Of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala, the Santiaguito is the most dangerous. So dangerous that all the hikes on the volcano have been canceled. Fortunately, that does not mean that you cannot visit this impressive natural phenomenon. At a safe distance you have a fantastic view of the Santiaguito from the Santa Maria volcano. With a bit of luck you can even experience an outburst.
An easy morning hike
As spectacular as that sounds, the hike to the viewpoint in front of the Santiaguito is not that bad. In fact: we had chosen this hike precisely for that reason. After heavy two-day hikes to the tops of the Acatenango and the Pacaya, an easy morning hike sounded like music to us.
For this hike you have to get up early. Our local guide from Monte Verde picked us up at our hotel in Quetzaltenango at 6 a.m. in the morning. After a small detour through the city to pick up the others, we finally arrived at 7:00 am at the foot of Santa Maria.
The Santiaguito is in fact part of the Santa Maria volcano. We were told that the craters of the Santiaguito were created by a huge eruption of the Santa Maria. Part of the volcano then collapsed and that is now the Santiaguito. The Santa Maria is a lot higher than the Santiaguito and is a popular destination for a tough day hike or even overnight tour. From the top you also seem to be able to view the Santiaguito. The first part of the hike to the viewpoint of the Santiaguito is equal to that for the Santa Maria. At a certain point you have to turn left for the Santa Maria summit, and you continue straight ahead for the Santiaguito.
The hike to the viewpoint takes approximately 2 hours. That is not long and of course not too bad compared to the much heavier hikes to, for example, the Santa Maria or Acatenango. It is therefore often perceived as light and compared to a walk. But that is a very rosy description of the hike. We didn’t think the hike was super heavy, but you do climb most of the trip.
Three eruptions of the Santiaguito
Around 9 o’clock we were at the viewpoint and that was a perfect timing. It is in fact quite fresh in this region during our trip in November and the sun appears at exactly 9 o’clock. It comes out just behind Santa Maria and heats us at the viewpoint. This tour is also not offered later in the day. Then there are often clouds hanging here, so you can see very little of this view.
The view is of course where we came for. We see a vast landscape with lots of greenery and more mountains and hills in the distance. But diagonally ahead of us the Santiaguito clearly catches the eye. The volcano is a whimsical formation of rocks and several craters. Our guide points to the crater to the left of us. We can expect the fireworks there, he tells us in Spanish.
We know that the travelers returned from the trip disappointed earlier that week. The volcano remained calm for a moment and there were no eruptions. How different it was this morning! In total we spent an hour and a half at the viewpoint. In that time we have seen the volcano erupt no less than three times. The crater first starts to smoke slowly, until a huge, thick and white cloud of smoke appears.
We spend our time at the viewpoint with a cup of coffee and tea that our guide has brought. We are with a small group of six. We chat about the volcano and our travels, and cuddle with the dog that hangs around here. Interspersed by the three eruptions of which we of course all make photos and videos. We are not alone here; another group also enjoys the view there when we arrive. After half an hour they start their descent again.
We are finally back at the foot of Santa Maria around 11.30 am. Around noon we will be in Xela again. Just in time for lunch.
Practical: with a guide or on your own?
You can of course undertake the hike to the viewpoint yourself. We have thought about this carefully and ultimately did not opt for this. Although the route is not very complicated, there are still a few points where you can go wrong. The tour is also for a short part on private terrain and the tour organizations have agreements with the owner. Because you ultimately want to be on time at the viewpoint to be ahead of the clouds, we really recommend a guide.
We chose the local organization Monte Verde. Many organizations advertise that their donations partly go to the local community, but Monte Verde itself is the local community. The organization is fully run by locals and we had a local guide on the road. Our Spanish is unfortunately not good enough to have long conversations with him. But his explanation about the volcano and the trip were easy to understand.
With a group of three or more people, the hike at Monte Verde costs 25 USD per person. Here you can find the contact details of Monte Verde, but you can also book directly in Quetzaltenango at their office.
- Warm clothing, because it can be very cold in the morning. We wore several layers, so that we could gradually pull off.
- Good hiking shoes are not a must, but very nice. We ourselves wear good shoes from Keen and are very happy with that.
- At least 1.5 liters of water per person. You don’t have to bring tea or coffee yourself.
- Breakfast and a snack during the trip and at the viewpoint.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen for when the sun finally appears.