Santa Ana Volcano
Most Central American countries have volcanoes and you can hike up or climb to a lot of them. But the volcano close to Santa Ana in El Salvador has a stunning crater lake at the top. This beautiful, turquoise colored lake still oozes sulfur making it an active volcano!
The panoramic views of the Coatepeque lake along with the views of Izalco volcano and Cerro Verde mountains makes it a must-do when in El Salvador.
The Santa Ana volcano (volcan Llamatepec), at almost 2400m (7850ft) in height, can easily be hiked and you get some sorbet at the top! Keep reading how!
[Cerro Verde Mountain on left and Volcan Izalco on right]
Getting to the Volcano from Santa Ana
There are two ways to get to the volcano from Santa Ana or San Salvador. This article mentions ways from Santa Ana city.
You can reach the base of the volcano via your own rented or private car (or hitchhike), making it really easy to navigate and save time. There’s ample parking space at the base and it is safe. But for cheaper option, you can take public transport from Santa Ana that costs less than dollar each way!
The following option is taking the public transport to and fro:
1. From anywhere in Santa Ana city, head over to “Sala de Espera y Abordaje “La Vencedora” bus stop (see map below). Located on the west of the city, you can either walk there or grab an Uber (usually costs less than $2). It is important to reach the bus station at 7:20am latest.
[La Vencedora bus station]
2. Enter the bus station and pay 70¢ at the ticket window to get a ticket and wait at the back door on the left. Bus #248 leaves from the ‘platform’ behind the ticket office (and not in front of the bus station). Tip: Make sure to sit on the right side of the bus (opposite side from driver) for the best views of Lake Coatepeque on the way!
[Inside the bus station]
[Location of bus station on map]
[Bus #248 from La Vencedora bus station]
2. The bus takes about 2 hours to reach the Cerre Verde National Park; but get down at the ‘Bosque del Tibet’ hotel (about 10-minutes before the entrance of the Cerre Verde park). The reason is that if you go all the way to the entrance of the park, then you have to walk back 20-30 minutes to the start of the hike which is neat this hotel.
Rented car? This is where you can park your car on the street side. It’s perfectly safe to park here.
The bus reaches Bosque del Tibet hotel around 9:30am. Your tour guide will be waiting for you at the entrance of the hotel along with other tourists. Pay $2 to the guide and you start the hike at 10am.
| Hike with guide or self?
Although you can easily hike the mountain on your own, the authorities require you to be with a guide. We have friends who hiked without a guide and had no issues, but we were mandated to have one! So be prepared to give out that $2 for a useless guide! (We call it ‘useless’ because the there’s only path so you cannot deviate; and the guide doesn’t really give you any information but just walk with you! Our guide even left us at the top of the volcano on our way back. Although we didn’t pay at the start, and asked them to pay at the end of the hike, the guide approached me with a police-man who asked me to pay!)
3. From the Bosque del Tibet hotel, it’s a 2 min walk to the start of the hike. You will hike for about 20-30 mins to reach the entrance. This is where you pay $6 and get a ticket. The actual hike starts exactly at 10:30am. There’s a small shop selling basic food, coffee and snacks to pack up some stuff.
[Shop selling food, snacks, water]
Some of us decided to start from Bosque del Tibet hotel without a guide, but we were stopped at the entrance and the authorities forced us to get a guide!
4. Now your actual hike starts! There will be a couple of police escorts for security. Due to violent mugging in the past, they have maintained this tradition so don’t be alarmed because that’s no longer the case! Also, because of covid-19 pandemic, they operate only one hike a day and to make sure people don’t stay up at the volcano for long, the police ensures everyone comes down.
The hike from here starts with lush green covered path which is mostly flat. But after about half way, the landscape opens up and becomes moderately steeper. After about an hour or so, you’ll see the sign welcoming you to the crater at the top.
There’s a man selling delicious sorbet at the top that costs $1.50 and comes in about 6-8 flavors!
[Hiking path leading to crater]
[Sign congratulating you to reach the top]
[Santa Ana Volcano crater]
[Man selling sorbet at the top]
Depending on how fast you make it up, you get about an hour to hang around and take in the views. Most guides want to start getting down by 12:45-1:15pm.
Getting to Santa Ana from Volcano
There are only two buses that will take you back from base of Volcano (Bosque del Tibet hotel) to Santa Ana – Bus #248 at 1:30pm or the last bus at 4:00pm. If you miss the last bus then you’re on your own to find your way back!
The bus from Bosque del Tibet hotel takes 2 hours to reach Santa Ana and costs 90¢.
A lot of tourists go every day to the top and quite a few have their rental cars. As you’re making your way with the groups, check if anyone has a rental car who can drop you to the town of El Congo. Some may be going to San Salvador which will not help you, so make sure they are going to Santa Ana or Lake Coatepeque.
We were fortunate enough to make friends with someone who dropped us at El Congo town, from where we caught a bus going to Santa Ana (walk across the bridge Puente El Congo and the bus stop is on your right, exactly after the bridge). The bus from El Congo to Santa Ana takes about an hour and costs 30¢.
- Bus to Volcano – Make sure to take the 7:40am bus from Santa Ana to volcano. Any other bus later will make you miss the hike.
- Hike timings – At the time of writing, because of the pandemic there is only one hike per day. This starts at 9:30am from the Bosque del Tibet hotel at the base of the volcano. If you miss this, you’re out of luck for the day!
- Bus to Santa Ana – Make sure to take the last bus from volcano base to Santa Ana at 4:00pm. If you miss this bus then your options are either hitchhike or pay about $20-$40 for a taxi. You can get a taxi or hitchhike to El Congo for about $10 and take a bus to Santa Ana from there.
- Bus timings – Bus #248 (from Santa Ana to volcano and back) runs only 3 times a day. Bus from El Congo to Santa Ana (on way back) runs every 20-30 mins.
- Windy? – If it gets windy up at the carter, then you will not be allowed to go for the hike that day. So be prepared to head back!
- Things to carry –
- Water – it can get really hot during your hike so carry good amount of water!
- Sunscreen – the beginning of the hike goes through shade, but second half is all in sun, so wear sunscreen!
- Light jacket – It can get cool and windy up there and a light jacket is recommended.
- Cash – although credit cards are accepted at the entrance, you need to pay your guide and food/sorbet (if you need), in cash! Carry small bills of $1 allowing you to be flexible for all the payments (guide, food, bus, entrance and sorbet).
- Shoes – although you don’t need hiking shoes, a pair of good shoes is critical because a lot of the path is gravel and mud. It can get really slippery if it rains.