We wanted to climb the amazing Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador. So we decided to base ourselves INSIDE AN EVEN BIGGER ONE! Lago De Coatapeque is a huge old (72,000 years old) volcano crater that has collapsed and filled with water. The lake is 26 square kilometres and includes six lava domes. The youngest dome is only 8000 years old and has formed the island of Teopan inside the crater lake. The lake is BIG!
The crater is a lush tree-lined bowl shape at the top of the steep-sided volcanic cone. The edges are fringed with small villages and a small asphalted road that facilitates the frequent local busses, pick up trucks, motorcycles and bicycles that make up the vibrant local communities. There are a spattering of tourist places including some great restaurants and a couple of hotels.
Waking up on Lago De Coatapeque
We woke up at sunrise almost every day as the sun peaked over the rim of the caldera and shone bright and low into the hostel room windows. Early morning on the lake is beautiful. Standing on the rooftop terrace we could see all manner of wildlife. The tranquil beauty of the place is stunning. Morning is the right time to sit and watch the world for a while and contemplate what to do for the rest of the day.
Things to do at Lago De Coatapeque
It is a great place for a base to climb the Santa Ana volcano from. Santa Ana is easy to get to from Lago De Coatapeque, either by Uber or by local bus. Other activities include hiking around the caldera, fishing, diving / snorkeling in the lake, cycling, canoeing, swimming, and of course eating and drinking.
Santa Ana Volcano (Ilamatepec)
Climbing Santa Ana is the main purpose for many people to visit the area. Santa Ana is a steep sided typically classic shaped volcano. It rises 2400m from the remains of the ancient colossal Coatapeque Volcano. It is the tallest thing in the whole of ES Salvador! The top comprises a huge crater with concentric rings down in to a caldron lake of turquoise blue and emerald green hot bubbling sulphuric water. The steaming giant sits dormant for now. The turmolic swirling steaming water reminds us that the volcano is still very much alive. As recently as 2005 it erupted killing two people and covering the wider area in over 10 cm of ash and lahars. Activity continues at varying levels with hot springs and fumaroles at the acid crater lake. The view from the top of the surrounding country is breath-taking.
Is it difficult?
No. I did it easily and I am a late 40's beer-drinking smoker who doesn't like climbing stairs never mind a whacking great hill. The hike is not that long. Only about an hour and a half of real hiking. The rest is a well-paced stroll up from the guide hut start point, through the gentle slopes to the park entrance. You need to pay a dollar or so to some dude that owns the land that the path crosses, but this is no hassle. The park entrance is six dollars. You also must pay a dollar for a police escort. Our escort was great company and used to dealing with silly tourists. The police thing is a total overreaction by the local government. This was due to someone being robbed by a local bandit on the trail several years ago. You are also required to have a waterproof coat or poncho and at least a litre of water at the start of the hike. These are available at the stalls next to "base camp" for a massively increased price.
The last hour is the steep bit but still very doable. As you near the top, the smell of the sulphuric lake becomes more apparent. The view starts to become incredible.
Watch the video for more infomation!
How to get to Lago De Coatapeque
You can fly to the capital, San Salvador. We have always found Skyscanner give us the best deals on flights. Once in San Salvador head to the Terminal Occidente bus station and jump on the 201 bus. Tell the driver you want to get off at El Congo. The journey cost $1.00. At El Congo change to the 242 bus to Lago De Coatapeque for an additional 75 cents. Tell the dude collecting the money the name of your accommodation and he will drop you off at the right spot. Total time on the busses is around an hour and a half. Waiting time is variable.
If you are already in Santa Ana town and want to visit the lake then take the 209 or 220 bus. Ask the driver to stop where ever you want to get off along the lakeside strip of hotels and restaurants. Journey time is about one our.
Where to Stay
There are only a few places to stay around the lake as it is a little off the beaten track. We had an amazing time at Captain Morgan Hostel and enjoyed the food, the bar and the ladder down into the cool turquoise volcanic lake water.
Where to eat and drink
In the evenings we ate at the Captain Morgan Hostel. It was nice to just return after a full day, drink a beer, eat some food and chill out in a hammock. Breakfast was usually also at the hostel or out in the village eating street food and snacks. The best lunch we found was at one of the many restaurants overlooking the lake. You need to take the road leading back up to the rim of the crater on the road to El Congo. The restaurant is called El Gran Mirador.
We thoroughly recommend you take our travel insurance whenever you travel. We recently had to put in a claim for over $5000 when we had to cancel our flights and other bookings and quickly fly back to the UK due to a family emergency. The claim went through very quickly and we managed to recover most of our expenses. Without travel insurance, we would have lost the lot!
You can find out more about our time chilling in El Salvador Tanya's travel blog at Can Travel, Will Travel.
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