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All About Santa Ana – El Salvador

Grand Colonial Theater in Santa Ana

Grand Colonial Theater in Santa Ana

Santa Ana – El Salvador

Santa Ana is the largest city in western El Salvador. It boasts a small collection of grand colonial buildings, including a gorgeous stately theater and an ornate white neo-Gothic Cathedral, which are set around a leafy central plaza.

Several streets full of modest colonial buildings fan out from the plaza in all directions. A few blocks away is a huge, sprawling outdoor market that spills out into several dusty streets, selling a vast array of fresh produce.

One unique feature of Santa Ana’s layout is that the central area forms a sort-of cross, with the cathedral at the cross-point and one historic church situated at the end of each arm of the cross. At least that’s how the Salvadoreans look at it.

Santa Ana Cathedral

Santa Ana Cathedral

In fact, it’s actually a T shape, a three-armed ‘cross’, with the Cathedral at a center point and three arms spreading out from there, each ending with a church.

The chief things to do in Santa Ana are to visit the main plaza, churches, surrounding colonial buildings and a couple of small museums. That can all be done in a single day, possibly a half day.

You might also be interested in wandering through the vast & messy marketplace. And, if you’re lucky, the grand theater might have a performance on while you’re in town, so be sure to check in at their box office for information.

LashWroldTour near summit of Santa Ana Volcano - El Salvador

near summit of Santa Ana Volcano – El Salvador

Otherwise, Santa Ana makes the best base in El Salvador for exploring some wonderful outdoor attractions near the city. Great day trips can be made to the stunning crater lake Coatepeque, the country’s most important Mayan ruins of Tazumal and Volcanoes Santa Ana and Izalco, both located in Cerro Verde National Park, and both of which you can climb via guided hikes.

(Note that it’s not possible to climb both volcanoes in one day. You’ll need to make two separate day trips from Santa Ana, climbing one volcano per day. Nor are you allowed to climb without a guide.)

All three of these destinations are within 1-2 hours by bus from Santa Ana.

Lake Coatepeque – El Salvador

Lake Coatepeque – El Salvador

I’ve written about visiting the lake and the volcanoes in separate articles, giving full details on how to arrive from Santa Ana, times involved and what to see & do. Check them out for full details:

Climbing Santa Ana Volcano

Stunning Lake Coatepeque

I did not visit Tazumal since I’ve already seen several major Mayan ruins in Guatemala and Mexico. But travelers I met who did visit said they greatly enjoyed it.

I’ve also met travelers who use Santa Ana as a base for day trips to Ruta de Flores. That’s certainly an option, if you’re pressed for time in El Salvador. It takes about 1 1/2-2 hours to reach Juayua town on Ruta de Flores from Santa Ana.

Salvadorean musicians playing in Ataco - El Salvador

Salvadorean musicians playing in Ataco – El Salvador

However, personally I recommend spending more than just one day at Ruta de Flores if possible. You can easily fill 3-5 days exploring the area. To do so, base yourself in Juayua or Ataco village, then visit the nearby towns & attractions and join outdoor adventure tours from there.

I’ve written in depth about Ruta de Flores here, including descriptions of each town and the various nature & cultural experiences you can enjoy there.

As for Santa Ana, if you want to see and do it all, I suggest staying 4-5 days in the city. Here’s my recommended itinerary:

Day 1 – arrive in Santa Ana. Explore the city center and visit museums

Days 2-5 – make separate day trips to Lake Coatepeque, Tazumal Mayan ruins and Volcanoes Santa Ana and/or Izalco. You might want to leave one day free as a rest day, hanging around your lodging or wandering the city streets.

That’s my scoop on Santa Ana… Happy travels in El Salvador!

You might also find the following articles helpful:

Introduction to El Salvador

The 7 Waterfalls Tour at Ruta de Flores

Pupusas – El Salvador’s National Food

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