Location: San Salvador
Distance: 5 km
Time: 4 hours
People seen: 0
Guidebook: Moon El Salvador (2014)
Boqueron volcano (also known as Quetzaltepec) dominates the skyline of San Salvador. Last erupting in 1917, the 6210 ft volcano is home to Boqueron National Park and several miradors (viewpoints) at its summit. It is also possible – outside of the boundaries of the National Park – to hike around the volcano’s rim and descend into the crater. The National Park area also provides excellent views over San Salvador city and towards San Vincente volcano, some 50 kilometres away.
In recent years a lot of effort has been put into improving the facilities at Boqueron, and the National Park area now includes a safe car park, bathrooms, short paths to the rim surrounded by local flowers, and seating areas to rest and take in the view. To access either of the more strenuous hikes – the two to three hour hike around the rim, or the five hour descent into the crater itself, requires leaving the park boundary. Warning signs make this clear, and although we have completed these hikes several times without issues, it is worth checking the latest security information before attempting the walks.
The paths around and down into the crater both start from the left of the main tourist area (heading clockwise). After a short while a small cafe and rickety wooden bridge is found. The path continues beneath the bridge (going left before crossing it). Barely visible from the tourist viewpoint, the path down into the crater starts an immediate descent from here, while the rim hike path heads up alongside the cafe.
The first half of the crater descent is over relatively good and flat ground with some gentle switchbacks, and can be covered quickly. After initially heading West (clockwise), the path switches back and heads in more or less the opposite direction. Some care is needed though as there are a couple of other path used by locals who have small farms on the crater’s slopes. Heading down those might be interesting but it won’t get you to the crater bottom.
Boqueroncito – the small cinder cone in the centre of the main crater, which only formed in 1917 – seems to get much closer at this point, but you are still a long way from the bottom. At one point the path has fairly large gap which sometimes requires a jump and perhaps the assistance of a rope to half-swing across. In 2008 this was the case; more recently in 2015 the gap had been bridged by some wooden planks. After this the trail becomes quite exposed at points and would not be recommended for anybody with a fear of heights.
The first – and hardest – challenge on the trail comes when the path hits an abrupt stop at a small cliff, about 15 feet high. From here you need to step out into the branches of a small tree, and climb down the tree to continue. This is a tricky and quite nerve-racking part, made worse by the knowledge that you need to climb back up this section later. It is by far the hardest section though.
Past the tree-climbing section, there are a few areas with drop-offs or down-climbs, often with some exposure. Good boots and a head for heights is needed because accidents here would be serious. The rocks here are often wet and muddy and the best way we found to approach them was often on our backsides, making use of the many tree roots for hand holds. Progress is quite slow (in fact, we ascended quicker than we descended!).
Finally, after about 90 minutes the path levels out and a short walk through a wooden area with long grass brings you to the edge of Boqueroncito. Up close, this cinder cone mini crater is revealed to be quite large, and it is quite a long and steep descent to the bottom of it. Many hikers like to rearrange a set of white stones here to spell out giant messages which are often visible from the crater rim (unless somebody else moves them before you get back there).
The Boqueroncito area has something of a ‘lost world’ feel to it. In this largely untouched part of the volcano all other sounds, except those of the occasional tourist at the mirador 400 metres above, are drowned out by insects and birds. The steep slopes all around are heavily forest except for small areas where landslides have occurred, and vines draping down from their branches give them a somewhat mystical feel. It is easy to imagine there are parts of this crater where people have never walked. The bridge at the start of the hike can easily be spotted by the path itself is near invisible.
The climb back out is, of course, steep and unrelenting. Some solace can be found in the knowledge that the cafe at the top, next to the wooden bridge, serve excellent natural fruit juice – perfect after a hard morning’s hike.