Climbing Volcán Santa Ana and Izalco (alternate route)

The first time I climbed Volcán Santa Ana it was cloudy. Unsurprisingly, actually, since the official guided tours leave at 11am.  In fact, if you had to pick a time that it was most cloudy in the rainy season, 11am would be it. Since half the experience of climbing these volcanoes is the epic view at the top, I left feeling a little disappointed since it was…cloudy.

I had done a day trip from Santa Ana city, 2 hours bus ride away and I left the next day heading for El Tunco, the popular surf beach, via Jayaque and Chiltiupan – mountains and dirt roads just southwest of San Salvador, forever seeking routes that could offer adventure, impressive scenery and away from traffic. The first section of my route took me past Lago Coateque, a large, impressive lake that sits near the base of Volcán Santa Ana (the highest and one of the most impressive volcanoes in El Salvador). Riding around the ridge that sits a few hundred metres higher made for some breathtaking scenery. Turning away from the lake, I paused, this was my last opportunity for a repeat climb of Volcán Santa Ana; a climb that had been in my plans for a while. I hesitated at the junction, to climb it would involve cycling up 1000 metres change in vertical just to camp at the base. Enshrouded in cloud there was no guarantee it would be clear in the morning. I continued on, feeling a little down about my decision, a feeling I struggled to shake off for the next few days.

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On reaching my planned turn off for El Tunco, I again paused. The clouds over the mountains up from Jayaque were very dark indeed and looking at the required change in altitude to reach the top I realised how tough it could be up there. Judging from the map, it had to be very steep and I wasn’t in the mood for another El Imposible experience (see 2 posts back). I continued on to San Salvador where the clouds were the same but the altitude and road surfaces far more favourable.

As I got closer to the big city the rain started coming and the incline increased. I pulled over to reach for my waterproofs and a snack. A few minutes later a couple (Kenny and Monica) pulled over on a motorbike and we started chatting.  Kenny offered me a place on his couch in Santa Tecla on the outskirts of San Salvador and ended up showing me around town. Immensely appreciated, since big Central American cities can be a little daunting on a bicycle.

The next few days, I sorted a few chores, cycled up to the top of Volcán El Boquerón (which has some well maintained single track at a cost of $1.50) and generally ate a lot of fast food – this city is sprawling with US style commercial shopping centres and food courts. Looking at some of the obese people made me think – how different are these fast food corporations to drug pushers? Cutting years off people’s lives purely for their own greedy profit. Maybe I was being too cynical.

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For the last few days I stayed with the awesome Eduardo, a San Salvadoran biking enthusiast planning his tour next year for the other side of the world. During which time another local amigo Felipe and I decided to climb Santa Ana (we had met the first time i climbed it). Instead of going on the guided hike we camped in San Blas and hiked up for the sunrise and went round the vast crater. The views were incredible and it was a great to see it in its full glory after thinking I’d missed my chance. A euphoric moment indeed.

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A couple of days later I hiked Izalco solo; they recommend a guide but, again, they only leave at 11am and I didn’t want climb to the top to look at some mist. I took an unorthodox route around the base of Cerro Verde passing a couple of locked gates in the process marked private property. A couple of the locals I met claimed there were regular robberies but the scenic overgrown forest path didn’t look like anyone had gone down there for months. I admit to looking over my shoulder a few times. It was an amazing experience to be up on the top of the peak.

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Heading down to El Tunco, a good alternate route is to head up into the hills and down through Comesagua; paved road up and a nice dirt road down. And no traffic. I found it to be immensely enjoyable, the air temperature started soaring as I rapidly approached the sea. After a couple of decent surf sessions in El Tunco, I headed towards Zacatecoluca and the immense Volcán San Vincente.

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(INFO on climbing Izalco without having to climb Cerro Verde: take the righthand turning to San Blas, a kilometre or so before Cerro Verde. After a few hundred metres turn sharp left at the ‘football field’ then follow the road round to the right and down the hill where there is a locked gate (sometimes) after another kilometre; climb round this gate. Probably best to ask at the first property on the left since it’s private property (allegedly). Continue down the dirt track for 400 metres or so until you pass a gate on the right with a sign ‘sueño verde’. Don’t enter this, but enter the next locked gate on the left (climb round). Then continue straight (don’t take the immediate left) downhill for a couple of kms until reaching Izalco and head straight up).


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