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The Volcano of Santa Ana has incredible views of the landscapes around it.

Things to Do in Santa Ana, El Salvador: The Home to Central America’s Hidden Gems

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Santa Ana, El Salvador is home to some of Central America's greatest landscapes and hidden gems. It is the second most populated city in El Salvador, and one of our favorite areas to visit in the country. There are so many great things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador, and reasons to add it to your bucket list,


Even though El Salvador is still not super developed for tourism, there's still more than enough options to get to see all its beauty.


Santa Ana has incredible architecture and nice things to see. It is also used as a base point for many cool spots in the country. Here there are a lot of amazing natural places like lakes, ruins, and especially volcanos, Whatever your case is, Santa Ana is without a doubt, a place we recommend you to visit.

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Where is Santa Ana, El Salvador?

El Salvador is tucked away in the middle of Central America, surrounded by Guatemala and Honduras. Santa Ana is in the north west of the country, about an hour away from the capital, San Salvador.

Where is Santa Ana El Salvador

Santa Ana is in the north west of El Salvador.


How to Get to Santa Ana, El Salvador

Depending on where you are coming from, will depend on the route you need to take to get to Santa Ana. Here are the different options from the most popular places in El Salvador to travel from.


Visiting Santa Ana from San Salvador

The easiest way to get to Santa Ana if from San Salvador, the capital. You'll have to either get a bus from the city center, or you can rent a car from the airport or city center and drive. The buses take about an hour and 20 minutes, and they run every 20 minutes.


Rent a car from San Salvador:

Taking a Bus from San Salvador to Santa Ana

Go to Terminal de Occidente (in the west area of the city) and take the bus #210 (it finishes in Santa Ana). Don't worry if you find it a little hard to find your bus at first. There are a lot of different routes and it's pretty easy to feel overwhelmed. Just look for someone local and let them show you exactly where to go.


Visiting Santa Ana From La Ruta de las Flores

Head to Ahuachapan. Once you get there, you will cross the road to the opposite corner and hop on bus #210. It will drop you in the same spot as if you were heading from San Salvador. To give you a reference, there will be right next to a huge street market.


Visiting Santa Ana From El Tunco

If you're going to Santa Ana from El Tunco, there are two options you can choose from.


First option: Head to San Salvador from La Libertad by hopping on the bus #102 and then follow the same route mentioned from San Salvador.


Second option: Head to Sonsonate by hopping on the bus #287. Be aware that buses only leave at 6 am and 1.30 pm, so make sure you don't miss out! After it, head towards Ahuachapan on the bus #249. Once you get there, follow the same route mentioned from La Ruta de las Flores.


Visiting from San Salvador? Here are some fun things to do in the capital:

San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador, and most likely where you will fly into if you are visiting this Central American country. Although the city is not our favorite part of the country, it definitely still deserves a visit for a day or two. Here are 7 things

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Requirements To Enter and Travel in El Salvador

Before making plans to go to El Salvador, it's important to know any entry requirements. Here's what you need to travel there.


Visas for El Salvador

Tourist visas are required for many nationalities, and can be purchased upon arrival. You will find the booth on the left of the customs officers, where you can pay $12 USD. It is cash only, and the visa will be valid for thirty days.


Wondering if you need to purchase a visa on arrival? Here is a list of the countries that will need to purchase one.


Yellow Fever Vaccine

If you are coming from PanamaSouth America, or Africa, you'll need a yellow fever vaccine. It must be taken at least 15 days before entering El Salvador, and you must have the physical card on you.


Covid Entry Requirements for El Salvador

Travelers no longer are required to present anything extra due to Covid. Neither a test nor a vaccine are necessary for traveling to El Salvador.


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Local Adjustments for Santa Ana, El Salvador

When traveling to a new country, there are some important things to know before you get there. Here are a few things to keep in mind when traveling to El Salvador.


What Currency Do They Use in El Salvador?

Despite being in Central America, the official currency of El Salvador is actually the US dollar. (The only other one in the Americas is Ecuador).


What Language Do They Speak in Santa Ana?

The official language in El Salvador is Spanish. Some people will be able to speak English, but learning some Spanish will definitely help you get around much easier.


Outlets in Santa Ana

The electrical outlets of El Salvador are the same as those in the US, which are plug types A and B. The country runs on 115 V and has a standard frequency of 60 Hz.


Is the Water Safe to Drink in Santa Ana, El Salvador?

Only 10% of the surface water in El Salvador is deemed safe to drink. Therefore, we recommend not drinking the tap water throughout the country, and sticking to bottled water.

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Things to Do in Santa Ana, El Salvador: What to See Inside the City

The city of Santa Ana has some great landmarks and sites to see. Here are a few of our favorites.


1. Cathedral of Santa Ana

Every main city that Catholic religion has touched has it's own Cathedral. Santa Ana, El Salvador is no different than the rest. It's beautiful architecture really shines, and this is one of the reasons why it's located in Santa Ana's main square.


You should definitely stop by and check it out!

Cathedral of Santa Ana, things to do in Santa Ana El Salvador

The Cathedral of Santa Ana is one of the highlights of the city.

2. Santa Ana National Theater

The National Theater is quite a relic for people in El Salvador. It has actually been around for more than 100 years! The building has an eclectic style due to the various architectural influences.  It has semicircular arches of the Romanesque style, as well as Greek styled columns. Also, there are tympanums of the Greco-Roman style, and padded and pediments of the Renaissance era.


What's awesome is that it still shows plays on an ongoing basis. Not only is it a great thing to see, but also a great activity to add to your list.


3. The Umbrella Installation

Right across from the cathedral, there is a street with colorful umbrellas lining it, just like San Juan, Puerto Rico and Guatape, Colombia. Stop by and snap a cheesy photo like we did.

colorful umbrellas Santa Ana, El Salvador

Head across the street from the cathedral to find this colorful umbrella display.

4. Art School Ruins

This abandoned art school was scheduled to be demolished due to structure damage in its ceiling. Luckily for travelers & photographers, it wasn't. Built in 1855 and used untill 1970, this school has some magic in it.


This once called "renaissance palace" is a great place to take pictures and appreciate its gardens and architecture. We recommend you to visit it at sunset since the light filtering into the building gives a magic glare. The entrance is free of charge, and can be visited at any time.


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Things to Do in Santa, Ana, El Salvador: Outside the City

The city itself of Santa Ana is beautiful, but the best things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador are actually the beautiful nature that the country has to offer.


4. Lake Coatepeque

Coatepeque is a beautiful lake that is located in the center of a  crater of a volcano! With a little island in the middle of it, this crystal clear lake will definitely make you want to stay for a few hours to relax and enjoy yourself.


Its name comes from old language Nahuat, meaning "Snake Mountain". The legend says that there's a big snake in the bottom of the lake, although we wouldn't actually be worried about that.


Head to Captain Morgan hostel to chill right on the lake with a cold beer and some amazing local food. The place has kayaks, paddle boards & pedal boats for rent, and we definitely recommend you to take at least one of them. This is also a great place to spend a night.

Lake Coatepeque, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador
Lake Coatepeque, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

Lake Coatepeque is located in the crater of a volcano, and has beautiful turquoise waters.

5. Ilamatepec Volcano (a.k.a. Santa Ana Volcano)

Welcome to the trail of the three volcano brothers. It takes around 1 & 1/2 hours to hike all the way to the top, but the reward is worth the effort. This volcano (which did its last eruption in 2005) has a sulfate lagoon in its interior.


The colors are just incredible, but the big highlight here is the landscape views you can get of the chain of volcanoes around the area.

Santa Ana Volcano, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

The Santa Ana Volcano has a bright green lake inside its crater.

To hike it you will first have to get to a hostel/restaurant called El Tibet. Around 11 am, tour guides will come here (you can't hike without one by law) and they will go with you all the way to the top. A tourism police officer will go up with you as well, because it's also mandatory by governmental law.


Tour guide services don't have a fee. instead, they will suggest that you can make a contribution to their labor after the tour is over.

Santa Ana Volcano, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

The Volcano of Santa Ana has incredible views of the landscapes around it.

Want to set up a visit to the volcano? Here are a few that you can choose from:

6. Cunetepeque Volcano (a.k.a. Cerro Verde)

Its name literally means "green hill", and it's due to the amount of flora you can find around here. This dormant volcano has greenery all over it, and there's a big hotel called Hotel de Montaña Cerro Verde at the top. There's a funny story around it (that you can find in the next volcano).


The great thing about Cerro Verde is that you can get all the way to the top with your car. This is good to rest from a long hike, or if you're in company of someone who can't hike. You will even find a nice restaurant once you get to the top.


Want to visit Cerro Verde? Here are a few options to get there:


7. Izalco Volcano

Izalco is the most impressive of the three volcanos, due to its conic volcanic peak. To hike it, you will literally have to walk through volcanic rock. But once you get to the top, you will have the opportunity to witness real volcanic activity. From certain areas, there's smoke coming out of the rock, as a result of gases emanating from the core of the volcano.


The hotel built on Cerro Verde's top was meant to be used to watch the constant eruptions of Izalco volcano. The reason why they were confident was because it had erupted almost continuously from 1770 (when it formed) to 1958. This made it earn the nickname of "Lighthouse of the Pacific".


Izalco Volcano, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

Izalco Volcano has spectacular views, but must be done with a guide.

But in 1966, when they finished building the hotel, Izalco experienced a flank eruption and then stopped erupting. This, of course, ended up with the hotel not getting the expected profits. Finally, in 1997 they declared insolvency.


What's interesting to know is that some people even camp inside the crater! As crazy as this may sound, the views at sunrise are honestly breathtaking. Of course, if you feel like doing it, make sure you find a tour guide willing to go with you, as it can be a little unsafe.


So, now that you have seen the three of them separately, let Fede show you how would it look like to visualize the three of them at the same time (actually, standing from one of them!).


8. Ruins of Tazumal

Tazumal in Mayan language means literally "the pyramid where victims are burned“. They are the most prominent Mayan ruins in El Salvador so far. You can find a small museum right next to them with all kind of objects used back then, like pots & clothes.


What's amazing about them is that you can't do excavation in the area because it's located in the center of a town. Because of this, there's still not a certain idea of how big the entire place really is.


Want to book a tour to the ruins of Tazumal? Here are a few ones to choose from:

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9. Salto de Malacatiupán

This is definitely one of our favorite things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Salto de Malacatiupan is not any ordinary waterfall. 


In old Nahuat it means "rounded temple". It's no news that El Salvador has a lot of volcanic activity, and this creates a lot of hot springs that are out in nature ready for travelers to discover.


hot spring waterfall, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador
hot spring waterfall, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador
hot spring waterfall, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

This waterfall is actually hot and steamy.

This incredible waterfall is 13 meters high (40 feet) and falls into a natural thermal pool. So you can imagine how relaxing your day can become here.

Want to know more about this incredible hot spring waterfall? We have a full guide you can check out above.


10. Joya de Cerén

Often called the Pompey of América, Unesco recognized this site as world heritage. It used to be a farming town, but in the seventh century it was abandoned due to volcanic ashes that covered the whole place.


It is one of the most important archaeological sites in Mesoamerica because it shows what life was like for ordinary people.

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Here you will also find a perfect replica of a Temazcal. This is a low heat sweat lodge, which originated with pre-Hispanic Indigenous people in Mesoamerica. It was used for many different goals, as part of a curative ceremony to purify the body after exertion (such as after a battle). The temazcals were also used for healing the sick, improving health, and for women to give birth.


The way it works is that you get inside its one entrance (very small, by the way). Once inside, you sit in a spot anywhere around the center. The hot rocks will heat the place, the same way it would work in a sauna.


Want to join a tour that goes here? Here are a few ones that you can look into:


Other Things to Do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

There are also plenty of of other great areas to add to your list while visiting Santa Ana, El Salvador.


Explore La Ruta de las Flores

This is an activity that will take some time to do and you will need a car to move around. Since basically five towns compose this route, it would probably take you longer without a car. The towns are Apaneca, Juayua, Ataco, Nahuizalco and Salcoatitan. All of them have been named for their pleasant climate and exuberant beauty. 


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The tour will take you through two departments in western El Salvador: Sonsonate and Ahuachapán. And you will get to see craft fairs, food festivals, coffee plantations, and much more. We highly suggest visiting La Ruta de Las Flores as a weekend trip from Santa Ana, El Salvador.


Ruta de las Flores, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador
Ruta de las Flores, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador
Ruta de las Flores, things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

La Ruta de Las Flores has 5 colorful towns, and beautiful nature around it.

If you want to check town by town and how to get there, check out our full guide below!

El Salvador isn't particularly known for its booming tourism. However, the country has so much to offer, and should not be missed when traveling through Central America. One of the most popular (and one of our favorite) areas to explore in the country is La Ruta de Las Flores.You may

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Local Food & Drink in El Salvador

El Salvador doesn't have a large amount of national dishes, but it is known for its number one food- the pupusa. This is basically a thicker version of a tortilla, that is mixed with any type of ingredient from cheese to seafood.


Pupusas are cooked on a griddle until golden brown, and are served with a vinegar-based slaw, and a red sauce to put on top. They are very cheap (sometimes as low as 50 cents), tasty, and great for on the go!


Another thing that El Salvador is incredible at is their coffee. Head to La Ruta de Las Flores for some of the best coffee in the country!


How to Get Around Santa Ana, El Salvador

Here are the best ways to get around Santa Ana, El Salvador, and its surrounding highlights.


Getting Around Santa Ana, El Salvador By Car

The easiest way to get around the area of Santa Ana is by car. While in the city, you definitely don't need one. However, if you are looking to visit some of the hidden gems such as the ruins or the hot spring waterfall, renting a car is definitely the way to go.


Rental cars can be found at the airport near San Salvador, from the capital of San Salvador, or from the city of Santa Ana itself. Want to know more about tips for renting a car in El Salvador? Just check out our guide below.

Getting Around Santa Ana, El Salvador By Bus

Chicken buses are a thing in Central America, and definitely an interesting way to get around. Many US school buses that don't meet US safety regulations for kids are sold to these countries. They then repaint the whole bus and add some speakers to play music while you're traveling. It's fun, but it can be a little hot if temperatures are high outside.


There are several chicken buses that you can grab from Santa Ana to visit some of the nearby destinations. However, not all of them can be reached by bus. In this case, you can take a bus to the nearest area, and then grab a taxi (for example to the hot spring waterfall).

buses in Central America

The "chicken buses" in Central America are old US school buses colorfully painted with lights and decorations.


Where to Stay in Santa Ana, El Salvador

There are a ton of different options for places to stay in Santa Ana, El Salvador! Here are a few that we suggest:


City Center of Santa Ana

The easiest place to stay (and cheapest) is to stay in the city center of Santa Ana. We liked staying here for two nights, and using it as a home base as we were traveling by bus, and it is the most well-connected when it comes to public transportation.


Look for a place to stay in Santa Ana City Center:

Booking.com


Coatepeque Lake

This was Fede's home for an entire month! I had a contract working on a cruise ship, and he was waiting for his assignment. He stayed at an awesome hostel on the lake, and it's a place we highly recommend. Coatapeque Lake is a backpackers paradise. It's a place where you can relax in a hammock, do water sports, or party all night long on the weekends. If you plan on visiting the area on a Friday or Saturday, then we definitely suggest staying at Captain Morgan.


Camping in Santa Ana

Fede had the opportunity to camp on top of a volcano, and it was a truly magical experience for sunrise. While this isn't the easiest thing to do (you'll have to go with a local) it truly is worth it!

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Is Santa Ana Safe to Walk in?

El Salvador has a bad rep when it comes to safety, but it truly couldn't be further from the truth! It is actually a super safe country, with very sweet people. So don't let the media fool you. If you are traveling to the neighboring country of Honduras however, we suggest being very careful.


We felt that Sana Ana was very safe to walk in, and only met very welcoming and friendly people in the area.

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Other Things To Know For Traveling to Santa Ana, El Salvador

Now that we've covered the basics, here are a few other things that we learned while traveling to Santa Ana, El Salvador.


The Weather In Santa Ana, El Salvador

There are only two seasons in El Salvador- wet and dry. It is hot all year round. The only difference is that in the rainy season (May- October) there are a lot of thunderstorms. Don't stress about the weather though, as when it storms it isn't something that lasts long.


The odd thing is that for us it seemed like at 7 pm everyday a thunderstorm began (a lot of times with no rain involved at all), and it happened like clock work. The storms are super fascinating, so make sure to enjoy the show!

El Tunco, places to visit in El Salvador

El Tunco is another great area to check out while you are in El Salvador.

Tip: Carry Plenty Of Cash

Most places in El Salvador run on a cash only basis. In Santa Ana you will find markets, small shops, and even restaurants that will not accept credit card, so be sure to keep your dollars on you at all times.


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Packing to Travel to Santa Ana, El Salvador

Santa Ana is full of adventure. Here are a few things we suggest bringing with you:

  • Sunscreen 
  • Bug Spray
  • Reusable Water Bottle (we use this water bottle from Cafago because it holds the temperature)
  • Bathing Suits
  • Towel
  • Flip Flops (we personally always get Havaiana flip flops, as they are comfy and long lasting)
  • Water Shoes for the hot spring waterfall
  • Sneakers for hiking the volcanos
  • Zippered Bag or Backpack - take a look at these backpacks for travelers!
  • Power Bank (we use Anker power banks, as they are super long lasting and sturdy)
  • Drone (We use the Mavic Mini Pro 3 because it's super light and doesn't sacrifice quality)
  • Action Camera (we use the Insta 360 X3 because it's small & waterproof)
  • Waterproof Phone Pouch (we use the Cafago Waterproof Phone Pouch)

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Is Santa Ana, El Salvador Worth Visiting?

We absolutely loved Santa Ana, El Salvador! While the city itself doesn't need much time, the beautiful nature surrounding it definitely makes Santa Ana worth visiting. We suggest using at a home base for a few days, or spending a night in the city, a night in Coatepeque, and a couple in the neighboring area of Ruta de las Flores.


Santa Ana is definitely a convenient spot for you to visit if your plan is to use it as a base point. From its colonial architecture to all the volcanos you get to visit, this city has plenty of great stuff to offer to its visitors.


Don't forget that we can help you plan your ideal trip to Central America! Take a look at the other Central America guides & tips we have ready for you.


Ready to book your next trip? Let us help! Now with Scratch Your Mapa Travel Planning you can worry less, explore more, and save along the way! Want to learn how? Take a peak at the different travel planning packages that we have.


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