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San Miguel Volcano Hike (Volcan Chaparrastique) – The Ultimate Guide

San Miguel Volcano Hike (Volcan Chaparrastique) – The Ultimate Guide

The San Miguel Volcano hike is hands down the most epic trek in El Salvador. Also known as Volcan de San Miguel, Volcan Chaparrastique or Chaparrastique Volcano, this volcano has a mindblowing double crater rim at its summit. The hike to the peak of San Miguel Volcano is challenging. But, it’s worth all the effort once you reach the tremendous craters.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the San Miguel Volcano hike. We’ll start by talking about this monstrous El Salvador volcano, and then about the hike itself, including a map of the San Miguel trail. Then, we’ll cover all the logistics of how to do this difficult-to-organise hike. Finally, we’ll make sure you know where to stay. So, we’ll look at San Miguel hotels, to ensure you a comfortable stay in this eastern part of El Salvador.

San Miguel Volcano, El Salvador

San Miguel Volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in El Salvador. Over the last 320 years, it’s erupted over 30 times! The most recent eruptions were in 2013, 2014 and 2016. It’s actually one of six active volcanoes that are constantly monitored by the El Salvador government. The others include Santa Ana, Izalco, San Salvador, San Vincente and IIlopango.

This stratovolcano is El Salvador’s third highest volcano at 2,130m. Only Santa Ana Volcano and San Vincente Volcano are higher. So, San Miguel Volcano might not be the highest. But, the classically-shaped volcano stands out from a mile away. You can even see it from some parts of Honduras and Nicaragua.

Surprisingly, the San Miguel Volcano isn’t summited by many people. That’s because the hike can be difficult to organise. Even with the help of a tour company, it can be a struggle to co-ordinate. Don’t worry though – this guide will provide all of the necessary information to make sure you can hike San Miguel Volcano without any issues. We’ll cover those logistical details after the trail description.

Best Accommodation in San Miguel

A pool and car park of a hotel

San Miguel Volcano Hike El Salvador Map & Preview

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 9.7km
  • Time: 5–7 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 1,060m
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Trailhead: Las Placitas
  • Map: Wikiloc

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San Miguel Volcano Hike

We reckon the trail San Miguel Volcano trail is easily one of the best in El Salvador. As we mentioned, it’s uncommon for tourists and locals to do this hike. This means you’ll likely have the trail to yourselves. Or, just share it with a few others. Beck and I love a quiet trail. This is one of the reasons why we really enjoyed the San Miguel Volcano hike.

Starting from the roadside at around 7am, you’ll follow a wide dirt trail, passing a small tienda (shop) and farmland. You’ll then join another trail leading through the forest. As you gain elevation, you’ll have increasingly sweeping views of San Miguel and the surrounding volcanoes and mountains.

After 2.5km, the gently inclining and winding trail becomes much tougher. You’ll reach areas of overgrown and dense dry forest. We recommend a long-sleeve shirt and lightweight trousers to avoid getting scratched or bitten by ticks.

At around the 3.5km mark, you’ll enjoy the best vantage point of the hike so far. Personally, there was a bit of cloud cover blocking our views. It’s common for San Miguel Volcano and its surrounds to be covered in clouds until around 10–11am. But, it’s recommended to start the hike early to avoid the midday heat. Hopefully, you’ll time the hike well to reach the summit craters once the clouds have cleared!

San Miguel Volcano Summit

From the vantage point, you’ll veer left. This follows a sturdier and rockier trail to the summit. We don’t recommend the other trail option, which is a soft, sandy trail consisting of volcanic ash. This trail is handy for a quick descent though, once you’ve explored the summit!

Dan hikes up a rocky trail

Following the sturdier trail, you’ll soon reach the vividly red coloured rock cliffs at the base of the summit. The tremendous red cliff walls are absolutely awe-inspiring. This has to be one of the most beautiful landforms in El Salvador. After a few photos here, the ascending trail becomes steeper and more demanding to climb. You’ll need to do the odd scrambling manoeuvre to help you ascend to the summit.

From the top of San Miguel Volcano, you’ll have phenomenal views of the town of San Miguel, the gulf of Fonseca and Jiquilisco Bay. If you’re lucky, on a clear day, you might even catch a glimpse of San Vincente Volcano. This other volcano is around 145km away! But, we’ll be honest. Beck and I weren’t so concerned about the surrounding views at the peak of San Miguel. We were absolutely awe-struck by the double crater!

San Miguel Volcano Craters

It’s a great moment when you reach and peer over the outer crater rim. You’ll see another large crater around 100 metres away. Make your way down the outer crater rim onto the flat crater interior. Red rocks are scattered along the black volcanic ash. It resembles scenes from Mars! Carefully approach the spectacular inner crater rim as the rocks are loose and unstable. What you’re about to see is just downright amazing.

The inner crater atop San Miguel Volcano is an incredible show of volcanic activity. First, the colours! Yellow and green-stained inner crater walls from the sulphur. Splashes of white from the salt. Plus, expect vivid red and black volcanic rock. It’s a real feast for the eyes. But, then there’s the smell. That eggy sulphur smell. It really hits your nostrils. Then, there are the sounds. Bubbling, gurgling and steaming furiously at the bottom of the crater. All your senses will be in overdrive when you arrive at the inner crater rim.

Enjoy your time exploring the San Miguel Volcano craters. Given the volcanic activity and large amounts of emitted gases, it’s not recommended to stay at the top longer than 30 minutes. So, after one of your best experiences in El Salvador and Central America guaranteed, it’s time to descend.

Dan admires the innermost crater during the San Miguel Volcano hike

Sliding Back Down San Miguel Volcano

Basically, you’ll be sliding back down San Miguel Volcano. It’s like volcano boarding (Cerro Negro guide coming soon), without the board! Expect your hiking shoes to be filled to the brim with volcanic rock. Keep in mind, you can choose to descend the sturdier and rockier trail you initially ascended if you prefer. Admittedly though, sliding down the volcano was an experience in itself.

Dan slides down volcanic ash

Sliding back down will certainly have you descending San Miguel Volcano much quicker than ascending it. Eventually, you’ll rejoin the initial inbound trail. Have a seat and pour the rocks out of your boots before continuing any further!

After having a snack, you’ll retrace your steps to complete the San Miguel Volcano hike.

San Miguel Volcano Hike Recap

Given the amazingness of the San Miguel Volcano hike, it deserves to be much more popular. The double crater at the top is simply incredible and should be seen by more people. But, as we mentioned previously, it can be a bit of a ball-ache to organise. Let’s go through the steps and logistics below.

Beck and Dan hike along a rocky trail

Getting From San Salvador to San Miguel

It’s possible to do the San Miguel Volcano hike from San Salvador. To do this, you would need to get yourselves to San Miguel early to start the hike around 7am. It’s recommended to start the hike early to avoid the midday heat. Getting to San Miguel early is made easy by doing a San Miguel Volcano tour from San Salvador.

A tour company will pick you up around 3:30am from San Salvador. The drive takes around 3 hours. So, you’ll get there around 6:30–7am. This is by far the simplest and easiest option.

Getting From San Salvador to San Miguel Independently

It’s not impossible to get to San Miguel early from San Salvador independently. But, it’s a lot more time-consuming and complicated. The regular #301 chicken bus, from Terminal de Oriente, starts around 3am and leaves approx. every 15 minutes. Price is $3USD. Given how slow chicken buses can be, we’d expect the trip to take around 3.5–4.5 hours. This means you’d arrive in San Miguel around 6:30–7:30am.

You’d then need to get yourself from San Miguel to Las Placitas, where the hike starts. We’re unsure if chicken buses do this route regularly. So, you might need to consider a taxi. The drive between San Miguel and Las Placitas takes around 35 minutes. So, expect to get to the trailhead around 7:15–8:15am.

If you get to San Miguel independently from San Salvador, there would need to be some flexibility with starting the hike later. Keep in mind, you need a local guide to do the San Miguel Volcano hike. So, you’d need to be in contact with your local guide about this.

Of course, you would have needed to organise a guide beforehand. This is complex in itself. So, take our advice, and simply do a San Miguel Volcano tour if you plan to do the hike from San Salvador. They’ll organise a guide for you.

Getting From San Miguel to San Salvador

Of course, if you do a San Miguel Volcano tour, you don’t need to worry about getting back to San Salvador. But, if you have travelled to San Miguel using the chicken bus, you’ll need to do the journey in reverse. Buses go to San Salvador up until 5pm. So, you should be able to fit in the hike and make it back to San Miguel in time for the bus to San Salvador.

There’s also the option of the Super Especial bus from San Miguel to San Salvador. These buses are air-conditioned and travel directly. So, they’re much quicker (approx. 3 hours). You’ll pay $5USD for this service. But, the latest departure times from San Miguel are generally around 1:40pm and 3pm. So, you might not make it back in time to San Miguel for the last Super Especial bus. But, if you miss it, there’s always the chicken bus option.

Getting to San Miguel Volcano From San Miguel

Of course, doing the hike from San Miguel is much more straightforward. As mentioned, from San Miguel, you’re only around 35 minutes from the trailhead in Las Placitas. So, logistically, it’s much easier to do the San Miguel Volcano hike from San Miguel, compared with San Salvador.

If you can get yourself to Las Placitas independently from San Miguel and organise a guide, then you could cut out the middle man and skip the San Miguel Volcano tour. But, finding a local guide can be very challenging. That’s because, there aren’t many guides that do this route!

San Miguel Volcano Hike: Local Guides

We were told there are a few reasons why there aren’t many guides operating the San Miguel Volcano hike. First, the trail is difficult and the hot weather can make the hike physically draining. So, simply, not many locals want to put their hand up to be a guide for this hike. Second, the trail goes through private property. So, guides need to know the local property owners in order to conduct the guided hike.

Third, in the past, San Miguel Volcano has been known to have bandits. So, safety could be another reason why guides don’t wish to do this hike. But, in early 2022, the San Miguel Volcano hike is much safer than it used to be. So, safety is less of an issue.

Either way, with limited guides around, you might have trouble sourcing one. That’s why doing a San Miguel Volcano tour is much easier and straightforward. They have established relationships with the few guides that do exist. So, the tour company can take care of organising a guide for you.

The guide will determine if a police escort is necessary. In the past, a police escort was recommended. But, in early 2022, the local guides insist that a police escort isn’t required. But, in any case, your tour company will notify the MITUR police before you go, to ensure it’s safe when you intend to visit. A guide will also know whether it’s safe to do the hike, in case of increased volcanic activity and expected eruptions.

FYI – don’t expect an English speaking local guide!

Beck looks over towards San Miguel Volcano in El Salvador

San Miguel Volcano Group Tour

It’s cheapest to do a San Miguel Volcano tour from San Miguel itself. That’s because transport is the most expensive part of a San Miguel Volcano tour from San Salvador. But, in saying that, there is a great tour company, based in San Salvador, that can make the trip from San Salvador really cheap.

Club de Mochileros organise cheap tours around El Salvador, including the San Miguel Volcano hike. They make their group tours cheaper by charging per group, instead of per person. For the San Miguel Volcano tour, it’s usually $100USD for roundtrip transportation (this price can increase if petrol prices skyrocket). So, split that between a group of 10 travellers, and it’s only $10USD a pop!

Unfortunately, because there are only a few guides who offer the San Miguel Volcano hike, they charge an extortionate rate. Currently, in early 2022, it’s $50USD for a guide. But, again, if you split that between a group of 10, it’s only an extra $5USD each.

After the hike, there’s also an option to be driven up to Volcan Chinameca. This will give you glorious views of San Miguel Volcano from afar. This is an additional $20USD between your group. It’s definitely worth the extra small cost. That’s because, seeing the volcano from Volcan Chinameca gives you even more appreciation for the hike you would have just completed.

To book a tour with Club de Mochileros, simply message them on Whatsapp (+503 7602 0000 or +503 7600 3454). Or, you can contact them on Facebook and Instagram.

Views of San Miguel Volcano from Volcan Chinameca
Views of San Miguel Volcano from Volcan Chinameca

Other San Miguel Volcano Hike Tours

Some tour companies offer a San Miguel Volcano tour with much less hiking. These companies organise a 4×4 that will take you about halfway up the volcano. Of course, we wouldn’t recommend this, as you won’t get to enjoy the entire hike! But, it’s certainly an option.

Make sure to ask the tour company what they actually offer in their tour. You don’t want to miss doing the entire hiking route!

Camping at San Miguel Volcano

It’s not possible to camp on San Miguel Volcano.

Dan and Beck ascending the San Miguel Volcano hike in El Salvador

San Miguel, El Salvador

San Miguel is an interesting area of El Salvador. It’s not a common destination for tourists to visit. But, there are plenty of things to enjoy in and around San Miguel. Closeby, are the Quelepa Ruins. These are an underrated set of ruins that are barely explored by tourists.

In the town of San Miguel, there’s a beautiful cathedral, central square and regional museum. You’ll also find fantastic local markets and bars. These places are full of life, particularly around the time of Carnaval. Salvadorians from all over the country head to San Miguel to take part in the festivities. San Miguel is also the hottest place in El Salvador. So, if you like the heat, you’ll be right at home.

All of these reasons make San Miguel a good base for your San Miguel Volcano hike. There’ll be much to do the days before and after.

San Miguel, El Salvador Map

For your convenience, here’s an interactive San Miguel El Salvador map.

Hotels in San Miguel, El Salvador

If you’re keen on staying in San Miguel in El Salvador, there are many great hotels to choose from. We’ve handpicked the three best mid-range hotels in San Miguel in El Salvador for a well-priced and comfortable stay.

Hotel Europa

Hotel Europa is one of the most highly-rated hotels in San Miguel El Salvador. The rooms are spacious and comfortable. There’s a nice garden area. Plus, there’s a shared kitchen and a shared lounge for your convenience. But, we’ve heard the breakfast served on-site is really delicious. Expect the owners to be very welcoming and friendly. Best of all, the location is quiet and peaceful.

A blue and white themed hotel room

Hotel Caleta

Another popular hotel in San Miguel El Salvador is Hotel Caleta. There’s a really nice garden area to explore. But, if you’re looking to escape the heat, the rooms are well set up with A/C. Hotel Caleta is rated highly for its convenient location. The owners here are super friendly and accomodating. Plus, the Wifi is very strong.

A garden area outside a hotel in San Miguel

Hotel Florencia

Hotel Florencia is another hotel in San Miguel El Salvador with a great location. The reception staff and owners are very helpful. They’re known for making great suggestions to help tourists explore the city. Plus, the facilities are very modern. You’ll definitely find everything you need for a comfortable stay at Hotel Florencia.

A light-blue coloured hotel

Hiking Essentials

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Make sure to also pack 2.5L of water, a neck gaiter, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.

Other Volcano Hikes in El Salvador

  • Santa Ana Volcano Hike: this popular trail is a must-do when you’re in El Salvador. From Santa Ana, you’ll head past Lake Coatepeque on your way to Cerro Verde National Park. This is where the Santa Ana Volcano hike takes place.
  • Izalco Volcano Hike: another wonderful hike in Cerro Verde National Park is the lesser-known Izalco Volcano hike. We highly recommend doing this hike as well as the Santa Ana Volcano hike.
  • San Salvador Volcano: located in El Boquerón National Park, the trail around the San Salvador crater is an adventuros one. Check out this hiking guide for some interesting San Salvador Volcano facts.

Bonus Tips

  • Do the San Miguel Volcano hike with a tour company: it’s so much easier to organise doing this hike with a tour company.
  • Be prepared to get dirty: sliding down volcanic ash creates a lot of dust. Plus, you’re bound to have the odd fall as it’s so slippery. This is not a hike to do in a white T-shirt!
  • Consider non-volcano El Salvador hikes: El Salvador has other brilliant hikes that don’t involve trekking up a volcano. El Salvador has awesome waterfall hikes, including the 7 Waterfalls and Hidden Waterfalls hikes. There are also superb mountains to climb, such as Cerro Eramon, Peñon de Comasagua and El Pital.
san miguel volcano hike pinterest

For even more hikes, read our 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not To Miss guide.

Daniel Piggott

Dan is a travel blogger, physiotherapist, hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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  1. Deepika Phakke says:

    Hi Dan and Beck – wanted to leave a message to let you know that Ive found your blogs incredibly helpful!! Traveling solo to el salvador I was so nervous of my adventures but reading about your climbs/hikes gave me whole new confidence and its been an amazing trip so far. I did the Volcan Chaparrastique hike it was mindblowing. I booked it after seeing your incredible pictures. Even as of Nov 2023 this volcano is as stunning as it can be.

    • Daniel Piggott says:

      Hi Deepika,

      We’re so glad that you found our blogs useful and that you’ve have had a great time in El Salvador. Thanks for reading.

      We hope you enjoy the rest of your trip.