Santa Ana is hectic but provides a base for tourists wanting to hike Volcan de Santa Ana, discover Parque Nacional Cerro Verde or relax at Lake Coatepeque. It also happens to have the best hostel in Central America.
Volcan de Santa Ana sits in the Cerro Verde National Park and is still active today. It is achievable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness in around 4 hours. We did notice a slight shortness in breath but otherwise the 2381 metre altitude is not an issue for most. Don’t worry too much about speed, the tour guide is paid per trip so you are unlikely to see him much. The police escorts, however, are paid by the hour and are therefore mostly happy to go at a leisurely pace.
You will want to go at a leisurely pace to enjoy the views spanning across Lake Coatepeque, over to Volcan de Izalco and down to the steaming, turquoise crater below. Our instructions and tips have everything you need to know about getting to Santa Ana and enjoying your day. Alternatively Volcan de Santa Ana is only 45km from San Salvador making an organised day tour a good option for those short on time, if a bit more expensive.
Lake Coatepeque is the other big attraction in the area. The lake is a caldera, like Lake Taupo in New Zealand. On the bus to enjoy amazing views of the deep blue water from the hills surrounding Coatepeque. Some visitors are disappointed by the lack of access to the lake with much of the shores lined with holiday homes for the wealthy. You can however enjoy the lake from restaurants and bars. Bus 220 leaves Terminal de Buses Francisco Lara Pineda (10a ave. sur) and goes through Coatepeque town and El Congo before arriving at Lake Coatepeque (US$0.45, 1-2 hours depending on traffic). The last bus back to Santa Ana leaves at 4pm.
Like other El Salvadoran cities, the streets of Santa Ana are not safe after sunset. We didn’t appreciate this until arriving in El Salvador and noticing how quickly people shut up shop and head home for the night at 5pm. Either cook in, order food in or have your largest meal of the day at lunchtime.
Accommodation: Hostal Casa Verde – This hostel was hands down the best hostel we stayed in on our travels. Carlos is a genuinely inviting person and provides a clean, top notch place to stay. Amenities include: Wifi and computers, fans above each bed in dorms, a pool, movie room, an amazing kitchen with abundant utensils, bright hang out spaces and a rooftop area. There is also great information on a bulletin about connecting buses etc. Stay here! Dorms US$10, single private US$20, double private US$25.
Getting there from Ahuachapan:
• You should see the buses lined up at corner of 10A Calle Oriente and 8W Highway and listen out for someone yelling Santa Ana (US$0.50, approx 1 hour).
• There are also collectivos in the area but we did not take this option
• The bus to Santa Ana arrives at Calle Aldea San Antonio
• Santa Ana is a hectic place so it is best to look up directions to your accommodation prior to this.
Getting away to San Salvador:
• Catch bus #201 from near the market. The stop for San Salvador is past Despensar Familia supermarket, past Calle 15, past Pasteleria Diana’s on your left.
• This bus takes you to a larger bus station just outside of town.
• From here there is a choice between direct buses or non direct.
• Direct to San Salvador ($1.35 per person, 1 hour 15 mins), arrives at Terminal Ocidente – Boulevard Venezuela, San Salvador, El Salvador
Getting away to Alegria:
• Follow the above directions as far as San Salvador
• You arrive in San Salvador’s Terminal Ocidente – Boulevard Venezuela, San Salvador, El Salvador
• From here catch bus “Ruta 4A”. Head out to the main street Boulevard Venezuela, cross the road so you are on the side of the gas station, the bus stop is now down the road slightly to the right if you are facing the gas station.
• Take this bus as far as Terminal Estacion del Sur (US$0.20, 25 mins).
• At this station buy your tickets for Usulutan ($3, 1 hour 30 mins)
• As you come into Usulutan there is a large supermarket on your right. Depart here.
• From here direct buses to Alegria do not run on Sundays.
• If you are travelling on a Sunday take bus #362 to Santiago de Maria (US$0.75, 1 hour). If you are travelling Monday – Saturday ask around for the direct bus route number.
• In Santiago de Maria change buses to Alegria (US$0.40, 10 mins). The last bus to Alegria on a Sunday departs at 4pm.