Expat Mamasita lives in San Salvador with her toddler. Here are the five places in the city they enjoy visiting the most.
San Salvador has a lot of interesting places to take a toddler, but if you are new in town, visiting family, here for a holiday, or a new parent, it can be difficult to know what there is to choose from.
To make it easier for you, I have chosen the five places that I and my toddler enjoy visiting the most, as well as a list of other places you might want to visit with your toddler or older children.
Welcome to San Salvador
But before we discuss my choices of the best places to take toddlers, let me first introduce you to my home city of San Salvador.
San Salvador is the capital city of El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America. Situated on the Pacific Coast, and at an average altitude of over 500 metres above sea level, this is a tropical city that manages to maintain a temperature that is much more pleasant to live in than if it was at sea level. The climate is separated into two distinct seasons: a dry hot season (summer) that lasts from November until May and a wet and cooler season (winter) that runs from June until October.
It is therefore important to have a variety of places to take your active toddler. Often in the summer months it is too hot to play outside in the heat of the midday sun, and during the rainy season it is nice to have somewhere dry to take refuge from the tropical deluges.
If you do not mind taking your children to fast food restaurants they almost all have huge indoor play areas, so for the price of a coffee or a burger your little one could play in air conditioned comfort. I consider my toddler to be too young for these, and we have only visited them on a couple of occasions when we have been invited to a pinata
5 Places to Take a Toddler in San Salvador
My top four choices include a quality indoor play area, a trip to the zoo, the Botanical Gardens and the Bicentennial Park, which all offer reasonably priced activities to keep your toddler entertained for a few hours.
I hope you enjoy reading my reviews of the top five places to take a toddler in San Salvador.
1. La Petit Maison Kindercafe
- Open: Monday through Saturday, 10:00–18:00, Sunday 10:00–16:00
- Cost: Children $5, adults $3
- Parking: Free, on roadside
- Extras: Free wi-fi, cafe, craft classes at extra cost, loyalty card
The new kid on the block with indoor children's activities in San Salvador is the Petit Maison Kindercafe, situated in the affluent suburb of Escalon. Parking is available outside, but you will park on the footpath rather than the road.
Created inside a converted residential property, this playhouse is on the same level as the street outside which makes it easy to negotiate pushchairs in and out.
Upon entering you will be inside a large open plan room, which has the cafe tables and chairs to the left side and a play area to the right. I particularly like that when you are sitting enjoying a coffee, your little one is always in your sight and you can see what mischief they are getting up to.
There is a trainset, shop, dressing up outfits, a play mat, books and much more to keep your toddler occupied.
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I love the fact that the spacious room has sliding doors all along one wall that open out into a large garden that is filled with more activities.
On the grassed area you will find a swing, playhouse, slide, basketball hoop, water table and much more.
At the far end of the garden is a covered area where craft classes are held and there is a child-sized piano and drum kit - a particular favourite for my little one.
More than half of the play area at La Petit Maison is outdoors, which is lovely when it's dry - but here in El Salvador we get six months of rain and a lot of sunshine, so please bear that in mind when deciding whether to go. On the plus side, it is open on Sundays and is a relaxing way to spend a weekend morning, complete with coffee and breakfast.
They also offer specialised craft classes, at a small extra cost, and you are best signing up to their Facebook page so that you don't miss any of their activities.
The cafe has a variety of drinks, snacks and sandwiches and free wi-fi to keep the parents happy while the little ones play.
We have only been here a couple of times but the open aspect and fresh breezes make it a very pleasant place to while away a few hours.
2. La Luna de Mateo
- Open: Monday - Friday 11:00-18:00; Saturday 10:00 - 17:00
- Cost: $5 per child and $3 per adult, unlimited time
- Parking: Free
- Extras: Free wi-fi, cafe, story and craft classes at extra cost
La Luna de Mateo is a play area for children under the age of six. It is owned by Maru Molina and is named after her two children—daughter Luna and son Mateo.
It is usually open from 11am until 6pm Monday to Friday and 10am until 5pm on a Saturday, but if you are making a special journey it is worth checking their Facebook page or calling ahead in case they have a special event or a pinata. Entry costs $5 per child and $3 per adult, and this covers you for however long you stay.
Situated in the popular residential area of San Benito, it caters to families looking for somewhere to take their little ones for a few hours of play in a safe and stimulating environment.
The staff are very friendly, and after only a couple of visits they recognised my toddler, and greet him by name when he enters.
The area is fully kitted out with quality Melissa and Doug toys. There is a two-level Casita (playhouse) that has a kitchen and shop underneath, and the opportunity for older children to climb the ladder and explore the top deck. There is a large wooden train set, activity cubes, a child-size piano, a puppet theatre, dressing up clothes, books, building blocks, cars, dinosaurs, wooden puzzles and a myriad of other toys.
There is a separate area that is fitted out for arts and crafts, with floor-to-ceiling chalkboards, and even seats painted with blackboard paint. Here, children can paint and expand their creativity by making models. There is often a midweek activity where older children and their parents can enjoy such delights as listening to a story.
In El Salvador, children call their birthday party a pinata, which consists of a regular party, food, a cake and a pinata. La Luna is available to hire for your exclusive pinata. My toddler had his first birthday party here, and as he was a bit young to invite lots of friends we did not hire the whole place, but just invited a few friends.
As well as the opportunity for regular play there are also specialised classes that take place, usually at a small extra cost, including cuenta cuentos (story time) and craft classes. Make sure you sign up to their Facebook page so that you don't miss anything!
Probably the best part of La Luna de Mateo for parents is the piece de resistance - a cafe with coffee and snacks available, a comfy couch, English language magazines and free wi-fi.
La Luna has recently moved a short distance to this new building, and it is already proving to be a popular venue for mother and child meet-ups.
La Luna de Mateo is definitely worth a visit - or several - with your young child.
3. National Zoo of El Salvador
- Open: Wednesday through Sunday 0:900-16:00
- Cost: $1 for adults, over 60s and children free
- Parking: Secure car park
- Extras: You are not allowed to take food or drink into the zoo.
El Salvador National Zoo is situated in downtown San Salvador and despite our initial reservations about what to expect from a zoo in a developing country we were pleasantly surprised. Although the zoo has a lot of concrete, and they do not have a huge range of animals it is clean and the animals appear to be well looked after.
Until her death on September 21st, 2010, the zoo had been the home of Manyula, an Indian elephant, for an impressive 55 years. She was sixty years old and had lived in the zoo for almost her entire life, and was a national icon who was much loved by the people of El Salvador. She was buried at the zoo, with many Salvadorans attending her burial. She has not been replaced but people still speak of her with fondness and respect.
My toddler loves animals. His favourite book is Dear Zoo, and he was amazed when he saw that we had brought him to a place where he could see and hear the animals. We were not sure how much he would actually get from the visit a such a young age, but he loved it and was squealing with excitement!
There are also play areas where children can let off some steam on the play equipment.
Opening hours are Wednesday until Sunday, 9am to 5pm. It costs $1 to get in and children and people over the age of sixty go free.
This might seem a very small amount to pay, but for most Salvadorans this is still a huge amount of money to pay per person. It was lovely to see so many Salvadoran families enjoying a day out together.
4. Bicentennial Park (Parque del Bicentenario)
Covering an area of approximately 92 hectares, Bicentennial Park is situated alongside Avenida Jerusalem, in-between Multi Plaza and the Masferer roundabout. It was created to celebrate the bicentenary of El Salvador, on the site of an old coffee plantation, and the existing residents were allowed to carry on living here in their village, which can be seen as you walk through the park.
There is a car park at either end of the large park and plenty of security guards visible. A small charge is payable for parking.
The pathways are fine during the rainy season, but if you choose to take a pushchair for your toddler to ride in you might want to take one with larger wheels to negotiate the terrain. I would imagine that during the wet season it would get quite muddy.
Scattered throughout the park are lots of children's play areas, wooden structures (presumably for climbing) and fun things like steeping blocks made from tree trunks. There are also plenty of picnic areas, and it would make a lovely venue for a family lunch.
My little one loves to be out of the pushchair and running around and this was perfect for him as there are no worries from traffic.
5. Botanical Garden La Laguna
The Botanical Gardens is oddly situated at the edge of an industrial estate, in a volcanic crater in Antiguo Cuscatlan, San Salvador, and is open Tuesday until Sunday from 9am until 530pm. It costs $2 to get in, with children and pensioners getting free admittance.
A visit to the gardens provides a few tranquil hours away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and it is the sort of place that you can easily visit again, as each time you will see something different, depending on the time of year.
The focal point of the gardens is a lake., which has seats and a small cafe alongside it. The last time we were there we saw terrapins swimming in the lake, and lizards sprinting along the paths.
There are many thousands of species of plants, which are divided into over thirty areas and include medicinal plants, orchids, aquatic plants, begonias and desert plants. There are also many varieties of birds, small woodland animals and lizards.
The pathways make it quite easy to make your way through the park, and I had little difficulty with the pushchair.
My toddler loved seeing the lizards, the iguana and the many birds that made a huge variety of sounds. He had lots of space to run around in comparative safety and was happy to retreat to the comfort of the pushchair when his legs started to tire.
There is also a play area inside the gardens. This has been recently renovated and has plenty of equipment to keep your child happily playing.
4 More Places to Take Children in San Salvador
- Tin Marin Children's Museum
- Parque Infantil (Children's Park)
- El Cafetalon
Park in Santa Tecla with sports facilities and an open-air swimming pool.
- El Mundo Feliz (Happy World) Amusement Park
Adios y hasta luego!
— Goodbye and see you soon!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Expat Mamasita