For millions of years, the Caribbean and Cocos tectonic plates have collided beneath El Salvador. The resulting pressure has uplifted the Caribbean plate, melted the subducted Cocos rock, and sent flumes of steam and mountains of lava to the surface through surface fissures. Today, El Salvador's rugged backbone includes more than 100 volcanoes, many of which can be visited up close.
The west's coffee covered Cordillera de Apaneca consists mainly of volcanoes. Its most active, Volcan Santa Ana (also known as Ilamatepec or the Mother Mountain), is also the highest in the country. From the summit—7,811 feet above sea level—you can view four nested calderas and a bright green sulfuric lake. Santa Ana and its two sister volcanoes, the black-coned Izalco and the thickly forested Cerro Verde, form the core of Los Volcanes National Park. Guides and prearranged permits are essential for hikes of Santa Ana and Izalco, while Cerro Verde's trails are open and accessible.
A short drive to the east is Coatepeque Lake. The lake fills a massive, low-lying caldera that was formed more than 50,000 years ago. Visitors can explore the lake by boat, stopping to hike on Isla Teopan—the primary island and a Maya ceremonial site. Surrounding attractions include coffee tours and hot springs.
One of Central America's most accessible volcanoes is San Salvador or Quetzaltepec, a stratovolcano on the northwestern edge of San Salvador. Visitors can peer down into the huge crater and see a newly-formed cinder cone. The surrounding park includes hiking trails and botanical gardens.
The San Vicente or Chichontepec Volcano, located an hour's drive east of San Salvador, is the country's second highest volcano (7,159 FASL). Trails lead though cloud forest to the twin summits. There you'll find two craters, steaming fumaroles, boiling mud pots and cooled lava flows.
El Salvador's most active volcano is Chaparrastique—a conical giant rising from the plain southwest of the town of San Miguel. The volcano still emits clouds of white vapor, and many nearby residents can recall at least two major eruptions. Full-day guided hikes to the summit can be arranged, allowing vertiginous views of the deep central crater.
Mosaico Travel Services arranges guided-tours tours in each of these locations in El Salvador. Contact us at 801.582.2100 for more information. Most hiking tours take a full-day. Sun protection, layered clothing, and shoes with chunky tread are recommended.
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