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YOUR ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE WEST OF EL SALVADOR
The west side of El Salvador is home to so many amazing adventures, yet few people visit due to a worry that it is unsafe.
Having spent a little time in this area (and the rest of El Salvador) we are happy to assure you that - as long as you are taking the usual sensible precautions - the west of El Salvador is safe to explore and enjoy!
Take a bus from Antigua or Guatemala City that's heading for San Salvador and ask (in advance) to get off at Santa Ana instead. In March 2021 Pullmantur were operating a direct bus service.
From San Salvador
If you're already in San Salvador having landed or taken a bus here from Nicaragua, then you'll need to either take a shuttle or chicken bus direct to Santa Ana, or hop in an Uber for around $11 direct.
Best Time to Visit
This side of the country is better off visited during the dry season from November to April as all of the activities are outdoors. If you don't mind risking a few rain showers then shoulder season could be a good option for slightly fewer visitors too.
Top Things To Do
in El Salvador
The west of the country has so much to offer - check out these amazing adventures below!
Lago Coatepeque was once the centre of huge super-volcano many millions of years ago. It is now a calm and peaceful crater lake, ideal for chilling and kayaking!
The lake is a perfect place to spend a few days relaxing, paddle boarding, swimming and even diving if you love fresh water dives!
There are lots of places to stay at Lago Coatepque, ranging from luxury escapes to more basic accommodation such as Captain Morgan's (which is where we stayed).
Pretty much everything is right on the lake shore so you're almost guaranteed incredible views and easy access to the water no matter where you choose to stay!
From Santa Ana it's easy to get to the lake with a 30 minute Uber, or frequent chicken buses that run the full diameter of the lake.
Ruta de las Flores
Translated as 'Route of the Flowers' - each year between the towns of Ahuachapan and Sonzacate the sides of the road and the little towns that line the route bloom with a huge variety of flowers and colour!
The flowers are supposed to be in bloom from mid November until February, however it seems most people have reported the flowers are regularly already gone by January! If you don't happen to be visiting during the blooming season this route is still worth checking out as the towns along it each have something to offer.
The town of Juayua for example runs a food festival every weekend where you can try a variety of foods, Apeneca is home to the Albanian Labrinth which is a fun hour working your way around the hedge maze, as well as lots of colourful street art lining the walls of the town.
You could easily spend a full day working your way through the towns on the route.
You can navigate your way around the route using the chicken buses if you don't have access to a car, although this may take a while.
If you happen to stay at Velvet Hotel then Juan Carlos will likely rent you his (or his friends) car for $20 for the full day which gives you much more flexibility!
Santa Ana Town
El Salvador's second largest and most populous city of Santa Ana sits in the west of the country, less than an hours drive from the border with Guatemala.
We loved our time in this little city - we found the people to be extremely friendly and helpful and it's a great base for seeing all of the local attractions. Make sure you spend an evening in the main square with the locals - it seems as though most of the town hangs out here and the atmosphere is great!
We recommend staying at Velvet Hotel, not only is it in a good location but the owners (Juan Carlos and his wife) are also super helpful, will likely take you for dinner and prepare you the best breakfasts! The rooms are also newly renovated and clean.
The town is safe to walk around as a tourist, we did not feel uncomfortable even at night - although still best to use common sense and precautions! Uber does operate here but there are only a few drivers (we think there were about 4 drivers in 2021), so the wait time can be up to 15 minutes and you'll likely have the same guy twice!
Volcán de Santa Ana
The most active volcano in El Salvador is Volcán de Santa Ana, or llamatepec to the locals!
You will hike for an hour / hour and a half before you reach the summit and smell the bubbling sulphuric lake that sits in the crater, as well as getting incredible views over Lago Coatepeque and Volcán Marcelino.
Although the hike is relatively easy, you aren't allowed to ascend the volcano without a certified guide. You'll need to book a tour through one of the many offered either in Santa Ana or at the Lake. Tours generally run around $60 per person and will include transportation to and from the trail head, your guide and police escort up the volcano (don't worry, the trail is safe these days thanks to the continued presence of the police so you are very unlikely to run into any issues).
More Things To Do in El Salvador
We didn't personally get to experience these things but we heard good things, so we're sharing with you so you don't miss out!
Santa Teresa Hot Springs
Almost everyone we met throughout the country asked if we had been to, or were going to, the Santa Teresa Hot Springs and continued to tell us how incredible they are - unfortunately for us, the answer was no!
We learned of the hot springs once we had left the Santa Ana area and did not feel we wanted to return just for this purpose, however, if you are in the area we hear these are a must see!
There are natural hot springs, mud therapies, restaurants and rooms to stay overnight if you feel like you need some time to relax! We don't have all the info on this spot, so check out their website here if you're keen to visit - https://www.termalesdesantateresa.com/.
They are located on the Ruta De Las Flores, just outside a little town called Ahuachapaman.
Having only recently visited Tikal and Yaxcha in Guatemala we (perhaps wrongly) decided to skip the Tazumal ruins, however these are one of the main sites to visit around Santa Ana.
They are located an easy 30 minute Uber ride to the East of the City, however once you are there the chances of finding an Uber to take you back again are slim!
The alternative is to use the local chicken buses. From Santa Ana you'll need to take a bus out to the centre of Chalchuapa (the bus should have the town name on the front), and from there you can easily find the ruins a short walk away. To return to Santa Ana there should be plenty of buses, just confirm with the driver! The bus takes around 45 minutes to do the journey and should cost around 50 cents per person, each way.
The ruins are currently $3 per person to enter and are closed on Monday's.
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