Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Santa Ana – Hostal la Casa Verde
This city is the second largest in El Salvador with around 180,000 residents. This is the biggest city we’d been in for several months and it was a little daunting at first. We’d been so used to small places with only a handful of streets to navigate. Luckily we’d already decided on the place we wanted to stay through other recommendations and roughly knew where to go. The place was Hostal la Casa Verde which was located maybe a 5-10 minute walk from where the bus terminated. The outside of the place isn’t particularly inviting with security seemingly the main focus, but as soon as you step inside, it is a whole other world.
Having travelled quite a bit around the world up to this point, I’d rank this up in the top 10 of hostels I’ve ever been to. The owner/manager Carlos, who speaks quite good English, is extremely welcoming and helpful. He has even got a really useful notice board covering all the tourist and bus information you would ever need in town for quick reference. There was great free coffee, two really amazingly well equipped kitchens, a pool, some nice outdoor areas with chairs and hammocks, a rooftop patio, $2 for 750ml of beer all for $25/night for a private or $10/pp for a dorm bed. The kitchen was the best hostel kitchen I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been to over 60 countries) and more equipped then any kitchen I’ve ever had. This included access to a cupboard full of ingredients such as cinnamon, paprika, cumin, basil, chicken/fish stock, tomato paste, Worchester sauce, garlic, honey and oil etc. There was such a selection to choose from, I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to cook. In the end we choose to cook fried rice, and Carlos even asked when I was cooking if I wanted sesame oil and oyster sauce from his personal collection. If you ever need to make anything there were numerous appliances such as a blender, sandwich maker, oven, rice cooker, juicer and other gadgets which I had no idea what they even were. Every night we would share stories with other travels and Carlos would always join in the conversation with a smile on his face. We also met an 80 year old man backpacking with his wife. He travels a lot now as he is from East Germany and when he was younger travel was banned. This is definitely an inspiration, as I still want to be travelling when I get to that age.
Santa Ana, El Salvador
Our plan was mainly just to do the volcano hike. The city does have some other things to do, but most of it seems focussed on the surrounding areas. We went for a walk to the Parque Libertad which is surrounded by City Hall, Teatro de Santa Ana (Theatre) and Santa Ana Cathedral. All of these buildings are worth a visit. The theatre is meant to be spectacular inside, but with it being holiday season, it was closed for our time there. The cathedral is quite breathtaking and impressive. We stopped by at about 5pm and a service was in progress involving some smoke and kissing of what I assume might be the city’s patron saint. The central park even has an interesting sign reminding people that no guns are allowed. I did notice this on a few different bars, restaurants and other businesses around the town.
There are countless places to eat including many cheap local Comedors. The market is enormous and there are even several extremely large grocery stores. We also visited the large shopping mall called MetroCentro. This was a necessary visit to try and find a new pair of hiking shoes since Toby’s were deteriorating rapidly after the climb of the Santa Ana volcano. $75 was spent this time on a pair that should last quite a lot longer and provide more comfort while hiking. Again we had the issue of finding Toby’s size as they don’t seem to make large over here and were lucky to find this pair. Let’s hope these last as this is the most shoe shopping Toby’s ever done in his life. When it came to lunch time at the mall we nearly fell to the temptation of the food court. There was Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy’s, Subway and Pizza Hut amongst many others. We opted for a local Comedor instead as this was half the price for more food and more authentic.
Hiking up Santa Ana Volcano
The cheapest way to get here is getting on bus #248 which departs “La vencedora bus station” at 7.40am for $0.90 per person one way.
Our bus arrived at the Volcano entrance just before 10am, which was a bit longer than originally expected. It doesn’t matter too much though, because there’s only one hike per day that departs at 11am. As we arrived an hour early we decided to share a second breakfast to give us some energy for the hike. There is a comedor at the entrance that sells a typical breakfast for $1.50 of scrambled eggs, beans, and tortilla. You can also buy coffee for $0.30.
Entry into the park cost $3 per person. Here you choose what volcano to climb as there are 3 different hikes to choose from. In my opinion, Santa Ana is the tallest and has the most impressive views (based on what I’ve seen, but haven’t hiked them all). They get people organised and split them off into the groups for the different hikes. We had just over 30 people in total that I counted. You pay a compulsory guide fee of $1 per person. They’ve had security problems in the past, so now you go with a guide in a group escorted by a tourist police officer.
Then there’s a fee of $1 per person to access a short piece of private land and a $6 fee per person paid to the government park office. If you’re counting, that’s a total of $11 to get onto the hike not including transport.
We heard differing stories depending on the group size. In general if there’s a large group, they split them into fast and slow. Our group was generally kept together the whole day and was hiking at a fairly slow pace. The hike up takes about 2 hours in total. You descend first into a valley (500 steps) and then hike up the face of the volcano. Total distance counted by my phone was 5km each way. The two entrance / pay points both had large gates which had to be unlocked by the tour guide to get in.
The first 500 steps down are little log steps, although some I wouldn’t really call steps, just logs on the path. Then you go through another check point and pay the additional $6. This is where you start ascending up the volcano. At this point, there was a man selling ice cream from a large box filled with about 8 different types. When it was time to ascend the mountain I was surprised to see the ice cream man follow us up the volcano with his large box of ice creams on his shoulders.
This part of the hike had only a slight ascent as it wound around the mountain, so was actually really easy. However, as we moved further up, it became more rockier and some of the path disappeared so we ended up walking on dried up lava directly uphill until we found the path again. This was the toughest part of the climb.
The view at the top made it all worthwhile and was probably one of our favourite views from a climb so far out of 4 months of travelling.
Inside the volcano crater we could see cyan coloured water with steam coming off the top of it due to from the heat of the volcano.
If you walk along the rim of the volcano further towards the lake you can also get an amazing view of the lake. I chickened out as it was very windy at the top and as a small person I was getting knocked around a lot and didn’t want to fall in or down the side of the volcano. Toby however, as he has no fear, walked along the crater and had some spectacular views of Lake Coatepeque. He went along with another guy from Madrid, Spain who also left his girlfriend behind to get some great photos.
After approximately half an hour at the top of the volcano, the group started venturing down the volcano. It was steep and slippery so I decided to go at a slower pace, until I reached the easier path. It didn’t take long at all to get down, however we still had the 500 steps to climb, that we went down at the start of the hike. This was extremely tiring and it felt like I was doing the CN Tower climb in Toronto all over again. As this is towards the end of the hike, it’s even more difficult, due to tiredness from the hike. When we finally got to the top the gate was locked. The tour guide and the tourist police officer were way behind us helping the slower tourists, so the only way over the fence (as they keep these locked at all times) was to climb. Toby managed to get over easy, but as I’m small it was a lot bigger jump for me and ended up scrapping the palms of my hands as fell on landing.
Here are the runkeeper stats for anyone interested: http://rnkpr.com/a4quurt
When we arrived at the bottom, we sat around with the locals waiting for the bus to arrive. When we saw the ice cream man pass by we instantly stopped him to buy an ice cream (costing $1). He definitely deserved our business as he hiked up and down the whole volcano carrying them. I have no idea how he did it as some of the tourists didn’t even make it up the volcano.
After waiting for 10 minutes, we saw a few of the foreigners on our tour get in private shuttles to get back to their accommodation in other towns around El Salvador. We asked if anyone was going to Santa Ana to get a lift back. Luckily a group of guys from Montreal gave us a lift back to a major intersection (as they were going to El Tunco). From this intersection we caught the bus that goes from San Salvador to Santa Ana and took us about 1 hour to get back instead of 2.5 hours. Both exhausted from the hike, we both passed out pretty early, but happy from our amazing day, telling fellow travellers Santa Ana Volcano is a must do, so don’t miss it!
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/