Santa Ana is the main city in westren El Salvador, the second largest city in El Salvador and the capital of Santa Ana department. Originally named Cihuatehuacan which means something like "place of woman prietesses." I found it to be a pleasant city that is cheaper than San Salvador and a good base for exploring the surrounding country. It has a population of around 275,000 with no area really seeming to be too crowded. The northern portion of the city is the part of town with the old important buildings such as the cathedral and theatre. While the westren part is where there is a lot of markets and the bus stops are located. The south part is where the newer places like the Metrocentro are located. From here you can catch a direct bus to Guatemala city. Two days here is a good time to take in the main sights at a leisurely pace. True story, my taxi cab caught on fire in Santa Ana while I was in the back seat.
Concepción de Ataco
Concepción de Ataco is a pretty village along Ruta de Las Flores. Colonial and newer houses are painted in bright colours and some have colourful murals. The streets have cobble stone and there is not much traffic. There is a central square where it is nice to sit in the shade for a while watching people. Around the square you will find the church, the municipal building, a few cafés and a tourist information. I didn’t see the tourist information, but maybe it is just open during weekends. In the village there are also some nice restaurants and souvenir shops, and there is a small market.
I visited Ataco during the week and as far as I could see I was the only tourist there at the moment. During weekends Ataco gets more visitors, but not as many as Juayúa (another town along Ruta de Las Flores). Juayúa has got the food festival, but Ataco is more charming.
Ruta de Las Flores is the name of the road between Sonsonate and Ahuachapán. This mountain road has got its name because of the natural beauty and cool climate. In this area a lot of coffee is cultivated and there are also plant nurseries. Besides Ataco there are four more small charming towns along the road; Apaneca, Juayúa, Salcoatitán and Nahuizalco.Related to:
San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, is situated on the foothills of Vulcán San Salvador in the centre of the country. It is a big city with a population of 1.8 million, almost a third of the total population of El Salvador. The climate is tropical with the wet season stretching between May - October and the dry season between November - April. December - February are the coldest months.
In 1525 San Salvador was founded at a location 30 km northeast of were it is now situated, but only three years later it moved to the present location. After independence from Spain San Salvador became the capital of the Federal Republic of Central America and later of El Salvador as the federation fell apart.
Even if San Salvador is an old city there are not many old buildings left. The city is situated in an area of tectonic activity and earthquakes have destroyed the city, or parts of it, in 1854, 1873, 1986 and 2001 and at several other occasions. And there was an eruption of Vulcán San Salvador in 1917 and there has been floods. To this the civil war added sever damages, both when it comes to lives and infrastructure.
In San Salvador you can find “different worlds”. There are modern parts with broad avenues and big shopping malls but there are also poor neighbourhoods. In the city centre you will find a bustling street life with a lot of traffic and vendors on the streets. There are several squares and parks and monumental buildings, the cathedral, the parliament and the theatre among others. This is an interesting part to visit for a tourist, but I would not walk around here alone after dark, even during daytime you should watch your belongings. The best museums in San Salvador you will find in the more modern and quieter parts of Zona Rosa and Colonia Escalón.
San Salvador has a reputation of violence and has got one of the highest murder rates in the world, but most of the violence is gang related and happens in some of the suburbs of San Salvador. So don’t let this stop you from visiting the capital of El Salvador! I found people to be very kind and helpful and I was also very happy to meet with VT-member conejita71 (Nancy) and her family who showed me around.
Lago de Coatepeque
Lago de Coatepeque is a beautiful crater lake at the foot of Vulcán Santa Ana. When we climbed Santa Ana there was a viewpoint from where you can get a nice view of the lake, but unfortunately it was too cloudy and we couldn’t see it. Not until we were on our way back the lake was visible, and you will also pass the lake on your way to El Congo.
Lago the Coatepeque is a large lake and is 6km wide and 120m deep. The water is clear and clean. Many people come here for the weekend to enjoy the view and maybe take a boat ride on the lake. If you want to stay there are a few hotels and hostels along the shore.
Lago de Coatepeque is situated 18 km south of Santa Ana, in Coatepeque municipality.Related to:
Ruínas de San Andrés
At the Archaeological Park of San Andrés you can see old Maya ruins, not as impressive as in Mexico and Guatemala, but still interesting. San Andrés was the capital of Valle de Zapotitlán between AD 600 - 900. At its peak it is believed that up to 12 000 people lived here. The park covers an area of 35 hectares and it was inaugurated in 1996.
The ruins of San Andrés were buried in 1658 when Vulcán Playón had an eruption and not until 1977 the pyramids of San Andrés were unearthed again. Not all mounds have jet been unearthed though. Excavations have mainly been done around the political and ceremonial centre. The main pyramid by the great plaza has a bell shape and it is 15 metres high. Nearby there is a subterranean tunnel. Restoration has been done and protective walls cover some of the ruins.
Near the car park there is nice museum which is good to visit before continuing to the ruins. There is also a café and a few souvenir stands. Next to the museum there is an indigo dying place from colonial times.
The Archaeological park is open Tuesdays - Sundays between 9 - 17.
Admission was 3 dollars (June 2009) for foreigners and 1 dollar for El Salvadorians.
I was very happy to visit San Andrés together with Nancy (VT-member conejita71) and her brother (Marco) and his wife (Ana Emma). Thank you so much for a great day!
If you come on your own San Andrés (together with Joya de Cerén) can easily be visited by bus from both San Salvador and Santa Ana.Related to:
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Archaeological Park San Andres
If you have been travelling around Central America for a while and have done a couple of the main Mayan sites then San Andres will seem pretty ho-hum. If you are going to be in El Salvador only than these are not a bad site to check out. There are a couple of pyramids to walk around which were last used in between the years of 900 and 1200. When I was there the site was under some renovations but I don't know what they were trying to accomplish. San Andres fell to the way preserving Mayan buildings by encasing them in cement which gives everything sharp features but doesn't really look authentic. There is a pretty good museum here but it is all in Spanish. They do have a restaurant and some souvenir vendors hanging out here. It costs a couple of bucks to enter and is located about half way in between San Salvador and Santa Ana along the main highway.Related to:
Poor but Full of Joy!
What I found in El Salvador that many people were poor! But people were full of JOY and made you feel that way too. I have to say that if after such a war people still had so much to give maybe we are missing something they have! Each OTHER!Related to:
- Work Abroad
San Salvador is the capital of El Salvador with a metropolitan population of 2,200,000 which is around 1/3 of the country's population. It is the second largest city in Central America. Roughly centrally located, chances are you will come through here if travelling across El Salvador. I found this city to be very comfortable. We got stuck here for a little bit. The city center region is like most Central American cities. Congested with traffic, people and markets. It is mostly rundowned and grungy with a few exceptions. The rest of the city that I saw was fairly clean and some really nice modern areas especially Zona Rosa. I felt quite safe here as I walked across large part of the city with no problems. Also I walked around a fair bit after it got dark with no problems. A couple of things against the city is the difference between the people who have money and those who don't. Another is that there is no real old buildings due to multiple earthquakes that like to hit the city. For me, Panama City and San Salvador were my favourite Central American capital cities (I visited all the CA capitals).
Although it is a mall chain in El Salvador owned by Grupo Roble, this one in San Salvador is the largest mall in Central America. I am not a mall rat but it was nice of having the convience of all the things a modern mall has to offer once in a while. It is very clean, many levels, a movie thearte, an outdoor area with shops and all the other standard mall things. It is located at the southern end of Boulevard de Los Heroes and extends eastwards. There is a post office located here on the second level of the outdoor area which was helpful even though it did take a long time. I know this should probaly be in the shopping section but oh well.
Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy Savior (Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador) was visited twice by Pope John Paul 2nd in 1983 and 1996. With renovations finally completed in 1999 it replaced the the previous cathedral which burned in 1951 and remained a concrete shell for 40 years. It's blue and yellow dome is definetly noticeable when you are at higher elevations in San Salvador and the cathedral is one of San Salvador's main landmarks. Facing Plaza Barrios in the city center, it is surrounding by markets, traffic and some other important San Salvadorian buildings. Assassinated in 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero's tomb is big pilgrim draw. For me, this was the main draw to visit this region of the city.Related to:
- Religious Travel
Lago de Coatepeque
Lago de Coatepeque is one of El Salvador's largest lakes at 26 square kilometres. It is a very attractive lake making it a getaway spot for many locals. It is a volcanic crater lake with a depth of 120 metres. Located within the lake is an island called Teopan which had some importance for the Mayans. Unfortunately most of the accessible lake front is privately owned by hotels and restaurants. Here you will find many people swimming in the clear waters or doing other water sports such as seadooing. The lake is located in the western portion of the country southeast of Santa Ana. There is a tun off for the lake on the Interamericana near El Congo.
If you are into volcano climbing, you can challenge the impossible. Three (yes, 3) volcanoes in one hike!
You need to go to Cerro Verde in Sonsonate, you can get in car all to the top, you ask a policeman or any travel guide in the city, to join you and your group to climb the volcano, and they serve as guides. So, the route is... go down the Cerro Verde, go up the Izalco volcano (rock, sand and soil only, perfect cone-shape volcanoe), go down Izalco in a snowboarding style, go up Santa Ana volcano, go down Santa Ana, and go up Cerro Verde again, all in one day!!!
Or you can minimize the trip by just doing Izalco volcanoe. It is nice to check out... from the top of the volcano, you can watch the enormous sea, the border and volcanos in Guatemala and the border of Honduras, the different cities and lakes in the country. Amazing view!Related to:
- Mountain Climbing
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
Barra de Santiago
Barra de Santiago is a small fishing village in western El Salvador. I only passed the village itself by bus as I continued another 3 km to Capricho Beach House. Capricho Beach House is situated near La Bocana, where you have the ocean on one side and the estuary and mangrove reserve on the other side. This part of Barra de Santiago is a protected nature reserve and it is rich in plants and animals. Along the calm waters of the estuary there are some quite big houses owned by rich El Salvadorians.
Along the Pacific Ocean there are kilometres of empty beach where you can take nice long walks or swim. Barra de Santiago is said to be good for surfing. I’m not a surfer, but were asked if I didn’t want to take a lesson, and if I had stayed longer I might have done that. I did go on a canoe trip to the estuary and mangrove reserve though. In August - November when the giant sea turtle lay their eggs you can go on a turtle spotting trip and visit a turtle conservation project. Another thing you can do in Barra de Santiago is deep sea fishing. And in this tranquil place it is of course great to relax in a hammock with a good book.Related to:
Vulcán San Salvador - El Boquerón
Vulcán San Salvador (Quezaltepeque) is situated northwest of the city and it has two peaks. The highest peak is Picacho with 1967m and the other is Jabali with 1397m. Jabali has a symmetrical crater called El Boquerón. The crater is 45m high and it got its present look after an eruption in 1917.
With a guide you can walk around the crater, or down in the crater. Otherwise you can walk to the three viewpoints near the parking lot , which most people do. We arrived at 16.45 and saw on a sign that the site was closing at 17.00, but as we asked we were told it closed at 17.30, which was good.
By the parking lot you pay the admission of 1 dollar, and there you will also find many vendors selling pupusas and fruits.
Joya de Cerén
Joya de Cerén is the only Unesco World Heritage Site in El Salvador. It is often referred to as the Pompeii of America because it was buried by volcanic ashes in AD 595 when the Laguna Caldera Vulcan had an eruption. Joya de Cerén is not as grand as Pompeii, but still a very interesting place to visit.
Joya de Cerén was a Mayan village and remains beneath the ashes have given a great insight in how common people lived. Most pre-Colombian archaeological sites in Central America shows temples, tombs and palaces, but at Joya de Cerén you can see how people in the villages lived. Protected under tin roof are several structures of houses, storages, kitchens ,a sauna and a shaman house. In one place you can also see the ridges of the maize field.
No human buddies have been found at Joya de Cerén so people probably had time to escape, but items found indicate they left in a hurry. Many of the artefacts found at the site are displayed in a museum at Joya de Cerén. I would very much have liked to see this museum, but unfortunately it was closed for renovation when we visited. There are a few artefacts at the Museum of Anthropology in El Salvador though and those I had seen the previous day.
You can only visit the site on a guided tour. When we arrived we had to wait for the next tour and then we had time to visit the souvenir stall and have a drink in the café. Our guide was very good and explained things in a good way. Even if it was mostly in Spanish I could understand most of it. She also explained a few things in English for me.
As the museum was closed for renovation we didn’t have to pay entrance fee. Otherwise it had been 3 dollars for foreigners and 1 dollar for El Salvadorians (June 2009).
The Archaeological Park of Joya de Cerén is open on Tuesdays - Sundays between 9 - 17.
Thank you Nancy, Marco and Ana Emma for taking me here!Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
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