Parque Nacional Los Volcanes
Parque Nacional Los Volcanes is the informal name given to the 4,500 hectares (11,120 acres) of private and public lands 8km (5 miles) southwest of Lago de Coatepeque, which are home to the steep and barren Volcán Izalco, the highest volcano in El Salvador; the recently active Volcán de Santa Ana; and the green hills of Cerro Verde.
The park, known officially as Parque Nacional Cerro Verde, is centered around a parking lot near the top of Cerro Verde Mountain, from which visitors set off on challenging, 4-hour round-trip hikes to both Volcán Santa Ana and Volcán de Izalco. An easy 35-minute hike near the summit of Cerro Verde also begins and ends at the parking lot. If you love to hike, this park offers some of the most interesting and convenient treks in the country.
Volcán Santa Ana is the third-highest point in the nation and one of its most active volcanoes; in October 2005, an eruption here killed two people, disrupted numerous villages, and spewed huge volcanic boulders up to a mile away. The eruption closed the volcano to hikers for 3 years, but officials reopened the mountain in March 2008. The 4-hour hike to the 2,381m (7,812-ft.) summit is strenuous, but you will be rewarded with stunning views of Lago de Coatepeque. The climb is difficult, and you'll need to be in shape; but it's the easier of the park's two major hikes.
Volcán de Izalco is the park's most visually dramatic volcano and challenging climb, requiring a nearly 3-hour scramble up a steep, rocky, and barren moonscape to the 1,952m (6,404-ft.) summit. Izaco is also one of Central America's youngest volcanoes -- it formed in 1770 and erupted almost continuously until 1966. The eruptions were said to be so violent that they could be seen by sailors at sea; hence, the volcano was nicknamed the "Lighthouse of the Pacific." Today, the summit is a nearly perfect cone, and its spare, blackish landscape stands in sharp contrast to the lushness of the surrounding hills.
Climbing Izalco is only for those in good physical shape. And no matter how physically fit you are, you can't do both climbs in 1 day. All hikes in the park must be led by a guide, and guided hikes with a minimum of three people leave the parking lot only once daily at 11am.
Getting There & Getting Around -- From Santa Ana, take bus no. 248, which stops at the park entrance near the parking lot. Buses leave Santa Ana at 8:30am Tuesday through Thursday and 7:30am Friday through Sunday. They return daily at 3pm. From San Salvador, take a bus directly to Santa Ana and then follow the directions above, or get off short of Santa Ana in El Congo and ask the driver to direct you to the spot where you can catch the no. 248 bus to the park.
If you're driving from San Salvador, follow Hwy. CA-8 to the exit for El Congo. After exiting, turn right at the gas station. Follow that road until you turn left at the sign for Cerro Verde. The road will dead-end into the Cerro Verde parking lot. From Santa Ana, follow Hwy. CA-1 to the exit for Lake Coatepeque. Almost immediately after exiting, turn left onto Hwy. CA-8. Follow this road until you turn right at the sign for Cerro Verde, after which point, the road will dead-end into the park's lot.
Visitor Information -- Park information is available from park administrator SalvaNatura (33 Av. Sur 640, Colonia Flor Blanca, San Salvador; tel. 503/2279-1515; www.salvanatura.org). The park is open daily 8am to 5pm, but you'll need to arrive before 11am to secure a guide to hike one of the volcanoes; groups meet at the small building in the parking lot that says "Caseta de Guías." Admission is $1, and the guides work for tips; plan on giving at least $5 per person. A small comedor serving pupusas, roasted chicken, and rice is located in the far corner of the parking lot.
Where to Stay Nearby -- Lago de Coatepeque and Santa Ana are both less than 30km (19 miles) away, so you can easily base your trip to Parque Nacional Los Volcanes out of one of those two areas. But if you want to stay overnight so that you can hike both volcanoes, the best option is nearby Campo Bello, with great views of Volcán de Izalco. SalvaNatura also offers cabins and rooms just off Cerro Verde's parking lot.
Parque Montecristo & Lago de Guija
Three countries converge at the cloud-forested summit of Cerro Montecristo. This border triumvirate of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is an isolated and hard-to-reach national park. It is one of the country's few remaining pieces of pristine jungle, excellent for hiking, camping, and bird-watching. The scruffy cowboy town of Metapán is its gateway and also the best jumping-off point to explore the serene Lago de Güija to the southwest. Metapán is also the beginning of a rough and marvelous mountain road that leads to the town of Citala-El Poy on the Honduran border.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.