Santa Ana was our second city we traveled to in El Salvador and it is also their second largest city. As we arrived to the city, it was clear that buses handle most transportation. The number of buses arriving and departing was staggering, and the exhaust pollution was just as bad. I was eager to get off the bus to clear my burning eyes. During our 2 days walking the streets we did not see one other international tourist. It’s important to note that we are also visiting during the low season.
Tall buildings are absent, which we found surprising for a big city. Santa Ana does have a welcoming town square, as most towns and cities do in Central America. Around the square sits a large Gothic Cathedral, the Teatro de Santa Ana and a historic municipal palace. We took a few photos around the plaza and in the church and then headed to the more vibrant market. The market was teaming with local vendors sectioned by products. My favorite was the sausage isle, where chorizo and longaniza hung from the vendor stations. Before dawn, we headed back to our hostel, but were sure to buy some pupusas on the street before arriving. El Salvador’s pupusas are the best in Central America. Be sure to enjoy the bean, cheese and pork filled tortillas.
Most that venture to Santa Ana do for the access to Volcano National Park (Cerro Verde). The park boasts 3 volcanoes, Santa Ana (Ilamatepec), Izalco and Cerro Verde. Cerro Verde is a desolate volcano with no vegetation, but offers a perfect crater. Santa Ana is the highest volcano in El Salvador at 2,381 meters. We decided to trek up Santa Ana because of its dramatic changing natural habitat as you reach different levels on the volcano. First, you walk through thick forest, then colorful flower bushes and high grasses, desert plants and finally desolate rock. The greatest image on the volcano is when you reach the top and look down to see the nuclear green boiling sulfur Lake. The lake is believed to be 300 meters deep. The trail is medium difficulty with the most challenging section at the end. I wasn’t paying attention when we began our trek, but it must have been downhill for quite some time, because the last 45 minutes were uphill. Instinctively, I just assumed the return hike was going to be all downhill, but unfortunately it wasn’t.
The climb up was beautifully enhanced with colorful flowers and large maguey plants, but unfortunately we didn’t learn much. This is a national park and they require visitors to hire both a guide and police escort to climb the volcanoes. Our young guide was more concerned using his phone than walking with us. It became frustrating for us, because at some points we had no idea where our guide was. This was our biggest disappointment with the park. The park was very clean and included a small shop (tienda) for light food and drinks.
From Santa Ana it’s a 2-hour bus ride (bus #248) for .90 cents. At the park you will pay $1.00 entrance fee, $6.00 to the volcano conservation organization and $1.00 to pass private property. The trek is well worth the money, but hopefully you will have a better guide.