The Santa Ana Volcano hike is an absolute must if you’re backpacking in El Salvador. Otherwise known as Ilamatepec Volcano, Volcan de Santa Ana or Volcan Santa Ana, this hiking trail is located in the serene Cerro Verde National Park. By far, hiking Santa Ana Volcano is one of the most popular things to do in El Salvador. With incredible views of the beautiful crater lake, visiting the Santa Ana Volcano in El Salvador is non-negotiable.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the Santa Ana Volcano hike in Cerro Verde National Park. This will include details about visiting independently or doing a Santa Ana Volcano tour. Whilst we’re at it, we’ll describe the hike and show you some epic photos of the crater lake. We’ll also talk about how to get to and where to stay in Santa Ana, we’ll cover some fun Santa Ana volcano facts and discuss other hikes in Cerro Verde National Park and El Salvador.
We hope you find this guide useful. For other fantastic El Salvador volcano hikes, check out Izalco Volcano, San Miguel Volcano and San Vicente Volcano guides. Or, read 20 Epic El Salvador Hiking Trails Not To Miss.
Where Is the Santa Ana Volcano Hike?
The Santa Ana Volcano hike is located around 15km southwest of Santa Ana in Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador. Covering around 11,000 acres (44 square kilometres), Santa Ana Volcano sits in the northern part of Cerro Verde National Park. From Santa Ana city, the driving distance to the trailhead is around 39km. Driving time depends on traffic and, of course, how you get there!
How to Get to Santa Ana Volcano
There are a few options for getting to the Santa Ana Volcano hike. You can go there independently by chicken bus or get an Uber or taxi. The other option is to do an organised Santa Ana Volcano Tour. This involves hotel pickup and drop-off from your accommodation in Santa Ana to Cerro Verde National Park, where the hike begins.
From Santa Ana, the journey takes around 2 hours if you go by chicken bus. If you decide to do a Santa Ana Volcano Tour or take an Uber or taxi, the drive is only around an hour from Santa Ana. Either way, during the journey, you’ll pass the pristine Lake Coatepeque, which is south of Santa Ana.
Of course, visiting Santa Ana Volcano is easiest to do from nearby Santa Ana city. But, if you choose a Santa Ana Volcano Hike Tour, it’s possible to visit from San Salvador city. Hiking Santa Ana Volcano is possibly the most touristic activity to do in El Salvador. So, tour companies all over El Salvador offer this volcano hiking tour. You could even visit Santa Ana Volcano from El Tunco as a day tour.
So, should you visit independently or with a tour group?
Visiting Santa Ana Volcano Independently
There are two options to get to Santa Ana Volcano independently. The chicken bus is by far the cheapest option ($0.90USD one-way). Whilst an Uber would set you back around $25–30USD one-way. But, it’s not possible to do the Santa Ana Volcano hike without a guide. So, really, getting to and from Cerro Verde National Park is the only thing you’ll be doing independently.
Anyway, if you visit independently using the chicken bus, you will have no choice but to do so from Santa Ana. That’s because, as of early 2022, there is only one direct bus from Santa Ana (#248) to Cerro Verde National Park. It leaves at 7:30am from Sala de Espera y Abordaje, on 11 Calle Pte. There are no other buses heading to Cerro Verde National Park from other cities or towns in El Salvador.
Santa Ana Volcano Is a Guided Hike
As mentioned, it’s only possible to do the Santa Ana Volcano hike with a local guide. During the week, there are only guided hikes starting at 10am. So, by catching the chicken bus, you will make it in time to do this guided hike.
On the weekends, Cerro Verde National Park is much busier with many locals visiting. So, as of early 2022, guided hikes run hourly from 8–10am. But, if you arrive by chicken bus, you’re only option is to do the 10am guided hike, which tends to be busier than the earlier timed hikes.
Cerro Verde National Park is open from 7am to 5pm. So, if you visit on the weekend and get an Uber or taxi, it’s possible to arrive for the earliest guided hike at 8 am. This means you’ll walk in a much smaller group. So, you’ll experience a quieter trail and a more tranquil hike. But, an Uber to and from Santa Ana Volcano could cost around $50–60USD in total. This is the most expensive option. A Santa Ana Volcano Tour is actually cheaper (usually around $40USD).
Because the guided hikes are at 10am during the week, we don’t really see any advantage in getting to Cerro Verde National Park early using an Uber or Taxi. If you don’t want to get the chicken bus, it’s still cheaper to do a Santa Ana Volcano Tour.
Santa Ana Volcano Tour
Doing the Santa Ana Volcano hike as an organised tour ensures a quicker and easier journey to and from Santa Ana. Just to clarify, if you choose to do an organised tour, it’s really only the transport that you’re paying for (and maybe a visit to Lake Coatepeque afterwards). That’s because, once you arrive at Cerro Verde National Park, you’ll still need to pay a $6USD national park entrance fee. Plus, you’ll pay $3USD for the local guide.
If you do an organised tour, the tour guide or driver from the company is unlikely to do the hike with you. There are national park staff, who specifically work as local hiking guides.
Most tour companies in Santa Ana run a similar tour to the volcano. Hotels and hostels in Santa Ana work with these tour companies and can help organise your trip. But, if you want to cut out the middle man for a cheaper rate and go directly with a reputable tour agency in Santa Ana, we recommend Go Travel El Salvador.
Go Travel El Salvador
A representative from Go Travel El Salvador will pick you up from your accommodation in Santa Ana at 8am. Our lovely driver, Karen, got us to Cerro Verde National Park in around 50 minutes. We visited on the weekend and made it just in time for the 9am guided hike. Once we finished the hike, Karen was waiting for us, and we were on our merry way. On the way back to Santa Ana, we stopped off at a lovely Mirador of Lake Coatepeque and then at a nice restaurant on the lake. These are the extra perks of doing a Santa Ana Volcano Tour.
We recommend doing an organised tour as a group to keep the costs down. With Go Travel El Salvador, it’s $40USD for 1 person. But, it’s only $25USD, $20USD or $17USD per 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. Otherwise, you can contact Alexander, the friendly owner, on Whatsapp (+503 7607 3435, +503 7960 5855
or +503 7683 3703). For more information about Go Travel El Salvador, check out their Facebook and Instagram.
Arriving at Cerro Verde National Park
Whether you visit independently or as part of a Santa Ana Volcano Tour, head to El Tibet once you arrive in Cerro Verde National Park. This is a restaurant where the local guides gather. You’ll pay the local guide $3USD.
Then, the guide will lead you and your group along the road, for about 50 metres, where you’ll turn left onto a track. This is the trailhead for the Santa Ana Volcano hike and where your journey to the incredible crater lake begins.
Trail Preview: How Difficult is the Santa Ana Volcano Hike?
For hikers, the Santa Ana Volcano trail is quite easy. Because it’s a guided hike, there are obviously no navigation challenges. The terrain is sometimes uneven and rocky underfoot, whilst the incline is gradual throughout. So, you should feel a steady workout without feeling too out of breath. Generally, with a rest at the top to enjoy the emerald coloured crater lake, the hike up and down should take around 3.5–4 hours.
In comparison, the other main trail in Cerro Verde National Park, the Izalco Volcano hike, is much more challenging. As far as hiking goes, we actually enjoyed this trail more than the Santa Ana Volcano hike! Read more about the Izalco Volcano hike here.
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 7.4km
- Time: 3.5–4 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 460m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: El Tibet
The Santa Ana Volcano Hike
From the trailhead, you’ll soon enter the densely forested area. The trail winds its way through the trees, steadily ascending. During the early stages of the hike, you won’t have much in the way of views.
Shortly, you’ll reach the Santa Ana Volcano National Park entrance. This is where you’ll join the queue and pay $6USD. Expect to see police officers around. For our guided hike, we didn’t have any police officers join us. But, they are around the national park to keep it safe and secure. At the national park office, there are toilets and a small shop, if required.
From the national park office, you’ll rejoin the shaded forested trail. Soon though, after gaining some elevation, the trail winds away from the forest, towards the edges of the side of the volcano. This reveals splendid views of Izalco Volcano. It’s a classicly cone-shaped volcano that looks marvellous from afar.
You’ll then reach a wooden platform Mirador. It has decent views of Izalco Volcano and the surrounding Cerro Verde National Park. The trail then continues to ascend and meander along the bumpy volcanic rock. This part of the trail is exposed, so you’ll start to heat up! But, it’s common for the peak of Santa Ana Volcano to be quite windy. So, once you reach the top, you’ll cool down quickly.
What awaits you is possibly the best El Salvador volcano lake. In terms of other El Salvador crater lakes, only Alegria Lake at Volcan Tecapa rivals it.
Santa Ana Volcano Crater Lake
Seeing the astonishingly coloured crater lake from the rim of Santa Ana Volcano is an amazing experience. El Salvador has many outstanding natural attractions, and the crater lake at Santa Ana Volcano is one of the best. For such relatively minimal effort, the crater lake is a huge reward. Stop here to have some lunch and soak in its natural beauty.
Atop Santa Ana Volcano, there are a series of poles creating an imaginary boundary. These are positioned to show that you can’t explore beyond the rim of the crater. This means you can’t hike down into the crater. Don’t worry, the best views are from the rim anyway. From here, you’ll also have splendid views across Cerro Verde National Park, Izalvo Volcano and Lake Coatepeque.
Once you’re satisfied, it’s possible to do the return hike without your guide. Our guide and group started the descent around the same time we did. But, we were happy to speed hike some parts of the trail on the way down, so we skipped ahead.
What’s speed hiking? It’s our passion that we want to share with the world. Find out more about speed hiking here.
Getting Back to Santa Ana City
Once you’ve finished the Santa Ana Volcano hike, it’s time to make your way back to Santa Ana. If you’ve chosen to do an organised tour, your driver should be waiting to take you back.
If you travelled independently and want to catch the chicken bus back to Santa Ana, head to the bus stop that is, more or less, opposite the trailhead. In early 2022, you can catch a direct bus (#248) to Santa Ana at 1:30pm. Or, there is a bus departing Cerro Verde National Park at 4pm. But, this isn’t direct to Santa Ana. You’ll need to change at La Congo and get the #59 bus to Santa Ana.
If you haven’t chosen to do a Santa Ana Volcano Tour and can’t be bothered to wait for the chicken bus, we’d recommend Uber. Personally, we didn’t see any taxis at the trailhead. But, keep in mind, Cerro Verde National Park is a bit of a drive from Santa Ana city. So, you could be waiting a while for an Uber driver to accept your request.
The Santa Ana Volcano hike is a must-do experience when you’re travelling in El Salvador. Indeed, the crater lake is one of the most impressive natural attractions in Central America. But, there’s more to El Salvador than just the Santa Ana Volcano hike. Make sure to check out our other El Salvador hiking guides and suggested hikes below.
Getting to Santa Ana
If you’re travelling to Santa Ana from within El Salvador, you’ll likely be travelling from San Salvador, Sonsonate or Juayua. These journeys are relatively short and can be done simply, cheaply, and, more often than not, safely, with chicken buses. We don’t think it’s necessary to use a private shuttle company for these small trips.
- San Salvador: chicken buses leave from Terminal de Occidente very regularly (every 15–20 minutes). The journey to Santa Ana takes around 1 hour and cost around $1–2USD.
- Sonsonate: from Terminal de Buses de Sonsonate, look out for chicken buses #216 and #209, which leave regularly and take around 2 hours. This bus should only cost around $1USD or less.
- Juayua: chicken bus #238 leaves from from 5ta Ave Nte and Calle Merceditas Caceres Poniente. Timetables change frequently, but there are usually a few buses in the morning around 5, 6, 7 and 9am. There should also be a bus departing at midday and a couple of afternoon buses leaving around 2 and 4pm. The journey takes around 2 hours and costs approx. $1USD or less.
Getting to Santa Ana From Guatemala
If you’re travelling to Santa Ana from Guatemala, you’ll likely be departing from Guatemala City or Antigua. For this trip, we don’t recommend chicken buses. That’s because the journey can take around 10–12 hours and we’ve heard the route can be a bit sketchy, particularly at night. You’ll definitely save money this way, but the journey is more complicated and potentially unsafe.
So, we recommend a private shuttle service to get to Santa Ana from Guatemala. It’s not cheap, but the journey should only take 7 hours. The driver will also instruct you at the Guatemala / El Salvador border crossing to make it super easy. Better yet, they’ll drop you off at your accommodation in Santa Ana.
Personally, we travelled from Antigua and booked this service from an agency there called A Viajar Guatemala. They helped us book the shuttle with Go Travel El Salvador. To book directly with Go Travel El Salvador, the cost is $40USD.
Read more: 17 of the Best Hikes in Guatemala
Where to Stay in Santa Ana El Salvador
Compared with San Salvador city, there aren’t as many accommodation options in Santa Ana. But, there are some highly rated and great quality hotels and hostels to choose from. We’ve handpicked the two best hotel and hostel options to suit all needs.
Santa Ana Hotels
Hotel Brunette is a fantastic option during your stay in Santa Ana. The hotel is stylishly decorated, and the rooms are spacious with A/C and private bathrooms. A delicious breakfast is included, whilst you can also use the kitchen for your own cooking. The Wifi is top-notch, the staff are friendly and there’s even a nice bar. Why not have a few cheeky hotel beers after finishing the Santa Ana Volcano hike?
Remfort Hotel is a classy establishment that offers an outdoor swimming pool and even a fitness centre. The rooms include A/C, a desk, patio and private bathrooms. You can enjoy a buffet breakfast during your stay and the all-important Wifi gets a tick of approval.
Santa Ana Hostels
Hostal Casa Verde
Hostal Casa Verde is a well-known hostel in Santa Ana and is popular with tourists. They offer a pool, laundry area and shared kitchen. The rooms are spacious, modern and comfortable. There are private room and dorm room options. So, you get the best of both worlds by staying at Hostal Casa Verde.
Another great option in Santa Ana that offers both private and dorm rooms is Hostal Sole. We found most travellers on our shuttle service from Antigua were staying here. You can expect spacious rooms, decent Wifi and a hearty breakfast.
Best Time of Year for Hiking Santa Ana Volcano
In El Salvador and Central America, you should aim to hike in the dry season from November to May. This means you’re more likely to have good weather when you hike up to the crater lake. It’s very common for tourists to be disappointed when they reach the top and find it’s covered in clouds. Given its height, don’t be surprised by this. Fingers crossed you have good weather during your Santa Ana Volcano hike.
Five Hiking Essentials For the Santa Ana Volcano Hike
Why do you need this?
See it in action
These hiking boots are very comfortable and a great choice for the Santa Ana Volcano hike
This camera is super lightweight and compact, so it's perfect for trekking. The Sony Cybershot RX100 VII takes awesome photos and 4K videos
The weather can get wild and windy at the top of Santa Ana Volcano. Pack a fleece jacket just in case.
Many hiking trails in El Salvador are dusty. We recommend wearing a neck gaiter to prevent dust getting into your lungs
If you don't take a fleece, you should at least take a wind jacket. You'll be thankful for it at the top of Santa Ana Volcano
Make sure to also pack 2L of water, snacks, sunglasses, 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.
Santa Ana Volcano Facts
Before you visit, it’s good to know some facts about Santa Ana Volcano. The local guides do speak some English, but we didn’t learn much about the volcano from them. So, here are the main Santa Ana Volcano facts you should know:
- Santa Ana Volcano is El Salvador’s highest volcano at 2,381 metres above sea level
- The most recent Santa Ana Volcano eruption was in 2005, killing 2 people and causing an evacuation. Prior to this, previous eruptions were in 1904 and 1920
- Santa Ana Volcano is somewhere between 57,000 and 72,000 years old
Santa Ana Volcano El Salvador FAQs
We hope our guide has answered most, if not all of your questions about hiking Santa Ana Volcano. But, here are some other common questions we’ve been asked about the hike.
How long does it take to hike Santa Ana Volcano?
Depending on how long you sit to enjoy the crater lake at the top of the volcano, the out and back hike can take between 3.5–4.5 hours.
Is Santa Ana Volcano still active?
Yes, Santa Ana Volcano has been active since the 16th century.
Is it also possible to hike San Salvador Volcano?
Yes, it’s posible to hike San Salvador Volcano, otherwise known as Volcan de San Salvador, Volcan San Salvador or El Boqueron. If you’re only keen to visit the main Miradors, it’s possible to visit independently without doing a San Salvador Volcano tour. We visited the Miradors and hiked around the crater independently. We’ve written a guide about this adventurous trail. It’s actually also possible to hike down into the crater, but it’s a tricky endeavour that requires a local guide.
Other Hikes in Cerro Verde National Park
As mentioned, the Izalco Volcano hike is the other main trail to do in Cerro Verde National Park. From the Cerro Verde National Park office, which sits atop Cerro Verde, you’ll hike to Izalco Volcano. It’s a fun trail, and the peak of the volcano is simply mindblowing. Read more about it here.
Other Hikes in El Salvador
There are so many underrated and lesser-known hikes in El Salvador, which are fantastic. You’ll find most travellers only do the Santa Ana Volcano hike, which is a real shame. We highly recommend these other hikes in El Salvador:
- Imposible National Park: there are some incredible trails in this hard-to-reach national park. To find out more, read our guides on the Hidden Waterfalls Hike, La Llorona and the Imposible National Park Loop. This last combines the Cerro Leon, Los Enganches and Piedra Sellada trails.
- El Pital: hike to El Salvador’s highest point at 2,730 metres above sea level with sweeping mountain views.
- Seven Waterfalls Hike: an adventurous trail that involves repelling up one of the waterfalls!
- San Miguel Volcano (Chaparrastique): our favourite hike in El Salvador.
- San Vicente Volcano (Chinchontepec): the most challenging hike we did in El Salvador.
There are many other great hikes in El Salvador. Click here to find a trail that suits you!
- Don’t skip El Salvador: many backpackers heading through Central America won’t visit El Salvador. Make sure you pay El Salvador a visit. It’s an incredibly beautiful place and was one of our favourite countries in Central America. #dontskipelsalvador
- Use trekking poles: many volcano hikes in El Salvador involve a steep climb to the peak. Trekking poles will make the hike up easier on your joints.
- Visit during the week: the weekend can get absolutely packed. Try and visit during the week for a better overall experience.
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