Santa Ana Volcano is the highest point in the Central American country of El Salvador. Also known as Ilamatepec Volcano, the peak is 2381 metres above sea level and hiking Santa Ana Volcano makes for the perfect day trip activity.
With its impressive vivid green crater lake and vantage point looking over miles of Salvadorian countryside, completing the Santa Ana Volcano hike is one of the must-do activities in the country. So, if you’re looking for a challenging but satisfying day trip, this is for you.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about hiking Volcan de Santa Ana including public transport, entrance fees, what to pack, what to expect and more!
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Where is Santa Ana Volcano?
The volcano is located south of the city of Santa Ana and to the west of Lake Coatepeque. The start of the walking trail to the volcano peak is located on the southern side of the volcano. And, the whole area sits in the Cerro Verde National Park.
A day trip to the volcano is easily done from both Santa Ana and Lake Coatepeque by public transport. Additionally, visiting the volcano as a day trip is also possible from San Salvador if you have your own transport.
How to get to the Santa Ana Volcano hike start point
From Santa Ana City
You need to take the number 248 bus from Santa Ana to the volcano. This bus leaves from La Vencedora bus station on the corner of 11th and 16th streets. You can find it on Google Maps by searching for ‘Sala de Espera y Abordaje “LA VENCEDORA”‘ (or click the link).
The start point of the volcano hike is in a remote location and there are only a handful of buses per day to here. As such, you have to catch the 7.30am bus from La Vencedora. But don’t be surprised if it leaves 10 minutes late. Buy your ticket from the bus station for $0.90.
Tell the bus driver as you board that you want to go to Volcan de Santa Ana, they’ll then let you know when to get off. Normally, by shouting volcano down the bus. The drive takes around 2 hours and has some pretty impressive views. Especially, once you start gaining elevation around Lake Coatepeque.
If you miss the 7.30am bus your only options are to take an expensive uber – assuming someone is willing to drive the distance. Or, reschedule your trip for another day. Unfortunately, the next bus isn’t for about 4 hours, which won’t give you enough time to climb the volcano before the last bus of the day.
From Coatepeque Lake
Most people staying on the lake stay at Captain Morgan Hostel. And, although this is one of the closest points of the lake to the volcano, the roads mean you have to go all the way around the lake to reach the trailhead.
You’ll first need to get to El Congo, which is where the buses from Santa Ana turn off the highway. You should be able to flag down a passing 248 bus anywhere from the El Congo Panamerican Highway turn-off, along Avenida Teniente Ricando Mancía and towards the RN10.
Expect the bus to arrive around 25 minutes after it leaves Santa Ana, so 7.55am. However, in reality, it is likely to be a little later than this. But, you don’t want to miss the bus as it’s the only one that will get to the trailhead in time to do the walk today. Be there at 7.55am!
From the Bus Stop to the Trailhead
The bus will drop you off close to the trailhead on the southern side of Volcan de Santa Ana. It’s likely that as soon you’ve stepped off the bus, you’ll be greeted by an official-looking representative of the volcano. The lanyard and/or polo shirt is deceiving though. They’ll likely tell you that there’s another group already waiting up the road and you can join them. Or that you have to take them as your tour guide. This isn’t true.
Instead, you can find volunteer tour guides at the park entrance – at a much cheaper rate than the person on the roadside is quoting. We were quoted $6 per person on the roadside, yet paid only $2 at the park entrance.
So, once you’ve got off the bus, head to the Santa Ana Volcano Trailhead. It starts in a dusty opening on the side of the road where two signs are pointing to Volcan Ilamatepec and Cerro Verde (pictured below). Ignore the signs and head along the path out the back of this dusty area. After walking along the path between the trees, you’ll find an opening on the left-hand side that starts to head up the volcano. The exact location on Google Maps is linked here – download offline maps to find it easily. Follow this until you reach the park entrance with small wooden huts and a place to pay.
It’s unlikely you’ll be the only tourist arriving on the bus. As such, I’d recommend grouping up and finding the trailhead together. Travellers that save other travellers from being overcharged are worth their weight in gold. Plus, if you don’t speak English, teaming up means you’re likely to find someone who does to navigate those trickier conversations.
Hiking Santa Ana Volcano: All you need to know
Entrance Fees & Costs
If you’ve avoided the guides on the roadside, you’ll need to pay for a guide at the park entrance. It’s not possible to hike Santa Ana Volcano without a guide. Plus, you’ll also get a couple of police officers following behind for extra safety. The police officers are more there for the reassurance of tourists than to negate any real threat of danger. And, in my experience, walk very slowly barely in sight of the group.
Although the guides are volunteers and the fee is meant to be a tip. My experience was that this was a mandatory tip. And, I had to pay it upfront and there was no negotiating. $2 per person in cash.
You’ll also need to pay the park entrance here, which is $6 per person for foreigners and $3 for Salvadorian nationals. This also needs to be paid in cash at the ticket office. At the park entrance, you’ll also find the only toilets on the volcano as well as a couple of stalls selling drinks and snacks.
Total cost: $8 per person for the hike and $1.80 return for the bus = $10.80.
I’ve seen other guides mention a national park entry fee of $3 (in addition to the hiking fee) and a $1 access fee over private land. I didn’t experience either of these and also didn’t get asked for a park entry fee at the official ticket office of the volcano where I paid for the hike entrance.
How long does it take to hike Santa Ana Volcano?
In total, expect that the Santa Ana Volcano hike time is around 1.5-2 hours to get to the top. This time includes the breaks you’ll definitely need along the way. To walk down, it will take another 75 to 90 minutes. Although, if you’re aiming for the 1pm bus and choose to run down (like I did), it can be done in as a little as 45 to 60 minutes. More on that later! Total walking time = 2 hours 45 mins to 3.5 hours. But don’t forget to add 30 minutes at the top.
I’d also heard that the hikes don’t start until 10am or 11am – the latter would definitely ruin your chance of getting the 1pm bus. But, as soon as I got to the park entrance I joined a group with the tour guide and set off – around 9.50am. Additionally, once we got to the top of the volcano there was already another group there, so they’d clearly set off even earlier than us.
Our group arrived at the summit at around 11.30 am, giving us plenty of time to enjoy the view and take photos before setting back off. Though you are required to go with a tour guide, our group was quite large and spread out. And, when it came to descending, they really did not seem to care if you went by yourself – which I did.
After around 30 minutes at the top, I set back off jogging down the volcano to make the 1pm bus. Which, inevitably, didn’t arrive until about 1.25pm. But, exercise is good for you, right?!
How difficult is hiking Santa Ana Volcano?
Climbing Volcan de Santa Ana isn’t so difficult, it’s just hard work. The climb is not technical or particularly challenging. Rather, the hot and/or humid conditions make you very sweaty and dehydrated easily.
Luckily, there are a handful of viewpoints along the way where you can rest and admire the view. Unfortunately, once you get above the trees there is almost no shade. There was a guy selling ice lollies at the top though.
I am by no means fit, but I huffed and puffed my bright red face all the way to the top in less than 2 hours. If I can do it, you can too!
Weather & Conditions on the Volcano
There are only two real seasons in El Salvador. A rainy season, which runs from May to October, and a dry season, running from November to April. The rainy season brings afternoon downpours, more cloud and humid conditions. While the dry season tends to bring sunny weather all day long. Though, of course, there’s never any guarantee when it comes to weather.
Doing the Santa Ana Volcano hike in the dry season gives you the best chance for the best conditions. But, you might not always get to choose if you’re already in El Salvador.
Unfortunately, it can be hit and miss when it comes to visibility at the crater. I know people who climbed to the top only to be able to see thick cloud, they didn’t even get a glimpse at the lake in the crater. However, when I went, there was perfect visibility, barely a cloud in the sky over the volcano. And, it’s impossible to predict conditions at the volcano summit based on the weather in Santa Ana.
What to Pack for the Santa Ana Volcano Hike
You don’t want to carry too much on you, but you also don’t want to go without. I’d suggest the following:
- 1.5 to 2 litres of water or squash
- A couple of snacks that don’t melt. Particularly as even after the hike, it’s another 2 hours on the bus back to Santa Ana
- Sun cream and sunglasses
- Camera, phone and battery pack
- Enough cash to pay for the return bus fare, park entrance and guide fee
What to wear for hiking Santa Ana Volcano:
- Trainers are fine – but you can wear walking shoes/boots if you have them
- Light-weight clothes such as sports tops or shorts. Remember, you also have to wear them for 4 hours on a chicken bus, so I don’t think trousers or long tops are as suitable
- A hat, if you have one
- Comfortable underwear and socks that don’t fall down as you walk. We’ve all been there pulling up pants all day or your sock rolling down into your shoe when you’re walking – wear your most comfortable and practical items!
Return Travel after The Santa Ana Volcano Hike
After the bus has dropped you off at around 9.30am, you have two choices for getting back to Santa Ana or El Congo. The next bus is at 1pm and the one after that isn’t until 4pm.
If you want to make the 1pm bus, then I recommend you leave the peak of the volcano no later than midday. And, you’re going to need to jog a good portion of the route. Alternatively, you can sacrifice some of your time at the top for a less strenuous climb down the volcano.
Once you make it all the back to the start of the trail, turn right from the trailhead onto the road. There’s a small bus shelter on the left side of the road. The buses aren’t the most reliable and the 1pm bus can easily be 30 minutes late. Unfortunately, there’s no way of knowing when it will or won’t be on time, so you need to be there at 1pm.
If you miss the 1pm bus, you can have lunch and enjoy some cold drinks at the small number of roadside restaurants around. Then, keep an eye out for the 4pm bus.
If you’re staying in Santa Ana, it’s also possible to spend the afternoon at Lake Coatepeque. You’ll need to take the 248 bus to El Congo and then take alternative transport to the lake (most likely a taxi). When you’re ready to return to Santa Ana, head back to El Congo and flag one of the many passing buses travelling from San Salvador City to Santa Ana.
What is inside the volcano?
Once you reach the top of the volcano and look over the crater edge you’ll get to see a vivid green sulphur lake. The crater itself is stunning to look at with rocks of all colours and incredible layers created by eruptions over the years. You’ll also see steam pouring out some of the gaps in the volcanic rock
Unfortunately, you can’t go inside the crater as it drops almost vertically down to the flat ledge halfway down. And then drops equally as steeply to the lake in the middle. You also can’t walk all the way around the crater due to the loose rock and the risk of falling into (or down the outside) of the volcano.
Can you swim in the Santa Ana Volcano?
No – and you wouldn’t want to either, the pH is about 1 – meaning it’s pretty much the most acidic a substance can be. It would be like bathing in stomach acid. And, if that’s not enough, the sulphur in the lake produces a strong eggy smell that isn’t particularly pleasant. Depending on the conditions and direction of the wind you can also smell it at the crater or on the ascent.
If you want to relax after climbing the volcano, head to the Salto de Malacatiupan hot springs. Here, you can bathe in naturally heated 36 Celsius/97 Fahrenheit volcanic spring water. Perfect for tired muscles after a long hike!
Is the Santa Ana Volcano still active?
Yes, the volcano is still classed as active. The last eruption was in 2005 but there have been signs of activity since then. For example, in 2007, seismic activity caused 85% of the sulphur lake to evaporate.
The volcano is monitored for signs of activity and though no activity is without risk, hiking Santa Ana Volcano is relatively safe in terms of avoiding a volcanic eruption. Earthquakes are common in this part of the world as all of Central America sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire – notorious for frequent seismic activity. However, most earthquakes are small and aren’t felt by people.
Where to Stay in Santa Ana
I’d recommend staying at least two nights in Santa Ana if you want to do this volcano trek. After a hard hike, the last thing you’ll want to do is get on another bus to a new destination.
For hostels, I’d recommend either Pool House Hostel. I stayed here for 7 nights in total and really loved it. The hostel is small, with one private room and two dorms. But has a pool and a fully-equipped kitchen for you to use. Plus, the owners are lovely and have the cutest dog!
Another highly recommended place is Hostel Casa Verde. Although I personally haven’t stayed here, many people I’ve met in El Salvador and beyond have, and rave about it all the time.
If you’re looking for a hotel, the Remfort Hotel has amazing reviews. The hotel is just a few blocks from the centre of Santa Ana and the La Vencedora bus station.
If you have any questions or want any more information drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Prices and offerings mentioned are correct as of March 2022 but are subject to change in future.
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