Although only a small country, El Salvador packs a serious punch when it comes to activities for the adventure backpacker. Sometimes over looked or rushed through by passing tourists, El Salvador is fast making it’s way onto the backpacker scene with it’s wide variety of natural beauties to be explored.
What better way to break into that scene than hiking the Santa Ana volcano? El Salvador’s highest and most active volcano! The Santa Ana volcano (vulcan Llamatepec), at almost 2,400m (7,850ft) in height, offers some beautiful panoramic views of neighbouring towns and scenic landscapes from the top. But the highlight is undoubtedly the stunning turquoise lake that sits in the centre of the crater.
Accessing the volcano is best done from the city of Santa Ana, where public bus schedules match the tour (see a full list of directions at the bottom of the article). The hike itself isn’t too difficult, but a basic level of fitness will definitely help you ascend to the peak. It’s roughly a 4 hour hiking round trip, which includes some time at the top to take in the views.
As you’re nearing the top you’ll start to smell the authentic sulphur scent that oozes out of the volcano and when you finally get to craters edge, dripping in sweat, it’ll all seem worth it. An eerie mist of steam simmers across the top, as the colors dance in the sun light, switching between shades of turquoise.
On the way back the guides are pretty keen to get to the bottom, but don’t let them rush you. The two police who escorted us from behind were more than happy to just amble along behind us and chat about the latest soccer results. They’re on the government clock, so they’re in no rush. This gave us a great opportunity to really appreciate the beautiful views that we missed while powering through on the way up.
Getting there from Santa Ana
1. It’s an early start to get the #248 bus at 7:30am from La Vencedora bus station. If you’re staying away from the station you can also pick up the bus as it follows Calle 25 out of the city. Ask your hostel for the best directions. 1.5hrs – 90c
2. Arrive at Cerre Verde National Park between 9-9:30am after a nice scenic drive around Lake Coatepeque. Pay $1 to enter the park, and then kick your feet up for a couple of hours. The tour doesn’t start till 11am. There’s a small comedor serving basic food, coffee and snacks.
3. Tour leaves for the main crater at 11am with a guide and a couple of police for security. Pay $1 for their services, but don’t be alarmed, the police are just a precaution. Nobody has had any trouble with bandits on route to the crater once the police escort started.
4. After a half hour you’ll cross some private land where the owner will be ready and waiting to charge you another $1 just to cross through his gates. Handy little business he’s got going on.
5. Soon you’ll hit the official park entrance to the Santa Ana volcano and pay the rangers. $6 for a foreigner or $3 for a national.
6. After another hour or so and you’ll hit the crater at the top. You can smell the sulphur as you reach the outer rim. Depending on how fast you made it up you’ll get a little bit of time to hang around and take in the views. Most guides want to start getting down by 1:30pm.
7. Arrive back at the park entrance by 3pm, but you’ll have to wait till 4pm to get the bus back into Santa Ana.
8. Bus rolls back into town around 5:30pm and costs 90c.
9. Alternatively look for people who are driving back into town and try hitch a lift. We were fortunate enough to meet a few other travellers who had rented a car for the day. Bingo!
Total time for the day trip is 10 hours and $12.80 for transport and entrance (or $9.80 for a national). Bring some snacks, especially if you’re a vegetarian where the options are limited.