A Guide to Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador

A Guide to Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador

El Salvador has 23 active volcanoes and Santa Ana is one of the best to visit. I can’t get enough of climbing volcanoes at the moment and Central America has really spoiled me for choice.

Not every volcano hike has to be gruelling like our Acatenango experience in Guatemala). Santa Ana Volcano is an easy couple of hours for anyone with even a vague amount of energy in their body.

In El Salvador, volcano tours usually require you to be accompanied by an armed police officer and a guide. At least that’s what the guidebooks say. This sounds dangerous and tantalisingly exciting in equal measures. Although this information isn’t strictly true. For Santa Ana volcano, an unarmed national park guide takes a dollar from everyone upon entry. They then proceed to ‘lead’ a group from the Santa Ana volcano car park at 11AM sharp, every day.

I say ‘lead’. They probably never attended guide school, as within no time they disappeared with our dollar in hand.

Hiking Santa Ana Volcano

On our hike to Sana Ana volcano, the group of 30 trekkers in attendance had to set their own pace. Some up front, others taking it steady in the middle, followed by those taking it easy at the back of the group.

Santa Ana Volcano Path
The gorgeous fauna trails

Passing through dusty forest, the ascent up Santa Ana volcano is steady with occasional shade from the forest offering relief from the beating sun. Part way up is an opportunity to stop at a lookout point. As our guide was nowhere to be seen, some people split off from the group and climbed the structure.

Half an hour later the forest slowly started to clear and Santa Ana volcano’s peak burst into view through the trees. Although it looked close there was still another hour to go before reaching the summit.

Summit of Santa Ana Volcano
The first sights of the summit

What sets El Salvador’s Santa Ana volcano apart from others I’ve experienced is the fauna leading up to the crater. Volcanoes usually consist of barren ground, black ash and rocks. On Santa Ana volcano there’s an untold amount of flowers, shrubs, trees and bushes.

Nearer to the summit, the terrain became rocky and the path was no longer easy to follow. Many trekkers were in a mess. The guide responsible for our lives had long since left and reached the top on his own. People started splitting off from the group trying to decipher the best way to the top. Some turned left, others turned right. Things became very dangerous, very quickly.

Views from the volcano's summit
The surrounding views are stunning

By now some people were climbing on their hands and knees, trying to navigate over boulders and stones. We took a steady less direct route, but one which looked a lot safer. After a while we spotted yellow spray painted arrows on the rocks. This confirmed we were heading in the right direction.

Path to the volcanic crater
It’s like being on the moon (maybe)

The smell of sulphur eventually confirmed that we must be near Santa Ana volcano’s summit. The stench became unavoidable as the strong winds at this height blew the pungent gas in to our faces!

Before the summit we saw one lonely police officer with what must have been the smallest gun ever handled by an El Salvador enforcer. (The police usually carry assault rifles and shotguns!). This must have been the aforementioned police officer that we were expecting to accompany us.

Reaching the top, we had no expectations of what was inside the crater. As we peered in, a turquoise lake came in to view with sulphur clouds drifting over its surface. The view was something else!

Back in our home country of England, health and safety laws can sometimes get in the way of a good time. Yet that’s not the case in in El Salvador. There are no barriers separating hikers from the crater’s edge and a 200 foot drop in to the stinky abyss. I enjoyed it though. Logic dictates not to stand too close to the edge of an active volcano in high winds. With the high winds looking like they could blow us over the edge, we decided to sit down, relax and soak up the view (as well as inhale the sulphur fumes).

Volcanic Sulphur Crate
The smell of sulphur is really strong

Everywhere you go in El Salvador, people are working really hard. The top of Santa Ana volcano was no exception; there was a man selling home made volcano shaped ice creams. It transpires that he carries them up there every day. That’s a tough gig if ever there was one! I bought a berry flavour from him and it tasted divine. Thanks ice cream guy!

As your welfare doesn’t matter at Santa Ana volcano there was no guide to lead the hikers back down. Although the way back down is the same way you came, people had differing views about the correct route to take. Scanning my eyes around the volcano, I could see a steady stream of bodies, run, slip and slide down the edge. Falls, cuts, bruises, sweat and scrapes became common. Thankfully we made it back in one piece.

Hiking El Salvador’s Santa Ana volcano is an amazing experience. I wish the guides cared for visitors, but your welfare comes second to cash. It was the only place in El Salvador we experienced such disregard for visitors. The people have otherwise been some of the most kind and helpful we’ve ever met.

Crater selfie of Santa Ana
It’s windy up there!

Don’t let it put you off though. If you want to trek up Santa Ana volcano, here’s how to do it:

Getting to Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador

Base yourself in the town of Santa Ana, or around Lake Coatepeque.

From Santa Ana:
From Santa Ana, the 248 bus leaves town at 7:30AM and takes you directly to the Santa Ana Volcano National Park. The cost of the bus is around $0.55 – $0.75. An absolute bargain. You’ll have a lot of time to kill before the 11AM tour starts though and there’s not much there, just a small cafe.

I believe you can do the trek without a guide. As the guide is useless, this option is probably just as safe.

Returning to Santa Ana you’ll have to wait for the 4:30PM bus. Bear in mind a return trek of El Salvador’s Santa Ana Volcano lasts around four hours. Again, you will have a lot of time to kill whilst waiting for the return bus.

Lake Coatepeque view
The view of Lake Coatepeque from Santa Ana Volcano

From Lake Coatepeque:
If departing from Lake Coatepeque, you will also need to catch the same 248 bus from El Congo Bridge. Check with your accommodation for up to date departure times.

Private Shuttle:
An alternative to public transport is to travel to Santa Ana Volcano by private shuttle. Your accommodation in Santa Ana or Lake Coatepeque can likely arrange an extortionately priced shuttle for you. The prices will be $10 – $15 per person. Even if you’re not great at maths, you have probably realised this is more than 10 – 15 times the price of public transport. The advantage of a shuttle over public transport is that it will drop you off and wait. You get a door to door service and more convenient day.

The Cost to Visit Santa Ana Volcano

It’s $6 to enter the park and $1 for a useless ‘guide’.

Where to stay in El Salvador near Santa Ana Volcano

I can highly recommend booking accommodation on Lake Coatepeque. We stayed at Captain Morgan’s Hostel and the view was incredible. The rooms back on to the lake and you can jump right off the balcony and in to the water. Even better, our room actually had a glass floor so we could look in to the lake. 

Captain Morgan’s Hostel has lots of options and you can even camp there is you’re on a very tight budget.

Get the best value accommodation in El Salvador here:


Essential Items for Your Trip to Santa Ana Volcano

These hiking poles are ideal for trekking in Central America. I can almost guarantee you’ll spend a few days (and nights!) on volcanoes and these will make it a lot easier on your knees.

You’ll need sun cream to fight against El Salvador’s scorching sun. I recommend an eco friendly reef sun cream. This means if you also use it to go swimming, you won’t be harming the underwater environment and animals. You won’t get burned either!

Save the environment and stay hydrated with a bottle that filters your water. This is ideal for travelling overseas where people don’t have the luxury of potable tap water. It will mean you don’t get sick or use a lot of non-recyclable plastic.


Hiking Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador

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