Santa Ana is El Salvador’s second largest city and these days it attracts quite a few tourists. The reason for the hike in tourism is due to it’s accessibility to the aptly named Santa Ana Volcano.
The Santa Ana Volcano is El Salvador’s highest (2400m) and is within the Cerro Verde National Park. At the top of this impressive volcano you can find a green crater lake and some stunning views of the surrounding area. It is possible to do a tour but we recommend doing it on your own. Why? Because the tour groups we encountered on this hike ended up joining our group so the only difference was they got private transport. Here is how to do this hike on your own:
1. Get the local bus to the Cerro Verde National Park
You need to get the number 248 bus to Cerro Verde National Park from La Vencedora Bus Terminal at 7:40am. Depending where you are staying this should be an easy place to walk to. You should buy your ticket inside the terminal first (90 cent) and the bus will take about 2 hours, passing Lago Coatepeque along the way.
We got off at the last stop due to the bus drivers insistence and had to pay $3 to enter the national park. We had heard that if you get off at the stop beforehand, at El Tibet, that you can avoid paying this fee. Our group ended up going past El Tibet and various people joined us so this may be an alternate way!
2. Waiting time
This is the most irritating part of the day, you need to wait around until 11am for the daily tour to start. There are comedors and a nice Mirador of the area to keep you entertained. Our advice – bring a book!
3. Climbing Santa Ana Volcano
So the tour kicks off at 11am and you get a quick introduction to the day in Spanish only. There was a lot of people in our group, maybe 40, and so it was a bit crowded. We paid $1 for a police escort ( it’s mandatory and ensures safety) before setting off on a long hike downhill.
It was at this point that we passed El Tibet and more people joined our group. They had to pay the $1 for the police escort and off we went again. We hiked for maybe 15 minutes uphill before we reached the entrance to the volcano. Here we paid $6 each for the guide service and off we went again.
The hike itself is of medium difficulty but, due to the sheer amount of people doing it, it got quite frustrating for us. It had turned into a race to the top so the pace was quite fast at first. You are treated to some amazing views along the way, so stop and enjoy them. You start by going through a lush forest but nearer the top there is no shade, so pack your sunglasses and sun cream!
The hike up took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes and we were one of the first up there so we had plenty of time to relax. The turquoise green lake made the hike up worth it! You can see sulfur gas pouring out of the sides of the caldera also. Thankfully, as we did it in dry season (January 2018), there was no clouds to obstruct our view of the surrounding area either. It was also pleasantly cool on the top so there was no need for our jackets!
As we made it up in good time we had about 30 minutes at the top, so enough time for lunch! The way down took about 1 hour and a half due to the size of the crowd and a good few breaks. Eventually, at around 3pm we stopped at El Tibet to get the bus.
4. Return to Santa Ana
The bus to Santa Ana goes back at 4pm ( 90 cent). The bus gets crowded due to all the coffee workers getting on board a couple of stops later. Unfortunately our bus broke down so we needed to change to another already full bus. This meant we had to stand for the majority of the 2 hour trip back to Santa Ana!
All in all this trip takes a whole day. You leave on the 7.40am bus and don’t arrive back until after 6pm. With a tour you eliminate all the waiting around for buses, but they are a little more expensive, so it depends on your budget! One thing we can say though is that if you are in this part of El Salvador make sure to do this hike!