You spent the last few days wandering around Santa Ana. El Salvador’s second-largest city, not far from the Guatemala border, dazzled you with its well-preserved neoclassical and neocolonial architecture. The Heroic City, long known as one of the most prosperous areas of the country, has wide streets that are lined with trees and colorful houses. The neo-Gothoic Cathedral of Our Lady Saint Anne, the stunning Santa Ana National Theater, and lively plazas, like Libertad Park, lured you to the city. The beautiful surrounding landscape, especially the green hillsides and the fincas (coffee plantations) made you stay. And you won’t be able to leave until you see the volcanoes up close.
That’s right, there are multiple volcanoes in Los Volcanoes National Park just outside of Santa Ana. The area is even called the Lighthouse of the Pacific for their constant eruptions. Long-dormant Coatepeque is now a beautiful lake. Izalco, the youngest volcano in El Salvador, is steep and barren. While Santa Ana, also known as Ilamatepec, is the country’s most active volcano. That’s the one you’re going to hike, of course.
Don’t worry, you’re not hiking the volcano all by yourself. In fact, you can’t. Park rangers constantly monitor the volcano for activity. After its last big eruption, in 2005, the trail was even closed for three years. But, since there’s no sign of dangerous activity right now, a guide and a guard will lead the hike. The uneven path is arduous, even during the dry season. Agave plants cling to the sides of sharp cliffs. At each lookout point, you pause to catch your breath and rehydrate. With heavy cloud cover, there’s not much to see anyway. Two hours after leaving the base, you finally reach the summit.
It’s not just chilly, but downright cold, at the top of the Santa Ana Volcano. The smell of sulfur permeates the air. Multi-colored rings line the inside of the volcano’s four craters. Plus a small, milky turquoise lake sits in the innermost crater. While taking in the beauty below, you don’t even realize that the clouds are parting, until you go to lower the zipper of your fleece pullover. The sun is now bright and warm above you. But, more importantly, you also have an amazing view. From the top of the volcano, you can see Lake Coatepeque, the small city of Ahuachapán, and Izalco, that high volcano, in the distance. You finally feel like you’ve seen all of Santa Ana.