El Salvador

Driving Directions El Salvador

EL SALVADOR is the smallest and most densely populated state in Central America. It is bounded to the north and west by Guatemala, north and east by Honduras, and the south by the Pacific Ocean. A range of volcanic peaks behind the narrow coastal plain overlooks a densely populated inland plateau. Further inland, the land rises to the interior highlands. The Lempa river cuts through the center of the country and opens to the south as a large sandy delta to the Pacific Ocean.

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Although fairly near the equator, the climate tends to be warm rather than hot, and the highlands have a cooler temperate climate. The capital is San Salvador, and two-thirds of the people live here or in the towns of Santa Ana, San Miguel, and San Vicente. The country is predominantly agricultural, with about 32 percent of the land used for crops and a slightly smaller area for grazing cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Past volcanic eruptions have deposited a fertile layer of material on the high, central plateau, providing excellent conditions for coffee plantations. Coffee is El Salvador’s main crop, but tobacco, maize, beans, rice, cotton, sorghum, and sugar cane also grown.

With shrimp being the most important catch, fishing is carried out, followed by tuna, mackerel, and swordfish – a few industries such as food processing, textiles, and chemicals found in the major towns. El Salvador suffers from a high inflation rate and unemployment and is one of the poorest countries in the west.

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El Salvador is divided into three geographic regions: the hot, narrow Pacific coastal belt; the central plateau; and the northern lowlands. El Salvador is one of the most seismically active, earthquake-vulnerable areas in the Western Hemisphere. The country lies between two areas of active tectonic plate movement. In southern El Salvador, on the Pacific Ocean side, the Cocos Plate pushes itself under the relatively motionless Caribbean Plate (a process called subduction), accounting for frequent earthquakes near the coast. As the ocean floor is forced down, the submerged rocks melt, and the molten material spews up through fissures, producing volcanoes and geysers.

North of El Salvador, the North American Tectonic Plate abuts one edge of the same stationary Caribbean Plate, creating a major fault that runs Río Motagua Valley’s length in Guatemala. Motion along this fault generates earthquakes in both Guatemala and the northernmost part of El Salvador.

El Salvador’s southern border is the Pacific Ocean. Off the coast lies a deep ocean valley called the Middle America Trench, which was created by the Cocos Tectonic Plate’s movement.

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The “Ring of Fire” encircles the Pacific Ocean, stretching northward from New Zealand and running along the eastern edge of Asia, then moving across to the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and traveling south along the North’s edges of South America. This area contains at least 75 percent of the world’s volcanoes, and a large number of these are still active. Frequent earthquakes and volcanic activity occur here due to the Pacific Tectonic Plate pushing against other adjacent tectonic plates.

UNESCO named the archaeological excavation site of Joya de Ceren in El Salvador a World Heritage Site. Joya de Ceren was a farming community that was completely buried under lava from a volcanic eruption around 600 A.D. The artifacts and fossils found there have provided a great deal of insight into the community’s inhabitants’ daily lives.

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