hiking

Visiting Cerro Verde and climbing Santa Ana Volcano on a DIY daytrip

Visiting Cerro Verde and climbing Santa Ana Volcano on a DIY daytrip

Climbing Santa Ana Volcano was one of my highlights in El Salvador. It’s the highest volcano in the country at around 2,300 meters, and it’s active. It last erupted in 2005, so I guess it’s wise to check activity updates before you go.

If you’re enough people traveling together, it’s possible to share a taxi to Cerro Verde. But it’s also really easy to get there and back from Santa Ana on the public bus.

The bus to Cerro Verde

There’s only one bus to Cerro Verde from Santa Ana in the morning, leaving at 7.30 from the Vencedora bus terminal. Get there well in time and buy a ticket at the counter inside the waiting hall. The ride up to Cerro Verde took a couple of hours and we were dropped at a booth at the entrance to the Parque de los Volcanes where we would pay the entrance fee. From there, we walked a short distance up to the first viewpoint, and the parking lot with toilets (bring coins and toilet paper), a restaurant frying breakfast pupusas and small booths selling gifts.

Climbing Santa Ana Volcano

This is also where to find the guide. If you want to climb Santa Ana Volcano, you’ll have to go in a group with a guide and police. The group left at 11 from the parking lot. We were about thirty people, but I’ve heard stories of more than a hundred people going up together on the weekend. So, I guess, avoid the weekends and public holidays if possible. The guide spoke Spanish only, but there were many people in the group so if you don’t, I’m sure you’ll find someone to translate the important bits for you.

The group walked together for a bit through the woods, to another booth where we paid another fee. It seems a bit annoying to pay for everything separately, but you will get receipts, and I guess that way you’ll know that each service gets their share. You’ll end up paying like 10 dollars in total, or just over.

After this, the real hike started. We were warned that we would have to turn back if it started to rain, and there was a specific time that we were to leave from the crater, so the people who hadn’t yet reached it by that time would have to turn back. Everyone didn’t walk together, the group stretched out so it didn’t feel like being herded like sheep.

Walking around at the top of Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador

The hike was quite strenuous as it goes uphill, but not difficult. Some people even brought children, although the guide clearly didn’t approve of this. (The kids made it up there before many of the adults, actually). Wear good shoes and you’ll probably be fine, although you’ll have to be careful with the loose rocks on the way down. A walking stick would’ve helped, I think. Also, bring a jacket or sweater as it’s quite chilly at the peak.

There were some viewpoints on the way up where we could stop to take pictures, but it was quite foggy in the morning and we didn’t see much. On the way down, however, the photo ops were a lot better.

At the top of Santa Ana Volcano

The reward of climbing Santa Ana Volcano is the view into the crater, and you can look down into it where there’s a lake which is bright turquoise and steaming. This looked really cool.

I’ve climbed volcanoes before and what you get up there is always different. My little group was pretty quick to get up there, so we had plenty of time to take pictures from all angles and just sit at the edge and look down into the crater. You will also have a 360 degree view over the other volcanoes (Cerro Verde and Idalco) and the lake Coatepeque if you’re lucky. We weren’t, it was all in a cloud. But the people who went the day after us had only the view and the crater lake in a cloud, so I’m glad we got this.

The hike to the top took about an hour, and the same time back, giving us a bit of time to have more pupusas before the bus left at 4. Everyone takes this bus, so you’ll notice the workers packing up their stands just before the bus arrives. Ours was a bit late, but not much.

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Visiting Matka Canyon by public bus

Visiting Matka Canyon by public bus

Matka Canyon is located about 15 kilometers from Skopje, and its vicinity to the capital coupled with all of its other features makes it a very popular destination for locals and tourists alike. It is also the location for the annual wildwater kayak slalom championship, and you can see the course at the entrance to the canyon. Would probably be awesome to watch that!

Two days in Skopje, the city of so many statues

Getting to Matka Canyon from Skopje

The special Matka Canyon bus is number 60, and goes from the bus station in Skopje all the way to the parking area at Matka Canyon, where it turns around. Its location at the bus station can be a little bit tricky to find, but it’s in the section for local services behind the gas station. Look for the sign with the number 60 on it.

You need a card to travel by bus, which can be bought in special kiosks. If you board the bus at the bus station it’s also possible to buy a card from the driver. The card costs 150 MKD and that includes the return trip to Matka. Don’t forget to validate the card at the machine on board the bus!

The Matka Canyon bus does not go often, only once every two hours or so, so my best advice would be to ask at your accommodation if they can look it up for you. We took the bus that left at 10.30 in the morning, giving us plenty of time to have a long breakfast at the hotel and stroll down to the station. The trip took about an hour, which was a bit more than I expected seeing as it’s not far at all on the map. It was unbelievably crowded, some people at the end of the line didn’t even get on it. We were lucky enough to get seats as we boarded at the station.

Be prepared to walk or take a taxi back

The return journey didn’t work out very well at all. We didn’t know the times, so we asked some people waiting for the bus and they said they’d been waiting for an hour already. We went to get some food but no bus showed up, so we walked a couple of kilometers up to the road to the first village where bus 12 passes. Turns out the afternoon bus never came. But there are plenty of taxis down there, and plenty more people who need a ride, so if you’re not on a very tight budget, that’s also an option worth considering. We were quoted 3 euros per person, which is probably negotiable. If we were to return, we would definitely go for the taxi.

The hiking trail along Matka Canyon outside Skopje, Macedonia

What to do at Matka Canyon

All that being said about the journey, what about the canyon? Well, it’s lovely. It’s hard to imagine that you’re so close to the city, because it’s very calm and wild out there. Aside from the few restaurants by the water, what you can do is essentially to go along the canyon. Either on food by the side of it, or on the water in a shared boat or a kayak. The latter cost a few hundred denars per person.

We chose to hike, because we were anxious to move about after the long bus ride. It’s possible to walk along the lake for about 10 kilometers and end up by a cave. We thought that was a bit much, so we turned around after 5 and walked back. The views from the walk are mostly awesome, but in part the trail goes into the forest and you can’t see a thing. It was a little bit crowded in the beginning, but the farther along the trail you go, the less people you will see, as everyone will have to turn back at some point.

Tunnel on the hiking trail in Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

We wore light hiking shoes but regular city clothes, which seemed like a good choice. The hike is not strenuous at all, but the ground is uneven. We met a girl wearing heels and a long white dress, and while she was indeed moving forward, it surely wasn’t pleasant. You will also need to bring all the water and snacks that you think you’ll want. There are some restaurants, and we had an excellent lunch of cheese burek at one of them, but don’t depend on them for water.

A cheese burek we had at the restaurant at Matka Canyon, Skopje, Macedonia

Next time, we’ll kayak down the canyon

So the thing is, we’re walkers. When given the option, we’ll always walk. But this day was very hot, and we kept looking down at the people kayaking and that looked so awesome. It’s probably a lot cooler down there by the water. At first it seemed scary as there are also bigger boats coming, but it didn’t look like the waves got very high. No one seemed to struggle, anyhow. We also sort of wanted to take the boat trip, because then you can go and visit the caves. They are on the other side of the water from the hiking trail, so it’s not possible to reach them on foot. We were very happy with the hike, but guys, the kayaking looked NICE.

I’ve already mentioned the burek and the walk and the bus we ended up taking back, so I won’t repeat myself. We were happy with the outing, it was almost a full day trip but it was so nice to get out of the city and still not have to travel very far for this spectacular nature. Plus we hardly spent any money doing it!

Hiking, boating and kayaking in Matka Canyon Skopje MacedoniaBudget outdoor adventures in Matka Canyon Skopje Macedonia
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The fascinating Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab

The fascinating Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab

One thing you’ll read a lot about when you research Oman is wadis. So what is a wadi? Usually it’s a dry river-bed, and some you’ll drive past without noticing, but some others are spectacular ravines perfect for hiking, swimming or both.

Planning a camping trip in Oman? Here’s all you need to know

Another thing you’ll see a lot of when planning a camping trip to Oman is the warning not to pitch your tent in a wadi. I can definitely see why you’d want to: the wadis are usually lush, relatively speaking, and often seem to protect you well from the elements. But if it starts to rain you may get surprised by a flash flood, and that’s one thing you don’t want.

Looking for a safe place to pitch your tent in Oman? Here are my suggestions!

We visited two of the wadis that have been adapted to tourism but not overwhelmingly so: Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab.

Wadi Bani Khalid, the perfect oasis

We spent most of the day at Wadi Bani Khalid, arriving in the late morning and scoring a great spot in the shade beneath a palm tree right next to the poolside. There was no entrance fee or parking fee, toilets were available free of charge and there’s a restaurant on site. I don’t know what their prices are like given that there’s no competition, but this being Oman, they’re probably not overcharging.

We brought swimwear and towels, a change of clothes, a plastic mat to sit on, some books, lunch and plenty of water and sun lotion.

Swimming at Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman

The water was so refreshing, as this was our first swim (and honestly second contact with water) since arriving five days earlier, so we really enjoyed swimming. There are some spots for jumping, some for swimming, and various depths. And plenty of room for everyone, even after a lot of other visitors had arrived around noon.

One funny thing was the little fish in the water that will nibble on your feet if you put them in. They didn’t touch me when I was swimming, but with just the feet down I got one of those Asian fish pedicures free of charge.

How to get there

The road that goes to Wadi Bani Khalid is on the inland highway 23 between Muscat and Sur, a very short drive from Al Wasil where we ended up after spending the night in the desert. It’s a new, paved road but goes a bit up and down before finally ending by a parking lot surrounded by palm trees. It’s well signposted with the brown signs leading to tourist attractions. You can definitely reach Wadi Bani Khalid with a 2WD.

When we arrived in the morning it was no problem finding a parking spot, but as we left the parking situation seemed a bit more chaotic. It’s about a five minute walk from the parking lot to the pools, so make sure you bring everything you’ll need so you don’t have to go back and forth several times like we did.

What to wear

Both men and women should wear a loose t-shirt, and while men can wear loose shorts as well, women should cover the knees. We saw some tourists wearing tiny bikinis or speedos, but that’s just not okay. Be respectful to the locals and cover up when you’re swimming. Besides, it’s really nice to have wet clothes on in the heat, you’ll stay cool much longer after a swim.

sign encouraging tourists to dress modestly when swimming in Oman

A hike down Wadi Shab

Wadi Shab is supposedly Arabic for “gorge between cliffs”, and that’s not a metaphor. The wadi opening is just below the highway, which isn’t that pretty, but if you’re lucky you can get a parking spot in the shade, so that’s something. The first pool is just by the parking lot and you can’t really see much, but for 1 OMR you’ll be taken across the water in a small boat to where the trail starts on the other side. There’s one coffee shop on each side of the water if you didn’t bring food or water.

Boat ride over pool at Wadi Shab, Oman

We took the boat across the water and started walking. It’s so hot when you’re out in the sun, so cover up properly and bring lots of water. We walked into the gorge, first on a trail between little farms and then across big rocks for a bit, before it all opened up to the upper pool where lots of people were swimming.

Hiking at wadi shab Oman

We were a bit unsure about the swimming, as there are signs everywhere saying you shouldn’t do it. But loads of people were swimming, so I guess it’s alright. If you do swim, make sure you dress appropriately. We had woken up at the beach and were headed toward another beach, so we didn’t really need to go in the water. Instead, we just relaxed under a cliff for a bit before turning back.

How to get there

Wadi Shab is just off the highway between Sur and Tiwi, very close to our camping spot at the beach in Fins. There are signs on the highway, and you’ll see the wadi when you drive down. The parking is a bit of a mess, but if you arrive early it shouldn’t be a problem. If not, I’d recommend that you park along the road leading down to the parking lot instead of taking the risk of having other cars block you on the way in. You can definitely visit Wadi Shab with a 2WD sedan car, as it’s right next to the new highway.

Here’s our nine day Oman itinerary, if you’re looking for some more inspiration!

Wadi Bani Khalid, Oman, the perfect oasis for a relaxing swimHiking in Wadi Shab, Oman
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Jebel Shams and the Balcony Walk

Jebel Shams and the Balcony Walk

Jebel Shams is the mountain top next to Wadi Ghul, also known as the Grand Canyon of Arabia. With spectacular views over the canyon, a cooler climate than at sea level, great camping opportunities and several hiking trails, it’s well worth a visit when you’re in Oman.

Preparing for a camping trip in Oman: all you need to know

How to get there

To get to Jebel Shams, you will need to drive several kilometers on unpaved roads up the hill, which requires a good car. We did see a few 2WD saloon cars up there, and I’ve heard some more reports from people who made it up there without a 4WD so I know it’s possible, but having seen the road conditions, I never would’ve tried. We even passed some people in Jeeps or other great offroad cars on the way up, standing by their cars with the hood up and concerned looks on their faces.

unpaved road still in good condition from Jebel Shams oman

The road is paved at first, then unpaved, then paved again at the end. I thought the drive was quite fun, but also kind of scary as we would sometimes go over a hill and not see where the road was going on the other side. Some guides drive up there way too fast, but there were plenty of places where I could just stop by the side to let them pass in a cloud of dust.

Where to sleep on Jebel Shams

We were camping, and there are such amazing camping spots up there! This is the one place we camped where we saw plenty of other campers, but the area is so big that it doesn’t get crowded.

camping spot between rocks on jebel shams oman

See our guide for driving directions to the best camping spots in north Oman, including several on Jebel Shams

There also seemed to be groups with guides camping up there, so I think you can find a tour that will provide you with all the equipment needed if you don’t want to camp for the whole trip but still enjoy waking up to these amazing views.

tiny tent and car from a distance at jebel shams oman

If you’re just not a camper, there are also two hotels up there, Jebel Shams Resort and Sama Heights Resort. We had lunch at the latter and took a look around, and they seemed to have a range of accommodation, as well as a good restaurant.

Walking the Balcony trail

Our highlight was the hiking trail W6, also known as the Balcony Walk, that goes from the village of Khateem to the abandoned village of As Sab, and then back. To get from Jebel Shams Resort and the camping spots to the start of the trail, drive on the sand road that starts at the resort until you get to a parking lot and a tiny village. The trail starts from there and goes along the inside of the canyon.

The hiking trail is well marked on the balcony walk jebel shams oman

The trail is quite narrow, two people can meet in most places but not more than that, and it goes along the edge of the cliff so you’ll have to pay attention to where you put your feet. That’s easier said than done with views like that. This is easily one of the most scenic hikes I’ve ever done.

We started just after 8 in the morning and it took us about an hour and a half to reach the old houses at As Sab, with some short breaks on the way. When we reached the end, there were already lots of people resting, and annoyingly some guides who were playing music on their phones.

On the way back, we learned that we’d slowly been going down the whole way there without noticing, and the return was so much more strenuous with a bit of a climb, a higher temperature, and more tired legs.

It was a really, really nice hike though, and I would highly recommend it. It’s not a very difficult one, but it’s not easy either, and I think people who have difficulties with their balance will struggle, both physically and mentally.

Planning a trip to Oman? Here’s our 9 day self-drive itinerary!

Jebel shams and the balcony walk goats OmanHiking the balcony walk on Jebel Shams, Oman
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