Hiking The Santa Ana Volcano In El Salvador
The Santa Ana volcano is a real gem which you definitely shouldn’t miss out on if you find yourself in this part of the world. The volcano is known locally as Ilamatepec and is located in the Cerre Verde National Park, El Salvador.
With a summit height of 2381 metres (7812 ft), it’s the largest volcano in El Salvador. Located smack bang in the middle of the Ring of Fire, El Salvador is naturally home to several of the world’s volcanoes. 22 to be exact, 6 of which have erupted in the last 150 years.
The volcano last erupted in 2015, killing 2 people and ordering the evacuation of thousands in the vicinity. The volcano erupted violently for approximately an hour and created a smoke plume of 10km into the air. This was its first eruption in over 100 years.
The smoke cloud caused by this eruption was estimated to contain in the region of 10,000 tons of sulphur dioxide which, believe it or not, is actually classed as a small eruption…..
Where Is El Salvador?
El Salvador is a tiny country tucked away in Central America between Honduras and Guatemala. It’s a very volcanic country sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
It can be easily accessed from Guatemala in the northwest with regular intercity buses running between San Salvador and Guatemala City.
There are also several popular border crossing options running along the whole north side crossing over to Honduras.
When I was there, June 2016, I was informed that the sketchiest border crossing is at El Amatillo on the far eastern border. However, my shuttle passed through at about 5 in the morning with absolutely no problems at all.
Is El Salvador Dangerous?
Many people thought that I was downright crazy passing through El Salvador on my travels. I was met with confused head shakes and just general disbelief that I’d even consider visiting a country with such high crime rates.
Yes, I’m not going to lie, El Salvador does have a frighteningly high murder rate as well as petty crime being an everyday occurrence in many parts of the country.
All you have to do is google it to find out for yourself.
What if I were to tell you that you should take these statistics with a HUGE pinch of salt?
I spent about 10 days in the country and had absolutely no problems at all. I travelled through El Salvador by public bus, walked around the major cities by myself, and even crossed the border from Honduras at night.
Now, I’m not saying that the country’s statistics are not true. Statistics are statistics, they all depend on the source and the accuracy of that source.
What I am saying is that you shouldn’t be perturbed by these statistics nor let them stop you from visiting El Salvador, not at all. I had an absolutely fantastic time in the country and my only regret is that I didn’t stay for a week or so longer!
It’s a simple case of applying common sense a bit more than you normally would at home. Sure, you may get unlucky and become the victim of an unfortunate incident but let’s be honest, that could happen in any city in the world.
If you’re advised to not walk around with wads of cash and your flashy new iPhone, don’t do it!
If you’re advised to not travel by public bus at night or in certain regions, don’t do it!
If you shouldn’t go hiking without a guide then, you guessed it, don’t do it!
It really is that simple. Apply common sense, try to not WORRY yourself to death and you’ll have a great time in one of Central America’s friendliest and most laid-back countries.
Where To Stay
There are plenty of hotels as well as budget accommodation options in Santa Ana but my number 1 recommendation would, hands down, be Hostel Casa Verde. It was definitely in the top 3 hostels I stayed at in all of Latin America.
The hostel was spotless, spacious, the owner one of the friendliest and most helpful guys I’ve met, it was well equipped, and had information on all of El Salvador’s highlights. It’s also a very budget-friendly option with dorms costing as little as $12 a night. If you’re staying in Santa Ana then it should be top of your list.
Seriously, not a great deal. The hike is short and you are in the tropics so should never expect freezing conditions.
I did the hike in shorts, t-shirt and running shoes. I also highly recommend that you take plenty of water, sun cream and some snacks. There was a small stall at the park entrance which sold nuts and other snacks when I was there.
The public bus leaves every day from La Vencedora bus station which is pretty central in Santa Ana. Ask where you’re staying for details on how to get there but it shouldn’t be difficult from wherever you’re situated.
Just across the road there was a kind lady who ran a comedor selling 3 pupusas (an El Salvadoeran delicacy) for $1. This is a bargain breakfast which starts the day off nicely.
From La Vencedora, take the number 248 bus which leaves at 7:30 am. If you’re unsure then just ask in the station for el volcan and you’ll get pointed in the right direction. The bus takes about 1.5 hours and costs $1.
Hiking The Volcano
The Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador is definitely an unmissable experience if you find yourself in this part of the world. If you’re in Central America then volcano hiking is undoubtedly one of the region’s highlights. You are literally spoilt for choice and the vast majority of these don’t require you to be in great physical shape or an avid mountaineer to complete them. There are, of course, exceptions such as the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala.
The volcano itself is easily accessed from the city of Santa Ana. It’s the country’s second largest city and is worth staying in for a couple of days just to wander around, try the food and chat with the friendly locals.
It feels totally different from the big city vibe of San Salvador, with the added bonus that safety isn’t really an issue at all in Santa Ana.
It’s worth knowing that there are plenty of tour companies in Santa Ana who will try to overcharge you and make you go on a tour which picks you up from your hotel. This is unnecessary and can very easily be organised by yourself.
In June, the only guided tour of the day left at 11 am. It cost me $1 to actually officially ‘enter’ the Cerre Verde National Park. You will then have to wait for the tour guide and driver. There’s a wooden platform which has stunning views all round and is a great place to look at the looming Volcan de Izalco.
A jeep will take you for about 30 minutes to the hike’s starting point. You’ll hike for about another 30 minutes before getting to the ‘ranger’s office’. This is where you’ll pay the police officer fee which, at the time of writing, was $8 for foreigners and $4 for nationals.
Don’t be alarmed, the officer is there just as a deterrent in the small chance that thieves fancy their chances. Speaking to the gentleman on the way up, he told me that in his 6 years of hiking the Santa Ana volcano that he had never had any trouble.
The whole hike itself took around 4 – 5 hours; this is from leaving in the jeep to returning back to the park entrance. It’s relatively easy with the only challenging section being the final steep ascent. The toughest factor for me was the heat, it was about 25 degrees Celsius (77F) but felt in the mid-30s due to the combination of walking and climbing.
The majority of the hike is a steady amble through forests and up a winding path. You’ll have the opportunity to stop at some viewpoints which give you spectacular views of the surrounding scenery.
Take your time as you approach the crater, there is a very steep slog for a couple hundred metres which, if it hasn’t yet, will definitely get your sweat on!
As you approach the summit you may notice a strange smell. I didn’t notice at first and only detected it after listening to the guide. This is the sulphur which emerges from the beautiful turquoise lagoon, Laguna Ilamatepec, sitting in the volcano’s crater.
Really take some time on the summit to enjoy your surroundings. You should be given 20 – 30 minutes to catch your breath, get some water and take some pictures.
The turquoise lagoon looks deliciously tempting for a swim but I doubt you’d even get close before suffocating from sulphur inhalation….
My favourite part of the summit was the amazing view of Lago de Coatepeque over to the east. This is a volcanic caldera which was formed thousands of years ago and really is one of the most stunning lakes I’ve ever seen.
Down below you can also enjoy views of Volcan de Izalco which was the volcano you will have seen at the park entrance viewpoint.
You will descend the exact same way you came up so it’s a simple case of taking your time and following the guides. The tour should get you back on time for the 4 pm bus which goes back to Santa Ana.
You may even make friends on the hike and manage to get a lift back – it’s not uncommon!
Hiking the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador is undoubtedly a must-do if you’re in the area. It’s a relatively easy hike which doesn’t cost much at all.
The views from the Cerre Verde Nacional Park are stunning and they only get better as you ascend the volcano. It’s one of the easier volcano hikes I’ve done but did not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination.
Thanks a lot for reading and, as always, please leave your input below. I’ll reply to any questions, stories, or extra information that you may have. 🙂