OverviewVolcán de Izalco is a small stratovolcano sitting on the flanks of the much larger Santa Ana volcano in western El Salvador. Continuously active between 1770 and 1957 it produced explosive eruptions and lava flows up to 8 km long. The original vent was at an altitude of ~1300 m, and grew to its present height of 1950 m, still retaining a 250 m wide crater. Its growth disrupted productive agricultural activity with ash fall causing problems further afield. In 1926, the village of Matazano was buried by a pyroclastic flow and 56 people were killed. The persistent activity of the volcano leant it the name 'Lighthouse of the Pacific'. A brief revival occurred in 1966 with thermal and seismic anomalies appearing from 1971-1973. The fumaroles seen today are entirely water vapour and are a result of reheating of rainfall that has percolated into the still hot cone. Easy to get to and climb this is a worth while visit if you're in the area. There are a number of other volcanoes nearby, including a 26 km2 caldera which is today filled by Lago de Coatepeque. Activity occurred as recently as 8000 years ago and there are still hot springs as well as some hotels and restaurants.
Getting ThereA good base for reaching Volcán de Izalco is from the city of Santa Ana, El Salvador's second largest. From there take the 8 AM bus to Cerro Verde (a proximal and marginally higher volcano), about 2 hours to the south-west. The bus drops you at the entrance to the Cerro Verde National Park where it is $1 to enter. Walk up the road for a few hundred meters to the car park where the non-optional tour group assembles and leaves for Volcán de Izalco at some time from 10:45 AM to 11:00 AM. The guides/tourist police cost an additional $3 per person. While this might seem like a drag the system was introduced to and has dramatically cut assaults. There is a small eatery at the back of the car park as well as nearby toilets.
RouteThe route begins just near where you are dropped off by the bus and descends 400m through the forested slopes of Cerro Verde along a well maintained (hard packed earth) switch-backing trail with some steps at times. Once out of the forest Volcán de Izalco rears up straight in front of you. There is another well maintained trail (hard packed ash/rock) amongst the lava and ash to the summit, which is 350 m above you at this juncture. Again there are a lot of switch-backs but a there appear to be a few short-cuts if you're in a hurry.
At the summit you can enter a shallow crater (30 m depth, 250 m diameter) and walk ~800 m around the rim where you will experience a lot of fumaroles and some interesting rock formations. There are also nice views of the surrounding area and of old lava flows that have since cooled. The return route is the same as the entry route. The trip takes 3 - 4 hours including sitting around and having lunch. Be warned though, as the last bus leaving back towards Santa Ana / San Salvador is 3 PM so don't cut it too close.
Red TapeNone, other than you are supposed to have a guide with you, as well as tourist police. This is more for your own safety from thieves than risk of getting lost. When I was there in Jan 2009 we were told by the entrance guard that Santa Ana was off limits (perhaps due to volcanic activity) but that no longer seems to be the case.
Camping/AccomodationNot technically necessary as the hike is short. However there are some nearby cabins at Campo Bello and Casa de Cristal for rent at ~ $35 each (see the far right of the panoramic picture). Call 483-4713 or 483-4679 for details on current prices and availability. Info taken from Lonely Planet's 'Central America on a Shoestring' book. The Cerro Verde page describes a camp site between Cerro Verde and Santa Anna which is $2.
External LinksDetailed Izalco eruption info on the Global Volcanism Program website
Fireball throwing festival marking the 1922 eruption