It's Wandering Week! Let's take a walk on Cerro Verde

A lovely walk at the top of Cerro Verde

Today's wandering walk takes place a bit of a drive west of San Salvador in Parque Nacional Cerro Verde. To be clear, this park is the jumping off point for some serious trekking (with guides) up the Santa Ana (Ilamatepec) Volcano or the Izalco Volcano. Cerro Verde (of the three volcanoes, it is the extinct one) also offers a relatively easy guided trek which takes hikers through old and new growth forest, down into the crater and back up again. But this story is offers a different perspective on the Cerro Verde experience: no hiking poles needed!

Our goal: walk, relax, enjoy nature. We drove up to the park on a dry March afternoon, on the date of the new moon, in order to spend the night and do some star gazing in a place far away from city lights. By allowing for plenty of time to wander without the rush of heading out on a formal hike, we learned more about the park as a wonderful location for a leisurely stroll or a picnic, and that it is accessible to walkers of all ages and abilities. The park is open from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, and the entry fee is $1.50 for Salvadorans, and $3.00 for foreigners, with a $1 parking fee.

Late afternoon view into the parking lot from a picnic area near the entrance.

Turn around - here's the view toward the Izalco volcano from that same picnic area.

Groups can camp in tents in areas near the parking lot, or stay in one of the park cabins (family cabins are $55 for 24 hours). We wanted to check out the newly opened Casa 1800 hotel, which is definitely the more bougie choice (yes, I am both campy and bougie). The overnight experience was a bonus, but not required in order to enjoy a day or half-day wandering, picnicking, playing or resting in the park. Spending the night at the park allowed us to explore all the nooks and crannies surrounding the picnic areas without bothering anyone and to hear the music of the birds and rustle of the trees in the quiet of evening and early morning.

Frequent visitors to Cerro Verde will recognize this view from the patio of the now-renovated hotel and restaurant Casa 1800. The old Hotel de la Montaña opened in 1958, closed in 1997, and suffered great damages in the 2001 earthquakes. For many years, it was possible to wander onto the abandoned hotel property to take photos of the Izalco Volcano from the old patio.

After enjoying a cup of coffee at Casa 1800 (included with our check-in), we wandered around freely until sunset. Although the park closes at 8:00 PM, it was already pretty empty by mid-afternoon (on a weekday).  Casa 1800 requires that guests be inside their gated property by 8:00 PM. 

The walk of the mysterious flowers - this orchid garden is located just off the main parking lot. Because we went during the dry season, the orchids were not in bloom, but the pathways were shady and green - a pleasant contrast to the dry dust which covers much of El Salvador during the month of March. 

The orchid walk was accompanied by birds singing, fluttering and perching.  We were surrounded by bushy crested jays throughout our walk.

Tent camping area - next to the orchid trail. We also believe people are allowed to camp in the parking lot.

The orchid path has a few exit points onto a small road that runs through the park. There are lots of benches and picnic spots. We found plenty of little side paths to explore.

There are a couple of tunnels covered by evergreens which lead from the camping area, cabin area and orchid walk back down to the main parking lot. This is the steep one.

After poking around the orchid side of the park, we headed out the main entrance and crossed the road to the mirador (lookout) to catch the late afternoon sun reflecting on the ocean in the distance.

We crossed back into the park and explored the playground area and picnic areas (which we did not even know existed on that side), following every path available to us. We ended up back on the road with the orchid garden, and wandered around until it was quite dark in the forest. We went to the restaurant for dinner, in time for a view of the sun painting the sky over Izalco.

Day-trippers could definitely enjoy sunset and dinner at Casa 1800 before heading back to San Salvador or another destination. We went to our room for a while, waiting until it was good and dark before heading back out to the restaurant patio to do some star gazing. 

It was so very dark, that the only way to get a meaningful photo was to use a flash.

At about 10 PM, when all the lights were out at the hotel (literally - there was not a soul in sight nor a light anywhere), we put on our sweatshirts and winter coats and headed out to the balcony with our cell phone flashlights. The stars were beautiful! We were a little surprised that no one else was out and about, but seriously, it was FREEZING. This is the only place we have stayed in El Salvador (so far) that had HEAT in the room. We were grateful for it!

The next morning, we got up early and wandered all of the same pathways as we had done the previous afternoon. As the sun came up, the air warmed nicely. For those interested in very clear morning views, arriving at the park at 8 AM, eating a picnic or pupusa breakfast (one little place opened early) and walking around in the cool of the day is a great option before heading to a nearby archeological site, to Lake Coatepeque or even south to the beach.

In the early morning, it was easy to see the ocean in the distance. Clouds gradually moved around the Santa Ana volcano (on the right) and into the valley, evaporating into the characteristic haze that hides the sea. With binoculars, we were able to watch lines of ships likely departing from Acajutla.

The playground trees are sculpted to resemble animals, and you can climb up inside the branches. The entire length of this side of the park has great views of Izalco, the volcanic range, and the agricultural fields which stretch down to the coast.

We noticed some improvements on this side of the park, including new grass below the play equipment, and additional miradors (look-outs) over the Izalco valley

We wandered through the playground, past the new Coffee Shop (which sadly is not open in the early morning) to a little stair path we found the previous day. That path leads to dozens of hidden picnic alcoves, neatly tucked beneath the trees along small pathways which branch off of the main way. Especially when the park is not crowded, the picnic path is a great place for listening to and looking for birds. Depending on which way you follow, the picnic path sends you back out to the main parking lot or a little road.

Sun coming up on the road behind the orchid garden. The park sits on the rim of the ancient Cerro Verde Volcano - at the end of this road you find the trail head for the hiking path down into the crater. 

Our bird buddies are back

So much life on one tree

The past few years have brought good improvements to many tourist locations in El Salvador.  Parque Cerro Verde has clean restrooms, places to purchase food and water and accessible ramps. Entry to the park is not free, but it is still affordable, and the recent expansion of picnic areas and walking paths have preserved the natural features of the site. It is definitely a great place for taking a walk!

Another story...
A few years ago, I wrote a story which includes photos from our climb up the Santa Ana Volcano. It was entitled El Salvador: Land of Volcanoes.

A few more photos of Casa 1800...
Here are some additional photos from Casa 1800. Although this story is primarily focused on Cerro Verde as a great place for walking and relaxing as a family or with a delegation, we were able to really get to know the park by staying for the night. I would definitely try staying in the cabins in the park with a delegation, which would allow hikers to hike and relaxers to walk or hang out at a picnic table or a coffee shop. The hotel is pricey (although in line with other hotels in the Santa Ana/Cerro Verde area) and pretty fancy. The hotel restaurant is moderately priced, and the food we had was excellent.

The private patio space outside of our room

Torreja with afternoon coffee - this was yummy! Torrejas are a traditional food for Holy Week.

The outdoor walkways are bordered by lovely gardens

My dinner - delicious stromboli at sunset

Chia pancakes for breakfast

The 1950's vibe was preserved in the restaurant. Not much different in structure from when we used to come up here and peek into the windows when the place was abandoned. 


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