Also known as the Coatepeque Caldera, the name means “Snake Hill” and it was formed thousands, somewhere in the vicinity of between about 72,000 and 57,000 years ago, by the eruption of several overlapping stratovolcanoes east of Santa Ana volcano.
Lake Coatepeque, an almost perfectly round crater-lake that is 740m (2,428ft) above sea level, and it is one of El Salvador’s most beautiful and enjoyable attractions. The deep blue lake is the magnet which draws people to the region. The 23 square kilometre (9 square miles) pristine lake is ideal for swimming, fishing, boating, and simply taking in the breath taking scenery.
The nearest town to the caldera is Santa Ana, which is just 18kms (11 miles) away to the south. Santa Ana is an historic town that is surrounded by volcanoes and other attractive lakes. Much of the land around the lake has been claimed to be used as weekenders by El Salvador’s wealthy, meaning that there’s not much of the lake that is easily accessible to the general public.
Nevertheless, there are still some areas which do give you access to the waters, and there are several lakeside restaurants that are ideal places to perch yourself in order to enjoy the stunning sunsets for which the caldera is famous.
The lake gets quite deep in parts, as much as 120 metres, and there is a large island near the eastern shore. Although El Salvador has a tropical climate, because of its altitude the waters of the lake can get quite cool, which is perfect if you have been active, but slightly unexpected given the outside temperature.
Because the caldera is also popular with locals, there is a good choice of hotels and hostels from which to choose. Given that it is such an attractive place, it is probably worthwhile staying near the lake for a few days to enjoy its ambience.
You can also base yourself at the lake to do some day touring to other nearby areas. The country here is quite spectacular, and although Coatepeque is the largest lake in the region, there are other smaller lakes, and some fascinating nearby volcanoes to explore.
El Salvador is not as westernised as most other Central American countries, so it can be a bit of a culture shock for those who are not prepared to confront a country whose citizens have strong local attitudes to life.