Santa Ana Volcano: The Best Hike in El Salvador

Sunrise At Lake Coatepeque

At 5:20 in the morning, a loud ring pierced through the air and I jumped up, startled. I shuffled my way across the blackened room as to not step on anything lurking in the dark. Following the sound of my alarm,I ticked it off. I opened the door to our bedroom on Lake Coatepeque’s edge and I let out a whispered, “Wooooooooow.”

The sun was rising in El Salvador and I was ready to see where I ended up last night. I stepped onto the path trickling down to the lake and followed it to the dock. Climbing the wooden ladder to the second level, I made eye contact with the heavens across the lake. 

I stood ten feet above the water on the jungle’s edge, as if I was the straw in a glass of pink lemonade surrounded by scoops of lime green sherbert. The roosters crowed, echoing an alarm throughout the neighborhood, though the rest of civilization seemed to hit the snooze button. 

Flying Above Lago de Coatepeque

Lago de Coatepeque was calm as could be. Not a single ripple could have been spotted. In fact, I created more commotion brushing my teeth in the morning than this entire lake made at sunrise.

Starting up my drone, the aerial view of my surroundings began to appear. Small boats lined the shore, sporting every color of the rainbow. Stalks of broccoli bordered the still blue edge of the lake, symbolizing a healthy home for hundreds of wildlife. Two white birds spread their wings, soaring far below and skimming the calm surface of the lake, searching for breakfast.

How can we be the only people awake to see this?

Just then, a door creaked open behind us. Our host informed us last night that there were only two other people staying at the hostel. There’s a man from France and a woman from Guatemala. The frenchman stepped outside of his room and climbed up the staircase to brush his teeth.

Stuck in Lake Coatepeque

The time must’ve flown by while we watched the sun rising over the jungle because, checking my phone, I realized we only had about 15 minutes before we needed to head out. Following the frenchman upstairs and back to our pickup, we realized we were locked in. Looking around, our host was nowhere to be seen. If we didn’t get out of this place soon, we would miss our hike up the Santa Ana Volcano. Hearing another set of footsteps, I turned around. It was the frenchman again.

“Hey, do you know what room the host stays in? We have to leave, but we’re locked in.”

He gave me a confused look and went upstairs to try the door for himself. Sure enough, it wouldn’t open.

“That’s not good. We have to leave, too. We’re hiking the volcano this morning,” he said, running off shouting the host’s name in a frantic search.

Making New Friends

Up top, another door opened up as a tired man stepped outside in his pajamas, rubbing his eyes. I felt bad because we were not only the reason he stayed up late last night, but also the reason he woke up at the crack of dawn. However, I had to laugh, because he seemed so disoriented I thought he may still be sleepwalking.

“If you guys want, we’re headed to the volcano for a hike, as well. You can grab a ride with us if you’re ready,” we said to the frenchman, now that we were free.

“Oh really? Yes, please! Just give me one minute, let me go get my partner,” he ran away again, frenzied as to not lose his free ride and excuse to avoid the chicken bus at all costs. Apparently, his girlfriend (the Guatemalan) also did some research about El Salvador before arriving. She was afraid to take the chicken bus for fear of being robbed. Although we hadn’t witnessed anything but kindness so far, we could understand her fear. After all, there’s a lot of information about the old El Salvador online.

Pupusas For Breakfast

It was about a forty minute drive to the trailhead, but time flew as we swapped stories with our newfound travel partners. Though our Spanish wasn’t bad, the girl from Guatemala was a hidden gem for us, as she fluently conversed with the locals upon our arrival.

“Okay, so he said we can park right here and either wait for more people to do a group hike or pay $8 each and do a private hike now.”

Taking the local up on the parking offer, we walked across the road to the handful of vendors to discuss over breakfast. Their restaurants were held up by large twigs and rocks, draped with a tent atop to take cover from the rain. We ordered four coffees and four pupusas, joking that we needed energy if we were going to make it up the volcano.

brown bread on black pan
Photo by Red Light Films & Photography on Pexels.com

Pupusas are a cultural dish in El Salvador made with a thick corn tortilla and various vegetables, meat and cheese that are cooked into it. I opted for a simple cheese and jalapeño pupusa. Once you get the tortilla, you rip it a piece off with your hand and use it to pinch a healthy scoop of curtido (fermented cabbage relish). I’d never tasted such fresh jalapeños, it seemed to explode in my tastebuds and make them reborn. However, washing the hotness away with a steaming cup of coffee wasn’t exactly going down as easy. We paid $3.75USD for the entire table’s breakfast and headed back across the street to meet our guide. Alas, we began the climb.

Climbing the Santa Ana Volcano

Jumping above overgrown roots and swiveling around leaves-that-can-cut-your-legs, we continued on. Our guide told us about the animals we can find in El Salvador: poisonous snakes, tarantulas, armadillos and mountain lions, although we didn’t cross paths with any of these on our hike. Soon enough, the smooth, dirt path transformed into a rocky mess and we were hopping this way and that, giggling as each person in our group lost their footing, but cringing when that person was us.

“10 minutes more to volcano,” our guide assured us, as the rock piles became steeper.

A sign, the only sign we’d seen so far, appeared and we all cheered, “We made it!”

Reaching The Top Of Santa Ana Volcano

I peered over the edge of the cliff into the enormous, volcanic crater. A teal green acid lake was nestled in the center, bubbling with hot springs from beneath that reached the temperature of a whopping 135.5°F (57.5°C). It hadn’t erupted since 2005, but it was invigorating to think it could still blow at any moment.

“This is insane, how are we the only people here?”

The Acid Lake

Walking along the edge, we could see just how far we’d trekked up the volcano on the right side and just how far we could fall into the boiling abyss on the left side. A swirl of wind brought a whirl of clouds around us, making us feel as if we were in the cushy white room of an insane asylum, completely incapable of seeing any of the landmarks we’d just witnessed not 30 seconds beforehand. We were literally on Cloud 9.

A shout came from the far end and a laugh echoed not far behind it. We weren’t alone anymore. Soon, clusters of people began flooding the volcano’s edge, bringing us back to reality. We must’ve beat the crowds this morning. I could only imagine how magical the sunrise would’ve been from this haven.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Making Our Way Back Down The Volcano

After a few more moments of staring into the robin’s nest that was the Santa Ana Volcano, we began our descent. I have to say, walking breezily downhill as everyone else huffed and puffed uphill, taking breaks on various boulders along the way, was refreshing. We excitedly told everyone watching us return not to worry, that they were almost there.

“It’ll be worth it!”

Before long, we were back where the hike began and we felt stickier than ever from hiking in the humid El Salvador air. We plopped on a picnic bench, chugging water and swapping numbers to share photos with each other that we’d taken up top. Though we were headed to a different city than our new hostel friends, they hopped in for a quick ride down to the bus stop and we went on our separate ways.

“So, we’ll meet you in Guatemala next, right?” we joked (but really not kidding), waving goodbye.

Driving down the road with Latin music filling the truck, only one sentence needed to be spoken for our next adventure to begin, “I think I’m ready for another pupusa.”

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  1. Our beautyfull El Savador , i was born and raised
    there i can’t to see it again after more than 30
    yrs ,in this US ,florida…
    god bless and enjoy

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