Today’s outing was to climb the Santa Ana Volcano – also known as Ilamatepec. The climb is fairly easy, but the organisation of it is a little less easy (if you don’t want to take a tour… which of course we never do…! 🙂 ) For security reasons the volcano can only be ascended with a guide and a police escort. Understandably the police don’t want to traipse up and down a volcano all day, so they only go up once and down once – meaning that everybody has to start their ascent at the same time – when the police escort arrives. You are allowed to go with whatever guide you can find.
There is one bus a day to the National Park that the volcano sits in, and the DIY method involves taking this bus and then finding a guide to take you up the volcano. The information online varied as to where the best place was to get off and find a guide, so we asked the bus driver. He dropped us off at a place called ‘Bosques del Tibet’ – a hotel and a bunch of cabins at the edge of the National Park. Fortunately this turned out to be a good place to start, as there was a group of guides hanging around in the car park. So far so good. Because the only bus leaves Santa Ana at 7.40am, we had a fair bit of time to kill until our designated start time of 11am – so we drank a coffee and looked for birds in the forest.
At 11am we set off the for the volcano. Besides the guide there was only one other person with us – a guy from the States who was driving a black van through Central America with his girlfriend.
Soon we arrived at the National Park area, where we discovered all the tour groups sitting around waiting for the police escort to arrive. Before the ascent starts, you have to buy a ticket to enter the conservation area. The ticket office opened at the same time as the police escort arrived and the gate to enter the volcano area was opened. Our guide was great because he arranged for us to be the first to buy our tickets – meaning that we got to set off up the volcano before everybody else – as they were still lining up to buy tickets when we left – we had the volcano to ourselves! 🙂
The trail to the top is only 3km long, and the starting point is at 1850m above sea-level – with the summit at 2381m. So it’s an ascent of around 550m – nice and easy! 🙂 It starts off fairly flat with short trees and vegetation all around, and then as you climb you enter an open area with just rocks, bushes, and succulents growing – because an eruption killed all the trees. This volcano erupted in 2005 killing two people and sending boulders the size of cars up to a kilometre away!! So this volcano is still quite active and is also the highest volcano in El Salvador!
It took under two hours to reach the top, and the view down into the volcano was excellent! 🙂 A steaming green-blue lake deep in the crater. Smoke was billowing up from the lake and the rocks all around were colourful shades of red. Popping and fizzing sounds emanated from below – this volcano sounded VERY active..!
Officially you are only meant to stay for 15 minutes at the top, but our guide didn’t seem too concerned – so we just hung around for a while looking at the lake from all different angles. It was very impressive and beautiful, and we were glad we had managed to see it – apparently sometimes it’s too misty to see it clearly.
Satisfied with our volcano viewing we started the descent. It was a lot busier on the way down as we kept meeting people coming up. Going downhill was pretty quick though, and we were back down after an hour. After a short stop at the park entrance, we continued downhill and we were back in our original car park at 2.30pm, where we settled in once more for the wait for the bus back down at 4pm. It arrived 15 minutes late and didn’t look in amazing condition…
Sure enough, before we got to our destination the bus seemed to catch fire and everybody rushed off the bus! We waited by the side of the road while the driver tried to extinguish the smoke. The consensus amongst the passengers was ‘No way are we getting back on that bus’. We agreed, and waited with the other passengers for another bus to come past.
When the bus arrived there was a bit of a riot as nobody wanted to pay again for the bus. Some people stormed on the new bus without paying. The new bus driver didn’t look very pleased. After a lot of shouting we departed on a VERY crowded bus – but at least we were moving and the bus wasn’t on fire…! 🙂 Soon we were back in Santa Ana after a really satisfying day.