Cerro Verde, El Salvador – Two volcanoes and 1300 stairs

In El Salvador Spanish is spoken (although many people understand English), the national currency is the US$. The Colón is still valid, but not in circulation any more. The park administration of Cerro Verde of wants 10 $ entrance fee incl. parking for each 24 hours from us. General rule for Central America, especially in El Salvador: haggle! Even in a national park. We stay two nights and one day for 15 instead of 20 $. There is not much we can do on our own. We can walk a few minutes to the old hotel that partially collapsed during an earthquake in 2001. In the still intact former cocktail lounge artesanías and sweets are sold today. The beautiful lookout terrace to Volcán Izalco is also still there. A 45-minutes nature trail to the peak of Cerro Verde and through the orchidarium has to be guided by a ranger – park rules.

The hikes to the other two volcanoes, the Izalco and the Santa Ana are guarded by rangers and armed police. They start at 11 a.m. each day and take four to four and a half hours including rest on the peak. There is 1 $ per person to pay for the guide, for Santa Ana additional 7 $ entrance fee to another park. This volcano blasted its top in 2005, spat after 100 years silence ashes and stones into the air and killed two people, but is accessible again. Nevertheless the hikes don’t always take part. A noisy group of 39 teenagers, teachers, two Japanese and two Canadians want to get to Izalco, so we have no other choice.

Izalco isn’t very easy to climb and has to be put into the category “exhausting” with 8 km / 5 mi ascend and descend. First 1300 stairs have to be gone down through Cerro Verde’s (2030 m / 6000 ft) dense forest to a saddle that connects to the 1910 m / 5730 ft high Izalco. The way up consists of sharp-edged stones and loose volcano sand. During the climb it gets hotter. Not only because the sun burns on the mountain without any vegetation. The rocks become hot, steam escapes from holes. On top it is possible to go down into the shallow crater hole. The view today isn’t very well, but we get a short glimpse of Cerro Verde and Santa Ana with its crater lake that is not accessible. For descending we use rivulets of soft lava sand that bring us half running half sliding quickly down. Then there are “only” 1300 stairs left to be climbed.

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