Imagine sitting at the porch of your beautiful hotel room in a clear night, having a glass of wine and watching the fiery colors of fervent lava exploding from the mouth of a volcano just a couple miles away. The story goes that while Volcano Izalco was still active in the 1960’s a large hotel was built next to the central square of Cerro Verde National Park, on top of the mountain overlooking Izalco. The isolated location and the altitude certainly meant a great effort and financial investment was made on this construction. The attraction for guests was going to be Izalco’s hypnotic eruptions which they would be able to enjoy from the best possible angles and in the comfort of their luxurious accommodations. Known as “El Faro” (The Lighthouse), Izalco’s steady eruptions had made it a landmark which could be seen far out from the Pacific Ocean.

But the young volcano was not particularly amenable to becoming the center of attentions. Soon after the hotel was inaugurated, eruptions ceased suddenly and completely and Izalco has been dormant ever since. The spectacle of lava was replaced by the calm and constant production of steam at the most, a tragedy for the newly opened hotel which is now in ruins. Sad. And although this wasn’t stated, when I heard this story told by a local, I sensed a subtle tone underlying it, a distant reference to nature’s punishment of human greed, and to the volcano as an entity responding to its surroundings…


But as much I could relate to the idea of running a hotel overlooking an active volcano, my ambitions for Izalco were far more modest. I had planned to walk up to its summit and break a long hiatus in more strenuous physical activity created by my recovery of an appendectomy a couple months before. My day had started at 7 a.m. in San Salvador. Breakfast in the veranda of the Crowne Plaza was accompanied by beautiful views of Volcano San Salvador, affectionately called El Boqueron (The Big Mouth) by the locals, due to its famously wide and deep crater. I had breakfast in no rush, enjoying the moist, foggy and cool morning air, noticing the amazing number of different bird calls coming from the trees around the swimming pool, each seeming to respond to another in a different language like a UN of birds so to speak…

At 8:00 a.m. sharp, Dom Vidal pulled up at the front entrance of the hotel. He was going to drive me to Cerro Verde National Park, a little over one hour away. The plan was to summit Izalco (1950 m; 6398 ft) and come back to San Salvador at the end of the day. A stratovolcano and the youngest volcano in El Salvador, Izalco was born in 1770 AD and its last eruption occurred in 1966. The trail head for Izalco starts near the entrance gate of the park and volunteer guides lead one hike a day starting at 11:00 am.

The hike takes about four hours to complete. The first part of the trail is a long series of steps through the forest that gives Cerro Verde its name and I am joined by a group of about 40 college students of mathematics and pedagogy and their professor.



At the bottom of the steps the terrain changes to dark volcanic rock now and again contrasting beautifully with the colors of wild flowers.


The crater is not particularly beautiful but it is interesting with significant amounts of steam rising from the ground.



Although Izalco has a reputation for being a really difficult hike, the only part I found  truly demanding was walking up the one thousand or so steps back up through the forest. The monotony was broken however by conversations with my Salvadoran friends on the founding theories of child development, learning and pedagogy. It had been a while since I had been in touch with these topics, the foundation of my first career in teaching English as a foreign language. Going back to them felt like visiting an old familiar place even though the setting for the conversation, a forest in El Salvador, was quite unexpected…

If you are interested in seeing El Salvador, you may also want to check my posts on Volcano Santa Ana, and the Gulf of Fonseca.

Beatriz Coningham

Beatriz Coningham

Why write about travel? Travel and exploration have always fascinated me. I marvel at history’s navigators and explorers who expanded the frontiers of the world and of human existence.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Mummy says:

    Bom dia querida Beatriz, linda foto sua com a turma de El Salvador. Bom ver que vc esta bem recuperada e linda como sempre.
    As outras fotos tbm gostei. Que flores maravilhosas. que cores. São minhas cores preferidas. A fumaça do vulcão tbm é interessante. Para onde será que a lava esta indo, se apenas a fumaça chega ai?…

    Estive por 3 dias na Chapada, te conto depois Tirei fotos. Bjs , saudades,

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