When you go backpacking in El Salvador you are not quite sure what to expect and most likely, you will stay in places you will never have heard of. The latest surprise gem was Santa Ana. Quite simply this is a spectacular and proud town in the countryside of El Salvador. Not too busy to be sucked up by the buzz of the vibrant capital, San Salvador. And not to tranquil where you just sit around and laze on hammocks by the many beaches. Santa Ana is somewhere in between. The charm of this place is the streets and the people. Get chatting to the locals. They’re a hard working, friendly and proud bunch of people. If anyone can help put El Salvador on the map, the people of Santa Ana do their best to ensure you’ll have heard of El Salvador and given time, will visit it.
After a few days down by the beach in Barra de Santiago (surfing and doing crocodile tours), I headed on a double chicken bus run to Santa Ana to check it out and I was pleasantly surprised. What’s more is this is a very quick fire top 10 sights in the town itself. There are many more parts to explore while based in Santa Ana, including the Volcan Santa Ana (El Salvador’s highest peak), the ruins and charms of Tazumal and Chalchuapa. However, first up I checked out the town itself. You can do all this and more in a day easily in Santa Ana. First up getting there and where to stay.
Getting to Santa Ana
It will be the good old chicken buses, I have to say. They run regularly all day from San Salvador and Sonsonate. I caught the Ruta 216 from Sonsonate and it cost me just 70 cents (US). It takes about 1.5 hours from Sonsonate. From the Terminal de Occidente in the capital city, San Salvador, take bus 201 for 90 cents (takes 1.3 hours) or try the Especial which is air conditioned and costs a bit more, but is a big faster.
Sleeping in Santa Ana
You’ll be glad to know that I’ve done the work for you. The answer is simple – stay in Hostal Casa Verde. You will love it. Dorm rooms for $10 US a night, a double for $20 US. They have a swimming pool, wifi, coffee, a rooftop garden, a lounge, a fully stocked beer fridge and cosy cosy rooms! It’s voted the best hostel in El Salvador most of the time.
1. Catedral de Santa Ana
Impressive, well looked after and still ancient, Santa Ana’s Cathedral is one of the most impressive in Latin America. Even locals pop past with their cameras and phones to capture its charming architecture on camera. A stunning work of art. Inside there are services on all the time, as well as a model of the Cathedral. Don’t miss it!
2. Mercado de Artesianas
I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t see many touristy or souvenir style shops during my 10 days in El Salvador. Authentic Salvadorian gifts can be hard to spot. But thankfully, the Mercado de Artesianas in Santa Ana makes up for the rest of the country. You can buy flags, postcards, fridge magnets, key rings, handicrafts and everything cool from El Salvador.
3. Parque Libertad
Parque Libertad in San Salvador may be a square celebrating freedom, here it takes on a more natural appeal. Flowers, trees and statues obscure the square from complete view. When you walk all around its circumference you will see the charming buildings on every side. Locals relax here, and vendors vend. There’s also a fantastic restaurant overlooking Parque Libertad. Its name – Simmerdown. I recommend it.
4. Iglesia El Carmen
A fine, pristine, clean church which will take some beating. Situated in a slightly elevated position, it has a view down 1st Avenue from the entrance. Admire the bright red brickwork and pleasant gardens it sits in.
5. Teatro de Santa Ana
Again, its the architecture I admired and although I once worked in a theatre, I didn’t go in for a show, but the interior and exterior of the theatre is so impressive, it would be worth the money. The green and white paint outside looked brand new and the locals must be proud and delighted that such buildings have stood the test of time and are well photographed by the few tourists that make it here.
6. Parque Colon
Near the main market is the Parque Colon. Here you have a square with some historical ruins to admire. Well worth a look but do be aware that tramps line the nearby area and the square.
7. Mercado Colon
The manic market near Parque Colon is buzzing, lively, diverse and cheap.
8. Hooker Street
Yes you can get your dick sucked here if you really really want. They have a “hooker street”! It seems to run along 11th Calle from 10 Avenida to 6 Avenida. Just walk past in the daytime and you’ll see a load of girls with their knickers hanging out in bars.
9. Simmerdown Restaurant
Head to Liberty Square and face the Cathedral, just to the right you will see a bar and restaurant called Simmerdown. This is the place to eat and drink in town. Delicious pizzas from $3 US and ceviches for the same price, plus beers from $1.50 and a view of the square plus great staff.
To see both sides of Santa Ana, a trip out to the Metrocentro might surprise you – it’s a swanky shopping mall on a wide boulevard on the edge of town. This is also the place to get a bus to San Salvador from and has all sorts of food styles and brands here, plus clothes shops and a cinema.
Here are the videos I made during my stay in Santa Ana: