Volcan Santa Maria, with its perfect cone, can be seen from anywhere near Quetzaltenango (Xela). Find out how to hike to the top without a tour for only Q4 (USD$0.53).

Hiking Volcan Santa Maria

Hiking Volcan Santa Maria was our most rewarding experience in Quetzaltenango (Xela), and it cost less than a dollar! Instead of taking an overnight tour, you can climb Volcan Santa Maria independently as a daytrip and enjoy the comfort of your hotel before and after. You might even consider visiting Zunil the next day to soak in the spas of Fuentes Georginas.

Join DIY Travel HQ as we walk you through all the steps to successfully climb Volcan Santa Maria without a tour.

Volcan Santa Maria Guide

Your guide for today is Erik.

Volcan Santa Maria Transportation

For some, the hardest part about hiking Volcan Santa Maria is getting up at the crack of dawn. You need to catch the ‘chicken’ bus to Llanos del Pinal – Q2, 45 minutes – no later than 6 am. That means getting up at 5 am, and leaving your hotel at 5:30 am.

Volcan Santa Maria Chicken Bus

See, no one wanted to get up that early either.

The bus stops across the street from Iglesia El Calvario. This is very important since the bus only passes by on the way back from Llanos del Pinal. It stops near Minerva Terminal for a few minutes before heading back to Volcan Santa Maria. You should be listening for Pinal as that will be how Llanos del Pinal is referred to on the bus, and by the screaming driver’s assistant.

Quetzaltenango (Xela) Iglesia El Calvario

You should see this church when waiting for the bus to Santa Maria Volcano.

If you did not catch a direct bus, you will be let off at the main intersection to Llanos del Pinal. Direct buses go further down this road instead of just passing by. Either way, the volcano will be in sight. Start your hike to Volcan Santa Maria by continuing down the main street of Llanos del Pinal.

Road to Volcan Santa Maria

You have to walk to the volcano before you can climb it.

Hiking to Volcan Santa Maria’s Base

The most confusing section of the climb to Volcan Santa Maria is getting to the base. There are a number of paths that branch out that farmers use. If you stick to the largest path that largely goes straight, then you should have no problems until you need to turn off.

Volcan Santa Maria Hiking Through Farms

If it looks like a path to a farm, it probably is.

The main road in Llanos del Pinal leads directly into the hike to the base of Volcan Santa Maria. You will originally be surrounded by fields of corn as you hike along a grassy path. The trail will then become a bit more rocky and steeper before becoming grassy again. At this point, you will be able to see Llanos del Pinal, but not Volcan Santa Maria.

Volcan Santa Maria Hiking Start Path

Keep straight until you can see Volcan Santa Maria again.

Keep hiking until you can see Volcan Santa Maria again, and there is a split path. We originally kept following the grassy path to the right, but you need to follow the rocky path to the left. If you are worried about getting lost, download the app Maps.me which shows the trail all the way to the top of Volcan Santa Maria.

Volcan Santa Maria Confusing Path

Keep left, and avoid the only mistake we made.

Heading left at the ‘Y’, continue all the way until you reach a grassy clearing. There are multiple places where the path splits, but they all reunite from what I gathered. This is the base of Volcan Santa Maria.

Volcan Santa Maria Grasslands

You have reached the base. Now let’s start climbing!

Climbing Volcan Santa Maria

The hike to the base of Volcan Santa Maria is where you could have gotten lost, but now the hard part looming in front of you is the climb. Follow the paths through the shrubs to the right, and begin your ascent.

The climb is straightforward as long as you follow the worn path. The gradient is relatively consistent as you continue to take switchbacks up the entire way. Along the way are some short cuts that are more vertical, but save time and distance. Consider taking these if you are in good shape, or running behind schedule.

Volcan Santa Maria Climbing One Step at a Time

If Sheena can do it, you can do it too!

You know you are near the top of Volcan Santa Maria when you get above the tree line. However, don’t be fooled by the first, or second, and maybe even third time this appears to be the case. Many find the hike challenging, but the truth is it is just consistent. There are no level sections, but also no loose rocks that leave you repeating steps. For this reason, I would rate the hike difficulty average.

Volcan Santa Maria View of Zunil and Volcan Santiaguito

Finally above the treeline for real.

There are a few clearings along the way to take pictures and catch your breath. Take advantage of these opportunities as you never know when the clouds may start obstructing your view. It is better to have bad pictures than no pictures.

Volcan Santa Maria Opening View While Climbing

You can always delete your bad pictures later.

The peak of Volcan Santa Maria is marked by a pile of boulders. Congratulations, you have arrived!

Volcan Santa Maria Summit and Mayan Flower Offerings

Congrats! You just climbed a volcano.

Volcan Santa Maria Peak

There are a few attractions at the peak of Volcan Santa Maria. Most will want a picture on top of the volcano, and the view over Quetzaltenango (Xela). On clear days, and early in the morning, it is possible to see Zunil tucked behind Volcan Almolonga.

Volcan Santa Maria View of Xela and Volcan Almolonga

Look at the view of Quetzaltenango (Xela)!

If you look east and west, you can see the peaks of nearby volcanoes. Welcome to volcano alley in Central America.

Volcan Santa Maria Volcano Alley East

This is the view to your east.

Volcan Santa Maria Volcano Alley West

This is your view to the west.

At the peak are several Mayan offerings in the form of flowers. Some have been planted, and others grace a fire pit. As you can guess, this is a very spiritual place for Mayans.

Volcan Santa Maria Mayan Offerings

Don’t disrespect the volcano, or it may tremble like Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia.

Enjoy these aspects of Volcan Santa Maria, but remember the highlight of this hike is watching Volcan Santiaguito erupt if you get the chance. This has become more challenging lately. Whereas Volcan Santa Maria used to erupt every 45 minutes, it has decreased to every 2 hours at best. On the bright side, each eruption is more intense.

Volcan Santa Maria View of Volcan Santiaguito Crater in Clouds

Now you see the crater. Now you don’t.

It took us 3.5 hours to walk to the base and climb Volcan Santa Maria. If you want to see Volcan Santiaguito’s crater, then you need to arrive before 10 am. We got to the top around 10:20 am, and it was only visible for a few seconds. Despite Quetzaltenango (Xela) being clear, there was a stream of clouds covering the volcano.

Volcan Santa Maria Stream of Clouds Blocking Volcan Santiaguito

Once the sun reaches into valleys, the dew quickly evaporates forming a stream of clouds.

Timing an eruption with clear visibility is very difficult if you have limited time. Consider camping overnight on this grassy patch if you have your own equipment. Otherwise, you can try climbing Volcan Acatenango near Antigua to see Volcan Fuego erupt.

Volcan Santa Maria Camping Spot

Pitch your tent here if camping on Volcan Santa Maria.

Return to Llanos del Pinal

Returning to Llanos del Pinal is straightforward. Just follow the same path you hike up. It should take about half the time since gravity is assisting you.

At the peak of Volcan Santa Maria, we picked up a guide for the return. We aren’t sure where this dog came from, but it led us all the way back to town. The only problem was how aggressive he was when we tried to eat. He would literally circle us, take the high ground, and lunge at our sandwiches. I guess all guides need to be paid somehow. He received 2 sandwiches that didn’t taste as well as we had planned.

Volcan Santa Maria Guide Dog

Meet our new guide dog that demanded paying in food.

Volcan Santa Maria Security

Remote hiking in Guatemala always contains some risk. Although there have been incidents in the past, security over the past few years have improved on Volcan Santa Maria. There are police patrols, and we saw two officers at the summit.

That being said, use your best judgment. Don’t take anything you are not ready to part with. Back up your photos before you climb. Hike in a large group if possible. If not, then inquire about tours and plan to go the same days they are.

Volcan Santa Maria Planning

Weather

Hiking Volcan Santa Maria can be done in 9 hours from door-to-door so little planning is required. Check the weather to make sure it will be sunny. Mountain-Forecast provides weather specific to Volcan Santa Maria, and is a great resource. There is no point in making the ascent if the weather is poor. You will not see anything, including the path, and it will be cold and wet.

Volcan Santa Maria Clouds Rolling In

The peak may be cold and windy, especially after cooling down from hiking, so have a windbreaker at least.

Clothing

The temperature is very chilly in the morning, but heats up quickly when hiking. The top may be windy and cold too. However, a windbreaker should suffice with normal clothes underneath. You are more likely to be too hot than too cold for most of the hike. Consider bringing sunscreen lotion for the descent as the sun finally clears the volcanoes by midday. Bring an emergency poncho if your jacket is not waterproof as storms approach rapidly.

Food

Prepare your breakfast and lunch the day before for the hike. Bananas and pastries are great for breakfast. Sandwiches are good for a picnic at the peak. You should be back in Quetzaltenango (Xela) by 3 pm so dinner is not required.

***The Final Word – Volcan Santa Maria is a great day hike from Quetzaltenango. Get off your butt and climb it!***

What was Volcan Santiaguito erupting like?

4 Shovels

Easy DIY travel outside city centres using public transport

Visited in August 2016


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