Santa Ana

Visiting Cerro Verde and climbing Santa Ana Volcano on a DIY daytrip

Visiting Cerro Verde and climbing Santa Ana Volcano on a DIY daytrip

Climbing Santa Ana Volcano was one of my highlights in El Salvador. It’s the highest volcano in the country at around 2,300 meters, and it’s active. It last erupted in 2005, so I guess it’s wise to check activity updates before you go.

If you’re enough people traveling together, it’s possible to share a taxi to Cerro Verde. But it’s also really easy to get there and back from Santa Ana on the public bus.

The bus to Cerro Verde

There’s only one bus to Cerro Verde from Santa Ana in the morning, leaving at 7.30 from the Vencedora bus terminal. Get there well in time and buy a ticket at the counter inside the waiting hall. The ride up to Cerro Verde took a couple of hours and we were dropped at a booth at the entrance to the Parque de los Volcanes where we would pay the entrance fee. From there, we walked a short distance up to the first viewpoint, and the parking lot with toilets (bring coins and toilet paper), a restaurant frying breakfast pupusas and small booths selling gifts.

Climbing Santa Ana Volcano

This is also where to find the guide. If you want to climb Santa Ana Volcano, you’ll have to go in a group with a guide and police. The group left at 11 from the parking lot. We were about thirty people, but I’ve heard stories of more than a hundred people going up together on the weekend. So, I guess, avoid the weekends and public holidays if possible. The guide spoke Spanish only, but there were many people in the group so if you don’t, I’m sure you’ll find someone to translate the important bits for you.

The group walked together for a bit through the woods, to another booth where we paid another fee. It seems a bit annoying to pay for everything separately, but you will get receipts, and I guess that way you’ll know that each service gets their share. You’ll end up paying like 10 dollars in total, or just over.

After this, the real hike started. We were warned that we would have to turn back if it started to rain, and there was a specific time that we were to leave from the crater, so the people who hadn’t yet reached it by that time would have to turn back. Everyone didn’t walk together, the group stretched out so it didn’t feel like being herded like sheep.

Walking around at the top of Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador

The hike was quite strenuous as it goes uphill, but not difficult. Some people even brought children, although the guide clearly didn’t approve of this. (The kids made it up there before many of the adults, actually). Wear good shoes and you’ll probably be fine, although you’ll have to be careful with the loose rocks on the way down. A walking stick would’ve helped, I think. Also, bring a jacket or sweater as it’s quite chilly at the peak.

There were some viewpoints on the way up where we could stop to take pictures, but it was quite foggy in the morning and we didn’t see much. On the way down, however, the photo ops were a lot better.

At the top of Santa Ana Volcano

The reward of climbing Santa Ana Volcano is the view into the crater, and you can look down into it where there’s a lake which is bright turquoise and steaming. This looked really cool.

I’ve climbed volcanoes before and what you get up there is always different. My little group was pretty quick to get up there, so we had plenty of time to take pictures from all angles and just sit at the edge and look down into the crater. You will also have a 360 degree view over the other volcanoes (Cerro Verde and Idalco) and the lake Coatepeque if you’re lucky. We weren’t, it was all in a cloud. But the people who went the day after us had only the view and the crater lake in a cloud, so I’m glad we got this.

The hike to the top took about an hour, and the same time back, giving us a bit of time to have more pupusas before the bus left at 4. Everyone takes this bus, so you’ll notice the workers packing up their stands just before the bus arrives. Ours was a bit late, but not much.

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Why Santa Ana is my favorite city in El Salvador

Why Santa Ana is my favorite city in El Salvador

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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