Hiking Santa Ana Volcano is on nearly every traveller’s list when they visit El Salvador. And it’s easy to understand why. Who wouldn’t want to hike through brilliant jungles and up the face of an active volcano, to stare into the impossibly turquoise crater lake?
If you’re planning to hike the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll break down everything you need to make this incredible experience happen.
El Salvador has a LOT of active volcanoes.
El Salvador is a land covered in volcanoes, 23 in total; and as such, its landscape is incredibly diverse. Green hills roll and climb from the seemingly endless coast, pocked with towering crater peaks. Even the two largest lakes in the country — Coatepeque and Ilopango — were formed by massive eruptions many thousands of years ago.
As many (if not all) of these volcanoes are active, eruptions can happen at any time. Santa Ana, the highest volcano in the country, last erupted back in 2005, killing several people and sending rocks as big as cars flying through the sky.
Hiking Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador
We’ll show you how to do the hike easily, and without spending a bunch of money. The biggest issue when going without a tour is the logistics and timing of buses
The Santa Ana volcano hike begins at Cerro Verde National Park, with groups leaving with local guides around 11 a.m.
We’ve heard from a handful of other travellers that it’s possible to do the hike without using guides, though when we checked with a local friend, he suggested otherwise. That said, even if going without the guides is possible, we’d use them anyway. It only costs $1 and supports local jobs.
How to Get to the Santa Ana Volcano
First, you need to get yourself to Cerro Verde Park.
Get to Santa Ana Volcano by Car
If you have your own vehicle, you’ve taken out one of the biggest hurdles already. Whether you’re staying in Santa Ana, San Salvador, or somewhere else nearby, just drive up to Cerro Verde National Park. Just plan to arrive no later than 10:30 a.m.
Don’t have a car? Is taking the bus too much of a hassle? Sign up for a tour like this one!
Taking the Bus to Santa Ana Volcano
The only other way to get to the hike, without a tour, is by taking the local bus. Taking this bus is by far the cheapest method, but also the longest; mostly due to the lack of buses.
Now, regardless of how popular this tour has become in recent years, there is still only one bus option from Santa Ana to Santa Ana Volcano, and it runs at odd times for the hike. The only guaranteed bus is #248, which leaves Santa Ana at 7:30 a.m. There are later buses that go to the park, but taking these won’t get you there in time for the guided hike. The 7:30 option is the only option.
Bus from Santa Ana
Head to the Sala de Espera y Abordaje, on 11 Calle Pte. It’s just north of the Super Selectos, and close to the main bus station. It doesn’t look like a bus station, but the name is on the front of the building. Watch for the security guard waving in the gringos. Be here before 7:30 a.m.
Purchase a ticket from the counter inside — $0.90 — Then take a seat.
The bus is scheduled to leave at 7:30 but usually leaves closer to 7:45, just like ours. Though you’ll want to be early in the miraculous chance that it leaves on time for once.
The ride takes a little under two hours, as it winds along the stunning Lake Coatepeque and high up into the hills to Cerro Verde National Park.
Get to Cerro Verde From Lake Coatepeque
If you’re staying at Lago de Coatepeque (on the west side of the lake), you can catch the #242 bus up to El Congo. Get off before the bridge cross the road and wait near the food stalls. Bus #248 from Santa Ana usually passes here — heading back towards the lake around the other side — between 8-8:30 am, so be sure to get here before then to transfer.
If you want to stay at Lake Coatepeque, before or after the hike this is the hostel we stayed at.
Tip: Grab a seat on the right side of the bus. You’ll get the best views of the lake on your way up!
Arrive at Cerro Verde National Park
Some people suggest getting off the bus at El Tibet, a short distance from the park entrance, to avoid the fees. We met a couple who did this and were able to find a guide for the hike. However, there is no guarantee you’ll find a guide here. And the small fee to the park is worth the cost to help preserve the beautiful surroundings.
Once at the gate, pay the $3 entry fee to the park and walk up to the main area. You’ll arrive sometime around 9:30-10 a.m., so you have a bit of time to kill before the hike begins. There isn’t a lot to see here while you wait, aside from a decent viewpoint and a walk through bush-tunnel. But there are also a few food stalls here where you can grab a late breakfast or some extra fuel for the hike (Hello $0.50 Pupusas!)
The Santa Ana Volcano Hike
The hike begins near the main office structure at the park, across the field from the food stalls. The guide will explain, in Spanish, all of the rules and safety concerns. This part went on for some time, there seemed to be a lot of “things to know,” but overall: Don’t litter, don’t drink alcohol, and don’t be an asshole are the main points we took from the speech.
Here you’ll pay the $1 fee for the guides and begin the hike. The first bit is mostly downhill, as you make your way from Cerro Verde to the base of Santa Ana Volcano. Along this stretch, you’ll pass close to the previously-mentioned El Tibet, before arriving at the entrance to the main trail. A little farther, and you’ll arrive at the gate to the Santa Ana Volcano Park. Here is the final fee of $6 ($3 for nationals).
We’ve heard in the past that there is an additional fee charged by a local landowner to cross his property here. However, this didn’t occur on our hike.
From here the trail twists and rises through the Salvadorian jungle. Keep your eye out for local birds and lizards — they’re everywhere! Eventually, the trail breaks the tree line revealing spectacular views of Izalco volcano in the distance.
Continue along the rugged terrain, and clamber over rocks as you make your final ascent. Soon, the trail levels and you can catch your breath as you walk the few remaining steps to the crater’s edge.
Is the Santa Ana Volcano Hike Difficult
Hiking the volcano is a bit strenuous, I mean, you’re climbing the side of a volcano — but it’s not too difficult.
About half the trail is in a semi-covered jungle on fairly groomed trails. The second half is in full sun and is a little steeper and the loose rocks can pose some hazards, so take your time here, and drink water. If you lose the group for any reason, maybe you stopped for a rest or to take photos, just follow the yellow painted arrows on the rocks.
However, if you’re in moderate condition, you’ll be fine. We’re not in great shape (Pupusas!), and the hike gave us no issues whatsoever.
The entire hike lasted around three and a half hours in total, including spending time at the top and stopping along the way for photos.
Is the Santa Ana Volcano Hike Safe?
In years past, robberies became quite common on the hike, so armed police accompanied hikers to the summit, along with two local guides. However, there have been very few reports of bandits in recent years, and when we visited, no police joined our hike.
Once at the summit, you need to be careful at the edge. It appears that there were once guardrails or at least a chain of sorts, there is nothing currently to prevent you from falling in — aside from your self-control. Instagram isn’t that important; taking that perfect selfie isn’t worth your life. And remember, no matter where you’re going, regardless of how safe you play, anything can happen. We never travel without travel insurance, and we suggest you travel the same!
One very important thing to note is that it gets very windy at the summit. So bring a jacket or sweater for the top. There is also a surprise ice cream guy waiting for you!
Also, the weather can play a major factor in the hike. Between slippery rocks and frequent lightning strikes, during bad weather, hikes will unlikely take place. If it’s raining, or even too windy, the hike will be called off — regardless of whether you’ve paid or not.
Some friends of ours took the bus to the park and were told when they arrived that the hike had been called off due to wind. Always check the weather and ask at your accommodation before leaving.
Cost to Hike Santa Ana Volcano?
The overall cost for the round trip hike, assuming you’re using the local bus method, is broken down as follows:
• Local bus from Santa Ana: $0.90
• Cerro Negro Park entry: $3.00
• Guide Fee: $1.00
• Volcano Entrance Fee: $6.00
• Return to Santa Ana: $0.90
- Total, not including any delicious pupusas: $11.80
What to Bring to the Santa Ana Volcano Hike?
The hike is relatively standard, and you don’t need any specialized gear, but there are a few things
- Good shoes – you don’t need hardcore hiking boots for this one, but skip the flip-flops or Chuck Taylor’s
- Water – 2 litres should be fine, more is always better if you don’t mind the weight
- Sunscreen – once you break the tree line, you’re fully exposed
- Windbreaker – or any light jacket/sweater for the windy summit
- Hat – again, the sun
- Camera (obviously) – for capturing the stunning scene
- Daypack – because you’ll be carrying all this other stuff
Getting Back to Santa Ana
Much like the earlier bus, there is only one bus returning to Santa Ana following the hike. The #248 leaves from the same spot where you were dropped off and leaves at 4:00 p.m. It’s best to be there early, just in case. But since the hike rarely lasts longer than 4 hours, you should have plenty of time to have more pupusas and an ‘end of hike beer’.
Another option, if you don’t want to wait for the bus, is to try hitching a ride back to town. This is the method we used as, from our experience, hitchhiking in El Salvador is relatively easy.
Near the end of the hike, when we arrived back at the bottom, most of the group carried on back to the park. We stayed back on the road near El Tibet and waved down a passing pick-up.
The driver was headed to San Salvador but agreed to drop us off at El Congo Bridge on his way. Once at the bridge crossing in El Congo, we hopped on the #242 bus to Santa Ana. It says Santa Ana on the bus as well, so it’s hard to miss.
After a little rain to cool us down in the back of the truck, we rewarded ourselves for a day’s effort with a round of cold beer.