A lookout point at Cerro Verde // © 2015 Ministry of Tourism of El Salvador
Feature image (above): Santa Ana Volcano last erupted in 2005. // © 2015 Ministry of Tourism of El Salvador
For obvious reasons, I try not to make it a point to visit active volcanoes. But when you visit a country nicknamed “land of the volcanoes,” it’s pretty hard to avoid running into a few.
About the size of Massachusetts, El Salvador is home to 22 volcanoes, six of which are still considered active. Past volcanic eruptions have given way to some of the most fertile and scenic crater-filled terrains in all of Central America, making it a land rich with natural gems.
Located on the western side of the country and boasting three volcanoes (Cerro Verde, Izalco and Santa Ana), Cerro Verde National Park is ideal for hikers and nature lovers. Home to diverse plant and animal life, including the colorful turquoise-browed motmot (El Salvador’s national bird) and exotic orchids, the park can be accessed after a short — and at times very windy — drive up a large mountainside.
Santa Ana Volcano, also known as Ilamatepec, is the tallest peak in El Salvador at 7,812 feet above sea level. It last erupted in 2005, and strong scents of sulfur still waft in the air. After summiting the peak, be sure to look down for a view of the stunning sulfur lake, a small crater lake with brilliant turquoise color.
Nicknamed the “Lighthouse of the Pacific” due to past eruptions visible from the Pacific Ocean, Izalco Volcano has a perfectly shaped cone and is devoid of vegetation. After climbing to the top, hikers are rewarded with an unobstructed view of the Pacific.
Perhaps the most impressive sight in this national park is Cerro Verde, an extinct volcano. Various hiking trails around its crater are available, including “A Window to Nature,” a popular path that leads to views of the other two volcanoes. Also visible from the path is scenic Lake Coatepeque, a body of water created from a volcanic caldera that formed during a series of eruptions between about 70,000 to 50,000 years ago.
Another must-see is El Boqueron National Park. About 20 minutes from San Salvador proper, the beautiful park, which sits atop the active San Salvador volcano, is home to the famous El Boqueron. Translated as “wide mouth,” El Boqueron is a 3-mile-wide, 1,830-foot-deep crater in the heart of the park. The hike up is as easy as it is beautiful, with countless flora and fauna en route.
“El Boqueron is one of the places I’d recommend any tourist visit when in my country,” said Jose Napoleon Duarte Duran, El Salvador’s minister of tourism.
Be sure to bring binoculars or a telescope to view the hundreds of exotic birds soaring above the park.
When to Go
Between November and April, clients can take advantage of clear skies and uninterrupted views. Otherwise known as the dry season, this time of the year has little rain, and the roads are also in good shape.
There is one international airport in El Salvador: Monsenor Oscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport. It is located just outside San Salvador’s city center, and Delta Air Lines and Avianca offer direct flights here from Los Angeles.
Where to Stay
For an authentic El Salvadorian stay away from metropolitan San Salvador, consider booking clients at La Posada de Suchitlan. The accommodations are a colonial-era throwback, with rooms overlooking Lake Suchitlan.
Where to Eat
No trip to El Salvador would be complete without eating the national dish, the pupusa. Pupusas — thick, handmade corn tortillas usually filled with refried beans, cheese and pork then cooked over a hot skillet — can be found on just about every street corner in restaurants called pupuserias.