El Salvador Series: Four-Hour Hike To and From Santa Ana Volcano

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I told them, I swear I did. My friends downplay how adventurous I tend to be. I warned them that this wouldn’t be one of those cute girl trips where we sit by the beach or pool and do nothing but drink and take selfies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But, you can do that, anywhere.


Staying in such proximity to Santa Ana Volcano meant we were pretty much obliged to do some activity involving said volcano. In my research before the trip, I came across posts about taking an ATV up the volcano. Unfortunately for me (and my friends), I didn’t quite grasp just how many volcanoes there were in the area. The volcano that we could see from our igloo did not offer any tours other than hiking. We didn’t understand why until we hiked the two hours each way ourselves.

Rewind. As I said before, my limited research pointed me in the direction of thinking we could see the view from the top of the volcano without putting in the legwork (pun intended). As we were just about to drop a couple of hundred dollars on a bus tour, we realized we could put in some effort and work for the view. The money wasn’t the issue, but the time was. These tours were full-day tours, which took up entirely too much time. We asked around and came across an option for a fraction of the cost. Plus, this tour was to view Santa Ana Volcano, also known as Ilamatepec, unlike the others.

The following day (and the last day at the volcano accommodation), we woke up early and made our way to the meeting point. To our surprise, it was just to the right of the main entrance to Cabañas Campo Bello. As the meeting please was at a hotel, I parked the vehicle in the lot. We then got acquainted with the large group of locals who were also making their way to see Santa Ana Volcano.

The man who initially helped me find the igloos pointed us in the direction of our guide. Although there was a large number of people going, each small group had its tour guide. We walked for about 10 minutes (the pre-hike) and immediately knew we were in over our heads. We then arrived at a park that took our temperatures (yes, even though we’re outdoors) and took our payments. We paid a small fee (compared to what we were willing to pay for the bus/ATV tour for other volcanoes). I believe it was $15 if I’m not mistaken.

We made our way up the volcano, frequently stopping to make sure we caught our breaths and no one was entirely too overwhelmed. The view to the top was incredible but long-awaited. To the top, it took us approximately 2 hours. We believed that it was shorter, but the time didn’t account for the stopping we would be doing. Honestly, this hike is far from easy. It takes a toll on your body and pushes you to the extreme.

About an hour and a half in, near the top, the elevation began to kick in. We were quite literally in the clouds. Clouds would pass us by, leaving our skin dewy. Along with this came elevation sickness for some of my friends. I didn’t realize then what it was, but it all makes sense now. Not only is this two-hour hike forcing you to your limits, but you’re doing a good percentage of it in an elevated state. It grew hard for some of us to catch our breaths, nausea began to set in, and of course, each one of us had to trip at least once.

As I suspected, my more adventurous friends enjoyed this experience thoroughly. However, the others? Whew. I felt hated. But I recognized that it would have played out like this. I’m always down for something adventurous that I wouldn’t have the chance to do elsewhere, so that’s what we did. And don’t get me wrong, I’m from the country with the world’s only drive-thru volcano, but I’ve still never been able to see the top like this.

A few droplets of blood, many tears, aggravated ankles, dozens of eye rolls, and lots of huffs and puffs later, we made it. The scene at the tip of Santa Ana Volcano is indescribable. Worth each bit of the strenuous and demanding walk. The top was crowded, reasonably. I automatically knew the picturesque spots as people gathered around them in large groups. I gradually neared the edge of Ilamatepec to get a glimpse of the electric blue lake that sat between the peaks. My nerves wouldn’t allow me to get much closer to the edge. I took numerous pictures, videos, and boomerangs while we were able to take in the view. Sadly, the viewpoint closed soon after we arrived. The 15 minutes or so were well worth the two hours up.

Moving down the volcano was light work at that point. The experience was worth every minute and penny.

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