26 interesting facts about El Salvador

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From ancient Mayan ruins, active volcanoes and alarming crime statistics, these are the most interesting facts about El Salvador.

Interesting facts about El Salvador its volcanoes
Interesting facts about El Salvador its volcanic geology (Shutterstock)

Fast facts

Official name: Republic of El Salvador
Capital city: San Salvador
Population: 6,481,102
Area: 21,041 sq km
Major languages: Spanish, Nawat
Time zone: UTC-6 (Central Time Zone)
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

Interesting facts about El Salvador

1. El Salvador is the smallest country by land area in Central America.
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

2. With 310 people per sq km of land area, El Salvador is the most densely-populated country on the mainland of the Americas. Only the Caribbean island nations of the region are more densely populated.
(Source: World Bank)

3. As such, it is El Salvador has a population that is around 18 times larger than Belize.
(Source: CIA World Fact Book)

4. Paleo-Indian people have inhabited El Salvador for as long as 10,000 years. Cave paintings from the period have been discovered in the modern region of Morazán.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

5. El Salvador was also inhabited by the Mayans for approximately 750 years from around 100-200 AD to 600-900 AD. The most impressive archaeological site in the country is the Tazumal complex – the only remains of the ancient Mayan city of Chalchuapa.
(Source: Rough Guides)

The Tazumal complex in El Salvador
The Tazumal complex (Shutterstock)

6. El Salvador was under the control of Spain after explorer Pedro de Alvarado conquered the area in 1524. However, there was ongoing indigenous resistance until 1540 when the country officially became a Spanish colony until 1821.
(Source: BBC News)

7. El Salvador was given its name – which means ‘the Savior,’ referring to Jesus Christ – by the Spanish.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com)

8. El Salvador was initially incorporated into the Mexican empire. Then in 1823, El Salvador joined the United Provinces of Central America, which also included Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras.
(Source: Encyclopedia.com)

9. El Salvador’s flag descends from the flag used by the United Provinces of Central America which consisted of blue-white-blue stripes along with the national coat of arms in the centre. The countries of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Costa Rica all use permutations of that design in their modern flags.
(Source: Complete Flags of the World. (2014). DK: London)

10. The coat of arms in the centre of the flag of El Salvador also resembles the coat of arms used by the former Central American federation. It contains branches, flags, green mountains, and the national motto “Dios, unión, libertad” (“God, union, liberty”).
(Source: Britannica)

The flag of El Salvador
The flag of El Salvador (Shutterstock)

11. In 1840 El Salvador became completely independent after the United Provinces of Central America was dissolved.
(Source: BBC News)

12. At least 75,000 civilians died at the hands of government forces during the Salvadoran Civil War from 1980 to 1992.
(Source: The Atlantic)

13. The USA was involved in the conflict, providing funding and military training to Salvadoran ‘death squads’ who were responsible for a number of atrocities. One of the most notable was the El Mozote massacre where over 1,200 men, women and children were killed.
(Source: The Atlantic)

14. El Salvador’s position on the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ makes it prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. As such it is known as the ‘Land of Volcanoes’.
(Source: BBC News, CIA World Fact Book)

15. Some of the worst earthquakes struck the country in 2001 killing 1,200 people and rendering another one million homeless.
(Source: BBC News)

16. El Salvador has over 800 animal species, of which almost half are butterflies. There over 330 resident bird species and 170 migratory bird species. Additionally, there are a further 200 mammal species approximately.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

17. El Salvador is a world-class surfing destination and has hosted world surfing events. The country’s most notorious wave is Punta Roca which was featured in the iconic 70s surf movie Big Wednesday.
(Source: Lonely Planet, The Guardian)

Surfers in the waves near a beach
El Salvador’s surfing is world-class (Shutterstock)

18. Following Haiti, El Salvador is the second most deforested country in Latin America. Almost 85% of its forests have disappeared since the 1960s.
(Source: Mongabay)

19. Around 90 animal species in El Salvador are in danger of extinction. These include marine turtles, armadillos and at least 15 species of hummingbird.
(Source: Lonely Planet)

20. One of the most shocking facts about El Salvador is that it is one of only four countries in the world where abortion is illegal under all circumstances, even if the woman is raped. The law is applied mercilessly at times with instances of women who have had a miscarriage or a stillbirth being charged with murder or attempted murder.
(Source: The Guardian)

21. El Salvador has the highest murder rate in the world. The latest figures (from 2017), put intentional homicides at 62 per 100,000 people.
(Source: World Bank)

22. In August 2019, El Salvador celebrated only its eighth murder-free day since 2000. The last time it previously went a full day without a murder was January 2017, then January 2015, with another in 2013 and two in 2012.
(Source: Independent)

23. El Salvador is the only Central American country without a Caribbean coast.
(Source: Google Maps)

Map of Central America
El Salvador only has a Pacific coast (Shutterstock)

24. El Salvador currently has just one UNESCO World Heritage Site. Joya de Cerén is an archaeological site containing the remains of a pre-hispanic farming village that was was buried beneath a volcanic eruption in AD 600.
(Source: UNESCO)

25. El Salvador has never won an Olympic medal. It has also never participated in the Winter Olympics.
(Source: The Telegraph)

26. El Salvador fought the ‘100 Hour War’ – sometimes referred to as La guerra del fútbol (The Football War) – with neighbouring Honduras in 1969. Existing tensions between the countries coincided with rioting during a 1970 FIFA World Cup qualifier. The four-day conflict cost thousands of lives and uprooted thousands more.
(Source: BBC News)