Santa Ana, El Salvador – the second largest city in the country tucked away between volcanoes, valleys and charming landscapes. Santa Ana, El Salvador, is an explorer’s paradise with vibrant culture and stunning natural beauty in and around the city. From learning about its rich history to savoring its mouthwatering cuisine to exploring its great outdoors, there is something for every type of traveler visiting Santa Ana. Let’s discover the treasures held in Santa Ana, El Salvador. The adventure begins here!
How to get to Santa Ana, El Salvador
From Guatemala or Honduras
Santa Ana is in western El Salvador about an hour from the Guatemala border. For this reason, Santa Ana is easily accessible from the nearby towns of Antigua and Guatemala City in Guatemala, as well as Copan Ruins in Honduras. There are quite a few shuttle companies offering transport to Santa Ana. Gekko Trails Explorer is a reliable company that offers shuttles from Antigua, Copan Ruins, and San Pedro la Laguna to Santa Ana.
I booked a bus with Pullmantur from Guatemala City to the outskirts of Santa Ana. Pullmantur has large bus with comfortable reclining seats, air conditioning, a TV and several snacks throughout the ride including a breakfast Subway sandwich. The border crossing went very quickly and smoothly, I didn’t even have to get off the bus on the El Salvador side.
In Santa Ana, I was dropped off at a PUMA gas station on the outskirts of town where I had to call an Uber to take me to my hostel. The bus continued on to San Salvador. Overall great experience and would recommend Pullmantur to anyone looking for a stress free border crossing.
From El Salvador International Airport
The international airport in El Salvador is about a 45 minute drive from the capital city of San Salvador making it a bit more difficult. The easiest way to get from the airport to Santa Ana is by taxi or Uber which should cost around $70 USD. If taking a taxi, be sure to agree on the price before getting into the taxi.
Public transportation, or chicken buses, is possible from the airport to Santa Ana, however, it is a very long journey and the buses stop running at 5pm. I do not recommend taking public transportation to Santa Ana as the ride is also long and will require bus changes.
From San Salvador
San Salvador to Santa Ana is about a 1 hour and 30 minute ride by car, of course depending on the traffic in San Salvador. Uber and taxis are always available and should cost less than $50 USD. Reliable public transportation is also available from the Terminal de Occidente in San Salvador. The bus company is called TUDO and it is route 201 that goes directly to Santa Ana’s Terminal de Autobuses TUDO.
This bus terminal in Santa Ana is out of town so it may be best to get off at any stop closest to your accommodation in Santa Ana before reaching the bus terminal. The ride should cost $1.
From El Tunco
El Tunco to Santa Ana will be a 2 and a half hour ride and can easily be done with public transportation. From El Tunco catch the 102A bus off the main road, not to be confused with 102. The 102A bus will look more like a small shuttle bus. This bus will go up to Terminal de Buses de Occidente in San Salvador where you will switch buses to the 202 bus that goes directly to Santa Ana. The 202 bus will go straight to the center of Santa Ana, but be sure to get off closest to your accommodation. In total, this ride should cost $3 but the bus drivers may charge extra for your bags.
Where To Stay in Santa Ana, El Salvador
Santa Ana, El Salvador is a host to a variety of accommodations in different parts of the city. From budget hostels to nicer hotels, there is something for every type of traveler.
As a budget backpacker myself, I stayed at Hostal Villa el Campanario located in the residential area about a 30 minute walk from the center of the city. The hostel vibe was one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a very inviting hostel, extremely social, and you are sure to come out of it with several new friends and memories.
The hostel itself is comfortable, mostly clean, and has great wifi throughout the property. There is also a kitchen, bar area, and a large garden. A few other popular hostels closer to the city center are Hostal Casa Verde, Castello Hostel, and Casa Vieja Guest House.
If you’re looking for a classier hotel, stay at Remfort Hotel located very close to the city center. Or Villa Napoli Bed and Breakfast located a 15 minute drive outside of the city center.
How To Get Around Santa Ana, El Salvador
Santa Ana is a very walkable city and not too big to cover either. There are public buses that run throughout the city and to the neighboring towns on the Ruta de las Flores and Lake Coatepeque. In addition, Uber is widely used around El Salvador, which makes it much more convenient to get to places that public transportation may not get to. There are also taxis available.
If you are up for it, Hostal Villa el Campanario offers motorbike rentals for $15 per day. The motorbikes are in great condition and are super easy to drive around Santa Ana or even go on multi day motorbike trips around El Salvador.
Things To Do in Santa Ana, El Salvador
Santa Ana, El Salvador offers a myriad of experiences in and around the city. From swimming in clear waterfalls to exploring Mayan ruins, lets dive into the best things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador.
Santa Ana Volcano Hike in Cerro Verde National Park
Set off on an adventurous journey as you hike the trails of Cerro Verde National Park. Cerro Verde National Park is one of the largest national parks in El Salvador. It is home to three major volcanoes: Cerro Verde, Izalco, and Santa Ana. The Santa Ana volcano is one of the highest peaks and also one of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador.
In its history, the Santa Ana volcano has erupted 18 times with the most recent being in 2005. Since then, it has been in an intermittent state of activity, which makes this a thrilling hike.
Imagine traversing through stunning landscapes, witnessing awe-inspiring vistas, and ending up at the top of a volcano overlooking not only a turquoise blue crater lake, but also a lush green valley and the sparkling Lake Coatepeque. It sounds like a dream for sure, especially when its an active volcano! This hike to the top of the Santa Ana volcano will take about 1 to 2 hours including breaks.
With an elevation gain of 465 meters, the hike itself is not too bad and can be done by those who are not in particularly good shape. The hike to the Santa Ana volcano will take you through private property which may charge you an entry fee along with the entry for the national park. Public transportation is available from Santa Ana to the hike trailhead. Uber is also available.
This is one of the more popular things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador and you should not miss it! For more details on this Santa Ana Volcano hike, check out this blog post.
Take a Trip on a Motorbike Through the Ruta de las Flores
Taking a motorbike trip is certainly a bucket list item. But taking a motorbike trip during El Salvador’s flower season is another thing entirely. As one of the most popular things to do in Santa Ana, El Salvador, the Ruta de las Flores does not disappoint.
What To Do in the Ruta de las Flores
The Ruta de las Flores, or the flower route, runs across the coffee region of El Salvador right outside Santa Ana. This route passes through several picturesque towns hidden in the Apaneca hills of El Salvador, including Juayua, Apaneca, Concepcion de Ataco, and Nahuizalco. Each town has its own local markets offering all sorts of handicrafts including wicker and tule items, wooden crafts, handloom textiles, traditional instruments, and many more decorative items.
There are also several small coffee plantations along the route. If this interests you, check out the El Carmen Estate in Concepcion de Ataco that give tours of their facilities for $7.
How to Travel the Ruta de Las Flores
The best time to travel the Ruta de las Flores is from November to April, right after El Salvador’s rainy season when the flowers are in full bloom. The most convenient and enjoyable way to travel the route is by motorbike. This way you are free to stop anywhere along the route and you are not restricted by time. Hostel Villa el Campanario has motorbike rentals for $15 per day and the entire route can be driven in one day making it a great option for a day trip.
Alternatively, take bus #238 from Santa Ana directly to Juayua or take bus #210 to Ahuachapan. From both towns there are buses and microbuses that go along the route, just ask the locals where the bus stops are.
Saturday Food Festival in Juayua
Located right on the Ruta de las Flores, Juayua is a popular town that most tourists visit or stay in due to its close proximity to several attractions. On Saturdays, this town hosts a food market featuring local dishes sold by several vendors. Right outside the Saint Lucia church there are several food stalls set up serving a variety of traditional dishes such as yucca with chicharron, beef, pork, chicken, seafood, and soups.
All plates cost from $4 to $9 and they are absolutely delicious. There are tables placed throughout the market and vendors coming up to each table to sell more food. It may get a bit chaotic but it’s definitely an experience that you cannot miss.
The easiest way to get to Juayua is by motorbike or by public transportation. Take bus #238 from Santa Ana directly to Juayua and take the same bus back to Santa Ana.
Hike Las Siete Cascadas Trail and Swim in The Waterfalls
Right outside of Juayua is a group of stunning waterfalls called Las Siete Cascadas. A visit to these magnificent waterfalls can be another great day trip option from Santa Ana.
Do You Need a Guide for this Hike?
To get to these waterfalls you’ll have to walk or drive to the trailhead, and then descend into the jungle where all the waterfalls flow. A guide isn’t required but is highly recommended. Especially because there is a portion of the hike that requires climbing over a waterfall using a rope that the guides will bring.
I recommend contacting Gaviotita Tours Aventura (+503 6113 7277) on WhatsApp for a tour guide. They were very patient and accommodating with my hiking group. Everything was included in the tour including transportation to and from Juayua, a mango at the falls, and the ropes for the waterfall climb. Typically they charge $15 per person for the hike, but with a bigger group they are willing to go down to $10 per person.
Where Does the Hike Go?
The hike itself goes through the lush green jungle often hiking through or under the waterfalls. There is a portion where you will have to climb a waterfall using rope. The last portion of the hike takes you to Chorros de la Calera where you will find two beautiful waterfalls. Swimming in these falls is allowed but beware, the water is very cold. The jungle landscapes and the waterfalls offer stunning panoramic views, it’s certainly a sight for the eyes. The end of the hike is an ascent back up to the main road. Las Siete Cascadas is a fantastic day trip adventure from Santa Ana.
What to Bring to the Hike
Be sure to bring plenty of water and bug spray, as it is hot and humid in the jungle. You’ll need a bathing suit and good shoes that you are ok with getting wet while hiking. A dry bag is also a good idea to bring because you will get wet, but a standard backpack works just as well as long as you are ok with it getting a little wet.
Visit the Salto de Malacatiupan, a Hot Spring Waterfall
Salto de Malacatiupan is a beautiful and unique waterfall and hot springs right outside of Santa Ana. What makes this waterfall so special is that it’s actually a thermal waterfall that is heated from the nearby volcanic activity. It’s a very unexpected phenomenon to encounter in the already hot temperatures of El Salvador!
How To Get to Salto de Malacatiupan
Salto de Malacatiupan is located right outside of the towns Ahuachapan and Chalchuapa, putting it in close proximity to the Ruta de las Flores and the Tazumal ruins. The best way to get here is by taxi, tuktuk or Uber if you are in the neighboring towns. By public transportation, catch bus #202 from Santa Ana, Ahuachapan or Chalchuapa and get off in the town of Atiquizaya. From there you can take a moto–taxi or a tuktuk to the falls. If you are arriving by private vehicle you’ll have to pay a parking fee. Entry to the falls is $1 per person, although there are no facilities or infrastructure in the area other than a bathroom.
What To Do at Salto de Malacatiupan
From the parking lot you will arrive right by the river. If you follow the river downstream, you’ll be able to see magnificent waterfalls and some natural pools. The area is quite rocky and slippery around the waterfall so be careful when getting into the water. The water is quite warm and will take some adjusting, but once you are in the water it feels amazing. Just remember to stay hydrated! There is a spot for cliff jumping into the water, but getting back out may be difficult because you’ll need to grab a rope and scramble onto the rocks before the current takes you further downstream. There are several hot springs and pools around that area to relax and enjoy the views. Overall, this is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch while enjoying a swim in the waterfalls.
Explore the Tazumal Mayan Ruins
Step back in time to explore the most important archaeological site in El Salvador. Located in the town of Chalchuapa, these Mayan ruins offer an insight into the daily life of the ancient people. This archaeological site dates back to 1200 BC up until 1200 AD when it was ultimately abandoned. Wander among ancient pyramids, plazas, and artifacts, gaining insight into the region’s rich Mayan history and the ancient civilization that once thrived here.
How To Get to the Tazumal Mayan Ruins
Getting to the ancient ruins from Santa Ana is very straightforward with public transportation. Take bus #202 or #218 straight down to the town of Chalchuapa. Uber is also available and should cost about $10 from Santa Ana. There are several tours offered to visit the important archaeological sites in El Salvador, which would also include Tazumal.
What To Do at the Tazumal Mayan Ruins
The Tazumal ruins are very easy to visit on your own without a guide. Entry for foreigners is $5. The site itself isn’t very large but you’ll be able to see the main pyramid, column building, temple, and the ball court. After visiting the ruins, I highly recommend going to Yuquería Mayen right down the street to try some yucca with chicharron. Absolutely delicious!
Cafe Albania Adventure Park in Apaneca
Café Albania is a cozy spot where you’ll get the chance to taste the local coffee while enjoying a stunning view of the serene mountain surroundings. Café Albania also has a wide variety of lunch and dinner options. Not only is Café Albania a café, but it is also an amusement park with several activities on its property. To name a few, the park has a maze, zipline, a bike zipline, giant swing, and its most popular attraction, the rainbow slide. Entry to Café Albania costs $5 which can be used towards food or activities. Each activity costs anywhere from $3 to $10.
How To Get to Cafe Albania
To get to Café Albania from Santa Ana, catch the #202 bus from Santa Ana to Ahuachapan. Then switch buses to the #249 bus headed towards Sonsonate. Get off the bus at Apaneca. From here take a taxi or tuktuk to Café Albania or walk.
Relax at Lago de Coatepeque
Coatepeque Lake makes for one of the best day trips from Santa Ana. Unwind by the shores of Coatepeque Lake, where you can swim, kayak, jet ski or simply soak in the breathtaking views of the surrounding volcanic landscape. This crater lake is actually a part of a supervolcano that was formed by 4 eruptions between 57,000 and 72,000 BC. Today, it is a popular tourist destination home to a number of water sports.
How To Get to Lake Coatepeque
Getting to Coatepeque Lake from Santa Ana is very easy using public transportation. Take bus #220 or #242 from Santa that goes straight to the lake. Bus #220 goes around the east side of the lake and bus #242 goes around the west side of the lake.
What To Do on Lake Coatepeque
When at Coatepeque Lake, there is a multitude of water activities to do. Or if you simply want to relax, you are able to do so from any restaurant or hotel on the lake. Captain Morgan Hostel has day passes for $5 per day and also offers paddle board and kayak rentals. Alternatively, book a tour to the lake that will also include the Santa Ana volcano or the Tazumal Ruins.
If there is one thing you have to do in El Salvador, it is to try the pupusas. As El Salvador’s national dish, no trip is complete without trying these stuffed pancake looking food. Pupusas are typically made from corn flour or rice flour and stuffed with a variety of meat, vegetables and cheese. A few of my favorites are the garlic, chorizo, and jalapeno.
Santa Ana is the perfect place to indulge in this iconic dish. There are several pupserias around the city but my all time favorite spot is Pupusería La Rumba only a 5 minute walk from Hostal Villa el Campanario. They have a wide variety of pupusas that you can select off of a sheet of paper. Their pupusas are very cheesy and can be eaten with the typical tomato sauce and curtido, pickled cabbage, onions, and carrots. A few other places to check out are Pupusería La Ceiba and Pupusería Los Almendros.
Wander around Santa Ana, El Salvador
While there are several things to do around the city, there are also many things to do in Santa Ana. Check out the Santa Ana cathedral in the center of the city. The architecture is just stunning and makes for an excellent photo opportunity. Right in front of the Santa Ana cathedral is the main square, Parque Libertad, where you’ll be able to try a variety of street food and wander through the street vendors.
Directly across the street from the cathedral is the National Theater of Santa Ana. The theater still holds shows but it is also stunning to walk around and admire the art. Not too far from the main square is the mercado. This is something you won’t miss because you will definitely know when you are there. The mercado is very busy and sometimes even chaotic, but you are sure to find everything there. From fruits to electronics to second hand clothes, there’s nothing you won’t be able to find.
Further south is the Metrocentro Santa Ana, a large shopping mall. The shopping mall also has a movie theater nearby along with some fast food restaurants and cafes. Nearby is the Oscar Alberto Quiteno Stadium that hosts several football games that I highly recommend seeing! The vibe and environment created by the locals is very energetic and it’s tons of fun to be a part of spectators. The game schedule varies so be sure to check with your hotel.
Other Things to Consider
Santa Ana, El Salvador is truly a gem. When visiting Santa Ana, there is truly something for every type of traveler. From nature to food to history, you will find something to enjoy here. While many question the safety of El Salvador, or Latin America, or Central America in general, from personal experience, I can say that I felt no more unsafe than I did in any major city in the US including New York or Philadelphia.
With that said, in recent years, El Salvador has implemented mass arrests around the whole country with the goal of reducing gang violence. This has been largely successful in decreasing the crime rate in the whole country, allowing tourists to walk freely in most cities without fear.
El Salvador is a rising tourist destination that’s captivating travelers with its rich cultural heritage, stunning natural landscapes, and warm hospitality, making it an enticing choice for those seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures. For a one-week El Salvador travel itinerary, check out this post.
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Shreya, the intrepid solo traveler, embarks on adventures near and far, fueling her passion for exploration. Armed with just her backpack and smartphone, she immerses herself in diverse cultures, landscapes, and experiences, inspiring her ongoing global odyssey. Shreya's informative blog and captivating Instagram chronicle her exciting travels.