Volcanoes to climb nearby to Xela

The department of Quetzaltenango is located in the west of Guatemala and forms a topographically important part of the country’s volcanic chain. The municipality known as Xela is surrounded by forests, mountains, and volcanoes where you can go on excursions and enjoy nature. If you want to go on an adventure and climb a volcano, here are the most highly recommended places. 

Santa María Volcano

Santa María Volcano

This location is very popular with both international and national tourists alike. From this volcano, you can see the volcanic chain running from west to east. If you visit on a clear day, you can admire the Volcán de Fuego (‘Volcano of fire’), Agua Volcano and the attractive and majestic Tajumulco Volcano, located in San Marcos. You can also marvel at the volcanoes of Atitlán, San Pedro, Tolimán and Tajumulco. The Santa María Volcano borders the active volcano of Santiaguito, which makes the ascent an interesting experience as you will be able to hear the sounds of explosions and see how ash is expelled from the crater. 

It is recommended to hike accompanied by a local guide who knows the area, as well as carrying a GPS. One of the routes begins by taking a bus that goes to the small village of Llano del Pinal (you can catch this bus at the Minerva Bus Terminal). The village is half an hour from Xela by bus, so it will not be difficult to find the route as the path is very well signposted. The hike to the summit takes between four and five hours because it is a steep climb. If you have the right equipment, it is possible to set up camp and spend the night at the summit. In the rainy season or cold weather, it is best not to climb the volcano to avoid any danger. Fun fact: Santa María is the fourth largest volcano in Guatemala. 

Chicabal Lake 

Chicabal Lake

This is a notable location not only for its beauty but because it is a sacred space to the Mayan people. The Mayan people hold ceremonies there and it is a meeting point for many indigenous people. To get to the volcano, you should head to the village of Toj Mech in San Martín Sacatepéquez, also known as San Martín Chile Verde, or the entrance to Chicabal. It is very easily accessible by car, there is good signage and no risk of getting lost. To go by public bus, you can catch the bus at the stop on 6th Street and 15th Avenue in zone 3 of Xela (behind Benito Juárez Park, near the Claro agency). 

Descent towards Chicabal Lake

The ascent time on foot is approximately two hours from Toj Mech village. We recommend setting off early to avoid the fog so that you can see the lagoon without any interruptions from the viewpoint. The route begins on a steep dirt track, passing by a place called Laguna Seca, where you will need to pay the entrance fee for the area (Q.25 for Guatemalan nationals and Q.50 for foreigners). From there, you should follow the track to the viewpoint, finishing by descending 550 steps. If you prefer not to go on foot, for Q10 you can take a ‘Torito’, which is a vehicle that will take you to Laguna Seca and even up to the viewpoint. If you go by car, it is advisable to take a pickup or some sort of minibus-type vehicle as the road is fairly steep. 

If you wish to camp here, you are permitted to pitch your tent in the surrounding area. Don’t forget your sleeping bag! If you do decide to camp, the charge is Q15.00 extra. At dusk, you will be able to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere and a starry sky. However, it is important to remember that entering the waters of the lake is strictly prohibited. 

Zunil Volcano 

Photo: LavaXpeditionGt

The ascent to this volcano is a little different due to the gradient of the route. It is characterised by its lack of a crater, however in any case you will enjoy a spectacular view on reaching the summit. Along the route, you will see forests and deep ravines on the southern side. From the summit you will be able to see the volcanoes of Santa María, Tajumulco, Santo Tomás, Tacaná, and Siete Orejas. 

This volcano is ideal for those wishing for a less difficult hike, as the route is easily accessible. The ascent takes approximately six hours. We recommend going accompanied by a local guide who knows the area, as the path features several detours. There is a choice of two routes to ascend; the first is to go to Zunil and take the road to Fuentes Georginas, where the trail begins; or the other option is to go via Sololá, taking the inter-American highway until reaching about 200 metres from the entrance to Nueva Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán and then continuing for one kilometre until you reach Chiquisis. 

Zunil volcano is an excellent place to practice abseiling or mountain biking, although due to its nature there are no specific campsites. Ask your guide where the best place is to enjoy the sunrise from its heights. 

General recommendations 

Before embarking on a trip, it is important to consult the CONRED website to check the weather conditions or guide yourself through an application to avoid any incidents. It is always best to travel with a group and find a local guide who knows the area. Read reviews by other travellers for further advice, and bring a basic first aid kit. If you do decide to camp on any of these volcanoes, you must bring appropriate clothing and equipment: comfortable long-sleeved shirts, comfortable light climbing trousers, gloves, an all-weather raincoat, a woollen hat, hiking boots, a sleeping bag, and a camping mat, preferably an inflatable one. 

To camp on any volcano, you must seek out a spot that is protected from wind, and not at risk of flooding or landslides. Don’t forget to bring a battery-powered torch and a whistle. Always remember to take your rubbish home with you, because there are no bins on the volcanoes. What food should you bring? It is advisable to bring nuts, food that is high in carbohydrates, and fruit so that you have enough energy. If you are camping, make sure to bring enough water for the duration, at least two litres per person. 

Remember that hiking helps alleviate feelings of negativity and that it is a personal challenge requiring physical effort and a lot of concentration. Climb a volcano and see the world differently! Hiking these volcanos regularly will improve your health and it’s also a great way to get together with friends, family, or meet new people.