El Salvador is a land of mountains and once-fertile upland plains. It is divided into three general topographic regions: (1) the hot, narrow Pacific coastal belt, 260 km (160 mi) long and 16–24 km (10–15 mi) wide; (2) the central plateau, at an altitude of about 610 m (2,000 ft), crossing from east to west, between two mountain ranges; and (3) the northern lowlands, formed by the wide Lempa River Valley, bounded by a high mountain range ascending to the Honduran border.
The central plateau, north of the Pacific coastal belt, is an area of valleys endowed with rich volcanic soil. This is the agricultural, industrial, and population center of the country; the capital, San Salvador (682 m/2,237 ft above sea level), is in this region. Almost surrounded by active volcanoes—Santa Ana (2,381 m/7,812 ft), San Vicente (2,173 m/7,129 ft), San Miguel (2,132 m/6,995 ft), San Salvador (1,967 m/6,453 ft), and Izalco (1,965 m/6,447 ft)—the region is a zone of recurrent earthquakes and volcanic activity; Izalco is known as the Lighthouse of the Pacific. El Salvador has several lakes, the largest being Ilopango, Güija, and Coatepeque. The Lempa, the most important of some 150 rivers, rises in Guatemala and runs south into El Salvador, eventually reaching the Pacific.