Not knowing anything at all about the country before arriving, the friendliness that we encountered really was a big, fantastic surprise. Everybody that I encountered was so happy, especially in Santa Ana. From the security guards smiling as they clutched their shotguns, to the ice cream man beaming as he asked me “where you from? I have pounds!”.
Perched in Northern El Salvador, Santa Ana was the perfect stopping point for us as we moved from San Salvador, taking in the views at Lake Coatepeque and Cerro Verde before moving on to Guatemala. But Santa Ana turned out to be much more than just a place to rest our heads.
We arrived at Casa Verde to warm greetings from the owner Carlos “Hello my friends! Welcome!”. We’d been recommended the hostel by the other Brit on our San Salvador bike tour as “the best hostel I’ve ever been to” and it didn’t disappoint. With a rooftop overlooking the whole town and surrounding mountains, swimming pool just outside of our room and delicious homemade lasagne on the menu we couldn’t really have stumbled across a better place to chill.
On our first night we went to Simmer Down, a lovely little bar/restaurant filled with trees, plants, live music and even a fire show. It was here that we got chatting to a local tour guide, Ivan, who was at a loose end the following day. We decided to go out and explore the local area with him.
8am sharp the following morning we were stood outside the impressive Santa Ana cathedral that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Paris.
“Right then, first I was thinking we could go and check out a temple that nobody knows about” said Ivan. “Sounds good to me!” I replied.
After a short bus ride, we were stood before a tree topped hill which did bear an uncanny resemblance to a pyramid. Things got interesting when Ivan started rummaging around in the undergrowth, first finding some fragments of old pottery (which were everywhere), before brushing the dirt off the remnants of an ancient obsidian knife. What an amazing thing to be able to find lying on the floor! Made of a naturally occurring volcanic glass, the knife was clearly sharpened around the edges.
Next we pushed on to Tazumal, a Mayan archeological site dating back to the 8th Century AD. Like most places I visit, I hadn’t seen pictures before I arrived and so really didn’t know what to expect when I reached the end of a long road. What I found really was quite special. A huge, grass topped pyramid with a series of steps leading to the top. Surrounding the main structure were smaller platforms and passageways. While visitors were not allowed to scale the pyramid itself, the platforms and steps surrounding the pyramid were open to explorers. We grabbed a quick selfie.
Thinking about people milling around here over 1000 years ago was quite surreal. It made me grow increasingly curious about Ivan’s pyramid back in Santa Ana. Seeing Tazumal helped me understand even more why he was so passionate about sharing its existence with the world. One of the main reasons for him running his tours, was in the hope that one day somebody would want to uncover this nameless pyramid like explorers have done with Tazumal.
The day ended on a high, with a visit to a local swimming hole. The water was cold, but refreshing after a day of walking and an intensely hot bus trip back in to town. After a quick dip, we sat on the side of the pool with our feet dangling in the water. As we sat there, fish began to nibble at our feet! A natural pedicure to end the day was fine by all of us!
Have you ever visited an archeological wonder like this?