Santa Ana and around

Santa Ana, 55 km from San Salvador and capital of its department, is the second largest city in the country. The basin of the Santa Ana volcano is exceptionally fertile, producing large amounts of coffee, with sugar cane coming a close second. The city, named Santa Ana La Grande by Fray Bernardino Villapando in 1567, is the business centre of western El Salvador. There are some fine buildings: the neo-Gothic
, and several other churches, especially
El Calvario
, in neoclassical style. Of special interest is the classical
Teatro de Santa Ana
 originally completed in 1910, now in the latter stages of interior restoration and one of the finest theatres in Central America. The Fiestas Julias take place from 1-26 July.


About 16 km west of Santa Ana, on the road to Ahuachapán, lies Chalchuapa. President Barrios of Guatemala was killed in battle here in 1885, while trying to reunite Central America by force. There are some good colonial-style domestic buildings. The church of Santiago Apóstol is particularly striking; almost the only one in El Salvador which shows strong indigenous influences (restored 1997-1998). Fiestas are on 18-21 July, Santiago Apóstol, and 12-16 August, San Roque.
ruins next to the cemetery in Chalchuapa, are the tallest and probably the most impressive in El Salvador. Built about AD 980 by the Pipil, with its 14-step pyramid. In 2004 the ruins suffered a partial collapse of the main pyramid due to the filtration of water which led to extensive excavations and application of new preservation techniques (descarting the old concrete) and many new discoveries were made. The site has been occupied since 5000 BC and in the
Museo Stanley H Boggs
, you find artefacts found in Tazumal since the first excavations in the 1950s.

Casa Blanca Archaeological Site
, is a newly opened archaeological site just outside Chalchuapa along the Pan-American Highway. There are several pyramids, ongoing excavations, and a museum that provides an insight into the archaeological history of the area and information on indigo (
) production. It's very interesting, educational and you get to keep the products produced, recommended.


The road continues 12 km west to Atiquizaya, a small, quiet town with one
, several good
(1600-2100) and
Restaurante Atiquizaya
, which can be found at the intersection with the main highway to Ahuachapán. At
Cataratas del Río Malacachupán
there is a beautiful 50-m-high waterfall cascading into a lagoon; it's a 1-km hike to get there. Nearby is
Volcán Chingo
on the Guatemalan border. Another attraction is
Aguas Calientes
, a hot spring that runs into the river and is excellent for a relaxing bath and for enjoying nature. It's a short ride from Atiquizaya, but bring a local guide.


A quiet town with low and simple houses, 35 km from Santa Ana. Coffee is the main product. The main local attraction is the geothermal field of
Los Ausoles
, 3 km road from Ahuachapan and marked on the road out of town to Apaneca as 'Planta Geotérmica'. You can't go into the plant, but when you arrive take the road to the right where, just a little way up the hill on the left, you come to a little house, geysers of boiling mud with plumes of steam and strong whiffs of sulphur. The
are used for generating 30% of the country's electricity. If you want a more professional tour, with an explanation on the thermal activity including a trip through the geothermal plant, contact
Tours Universales
in the city .

Taking the northern road from Ahuachapán, 9 km west of town near the village of
Los Toles
are the
Tehuasilla Falls
, where the Río El Molino falls 60 m (bus No 293 from Ahuachapán to Los Toles, then walk 1 km). The road continues northwest through the treeless
Llano del Espino
, with its small lake, and across the Río Paz into Guatemala.


Tacuba is an indigenous town, around 850 m above sea level, and 15 km west of Ahuachapán. Tacuba means 'the village of the football game', probably relating to the
juego de pelota
of the Maya, and the existence of many pre-Columbian mounds in the surrounding area suggest the region was heavily populated in the past. At the entrance to the town are the largest colonial church ruins in El Salvador, torn down by the earthquake of Santa Marta, the same tremors that ruined large parts of Antigua, Guatemala, in 1773. You can also visit the Casa de la Cultura office,
, to see an interesting display of photos. The town is near the northern entrance of Parque Nacional El Imposible, which is accessed by hiking or 4WD in the dry season.

The surrounding area offers a wide range of opportunities including waterfalls, pristine rivers, mountain hikes and panoramic views.
Ceiba de los Pericos
, 15 minutes out of Tacuba by car, a 600-year-old ceiba tree where thousands of parrots flock together at dusk to sleep in its branches, ending the day with a deafening noise before resting for the night. In Tacuba centre the
Ceiba de las Garzas
is the rendezvous of hundreds of

Local tour company
El Imposible Tours
, led by Tacuba native Manolo Gonzalez, provide tours of the Tacuba area and to Parque Nacional El Imposible. The dirt road leading from Tacuba to the cordillera, is steep and spectacular and provides impressive views; it is recommended although a 4WD is required.


Between Ahuachapán and Sonsonate is Apaneca (91 km from San Salvador, 29 km from Las Chinamas on the border) an extremely peaceful town (and the highest town in the country), with small cobbled streets, marking the summit of the
Ruta de las Flores
. Founded by Pedro de Alvarado in 1543, Apaneca is known for its cool climate and winds -
means 'rivers of wind' in Nahuatl. The town has a colonial centre, a traditional
and a municipal market selling fruit, flowers and handicrafts. One of the oldest parochial churches in the country used to corner the central park but was demolished after damage caused by the 2001 earthquake. It has been partially reconstructed, with a modern twist. A new artisans market has opened - a great place to observe the local arts and crafts. Other local industries include coffee, flowers for export and furniture. Have a look at the topiary creations outside the police station. Check out the
Casa de la Cultura
in the centre of town. There are two small lakes nearby to the north,
Laguna Verde
Laguna Las Ninfas
, whose crater-like walls are clothed in tropical forest and cypress trees. It is possible to swim in the former, but the latter is too shallow and reedy. According to local legend, a swim is meant to be very beneficial to your health and the lakes are very popular with tourists. This is the Cordillera de Apaneca, part of the narrow highland belt running southeast of Ahuachapán.

The Santa Leticia,, archaeological site is believed to be 2600 years old and was rediscovered in 1968 by the farm owner. Three huge monuments are buried among the coffee groves and you feel like a first-time discoverer as you travel the winding route to get there. There are three stone spheres with human characteristics weighing between 6000 and 11,000 kg.


Concepción de Ataco, to give the town its full name, is located just below Apaneca. In the last five years the energetic Mayor of the village has lead Ataco to be a new favourite in Ruta de Las Flores. The village has undergone a complete renovation, and now boasts cobbled streets, old fashioned benches and street lights, and a popular weekend festival with food, flowers, and arts and crafts. New restaurants and coffee shops continue to open up, mainly for weekends only, making Ataco one of the most visited villages in the area.

Look for the
and the traditional dances in the main square and drop by
, a new and artsy café that offers anything from delicious home-made pies to original arts and crafts that are giving La Palma art a run for their money. The
House of Coffee
has an espresso machine and produce excellent cups of world class coffee grown in Ataco at their own
for five generations. Several restaurants, coffee shops and small hotels have made Ataco a great destination for a weekend trip.

North of Santa Ana

, 17 km north of Santa Ana on the road to Metapán, has an 18th-century baroque church, with fiestas on 23-27 December and 15 January. The town was one of the main areas for indigo production, and colonial processing plants known as
exist all around the area. Visit the indigo workshop and museum of
Licenciado Marroquín
just out of town.

is about 10 km northeast of Lago de Güija and 32 km north of Santa Ana. Its colonial baroque
Catedral de San Pedro
, completed by 1743, is one of the very few to have survived in El Salvador. The altarpieces have some very good silver work, and the façade is splendid. The Fiesta de San Pedro Apóstol runs from 25-29 June. There are lots of easy walks with good views towards
Lago de Metapán
and, further on,
Lago de Güija
. If planning to walk in the hills near Metapán, seek local advice and do not walk alone.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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