greater increase in the number of excursionists (visits that do not include an overnight stay). 222,000 excursionists visited El Salvador in 2006, a 24% increase over the previous year.

Most North American and European tourists are seeking out El Salvador's beaches and nightlife. Besides these two choices, El Salvador's tourism landscape is slightly different than those of other Central American countries. Because of its geographical size and urbanization, there aren't many nature-themed tourist destination such as ecotours or archaeological monuments. Surfing, however, is a natural tourist sector that is gaining popularity as more surfers visit El Zonte, Sunzal, and La Libertad, surfing spots that are not yet overcrowded. Also, the use of the United States dollar as Salvadoran currency and direct flights of 4-6 hours from most cities in the United States are important things to note for first-time travelers from the United States. Urbanization and Americanization of Salvadoran culture has also led to something else that first time tourists might be surprised to see: the abundance of American-style malls, stores, and restaurants in the three main urban areas, especially greater San Salvador.

Currently, tourists to El Salvador can be classified into four groups: Central Americans; North Americans; Salvadorans living abroad, primarily in the United States; and Europeans and South Americans. The first three represent the vast majority of tourists. Recently, El Salvador is attempting to broaden its tourist base and looking to the last group. Early indicators show that the government's efforts are working. When comparing January-March 2007 to the same period in 2006 (most recent data available), overall tourism has grown 10%, while from North America 38%, Europe 31%, and South America 36%. In the fall, Livingston Airlines will initiate the only direct flight between Europe (departing from Milan) and El Salvador. The Decameron Salinitas, a recently inaugurated resort, has contributed to the growth of tourists from South America (because of name recognition of the resort chain) and is looking to do the same with Europeans. It is interesting to note that Decameron Salinitas is responsible for half the initial bookings on the Milan-San Salvador flights. This demonstrates a synergy between two of the few businesses that cater to European tourists and is evident of what is necessary in this nascent sector.

Mural in Perquin, former "guerrilla capial" and now a tourist destination.
Mural in Perquin, former "guerrilla capial" and now a tourist destination.

Additionally, more and more tourists continue to be drawn by El Salvador's turbulent past. Some of the latest tourist attractions in the former war-torn El Salvador are gun fragments, pictures, combat plans, and mountain hideouts. Since 1992, residents in economically depressed areas are trying to profit from these remains. The mountain town of Perquin was considered the "guerrilla capital." Today it is home to the "Museum of the Revolution," featuring cannons, uniforms, pieces of Soviet weaponry, and other weapons of war once used by the FMLN's (Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front) headquarters. El Salvador continues to grow as an attraction. 40% of El Salvador visitors want to enjoy the sun and the country's beautiful beaches; 38% of El Salvador visitors enjoy the colonial structures and the country's history; and 22% enjoy the nature and El Salvador mountains and volcanoes. According to El Salvador newspaper El Diario De Hoy the top 10 attractions are the beaches in La Libertad, Ruta Las Flores, Suchitoto, Playa Las Flores in San Miguel, La Palma, Santa Ana where you find the country's tallest volcano, Nahuizalco, Apaneca, Juayua, San Ignacio.


The Roman Catholic Church plays an important role in the Salvadoran culture. Significant foreign personalities in El Salvador were the Jesuit priests and professors Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baró, and Segundo Montes, who were murdered in 1989 by the Salvadoran Army during the heat of the civil war. Painting, ceramics and textile goods are the main manual artistic expressions. Writers Francisco Gavidia (1863–1955), Salarrué (Salvador Salazar Arrué) (1899-1975), Claudia Lars, Alfredo Espino, Pedro Geoffroy Rivas, Manlio Argueta, José Roberto Cea, and poet Roque Dalton are among the most important writers to stem from El Salvador. Notable 20th century personages include the late filmmaker Baltasar Polio, artist Fernando Llort, and caricaturist Toño Salazar. Amongst the more renowned representatives of the graphic arts are the painters Noe Canjura, Carlos Cañas, Julia Díaz, Camilo Minero, Ricardo Carbonell, Roberto Huezo, Miguel Angel Cerna (the painter and writer better known as MACLo), Esael Araujo, and many others.

The wife of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (author of the children's book The Little Prince) was a Salvadoran aristocrat, Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry.

The local Spanish vernacular is called Caliche.

Date English name Local name
January 16 Peace Accords Day Día de los Acuerdos de Paz Celebrates the peace accords signing between the government and the guerrilla in 1992 that finished the 12-year civil war. Mostly political events.
March/April Holy Week/Easter Semana Santa Celebrated with Carnival-like events in different cities by the large Catholic population.
May 1 Labor Day Día del trabajo International Labour Day
May 10 Mother's Day Día de las Madres
August 1–7 August Festivals Fiestas de agosto Week-long festival in celebration of El Salvador del Mundo, patron saint of El Salvador.
September 15 Independence Day Día de la Independencia Celebrates independence from Spain, achieved in 1821.
October 12 Day of the Indians Día de los indios Celebration in dedication to the Indians (Amerindians).
November 2 Day of the Dead Día de los Santos Difuntos A day on which most people visit the tombs of deceased loved ones. ( November 1 may be commemorated as well.)
November 21 Queen of the Peace Day Dia de la Reyna de la Paz Day of the Queen of Peace, the patron saint. Also celebrated, the San Miguel Carnival, (carnaval de San Miguel) a known feast in El Salvador, celebrated in in San Miguel City, similar to Mardi Gras of New Orleans,where you can enjoy about 45 music bands on the street.
December 24 Christmas Day Navidad In many communities, December 24 ( Christmas Eve) is the major day of celebration, often to the point that it is considered the actual day of Navidad — with December 25 serving as a day of rest.


El Salvador has several universities:

  • Universidad de El Salvador, UES
  • Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas”, UCA
  • Universidad Francisco Gavidia, UFG
  • Universidad Tecnologica, UTec
  • Universidad Don Bosco, UDB
  • Universidad Evangelica
  • Universidad de Nueva San Salvador, UNSS
  • Universidad Albert Einstein
  • Universidad Alberto Masferrer
  • Universidad Modular Abierta, UMA
  • Universidad Polytecnica
  • Universidad Catolica de Occidente, UNICO


Salvadoran woman at a food stall
Salvadoran woman at a food stall

El Salvador's most notable dish is the pupusa. Pupusas are a thick hand-made corn tortilla (made using masa de maíz or masa de arroz, a maize or rice flour dough used in Latin American cuisine) stuffed with one or more of the following: cheese (usually a soft Salvadoran cheese, a popular example is Quesillo con loroco), chicharrón (a ground pork product, often mixed with tomato paste), and refried beans. Loroco is a vine flower bud native to Central America. There are also vegetarian options, often with ayote (a type of squash) or garlic. Some adventurous restaurants even offer pupusas stuffed with shrimp or spinach.

Pupusas come from the pipil-nahuatl word, pupushahua. The pupusa's exact origins are debated, although its presence in El Salvador is known to predate the arrival of Spaniards.

Two other typical Salvadoran dishes are yuca frita and panes rellenos. Yuca frita, which is deep fried cassava root served with curtido (a pickled cabbage, onion and carrot topping) and pork rinds or pepesquitas (fried baby sardines). The Yuca is sometimes served boiled instead of fried. Pan con pavo (bread with turkey) is a warm turkey submarine sandwich similar to a hoagie. The turkey is marinated and then roasted with Pipil spices and handpulled. This sandwich is traditionally served with turkey, tomato, and watercress.


El Salvador is a Central American country whose culture is a mixture of Pipil and Spanish. Its music includes religious songs (mostly Roman Catholic) used to celebrate Christmas and other holidays, especially feast days of the saints. Satirical rural lyrical themes are common. Due to the Americanization of El Salvador, popular English music is played on most national radio stations. In 2007, census showed that 67% of the music played on the most popular radio station, consisted of English music.


The 2008 estimated population is 7,066,403. El Salvador has lacked authoritative demographic data for many years due to the fact that until 2007, a national census had not been undertaken since 1992. Prior to the 2007 census, patterns in population growth led many officials (including within the Salvadoran government) to estimate the country's size at between 6.7 and 6.9 million people . However, on May 12, 2008, El Salvador's Ministry of Economy finally released statistics gathered in the census of the previous May These data present a surprisingly low figure for the total population - 5,744,113. Challenges to the 2007 census on a number of grounds are forthcoming.

90% of Salvadorans are mestizo (mixed Native American and Spanish origin). 9% report their race as being White; this population is mostly of Spanish descent. There are also some of French, German, Swiss, Chinese, and Italian descent. El Salvador is 1% indigenous, mostly Pipil, Lenca and Kakawira (Cacaopera). Very few Native Americans have retained their native customs, traditions, or languages, especially in the wake of the deliberate 1932 massacres in which the Salvadoran military murdered somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 peasants. El Salvador is the only Central American country that has no visible African population because of its lack of an Atlantic coast and access to the slave trade that occurred along the east coast of the continent. In addition, General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez instituted race laws in 1930 that prohibited blacks from entering the country; this changed during the 1980s and the law was removed.

Among the few immigrant groups that reached El Salvador, Palestinian Christians stand out. Though few in number, their descendants have attained great economic and political power in the country, as evidenced by President Antonio Saca — whose opponent in the 2004 election, Schafik Handal, was likewise of Palestinian descent — and the flourishing commercial, industrial, and construction firms owned by them.

Spanish is the official language and therefore spoken by virtually all inhabitants (some of the indigenous still speak their native tongues, but all speak Spanish). English is also spoken by some throughout the republic. Many have studied or lived in English speaking countries (primarily the U.S., but also Canada and Australia), including many young Salvadorans deported from the United States, many of whom had grown up speaking only English. Furthermore, today all public schools teach English as a required course in both primary and secondary school.

Although the majority of El Salvador's residents are Roman Catholic, Protestantism is growing rapidly and is already representing more than 20% of the population. Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, Seventh-Day Adventist churches are all growing, as are Pentecostals and Mormons.

The capital city of San Salvador has about 2.1 million people; an estimated 42% of El Salvador's population live in rural areas. Urbanization expanded at a phenomenal rate in El Salvador since the 1960s, driving millions to the cities and creating growth problems for cities around the country.

According to the most recent United Nations survey, life expectancy for men was 68 years and 74 years for women. Education in El Salvador is free through ninth grade. The national literacy rate is 84.1%.

As of 2004, there were approximately 3.2 million Salvadorans living outside El Salvador, some of whom are undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many other Salvadoran Americans are legal immigrants, many becoming citizens or residents through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. The USA has traditionally been the destination of choice for Salvadorans looking for greater economic opportunity. Salvadorans also live in nearby Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The majority of expatriates emigrated during the civil war of the 1980s for political reasons and later because of adverse economic and social conditions. Other countries with notable Salvadoran communities include Canada, Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Sweden, Brazil, Italy, and Australia.

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