The Beautiful Land of El Salvador

Located on the Pacific coast of Central America between Guatemala and Honduras, the Republic of El Salvador is the most densely populated of the Latin American countries. It is the smallest republic of the American mainland and the only Central American country not bordering the Caribbean Sea. El Salvador's economic well-being depends on its coffee production-it is one of Central America's largest producers-and fluctuates with the world market.

Land and Resources

El Salvador can be divided into three major physical regions: a tropical coastal belt on the Pacific, a central upland area of valleys and plateaus, and a mountainous north. Most of the population is concentrated in the subtropical central region, where the major cities of San Salvador (the capital), Santa Ana, San Miguel, Sonsonate, and San Vicente are located. This region is subject to earthquakes, such as those which devastated San Salvador in 1965 and 1986. The most recent earthquakes happened on January 13, 2001 at 11:35am and on February 13, 2001 at 8:30am. The first earthquake damaged the areas of Ahuachapán, Sonsonate, La Libertad, San Salvador, and Usulatán. The second devastated the San Vicente area. There are more than 20 active volcanoes in the north, and nearly all of the country's soil is volcanic. El Salvador's highest point is Santa Ana Volcano, at 7,815 ft.
Rainfalls concentrated in the months of May to October, and distribution varies from 45 inches in the interior and 68 inches in the Pacific lowlands to 97 inches in the mountains. Temperatures average 73 degrees F. in the capital but are much higher along the coast. El Salvador is considered one of the most environmentally damaged nations in Latin America. The country's once-dense forest cover has all but disappeared and erosion and pollution are serious problems. Known mineral deposits are scanty.


The majority (about 90%) of Salvadorans are mestizos, people of mixed Spanish-Indian ancestry. Most of the remainder are Indians. 70-75% of the people are Roman Catholic, 25-30% are evangelical. Approximately 5% of the total population are Assembly of God. Because of the high population density, rapid growth rate, and widespread political violence in the 1980's, many Salvadorans have migrated to Honduras or the United States to seek better living conditions. Primary education is free and compulsory, but many children do not attend school.

Economic Activity

To a large extent El Salvador's recent political unrest-between 1980 and 1990 civil war caused nearly $2 billion in damage-can be traced to its extremes of wealth and poverty. The population isprimarily rural and agricultural. Less then 2% of the population own more than 60% of the land (including most of the coffee plantations) and control the nation's productive capacity, while the poorest 20% own no land and receive only 2% of the nations income. A land-reform program initiated in 1980 was still unfinished in 1991, when a new reform program was negotiated as part of a cease-fire ending the country's civil war; the latter program was very restricted and unemployment and underemployment are high.
Coffee replaced indigo as El Salvador's main export by the 1880's and remains the leading export, followed by cotton, sugar, and shrimp. Rice and maize are grown for local consumption. Nearly all arable land is under cultivation. Although El Salvador is one of the most industrialized nations in Central America, industry, like agriculture, has been adversely affected by civil strife. Manufactures include processed foodstuffs, textiles, clothing, and pharmaceuticals.