The theater Teatro de Santa Ana in El Salvador

Why Santa Ana is my favorite city in El Salvador

Santa Ana is the perfect base for daytrips to the Tazumal ruins and the surrounding volcanoes. It's also a relaxed little big city, nothing like San Salvador, with an awesome hostel, pretty colonial architecture and excellent food.

When I got to Santa Ana, I just felt right at home. I’d spent several months in Nicaragua a year before and loved it so much, but San Salvador wasn’t really the same thing. Santa Ana, on the other hand, was exactly what I wanted from this repeat visit to Central America.

Possibly the best hostel in Central America

The best thing about my stay in Santa Ana was the hostel Casa Verde and its people. I think there are other hostels in Santa Ana, but this one seems to be the place to go. It’s hands down one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at in the world, run with an excellent attention to detail, and attracting the best people. For example, there are large plastic boxes for smelly shoes in the dorm, individual super silent fans above the beds, no bunks but regular single beds, power outlets in the lockers, two kitchens with all the basics, anything you need, they have it. There’s also a pool and a rooftop terrace. YES.

The dorm in Casa Verde, Santa Ana, El Salvador

Santa Ana is a stop on the backpacker trail, for those who dare go into El Salvador at all, and many of the other travelers were stopping between León, Nicaragua, and Copán Ruinas, Honduras. While I’m not a fan of these shuttles, at least I’m glad that some of the people who take them get off in this lovely town.

The rooftop terrace at hostel Casa Verde, Santa Ana, El Salvador

What to do in Santa Ana

The town itself doesn’t have a lot of your typical tourist attractions to offer, but you will easily get a taste of local life. There’s the cathedral, like in all larger towns in Central America, and there’s the theater, which is more unusual. They didn’t have anything on when I was there, but I’ve followed them on Facebook and they seem to have a lot of events on for a very low entrance fee. Plus the building is so pretty, just at the side of the square. I spent a lot of time just sitting on the square, drinking a smoothie, and looking at everything that was going on around me.

Santa Ana is also an excellent base for excursions in the surrounding area. The highlight for me was a daytrip to Cerro Verde, which is really easy to do on your own with the local bus, together with a group of new friends from the hostel.

Visiting the ruins of Tazumal

Another excursion was to the Mayan ruins of Tazumal, in Chalchuapa, very close to Santa Ana. These ruins are nothing like the big ones at Copán or Palenque, but what I liked the most about these was that they’re still a work in progress.

The ruins of Tazumal outside of Santa Ana, El Salvador

The main site pretty much has one pyramid and one museum, and the best things have been transferred to a museum in San Salvador. Near the site, however, is a second site that very few people seem to visit, called Casa Blanca. This site is where they are currently excavating some ruins, and you can see the half-opened ruins. I would absolute recommend that you visit both while you’re in Chalchuapa!

Eating and drinking in Santa Ana

If you’re staying at Casa Verde, chances are that you will self-cater and have dinners with your new friends at the hostel. If you do want to go out, however, you’ll find the best pupusas in town just down the road, at Pupuseria Santa Lucia at the end of 5a Calle Poniente. Ask anyone at the hostel and they will tell you where it is. It’s only open in the evening and it does get pretty crowded, but it’s worth the wait.

During the day, I loved to pick up a smoothie at a licuadería in the market. This is also one that came recommended from the hostel. There are several of them, and you would probably be happy with whichever. One thing I really like is that the drink comes in a plastic bag. That feels a lot like vacation to me.

Getting to and from Santa Ana

Getting around El Salvador is really easy, and buses go all the time. From San Salvador, you’ll take the bus from Terminal de Occidente. This bus will probably drop you somewhere near the market in Santa Ana. To get away, you’ll have to ask someone where to wait for the bus for your destination. Chances are it’s a specific street corner somewhere in a dodgy-looking area. Use the excellent website Centrocoasting.com for advice on bus travel in El Salvador.

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