Parque Nacional Los Volcanes (tel. 7227-5466 or 2222-8000, 9am-5pm Tues.-Sun., $3), commonly known as Parque Cerro Verde, includes three prominent volcanoes that create the country’s most poetic portrait. They are of distinct ages rarely seen so close together. Volcán Izalco is the youngest volcano in Central America; Cerro Verde is considered middle aged, formed around 25,000 years ago; and Santa Ana is one of the region’s oldest volcanoes.
Cerro Verde (2,030 meters) is the lowest of the three volcanoes and offers easy trails that can be explored in less than an hour. The humid air, abundant greenery, and multicolored birds make this a lovely walk for those looking to explore the park without too much physical exertion. A 45-minute walk around the old crater can be done with park guides and is free, but a voluntary tip of $1-5 per group is a nice gesture and enough to get an appreciative smile and thank-you from any of the young men and women that are park guides.
Volcán Izalco (1,910 meters), the youngest of the three volcanoes and the most striking in appearance, is also the most difficult to climb because of the steep ascent. Once named the “lighthouse of the Pacific” because of its constant eruptions, today the dark, perfect cone of Izalco is inactive, last erupting in 1966. It is possible to climb the steep, gravel-laden volcano, but it is necessary to take a guide. Guides leave the parking lot of the park at 11am daily. The hike takes about four hours and costs $1.
Volcán Santa Ana
Volcán Santa Ana (2,365 meters) is the most popular hike in the park for good reason. The view from the top of El Salvador’s largest volcano looks down on its striking green crater lake on one side and gorgeous Lago Coatepeque on the other. Unlike its younger neighbor Izalco, Santa Ana has been around long enough to have vegetation. As a result, the climb up leads through coffee plantations and cool forested areas where you will see a variety of birds and flora and fauna, including lots of agave plants and various species of hummingbirds, woodpeckers, jays, and emerald toucanets.
Although Santa Ana is taller than Izalco, the hike up is easier because it is not as steep. The hike takes around four hours and costs $5-8 pp, depending on how many people are in the group (3 people minimum). Guides for this hike leave the parking lot at 11am daily.
To get to Parque Nacional Los Volcanes (Parque Cerro Verde) from Santa Ana, take bus 248 from La Vencedora bus terminal (1 block west of Parque Colón, tel. 2440-8453). The bus takes 1.75 hours and costs $0.85. If you want to climb either Volcán Santa Ana or Volcán Izalco, you must catch the 7am bus so that you arrive in time for the 11am start time for the hikes. From San Salvador, take bus 205 from Terminal de Occidente, leaving no later than 6:30am; tell the driver you would like to get off at El Congo Bridge, where you will need to catch bus 248, which should pass by around 8:30am. The last bus leaves the park at 4pm. It is possible to get back to San Salvador from Santa Ana the same day, though by the time you get back, it will be dark.
If you are driving, the park is 67 kilometers from San Salvador via Sonsonate.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon El Salvador.