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  • Writer's pictureKristin

Favorite Things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador

We used the city of Santa Ana as a base during our time in northeastern El Salvador – there was so much to explore in the area, including the days we spent exploring Rutas de las Flores that we covered in our last post. However, there are lots of other areas to explore just outside of Santa Ana including Santa Ana Volcano at Cerro Verde National Park and Lake Coatepeque, as well as the Old Town area of Santa Ana. We spent a day hiking up Santa Ana Volcano and later a day just hanging out at the lake. These were definitely memorable parts of our trip while staying in Santa Ana, El Salvador and places and experiences we’d highly recommend including on your El Salvador itinerary.

Santa Ana Volcano Hike

This hike is located in Cerro Zerde National Park – located about 50-60 minutes outside of Santa Ana. The hike is about 8 miles in length and took us about 4-4.5 hours to complete; but most important to note, it is possible to do with young children.

Santa Ana Volcano hike outside of Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Hiking Santa Ana Volcano with Izalco Volcano in the distance.

Getting There

Because we had our own vehicle, we just drove to Cerro Zerde National Park – however, you can take buses or taxis as well. We had read that there were guides departing at 10 a.m. for $10 USD each, including the park entrance, so we aimed to get there by 9:30 a.m. However, we weren’t exactly sure where to find the guides. We drove into the main entrance of the National Park and talked to someone there – they told us the guides left at 9 a.m. so for the rest of the day only a private guide was available. We paid $25 USD for the guide, plus at the entrance of the volcano hike there was another fee of $6 USD per person. They informed us that there weren’t any English speaking guides, but our guide could speak a little English so we were able to communicate the basics between our basic Spanish & his basic English.

Unfortunately, to get to this point of hiring a guide we had already paid $10 USD for all 4 of us and the vehicle to park at Cerro Zerde National Park. Therefore, we would recommend stopping at the point on the road where you see lots of roadside stands and often people hanging around. We believe you might be able to get a guide if you choose, or try to go on your own without paying the additional $10 USD Cerro Zerde National Park entrance. Prior to coming we had read that a guide was required to do this hike – and to be fair most of the groups that we came across did have one – but there was a group that walked up the same time we were starting the hike and didn’t have a guide. Our guide helped them out, but I don’t believe they paid him, so it appears as though it might be possible try do it on your own.

The Hike to the Top

The hike up to the top of Santa Ana Volcano is moderately challenging, mostly because there are some steep sections and loose rocks. However, the kids were able to tackle it with little issues. The hike is about 8 miles long out & back and it took us about 4.5 hours from start to finish. They did get a little worn down as it was steep, but right when they thought they couldn’t make it any more, a man selling ice cream appeared. Normally, we don’t buy things like this where there is no competition & prices are often inflated, but the ice cream palletas were only $1.50 USD each and well worth the cost for the second burst of energy they gave them to get to the top.

You start the hike in a forest and even some fields of coffee plants at the base, then as we ascended the trees thinned out and we got incredible views of the neighboring Izalco Volcano along with interesting plant life, like aloe plants. The Santa Ana volcano is the highest point in the country at 7,749 feet.

Izalco Volcano and the views of El Salvador from Santa Ana Volcano.
Interesting plant life & views of Izalco Volcano on the Santa Ana Volcano hike, the highest point in El Salvador.

One of my favorite parts of the hike was when we neared the top as we could see Lake Coatepeque on one side and then Izalco Volcano on the other side.

Lake Coatepeque in the distance & Izalco Volcano on the opposite side while hiking Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador.
Views of Lake Coatepeque from one side & Izalco Volcano on the other.

As we turned the corner for the final ascent the chilly wind hit us hard. Unfortunately, we hadn’t brought jackets with us, so the kids got cold quite easily and weren’t very patient up at the top in the cold. We found a rock for them to shelter behind to buy us a little more time at the top to enjoy the view of the crater. The crater is actually unique in that it has multiple craters within it, due to eruptions over time, but in the center most one there is one with turquoise green thermal water in it. The volcano is still active and the last erupted in 2005. There are also views of Lake Coatepeque from the other side of the crater.

Turquoise crater lake in the middle of Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador.
The turquoise thermal water in the innermost crater of the active Santa Ana Volcano.

Overall, the hike was an amazing one! While I probably wouldn’t recommend it as your ‘1st Hike’ for kids, if your kids have some hiking experience it is definitely doable and the views were some of our favorite in Central America.

Lago de Coatepeque

We had an extra day in the Santa Ana area and it was hot, so we decided to head to Lake Coatepeque, which is only about 30 minutes away from Santa Ana and is a crater lake. When we arrived, we started to look for access areas to the lake; however, the lake is surrounded by walls from different properties that line its shores. However, if coming from Santa Ana, one of the first places you’ll see on the lake are large restaurants that allow people to come hang out at them for the day and give you access to the water. They have docks with stairs to access the water and they just hope that you will buy food & drink from them. There wasn’t even any cost for parking! The lake stole our hearts – it was totally a chill place to just hang out and have fun.

Crater lake of Lago de Coatepeque.
Views of Lake Coatepeque with Santa Ana Volcano in the background.

There were water sports like jet skis that you can rent and rip around the lake or you can take a ferry ride around portions of the lake as well. We had our SUP with us, so we just spent the time paddling on the water, swimming, enjoying some beers & later having dinner with the sunset on the dock.

Santa Ana Old Town

If you are in the area, checking out the central area of Santa Ana is worth checking out for part of a day at least. Santa Ana Cathedral & Parque Libertad are the main center point of the town, but there are beautiful buildings surrounding the park, including the Santa Ana Theatre. It is definitely a place where the locals hang out. We were actually there on the evening of Ash Wednesday, so there were lots of people going in an out of the church. The colors of the sky that night were unbelievable too.

If looking for a memorable experience while in El Salvador then definitely check out the area around Santa Ana. There is so much to be explored from the city of Santa Ana – including the Volcano at Cerro Zerde National Park, the crater lake of Lake Coatepeque and the Old Town of Santa Ana. Also, make sure you don’t miss out on the Rutas de Las Flores, which we included more details about in our last blog entry.

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