The San Vicente Volcano hike in El Salvador is a challenging climb through dense forest, banana plantations and coffee fincas. The incredible views from the peak of San Vicente Volcano stretch as far as the Pacific Ocean, with many other notable volcanoes in El Salvador scattered about the landscape. Also known as Chinchontepec or Volcan de San Vicente, this twin-peaked volcano is easily identified, and admired, as you travel through any part of El Salvador. However, unlike the more well-known Santa Ana Volcano, few actually make the hike to the summit of this mighty volcano. But, don’t let that fool you into thinking San Vicente in El Salvador is not a worthwhile trek. With hot springs and fumaroles, surprise miradors, and quiet, picturesque camp spots on offer, we reckon San Vicente Volcano is a real hidden gem in El Salvador.
In this guide, we’ll detail everything you need to know about the San Vicente Volcano hike. This includes how to get there, a trail description and a map. We’ll also discuss the options for hiking Chinchontepec independently or with a tour.
Table of Contents
San Vicente Volcano Hike in El Salvador Overview
San Vicente Volcano is located centrally in El Salvador, around a 1.5 hour drive from its capital city, San Salvador. Volcan de San Vicente is El Sal’s second-highest volcano. But, it’s one of the least active. The last significant San Vicente Volcano eruption was around 1,700 years ago. This means the San Vicente Volcano hike is thick and full of vegetation.
The resulting trail has lots of shade cover from the blistering sun. That’s great news for hiking in the hot climes of Central America. But don’t worry. As the trail winds up the flanks of this impressive volcano, you’ll discover numerous breathtaking views as you weave in and out of the tree cover.
San Vicente Volcano Hike Map & Preview
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 14.8km
- Time: 7 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 1,330m
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Trailhead: San Francisco Agua Agria
- Map: Wikiloc
San Vicente Volcano Hike
As with most hiking in El Salvador, getting an early start is important for beating the heat. Arriving at the small town of San Francisco Agua Agria, we met our local guides for the day. The hike begins.
It’s not long before you reach the first impressive sight of the San Vicente Volcano hike. The colourful landscape of hot springs and fumaroles greets you just a few minutes into the trail. The deep gorge cut into the side of the volcano, where hot water bubbles away and thick steam blows in and out, giving way to glimpses of the hike to come.
The initial stages of the ascent are primarily through coffee fincas and banana plantations. A nice reminder that you’re hiking in Central America. The trail follows a dusty, rocky road until you pass through a farm and then on to the first purpose-built mirador.
Views to Enjoy on the Hike Up
The concrete platform, complete with roof shade, makes for a good snack stop. It is the first real taste of the amazing views this hike will deliver. We had read that there are absolutely zero views on the San Vicente Volcano hike. Well, until you reach the summit that is. This is not true at all. As the trail weaves in and out of the tree canopy, there are plenty of fantastic opportunities to marvel at the surrounding landscape.
From here, the trail starts to become a little more overgrown. It follows a single-track route that heads up further into the forest, leaving the fincas behind. In parts, the forest is so thick we found the light diminished greatly. It made for a gruelling climb of solid uphill walking. Especially so, because you can no longer see where the summit is.
The giveaway to nearing the top is the changing light of the forest. Gradually, as more sun is able to penetrate the canopy, you gain a real sense of nearing the peak.
San Vicente Volcano Summit
Once you reach the summit, you’ll be faced with the prospect of ‘trespassing’ onto a military base sitting at the very top. We had read this was abandoned. This is not the case – it’s very much still crewed. Thankfully, you should be granted permission to enter. Our guide led us up and we waited patiently on the small helipad. He signed us in and gained confirmation we could take photographs. Please do wait and ask for permission, this is private property after all.
A word of warning though; it is not permitted to photograph any of the military buildings. This means you will find your photography options are somewhat limited. Fingers crossed for a clear day. Admittedly, a military base or any kind of communications tower at a summit does not fill us with joy. However, we found Chinchontepec is still worth the effort.
Waiting for the Clouds to Clear
We were not so lucky to have a beautifully clear day. The cloud cover at the summit, paired with restricted access, meant we didn’t have a right lot to photograph. What we could photograph was generally covered in cloud. It also meant lingering at the top for longer than we usually would whilst longing for the cloud to clear. Which it did, on occasion.
We were assured though, that on a good day you can see all of El Salvador from San Vicente Volcano. I’m inclined to believe this too, since you can pretty well see San Vicente Volcano from anywhere in El Salvador. On a clear day, you should have views of Santa Ana Volcano and Lago de Coatepeque up in the north and west of the country, and of San Miguel Volcano in the east.
Speed Hiking Down San Vicente Volcano
After a long slog up the volcano, rest assured, returning back down is much quicker. Dan and I were able to speed hike the return journey. Racing through the steep forest section, we were surprised at how quickly we arrived back at the coffee fincas and banana plantations. Whizzing back down Chinchontepec meant we were able to enjoy some time back at the fumaroles. A perfect rest spot as we waited for the other members of our group to finish.
WHAT IS SPEED HIKING? Dan and I love to speed hike, pushing ourselves on trails to cover more distance in the time we have. Don’t worry, it certainly doesn’t mean enjoying the trail any less. Find out more about speed hiking here.
San Vicente Volcano Hike Recap
Given San Vicente Volcano is El Salvador’s second-highest volcano, we feel it deserves much more recognition than it currently receives. The thick overgrown trail and military base summit, I am sure, sound off-putting. However, if you enjoy a challenge, then you’ll find the San Vicente Volcano hike a fantastic trail choice when trekking in El Salvador.
Sure, Santa Ana Volcano is breathtaking, but we found El Salvador to be much more than this extremely popular volcano. You just need a willingness to explore. And we say explore Chinchontepec.
Camping at San Vicente Volcano
It’s possible to camp on the side of Volcan de San Vicente. Our guides told us it was quite popular with locals on the weekend. We passed through the campsite during the week and didn’t see any campers. The site is basic with a sheltered area for cooking and not much else. It’s a pack-your-baby-wipes kinda experience. But, who isn’t willing to give up the comforts of a shower and toilet to camp out on a volcano – amirite? That being said, the site is pleasantly well shaded with flat grass areas to pitch a tent. The vistas across El Salvador are wonderful.
To arrange to stay at the campsite, we recommend calling the advertised number of the local guides for San Vicente Volcano. They will be able to advise on costs and logistics for doing so. The number is +503 7532 8742.
Dan and I travelled from San Salvador to reach the trailhead for the San Vicente Volcano hike at San Francisco Agua Agria. The drive time was around 1.5 hours with our chosen tour company (more on that below), which conveniently picked us up from our accommodation. We left San Salvador early in order to get a good start on the hike before the heat hit.
Alternatively, you could base yourself in San Vicente town itself for closer proximity to Chinchontepec. This would mean a slightly later wake up call too.
To get from San Salvador to San Vicente independently, you’ll need to take bus #116 from the Eastern Terminal (Terminal de Oriente) in the city to San Vicente. The bus will arrive at 15th Avenue South, between 4th & 6th street PTE. To get from San Vicente to San Francisco Agua Agria, we would recommend taking a taxi for the 30 minute journey. Alternatively, it should be possible to take a colectivo from San Vicente to San Francisco Agua Agria.
Hiking San Vicente Volcano Independently
Much like hiking any volcano, other than Santa Ana Volcano, in El Salvador, you’ll be hard pushed to find information online describing how to take on this hike independently. Google maps won’t help you for this one. Maps.Me, which we often use for additional trail information, shows a totally different trail to the one we took. However, there was a mostly clear and defined trail to the summit. Although, I imagine, without a proper guidance system, it would be fairly easy to lose the trail in parts.
Additionally, there is always a safety issue to consider when hiking in Central America. Robberies and local banditos are commonplace here. Although, during our 3 weeks hiking in El Salvador, Dan and I felt safe the entire time. Still, we generally took precautions to help ensure this.
So, we cannot really recommend taking on the San Vicente Volcano hike without a local guide. It’s also a great way of supporting the local community. If you can base yourself in the town of San Vicente itself and get to San Francisco Agua Agria, you can contact a local guide from there. At the trailhead for Chinchontepec, there is a sign about hiking San Vicente Volcano with a phone number to contact a local guide (+503 7532 8742). A local guide costs $25USD, and we were provided two for our hike.
San Vicente Volcano Hike Group Tour
Dan and I were keen to hike a lot in El Salvador. However, finding a single tour company that could cater to all the hiking we had planned was not so easy. Luckily for us, we came across a great company offering the San Vicente Volcano hike at a very affordable price. Based in San Salvador and La Libertad, Club de Mochileros organise cheap tours around El Salvador. We used them for many of our El Salvador hikes. Their group tours are cheaper because they charge per group, instead of per person.
The San Vicente Volcano hike with Club de Mochileros is $100USD per group for transport. So, with a group of five, it’s only $20USD each! You’ll need to pay $25USD as a group for a guide. Again, working out at just $5USD each if in a group of five.
San Vicente El Salvador
The town of San Vicente in El Salvador sits within the shadow of the huge 2,181m high Chinchontepec Volcano. As well as climbing this impressive volcano and admiring the views from atop, it’s also great to marvel from afar. San Vicente town makes for a great spot to sit, enjoy and photograph this twin-peaked monolith.
Vista Al Valle De Jiboa, on the outskirts of the city, is a fantastic Mirador to view Chinchontepec in all its glory. Perhaps you’ll be sat marvelling at the achievement of scaling its towering form too.
The town of San Vicente was founded by 50 Spanish families back in 1635, under the Tempisque tree, which still stands today and was declared a national historical heritage. It also once served as the country’s capital.
What Does Chinchontepec Mean?
Chinchontepec means the ‘mountain of two breasts‘ in the indigenous Nahuat language. As you can see from the shape of Chinchontepec, there are two peaks at its summit. Both have craters, although neither are located at the very top. They’re also covered in thick vegetation. Locals often refer to Chinchontepec as Las Chiches (The Breasts) for short. We heard the term ‘las tetas’ banded about a lot by our group. We’ll let you work that one out for yourselves.
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 2.5L of water, a neck gaiter, snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen 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.
- Don’t skip El Salvador: many tourists miss El Salvador during their Central America trip. Check out our El Salvador guides to find other incredible places to visit. #dontskipelsalvador
- Be trail prepared: as far as we can tell, there are no online maps (google or Maps.Me) to help self navigate this trail. Make sure to download a GPS map (feel free to use our Wikiloc map) and preferably use a local guide.
- It can be cold at the top: amazingly, with the low cloud cover, Dan and I got cold, quite quickly at the top. Make sure to pack some layers just in case. We found a good wind jacket sufficed.
- The big three: no doubt if you’re in El Salvador, you’ll be planning a trip to Santa Ana Volcano. To tick off the big three, be sure to hike San Miguel Volcano (Chaparrastique) too.
- Avoid a muddy trail: Hiking in the dry season would be a good idea (Nov-May) as during the wet season the trail can become quite muddy and the steep sections difficult to hike. There is of course also an increased risk of landslides.
Have you hiked more than just Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador? Let us know in the comments below.