Dark volcanic cones, rolling green hills, and tidy coffee farms are what characterize the northwest of El Salvador, the capital of which is the bustling provincial city known as Santa Ana. Without doubt the country's most pleasant large city, Santa Ana has some fine architecture and interesting colonial features, yet it is not a great destination in itself. Instead, it is the gateway to the gorgeous lakeside playground known as Lago de Coatepeque, a deep blue volcanic pool that is the lakeside holiday residence of the country's great and good -- thankfully, they left a little of the shore for day trippers. Parque Nacional Los Volcanes is just as its sounds, a cone-dotted park with one summit that became known as the "lighthouse of the Pacific" to passing sailors in the 19th century. And, of course, there is Tazumal, the country's finest Maya ruins, much of which is still unexcavated and undiscovered. Farther north, sharing the border with Guatemala and Honduras, is Parque Nacional Montecristo, a towering cloud forest with excellent hikes and wildlife.
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