Central America / El Salvador

Hiking the Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador

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.

hiking santa ana volcano el salvador

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.

hiking santa ana volcano el salvador

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.

hiking santa ana volcano el salvador

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Julian Hatfield

Co-Founder and Travel Blogger at Don't Forget To Move
Sports mad, surfer, high school teacher, little sense of self embarrassment and indefinite wanderer. On the flip side: grumpy when hungry, fidgety when tired and no tolerance for people pushing onto public transport before others get out. Wanna know more?
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  1. Wow. The Santa Ana volcano looks so majestic.
    David Ryan recently posted…Sport and SportsMy Profile

  2. One of the things that fascinate me the most about Central America is how their Volcanos that are surrounded by such a beautiful vegetation! Such a nice contrast to the arid ones found in Mexico!

  3. Woah! What a beautiful view! I have been all through Central America except El Salvador & Panama. I am obsessed with volcanos, mostly active ones, so I think I better get on my way to El Salvador!! :)
    Dawn Kealing recently posted…Monkeys of Costa Rica & FactsMy Profile

    • Don't Forget to Move says:

      We love volcanos too, and Central America is full of them! Did you go volcano boarding in Nicaragua? So much fun!

  4. The little boys I nanny are obsessed with volcanoes… you better believe I’ll be reading this to them tomorrow :) Great job.

    • Don't Forget to Move says:

      Haha thanks! Make sure to tell them about the dragons that live inside the crater. Every volcano story needs a dragon :)

  5. Seems to be an awesome track, I loved the volcano, the color of the lake is unbelievable, I hope we can do this!
    Gabor Kovacs recently posted…Tibidabo, the mountain that looks down on BarcelonaMy Profile

    • Don't Forget to Move says:

      The color is even more amazing in person! Such an electric green/ blue. Definitely check it out when you get there! Fairly easy hike and beautiful views.

  6. Karina D. says:

    Also, there’s one bathroom along the way– make sure to go before you ascend because the guides are in a hurry on the way back to make sure everyone catches the bus on time.

    Awesome photos! When I went in 2012 the lake was just a couple of shades shy of the bright blue you have posted here. You lucky duck!

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