Things to Do in Santa Ana
The star attraction of the Cerro Verde National Park is also its most menacing – the Santa Ana Volcano (Volcán Ilamatepec), El Salvador’s biggest and most active volcano, last erupting as recently as 2005, when the force of the eruption flung car-sized rocks for more than 1.5 km.
Scaling the 2,381-meter peak of Santa Ana is a popular challenge for hikers, a 1.5-hour trail climbing up from the scenic San Blas Plateau and affording spectacular views of the neighboring Coatepeque caldera and Izalco volcano. From the summit, the views span the entire National Park, but equally impressive is the otherworldly terrain found at the top of the volcano and hikers can walk around the rim of the crater, looking out over the four nested calderas and an emerald green crater lake.
Located within El Salvador’s Cerro Verde National Park (Parque Nacional Cerro Verde), the Izalco Volcano is the highest in the country and the park’s most visually beautiful peak. It’s also one of the most challenging treks in the park; it takes visitors an average of three hours (one way) to reach the summit at 6,404 feet (1,952 meters).
A baby when compared to other Central American volcanoes, Izalco only formed in 1770 and didn’t stop erupting until 1966. It’s violent eruptions made the volcano a natural beacon for sea farers off the Salvadoran coast, earning it the nickname Lighthouse of the Pacific. These same eruptions were also responsible for sculpting the volcano’s near perfect conical shape, lunar-like and unvegetated, with a 820-foot (250-meter) wide crater at its summit.
Construction on the Santa Ana National Theater (Teatro Nacional de Santa Ana) began in 1902, partly because the city lacked adequate entertainment options and partly — and perhaps more importantly — due to a rivalry with San Salvador, the nation’s capital. Whatever the reason, area coffee growers imposed taxes on themselves to raise money for the project, which opened its doors in February of 1912. It’s first production was of the Italian opera Rigoletto.
Located along Avenida Independencia in the old part of Santa Ana, the three-tiered theater has been marvelously restored and stages performances almost nightly throughout the year. Architectural and decorative elements were brought in from around the world, including sculptures on the facade from Italy; furniture from Austria, England and the US; and marble, mirrors and lamps from Belgium and Italy.
Probably the city’s most notable landmark, the Santa Ana Cathedral (Catedral de Santa Ana) was completed in 1913 after eight years of construction. Where many of El Salvador’s churches and cathedrals were build in the Spanish Colonial style typical of Latin American religious architecture, the Santa Ana Cathedral was inspired by the neo-Gothic cathedrals of Europe; today it’s considered among the most beautiful in Central America.
A statue of the Virgin of Santa Ana, the city’s patron saint, sits just within the cathedral’s entrance. Santa Ana is also considered the patron saint of difficult labor, and expecting women often come to pray to the saint. Newborn children are brought back to the virgin forty days alter as a symbol of thanks.
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