The Izalco Volcano hike in Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador is a phenomenal trail. Overshadowed by the popular Santa Ana Volcano hike, we guarantee that the nearby Izalco Volcano hike is even more impressive. Otherwise known as Volcan Izalco or Volcan de Izalco, this active volcano is one of the best volcanoes you can explore in El Salvador. The Izalco Volcano hike is less crowded, fun and adventurous. Plus, reaching the Izalco Volcano crater at the summit is absolutely mindblowing.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Izalco Volcano hike. We’ll talk about why it’s better than the Santa Ana Volcano hike. Plus, we’ll tell you how to get there independently and recommend an Izalco Volcano tour if that’s what you prefer. Throw in a trail description, some epic volcano crater photos and some Izalco Volcano facts, and you have one of the most comprehensive guides online about the Izalco Volcano hike.
We hope you find this guide useful. For other fantastic El Salvador volcano hikes, check out Santa Ana Volcano, San Miguel Volcano and Conchagua Volcano guides. Or, read our 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not To Miss guide.
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Izalco Volcano vs. Santa Ana Volcano
When it comes to things to do in El Salvador, day tours to Santa Ana Volcano are very popular. Do a quick ‘google’ of El Salvador volcanoes, and we’re sure your search results will nearly exclusively show information about Santa Ana Volcano. But, in the exact same national park (Cerro Verde National Park), you can do the underrated and lesser-known Izalco Volcano hike. In fact, the trailheads for the Santa Ana Volcano and Izalco Volcano hikes are only separated by a few hundred metres.
Similarly, both hikes require a local guide from Cerro Verde National Park. Guided hikes for Izalco Volcano depart once daily, at 11am, from the Cerro Verde Car Park, just opposite Mirador Complejo los Volcanes. Because guided hikes for Santa Ana Volcano depart 10am daily during the week and hourly between 8–10am on weekends, it’s not possible to do both hikes on the same day.
Why the Izalco Volcano Hike is Better
Faced with this dilemma to choose one hike during a trip to Cerro Verde National Park, or, more likely, being unaware of the alternate trail option, most choose to do the Santa Ana Volcano hike. But, we recommend you spend two days in Cerro Verde National Park to do both hikes. Yes, the crater lake at the top of the Santa Ana Volcano is amazing. But, the trail is usually overcrowded, polluted and is quite tame.
In comparison, the Izalco Volcano hike sees far fewer people. This means the trail is cleaner and more tranquil. The steep climb and scramble up to the peak of Izalco is exhilarating and challenging. We reckon the Izalco Volcano hike is far more adventurous and interesting. Plus, you’re free to explore more of the crater compared with Santa Ana Volcano. The crater at the top of Izalco Volcano is just amazing. You can even walk close to and around the steaming fumaroles!
How to Get to Izalco Volcano
Similar to the Santa Ana Volcano hike, there are a few options for getting to the Izalco Volcano. You can go there independently by chicken bus or catch an Uber or taxi. The other option is to do an Izalco Volcano tour. This usually involves hotel pickup and drop-off from your accommodation in Santa Ana to Cerro Verde National Park, where the hike starts.
From Santa Ana, the drive takes around 2 hours if you go by chicken bus. If you decide to do an Izalco Volcano tour or take an Uber/taxi, the drive is only an hour or so from Santa Ana. Whichever option you take, you’ll pass the pristine Lake Coatepeque on the way, which is south of Santa Ana.
Visiting Izalco Volcano Independently
There are two options to get to the Izalco Volcano hike independently. The chicken bus is the cheapest option ($0.90USD one-way). Otherwise, an Uber would cost around $25–30USD one-way. But, it’s not possible to do the Izalco Volcano hike without a guide. So, you can’t truly visit Izalco Volcano independently.
In early 2022, there is only one direct chicken bus from Santa Ana (#248) that goes to Cerro Verde National Park. It departs from Sala de Espera y Abordaje, on 11 Calle Pte, at 7:30am and arrives at around 9:30am. This means you’ll arrive well before the guided hike that begins at 11am. So, you’ll have a bit of downtime. There is the lovely Mirador Complejo los Volcanes you can check out. Or, you can have an expensive, but delicious coffee from Los Volcanes Bistro Cafe, to kill time.
Izalco Volcano Tour
Doing the Izalco Volcano hike as an organised tour guarantees a faster and more convenient journey to and from Santa Ana. If you choose to do an organised tour, it’s really only the transport that you’re paying for (and maybe a visit to Salto de Malacatuipan afterwards). That’s because, once you arrive at Cerro Verde National Park, you’ll pay a $6USD national park entrance fee.
You’ll also pay for a local guide. In early 2022, there needs to be a minimum of 2 people to do the guided Izalco Volcano hike. In which case, the total cost is $25USD. For 3 people or more (maximum group of 10), the total cost is $30USD, with the costs split between the group. So, of course, the local guide is much cheaper if more people join. Personally, we had 4 people in our group, so it was $7.50USD each.
Go Travel El Salvador
A member from Go Travel El Salvador will pick you up from your accommodation in Santa Ana at 9:30am. Our charismatic tour guide, Hansel, got us to Cerro Verde National Park in around an hour. Once we finished the Izalco Volcano hike, Hansel picked us up straight away. This is a huge benefit of doing an Izalco Volcano tour – no waiting around for a Chicken bus after finishing the hike.
Before returning to Santa Ana, we actually visited Salto de Malacatuipan in the afternoon. It’s a mesmerising thermal hot spring waterfall. Swimming in the heated water and feeling the intense pressure from the warm falls was total bliss. This is another perk of doing the Izalco Volcano tour with Go Travel El Salvador. Two birds, one stone!
We recommend doing an organised tour with a group of travellers to make it cheaper. With Go Travel El Salvador, it’s $40USD for 1 person. But, it’s only $25, $20 or $17USD/person, if you split between 2, 3 or 4 people, respectively.
To book with Go Travel El Salvador, you can vist their office at #56, 3a Avenida Sur, in between Calle 13 Este and Calle José Mariano Méndez Oriente, just in front of the barracks. Or, you can contact Alexander, the nice and helpful owner, on Whatsapp (+503 7607 3435, +503 7960 5855 or +503 7683 3703) to book a tour. For more details, you can scope out their Facebook or Instagram.
Trail Preview: Izalco Volcano Hike Details and Map
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 5.3km
- Time: 3.5–4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 675m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: Cerro Verde Car Park
- Map: Wikiloc
The Izalco Volcano Hike
Near to the Cerro Verde National Park office, the roadside trailhead guides you down a steep trail. It weaves and zig-zags through the forest.
The dusty trail is shaded, with only a rare glimpse of sunshine peeking through the dense trees. After a fairly steep decline, you’ll arrive at the bottom of Cerro Verde and at the base of Izalco Volcano.
From here, the trail becomes much more challenging. Basically, there are two trail options. Our local guide explained there is a sandy trail and a sturdy rocky trail. Obviously, the stable rocky trail was the logical choice for an easier ascending trail that provides more traction underfoot. But, we had the option to descend via the sandy trail, or, should I say, slide down. This is exactly what we experienced on San Miguel Volcano. Beck and I hiked up a rocky trail and slid down a sandy trail consisting of fine volcanic ash.
On this occasion, we chose to ascend and descend via the stable rocky trail. But, you could certainly choose the alternate sandy trail to descend for more of a thrill and adrenaline buzz.
The ascent of Izalco Volcano doesn’t look so daunting from the base. But, it’s one of those trails that seems to get longer and longer, the higher you go. Thankfully, as a distraction from the intense climb, you’ll have spectacular views of Cerro Verde National Park. You’ll also have decent views of Santa Ana Volcano. Admittedly, Santa Ana Volcano doesn’t look as impressive during the Izalco Volcano hike, as Izalco Volcano does on the Santa Ana Volcano hike!
Izalco Volcano Crater
After passing some small fumaroles, you’ll eventually reach the summit of the Izalco Volcano. Immediately, you’ll notice lots of steam emitted from several fumaroles inside the crater and on the crater rim. It’s such an unforgettable experience to see this first hand.
Expect to see some friendly police officers at the top. They didn’t actually hike up with us but joined us for about half of the descent. There is an alternate trail that they use to quickly access the Izalco crater that is off-limits to hikers.
After some lunch, it’s time to explore the volcanic activity. Without being a goose, you can explore the fumaroles, by walking past them, but not too close. After all, the steam is very hot! Admire the rocks as you walk around the crater. There are minerals in these rocks that are unique, given, that at one point, they were spat out by the volcano.
Other than the incredible crater and geology underfoot, you’ll have far sweeping views of Cerro Verde National Park, western El Salvador and even the Pacific Ocean. You’ll also notice where lava flows have stopped around the base of the Izalco Volcano during previous eruptions. This is shown by the black rock that unevenly circles the volcano.
Once you’ve enjoyed the Izalco Volcano crater, it’s time for the return journey. After descending the volcano with the guide and our two funny Dutch friends Guido and Remko, we were free to speed hike the remaining incline up Cerro Verde.
What’s speed hiking? It’s our favourite way to hike. Find out more about speed hiking here.
Returning to Santa Ana
Well done on doing the Izalco Volcano hike! If you travelled independently and want to catch the chicken bus back to Santa Ana, head to the Cerro Verde Car Park. In early 2022, you can catch a direct bus (#248) from Cerro Verde Car Park to Santa Ana at around 1:30pm. If you can, try to get there at least 15 minutes beforehand.
Otherwise, there is a bus leaving Cerro Verde National Park at around 4pm. But, this isn’t direct to Santa Ana city. You’ll need to change at La Congo and get the #59 bus to Santa Ana from there.
If you haven’t chosen to do an Izalco Volcano tour and can’t be bothered to wait for the chicken bus, you could book an Uber. Personally, we didn’t see any taxis waiting around at Cerro Verde National Park. But, the national park is quite far from Santa Ana city. So, you could be waiting a long time for an Uber driver to accept your request.
If you’re travelling in El Salvador, we’re sure you’ll visit Santa Ana Volcano. But, make sure to spend a second day at Cerro Verde National Park to do the Izalco Volcano hike. It’s a much more enjoyable trail for hikers, with an astonishing crater summit.
Is It Possible to Camp on Izalco Volcano?
No, camping isn’t possible on the Izalco Volcano trail. To be honest, the hike isn’t long enough to justify camping anyway. Although, it’s possible to camp in Cerro Verde National Park at Glass House Mountain Park. It’s also known as Parque de Montaña Casa Cristal. Otherwise, it’s best to base yourself in Santa Ana for the Izalco Volcano hike.
For accommodation in Santa Ana, Hotel Brunette or Remfort Hotel are the best mid-range hotel options for a comfortable stay. If you’re travelling on a budget, we recommend a dorm room at either Hostal Casa Verde or Hostal Sole. Both hostels are rated highly.
Five Hiking Essentials
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
Make sure to also pack 2L of water, lunch, sunglasses, suncreen and a hat.
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
Izalco Volcano El Salvador Facts
- The most recent eruption of the Izalco Volcano was in 1966.
- This volcano was formed in 1770 and is the youngest volcano in El Salvador.
- Izalco Volcano isn’t the biggest volcano in El Salvador. That honour goes to neighbouring Santa Ana Volcano.
- Izalco Volcano is nicknamed the ‘Lighthouse of the Pacific’. That’s because, when the volcano has previously erupted, lava could be seen from the Pacific Ocean at night, which resembled a lighthouse.
- Don’t skip El Salvador: many travellers miss El Salvador during their Central America trip. Make sure to visit. There are many hidden gems to explore #dontskipelsalvador
- Best time of year to hike Izalco Volcano: In El Salvador and Central America, you should hike in the dry season between November to May to avoid bad weather.
- Use trekking poles: many volcano hikes in El Salvador involve lots of incline to reach the peak. Trekking poles will reduce the pressure on your knees.
The Izalco Volcano hike is one of the best trails in the entire country of El Salvador. Leave us a comment below if you’ve done this hike.