The idea of hiking an active volcano isn’t something that you usually think about doing, but for the adventurous it’s definitely a must do if you find yourself in El Salvador. Surprisingly, this was not my first active volcano hike! I’ve also hiked Japan’s Mt Fuji.
El Salvador has over 20 volcanoes and a few of them are still active. Although it hasn’t erupted since 2005, the Santa Ana Volcano is still active. Before that, the last eruption was in 1904. Still, the thought of it possibly erupting while I was climbing it definitely crossed my mind! The view at the top is beautiful and made it totally worth it. Here’s everything you need to know about the Santa Ana Volcano Hike.
About El Salvador’s Volcanos
El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and sits along the Ring of Fire along the Pacific Ocean. Known as “the Land of Volcanoes”, most of El Salvador’s volcanoes are dormant. Only a handful of them have known dates of their last eruption. The Santa Ana Volcano is located in the Cerro Verde National Park along with 2 others. It’s the tallest volcano in El Salvador and the most popular one to hike.
The City Of Santa Ana
The town of Santa Ana is located about 60 miles Northwest of El Salvador’s capital of San Salvador. It’s the 2nd largest city in El Salvador and is a good home base to stay in if you want to climb the Santa Ana Volcano. Besides the volcano, there are several other sites to see that are close by including hot springs, archeolgical sites, and the Rutas de las Flores. From Santa Ana, the volcano is about 50 miles.
There’s so much to do in see in the Santa Ana area. Read my article 19 things to do in Santa Ana El Salvador.
How To Get To The Santa Ana Volcano
You have several options to reach the volcano. If you rented a car for your time in El Salvador then that will be the best option. The roads in El Salvador are fairly good so you won’t have a problem getting there. We did not rent a car and did fine for our week in El Salvador taking public transportation and uber to get around.
There are tours you can join if you don’t feel comfortable doing this on your own or if you just prefer having someone else take care of all the details. This Viator Tour includes the Santa Ana Volcano Hike and a visit to the Coatepeque Lake to swim. Taking a tour is the most expensive way to do the hike but it’s also the easiest. You won’t have to worry about any details if you choose this option.
If you rent a vehicle then you can drive there yourself. There are signs that show you exactly where you need to go to start your hike and parking is all along the side of the road once you reach the National Park. We looked into renting a car and the prices were surprisingly very expensive so we didn’t do that.
Another option is to catch an Uber. Yep, El Salvador has Uber. It’s very inexpensive and a great alternative to renting a car. The downside of taking an Uber to the volcano is that you probably won’t be able to catch one coming back. We did find that the Uber drivers were willing to wait for us wherever we went so it isn’t out of the question. You just have to arrange it with the driver. Definitely do NOT pay for the return ride until you get done and you see that the driver is still there.
The third and most economical option to get to the Santa Ana Volcano hike is to take local transportation. This is what we did. These buses are colorful, brightly painted school buses and foreigners call them the “Chicken Bus”. Locals use them to get around and sometimes bring their livestock on, hence the name “Chicken Bus”.
It takes a little longer to get to the volcano because of all the stops along the way but it’s very inexpensive and an experience that you should try at least once while there. Besides, there is no real hurry to get there early because there is a set time to start the hike and they do wait for the bus.
Catching The Bus
In Santa Ana, there is a bus that will take you directly to the drop off point at the volcano. The bus station is called La Vencedora and is located here. You’ll know you’re on the right bus if you see the bus number 248.
We woke up early in the morning, leaving our hostel at 6am to walk to the bus station. The bus doesn’t actually leave until 7:40am but we weren’t sure how many people would be there and we had heard different info about what time we had to be there.
We arrived at the station around 6:20am and for about 30 minutes it was just us and another couple. We purchased our ticket for less than $1 and waited. For a while we thought we might be the only ones but people started rolling in around 7am. There were even people showing up just a few minutes before 7:30. Before long the entire bus station was full.
At 7:30am we lined up to get on the bus. The bus number to the Santa Ana Volcano hike is 248 as shown in the picture below so we knew we were getting on the right one. Luckily we were one of the first people to get on the bus. By the time everyone got on, there weren’t any more seats left and people had to stand. FYI: it doesn’t matter if all the seats are taken and people are standing. They will continue to pick people up squeezing everyone in. When you think they can’t possibly fit anyone else on the bus, they do!
The bus left at 7:40am and is supposed to only take 1.5 hours but with all the bus stops and because it was a Saturday, there were a lot of people. The bus was so weighed down with people that in some areas we weren’t going more than 2-5 mph. So, it took 2.5 hours to reach the volcano. The photo below was right after we got on the bus at the bus station. There would eventually be another 20+ people getting on.
Concerned about whether or not it’s safe to visit El Salvador? Read all about Safety in El Salvador and decide for yourself.
Arriving at the Santa Ana Volcano
After a long drive and a lot of stops we finally arrived. You’ll know you’re close when you see this food stand out the left side of the bus. Notice the small sign to the left that says Al Tibet. The next stop is where you need to get off.
Just a little further up the road you’ll start to see a lot of food stands, people, and cars parked along the street. The bus will stop here and you need to get off.
Time For The Santa Ana Volcano Hike
Once you get off the bus you’ll see a small field to the right that also doubles as a parking area. This is where everyone waits until it’s time to start the Santa Ana Volcano hike.
Hiking an active volcano in El Salvador requires a “guide”. There isn’t an actual guide that takes you up the mountain but when you arrive there are guides that get you prepared to hike. They tell you where to go and who to pay. You’ll first pay your guide $3. If you want/need walking sticks, there are locals that sell wooden poles for $1. A bargain!
Once you pay your guide you’ll start walking the first section which takes about 10 minutes. After that first section you’ll get to another open field with 2 huts that sell snacks, sodas, water, and t-shirts. We had about 15 minutes to buy what we wanted and go to the restroom.
NOTE: there are no restrooms up on the mountain so definitely go before you start the hike.
The Santa Ana Volcano hike is supposed to begin at 10am, give or take. Once it’s time to start hiking the Santa Ana Volcano, everyone gets in line and pays the $6 fee to the national park and you start hiking. You also have a time limit. At 1pm they start making people leave the top of the mountain and start heading back down. This is why you kind of want to hurry because the view up top is so awesome and you want to make sure you get all the photos you want.
How Difficult Is the Santa Ana Volcano Hike?
The Santa Ana Volcano hike is not difficult but I wouldn’t say it is super easy either. I might have said multiple times that I was never ever climbing a mountain again! Enough time has passed now that I’m pretty sure there is another climb in my future, but at the time I meant it. It wasn’t that the mountain was really difficult to climb, although on parts of it you really had to step up onto big rocks. I definitely was wishing I was in better shape. I vowed to get in better shape when I got home!
The difficult part of hiking the Santa Ana Volcano was more about keeping up with the group. People were passing me up and I felt like I was walking pretty fast. I know I’m not in that bad of shape! Depending on your fitness level you’re going to feel it. But also know that there are young kids climbing as well as older people in their 60’s and every age in between.
The Hiking Path
The first part of the Santa Ana Volcano hike is basically a path through a forest. It’s shady with trees all along the path growing over the path. The path is rocky, muddy in some spots, and in some places are slippery. This is where those hiking poles come in handy. 90% of the hike you’ll be looking down to make sure you don’t trip. There are also big tree roots growing across the path so you need to watch where you step. Hiking shoes or good tennis shoes are best. I wore hiking sandals and didn’t have any issues. Just remember to stop every now and then when there’s a clearing to take in the views.
About half way up the mountain you come out of the forest into the volcanic area that is very rocky. You’ll just have to judge which rocks to step up on. Along the path is yellow paint on rocks (some barely noticeable) that show you which way to go. Also note that there’s one path up and down so you’ll have to stop and step aside for people coming down. You’ll welcome the small breaks.
There are guides spread out along the path up to the top to keep people on the correct path. You’ll hear them blow whistles at people who stray off in the wrong direction. There are also police with guns along the path so don’t be alarmed. They’re there to make sure nothing happens to the hikers. In the past there has been robberies but the country has really cracked down on the crime.
Reaching The Top Of Santa Ana Volcano
Once at the top of the Santa Ana Volcano, you only have a short time up there. Notice the hundreds of people in the photo above. By 1pm the guides will start telling people to head back down. Also at the top is a guy who sells popsicles. Every day he hikes up there with his box and sells them to hikers. Every single day. At the top, the view inside the crater is amazing. I read that the smell of sulpher was overwhelming but on our day it wasn’t bad at all.
We had about 30 minutes at the top to take photos before we were told to start heading back down. Hiking back down was much easier and faster although I slipped and fell hard one time. Luckily it was on a sandy area with very lttle rocks.
We made friends with a super nice couple from Florida who rented a car and offered to drive us back to our hotel in Santa Ana so we wouldn’t have to ride the bus back. If you do take the Bus to the volcano you’ll have two opportunities to catch the bus back to town. There is one that comes at 1pm but if you don’t catch that one then you’ll have to wait until the next one that comes at 4pm.
If you’re wondering if you should travel to El Salvador, read my article Is El Salvador a good place for Travelers?
Frequently Asked Questions
Is the Santa Ana Volcano Active?
Yes, the Santa Ana Volcano is active. It has not erupted since 2005 and before that it erupted in 1904.
How much does the Santa Ana Volcano hike cost?
It only costs $6 to hike. If you purchase a walking stick that will be another $1. And if you choose to take the Chicken Bus, that will cost around .80 cents. So the entire event shouldn’t cost anymore than $10 but more if you’ve taken an Uber or rented a car.
How long does the hike take?
They start letting people hike around 10am and you should reach the top between 12-12:30pm. So the hike is about 2-2.5 hrs.
Can you swim in the lake in the crater?
No, although the lake in the Santa Ana Volcano is beautiful, it’s a sulpher lake and you cannot swim in it.
How far is the Santa Ana Volcano from Santa Ana, La Libertad, and San Salvador?
From the town of Santa Ana, the volcano is around 39km or 25 miles. It takes about 55 minutes to drive, longer on the bus.
From the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador, the volcano is about 63 km or 40 miles. It takes about 1.5 hrs to drive.
From La Libertad, the volcano is about 65km or 40 miles. It takes about 1 hr and 45 minutes to drive.
Final Notes On The Santa Ana Volcano Hike
Hiking an active volcano in El Salvador is something that can’t be missed if you’re visiting this beautiful country. To make sure your hike goes smoothly, keep a few things in mind.
- You need to bring cash to pay for everything. The guides and food huts don’t take credit cards. If you don’t have cash, you won’t be allowed to hike. El Salvador uses the US dollar as their currency and you can take cash out of an ATM before you arrive.
- Make sure you have good shoes with some kind of grip on the bottom. The hike is slippery and you’ll be stepping up onto boulders that have become worn and smooth. I witnessed people falling multiple times (including myself!).
- Expect to pay around $10 total for the Santa Ana Volcano hike if you take the bus, more if you have other transportation. This activity isn’t expensive at all.
- Be prepared for the hike to be cancelled if it rains or if there’s lightning. It’s too dangerous. If it starts raining after you’ve started hiking the guides will stop everyone and make them start climbing back down and you won’t get a refund. Luckily, it’s not expensive so you won’t be out of too much money but it will be disappointing.
The day we hiked it was lightly misting at the beginning but it stopped once we were out of the forest section of the hike. The rainy season in El Salvador is May-October so if you really want to hike the Santa Ana Volcano then it might be better to come outside the rainy season. We were there mid April and had great weather the whole time we were in El Salvador.