Lago de Ilopango, El Salvador

Lake Locations:

El Salvador -

Also known as:  Ilopanga Lake

With nearly 18,000 acres of shimmering water, Lago de Ilopango is one of El Salvador’s best-kept secrets. Created 15 centuries ago when the caldera of a Holocene-era volcano collapsed, the water-filled crater now provides scenic beauty and water-based recreation to those lucky enough to find it. It is the largest natural lake in the country. The Ilopango volcano last erupted in 1880 when a volcano dome pushed up from the lake’s floor to the surface, creating small islands called the Islas Quemadas. Small beaches squeeze between towering cliffs as high as 1,600 feet in places-the rim of the old caldera. The view of San Vicente volcano across the lake in the distance leaves observers with a sense of a primitive and changing jungle landscape, much as the ancient Mayans must have seen it.

Located only about 10 miles from the capital city of San Salvador, Lago de Ilopango is accessible by bus or taxi. Swimming is available at one of the small public beaches near the community of Apulo along the southwest shore. The public beaches are often crowded with local children and may be poorly maintained, in stark contrast to the immaculate private lake houses. Small boats can be rented here, and several outdoor restaurants offer food and snacks. Boat tours of the lake are available for a fee. There doesn’t appear to be any type of public marina at the lake, but local tourist businesses and vacation rental owners often supply such amenities as docks, pontoon rafts, kayaks, personal watercraft and ski boats. A golf club offers its lovely views to members and guests.

Fishing at Lago de Ilopango is reported to be productive, particularly for tiger bass. Charter fishing companies in the area can arrange angling trips. Other small fish are caught for local consumption, but there is no true commercial fishing at Ilopango Lake. As with many lakes of great depth, deeper waters do not support much aquatic life, because vegetation can not grow where little sunlight penetrates. Lago de Ilopango reaches depths of 750 feet, so vegetation and fish habitat are mostly in shallow waters near shore and around the islands. Local fishermen still employ ancient methods of free-diving to catch fish here on occasion. Scuba diving is a popular sport at the lake; divers enjoy the great visibility the clear waters offer and enjoy exploring the steep rock ridges that continue from above the lake down into the depths. Local dive shops in San Salvador arrange dive expeditions to the lake and often rent equipment and provide guides.

With a number of private vacation rentals located along the shoreline, Lago de Ilopango can provide an ideal base for an El Salvadorian vacation. The vacation lodgings are usually upscale homes with beautiful views, plenty of amenities and often include housekeepers or cooks who can see to the guests’ needs. Although a small country, El Salvador has a great many interesting spots within a short distance that no visitor will want to miss. The attractions of the Pacific beaches are well-known and less than 25 miles from Ilopango Lake. One of the closest is also one of the best-known surfing beaches: Libertad beach (Port of La Libertad) offers great surfing, plenty of seaside restaurants, small shops and deep sea fishing charters. The old village of Ilobasco is well-known for its handicrafts and ceramics. Only 30 miles north of San Salvador, no visitor can leave the country without at least one souvenir from Ilobasco.

Adventurous visitors will want to trek to the top of El Pital, several miles east of San Salvador. Straddling the Honduras border, the mountain is the highest point in El Salvador at 8,957 feet. El Pital has great hiking trails, camping areas and a far cooler climate than areas near the coast. Expect to pay fees as this is privately-held property, but the fees are very reasonable. There are commercial zip-line facilities near Lago de Ilopango, and paragliding is available in the nearby highlands. Hotels and resorts near the national parks and national forests arrange eco-tours, and all areas along the coast are well-supplied with hotels, resorts and tourist lodgings in a wide variety of prices and amenities.

Those with an interest in the history of El Salvador won’t want to miss visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site Joya de Ceren. Called the “Pompeii of the Americas”, this excavated Mayan town was buried in ash hundreds of years ago when a nearby volcano erupted. Fleeing Mayans escaped with their lives but little else, leaving everything to be permanently preserved under a heavy layer of ash. So far nearly 15 buildings have been unearthed to display much about Mayan life, including food still stored on shelves in the houses and sauna baths built for ritual use. San Salvador also features numerous palaces and public buildings showcasing its rich history, an archeology museum, theater and many cultural and arts venues. Smaller cities often feature colorful festivals and pageants honoring saints and local heroes.

Lago de Ilopango is reputed to be a somewhat harsh master of the immediate environment, as the caldera collapse between 410 and 535 AD forced the demise of nearby Mayan cities. Flooding destroyed beach houses as late as 1928, and the low-lying portions of the lakeshore are prone to flooding during heavy rains. Today, Lago de Ilopango is silent and serene, pleased to entertain visitors and on its best behavior to show off El Salvador to new friends. It extends an invitation to you.

Things to do at Lago de Ilopango

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Scuba Diving
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • National Park
  • National Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lago de Ilopango

  • Bass

Lago de Ilopango Photo Gallery

Lago de Ilopango Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 17,920 acres

Shoreline Length: 26 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,440 feet

Average Depth: 300 feet

Maximum Depth: 750 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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