Jon Vs the Volcano 2: Climbing Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador
Just like the script writers and directors of Hollywood, I’ve run out of story ideas. The simple solution is to start churning out sequels, so here’s the first of what could be many. Part 1 was set in Indonesia (check it out here) but for the sequel I decided to head to El Salvador and have a go at climbing Santa Ana Volcano. I’d heard it was a fairly easy walk…
Well, it should have been easy, but the compulsory team of guides and armed police (there have been robberies here in the past so everyone needs to join the convoy) insisted on a brisk pace with hardly any rest stops. It was worth it though – the colourful crater lake at the top, which is surrounded by cliffs of red, yellow, black and brown, is something everybody should see while travelling in El Salvador.
A chicken bus ride
If you’re interested in climbing Santa Ana Volcano you’d better be up in time for the 7.30 am bus to the park office (unless you want to take expensive private transport). The ride takes around 2 hours and the bus seems like it never gets out of 2nd gear, but the route is scenic and you pass through a couple of small towns full of people who really don’t look as menacing as the world would have you believe. In fact, in the week we’ve been in El Salvador I’ve met nothing but smiling, friendly and helpful people. I could get mugged tomorrow and retract this statement entirely, but there’s really nothing to fear about El Salvador (as long as you’re smart about it). Out the window you’ll catch a glimpse of Lago Coatepeque, a stunning volcanic lake that definitely warrants further exploration (stay tuned for a post on that soon). The bus arrives at about 9.30 am but you’ll have to wait until nearly 11am for the convoy to get started.
Wear suitable shoes and clothes
I had neither of those things. I was wearing my jandals (flip-flops), and a few seconds into our pre-walk briefing the policeman’s eyes fixed themselves on my feet. He continued to talk in Spanish until someone informed me that he thought it was too dangerous to walk in jandals and that I might not be able to do it (because he didn’t want to be responsible for any damage I did). I politely informed him that I wear jandals all the time and that I’d be fine, which, while sceptical, he accepted. I really had to concentrate on not falling over after that as I’m sure I would have got an “I told you so” from the policeman, although it would have been in Spanish so I wouldn’t have understood it anyway. As for the suitable clothes; I was properly dressed but it does get quite cold at that altitude and I didn’t have a jersey. Gia didn’t either but she bought a blue Ralph Lauren jersey for $1.50 from the shop – It made her look like a rich American college student but it did the job.
What goes down must go up
Walking downhill is great 99% of the time. It’s not great when you know you have to climb something tall – every step down is another up. The first section of the walk takes you down through the forest to another little building (where you’re asked for a donation) where you finally start the accent of Santa Ana Volcano. By this point you will have also had to give a guy a dollar for using a small portion of his land – he’s got the easiest job in the world I reckon.
Volcanoes in the mist (or haze)
Once you get past the forest section you’ll be out into barren land full of small shrubs and rocks. Look to the left and you’ll see another volcano, Izalco, assuming it’s not too cloudy. I was a little disappointed with the weather, but soon enough the cloud lifted and we got a great view of the volcano (it was still hazy though). From here it’s a pretty tough climb up to the crater lake.
After seeing the amazing crater lakes of Kelimutu, Indonesia (part 1 of this volcano series), I was prepared to be a little underwhelmed by Santa Ana’s lake; sequels are rarely as good as the originals after all. It’s not true in this case though; the crater lake of Santa Ana volcano is just as crowd pleasing as Kelimutu’s 3 lakes. The crater is really deep and the walls are an artistic mix of colours and textures – you don’t get long at the top to admire it though as the guides/policemen are in a perpetual hurry, so make sure you cherish every moment.
Climbing Santa Ana Volcano: The Details
Including transport, it costs around $8 to climb Santa Ana volcano, which really is a bargain. It does involve a bit of waiting around though; we waited for over an hour in the morning and over 2 hours in the afternoon, as the bus leaves at 4 pm. It was a fairly exhausting day but the climb itself isn’t all that difficult and the views make for a pretty big pay off. You’ll probably be coming from Santa Ana, so take a bus from la Vencedora bus terminal (not the main one). Santa Ana isn’t a bad place to spend a few days; it has a nice colonial core and a really cool, hundred year old theatre (where we saw a group of Korean musicians playing classical music mixed in with traditional Korean songs – not something you expect to see in El Salvador).
Further reading: Want to know more about Santa Ana Volcano? Check out this wikipedia page
Would you like to climb Santa Ana Volcano?Have you climbed any volcanoes? Do you like sequels? How about prequels? Let me know!