El Salvador: a day hike in Parque Nacional Los Volcanes

That view above? I’d seen a picture like this while planning our trip, and on the strength of the picture alone we’d made Santa Ana our first stop in El Salvador. With us both having a thing for staring at and scrambling over any volcano of which we get within a 100 mile radius, there was never a question of not visiting the Parque Nacional Los Volcanes. Yet getting there would prove our biggest challenge.

Getting there

It all sounds so easy in our Lonely Planet guide. “The easiest, surest route is to get the bus 248 which runs all the way to the entrance (of the park).” And they were right. Finding the departure point of the bus however was anything but easy or sure. In fact, I strongly doubt that the writer of the guide ever caught this bus or they may have chosen their words more carefully.

We knew there was only one bus, leaving at 8am. So by 7.45 we were at the area from which we thought it would depart. No hint of a bus departure in sight, I started to ask different people about the mysterious 248 bus. Some sent me north, some south, others shrugged and others still told me to catch a different bus altogether (that could be my poor Spanish to be fair).

By 8.15 we’d given up all hope of catching the elusive bus, which by now should have been well on its way. Just as we were resigning ourselves to having to hire a driver for the day, what should come down the road on which we were standing? We accosted the driver of the 248 a little too eagerly, and slumped into our seats with some relief.

Choosing our hike
As in many parts of El Salvador it is advisable to hike in the park as part of a guided group. Two groups leave every day at 11am, led by National Park volunteers. One group heads for the harsh cone of Izalco and the other for the greener slopes of Volcan Santa Ana.
We opted for the latter option as the guides told us that it offered more varied landscapes as well as that spectacular summit view into the bowels of the volcano. We were joined by five Salvadorians, our cheerful young guide Elisa and our very own police escort.

The climb
The ascent of Volcan Santa Ana took around 2.5 hours. I should use the word ascent carefully as we actually went downhill for the first 30 minutes; never a good sign when your ultimate aim is to reach a summit.

The climb was easy with a good path, and along the way Elisa pointed out the remains of a village that had been destroyed in the last big eruption of the volcano as recently as 2005. It was hard to reconcile the peaceful surroundings with such a major recent event.

As we walked we chatted to other members of the group, a little in broken Spanish and a little in English.  Our police escort Daniel was keen to share stories of English football and we shared a joke or two at the expense of the England team and their poor World Cup performance earlier in the year.

Daniel also spoke about life in El Salvador and his own hopes and aspirations for himself, his family and his country. He was clearly pleased to be practising his English, but for us it was great to get an honest and deeply personal insight into Salvadorian life. His passion to see El Salvador develop and solve its many problems, and his obvious commitment to doing his part in that change was truly encouraging to hear.

The views
Soon enough we had reached the summit. It hadn’t been a strenuous climb, although the midday heat was strong and we needed all of the water we’d chosen to carry. The sight of the beautiful Lake Coatepeque accompanied us for much of the walk. It looked so inviting that I was tempted to change our plans and head there the next day for a swim, only to be advised by others in the group that the water would be bitterly cold at this time of the year.

The top of the volcano is a long flat ridge, and rather than standing on a clear summit point the reward for reaching the highest point of Santa Ana is that first glance into the volcanic crater. The sheer size of the walls within the crater are hard to appreciate with a single picture, as is the brilliance of the colour of the water within. This video may help a little (if you can ignore the rattling crisp packets):

As we descended the temperature slowly cooled and by the time we had arrived back at our starting point it was nearly 4pm. We exchanged contact details and said goodbye to our new friends; the end of what for us was a highly enjoyable first full day in El Salvador. We headed quickly for the last bus back to Santa Ana, mindful of getting there before darkness when on the previous evening the town seemed very suddenly to lose its charm.

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7 Responses to “El Salvador: a day hike in Parque Nacional Los Volcanes”

  1. When the choice came up between Los Volcanes and El Imposible, we chose for El Impossible.
    I wouldn’t want to switch though, but maybe we should have taken the time to visit both.

    January 24, 2011 at 2:05 pm
  2. Hi. I don’t remember how I stumbled on to your blog, but I hope you don’t mind another reader. I’m curious though, regarding the police escort. Why was this necessary? I’ve hiked a couple of peaks in Ecuador in the last couple of years, and although the guidebooks said that there is danger, it disappears when there’s a large group (aka, don’t hike alone). I’m curious how the safety situation is in El Salvador.

    January 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm
  3. LiW, you’re very welcome – thanks for visiting the blog! Re: police escort, I think it’s a case of playing it safe by the state authorities. They know how their country is perceived to their potential tourist markets and as tourism is an important part of their plans they can’t afford to have a high-profile incident. So the police presence acts as a deterrent. That’s one explanation – there’s also the case that having employed a strong tourist police force and with the number of visitors to El Salvador still low, officers can be deployed to accompany even individual hikers in some cases.
    Nicolas, glad you enjoyed El Imposible – we wanted to visit but in the end ran out of time, and the volcanoes were more accessible to us from Santa Ana.

    January 24, 2011 at 11:50 pm
  4. Sounds like a great trip. It must have been a little erie passing a village that was destroyed in 2005 and having a police escort seems a little over the top, but anyway. I have hiked many of the Volcanos in Costa Rica, but it sounds like a trip to El Salvador is next on the list. I look forward to more of your posts.

    January 25, 2011 at 5:34 pm
  5. Wow, what a view!

    February 9, 2011 at 2:59 am
  6. Melissa #

    How cool! I am from El Salvador and haven’t gone there but i dooo really want to go! kinda funny cause i have no idea how to get there…i guess I am a tourist on my own country! cool experience you had! hope to see you soon around here!

    January 4, 2013 at 12:40 am
  7. Elsa Alonso #

    How beautiful my country is. left El Salvador during the war. i’ve been back many times but now that my girls are old enough, I’m planning a trip this year to go places like this. and preparing for the trip, found your very interesting information. Thank You.

    January 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm