The main reason most travelers come to Santa Ana in El Salvador (apart from staying at the best hostel ever – Casa Verde) is to visit Cerro Verde National Park, the starting point for hikes up Volcán Santa Ana and Volcán Izalco.
If you don’t have your own car and/or if you don’t want to pay for your own private guide, you have to leave Santa Ana on the 7:30am bus (fortunately only a few blocks from the Casa Verde) in order to join the once per day hike up Volcán Santa Ana. Now normally chicken buses in Central America leave from a dusty dirt lot in the middle of a swarming marketplace, so you can imagine my surprise when I turned up to find a proper terminal and waiting room!
The trip out takes about 1.5 hours which gets you to the National Park (US$3 entry) at about 9am. Having done the calculations back in Santa Ana, I made sure I took a book so I wasn’t bored while I waited around for 2 hours for the tour to start – turns out there isn’t really that much to see around the parking lot. Made some good progress reading Clive Cussler in spanish while I waited and hoped that the thick fog that I was sitting in would dissipate before we set off.
There ended up being 8 of us hiking the volcano on this day (6 gringos and 2 El Salvadoreans) and after a short spiel and payment of another US$1 to Cecilia, the guide that would accompany us, we set off into the mist with our 2 policemen protectors.
No, it didn’t clear 🙁 and although this meant that we didn’t get any wonderful views of the Izalco Volcano, it did make for a nice and moody hike that was a little cooler than normal. We also got out of paying the recently introduced US$6 to do the climb because the guy who should have been there to collect it was nowhere to be seen!
The walk itself is actually relatively easy (though the El Salvadorean girls turned back after about 10 minutes) and it only took a little over an hour to get to the top. Word of warning – the guides tend to think it is a race and will set a cracking pace! In the upper reaches of the walk you cross quite barren landscape that is the result of the most recent activity of the volcano. But there are plenty of desert-like plants to add interest.
However, the reason you climb Volcán Santa Ana (apart from walking off some of the pupusas you ate the night before) is for the view of the spectacular turquoise crater lake. It really is amazingly beautiful and fortunately the clouds didn’t spoil our view of it.
We could even see areas of the lake that were bubbling and gasses rising off the surface thanks to the ongoing activity in the volcano.
We hung around at the top for about 1/2 hour to eat (I bought my lunch with me) and admire the view, but then it was time to head back down – partially because the guide and policeman were keen to get going and partially because we were suddenly beset by bees!
I spent the walk down chatting with one of the policemen about everything from El Salvadorean food (yes, this is a common theme with me) through to politics. Glad there weren’t any panoramic landscape views to be had as I was engrossed in our conversation and otherwise only paying attention to where I was putting my feet so I wouldn’t fall over.
Got back to the main road and then it was a bit of a trudge back up to the carpark where the bus would leave from. Then another hour sitting around waiting for the bus (seriously, take a book with you) and then back to Santa Ana.
Volcán Izalco next time!
Recommendation: Its definitely worth hiking up Volcán Santa Ana, especially since the walk is relatively easy. Bring a book or something with you to do as there is a lot of waiting around if you use public transport and join the 11am tour. Also bring snacks/lunch to eat on top of the volcano.
Booking: Just show up before 10:45am in the carpark of the Cerro Verde National Park.
Time Required: About 3-3.5 hours for the actual hike, but depends on how fast you walk and how long you stay at the top. To do the trip using public transport – you leave at 7:30am and return at 5:30pm.
Cost: The bus is US90 cents each way. US$3 to enter the National Park, US$1 for the guide, US$6 for the hike.