Volcan Santa Maria, the pretty, symmetrical, almost perfect looking hill had been staring at me for a week. There had been a growing yearning in me to attempt climbing it and a chat with Mark about climbing mountains, was the final push I needed to decide that I should climb it. Ana and Mark were super chilled about me hanging about for a couple of more days so I could do the hike.
The trailhead was just about 6-7 km from Xela and easily reached on the bike. But Mark was not sure there would be a safe place to park the bike and so I decided to take a bus instead. There was a nice bit of information on doing the hike on Summitpost and it was super detailed and useful. However, I personally think it would have been nicer to bike up to the town of Llano del Pinal and ask one of the small shops to allow parking the bike safe.
Ana highly recommended that I start the hike early and even suggested I start around 3 AM to catch the sunrise. That would have been really nice but I figured it might be a better idea to hike in the daylight given it’s my first attempt. I was up at 5:40 and headed out at 6:15. It took me a while to figure out the bus for Pinal as I had to go thro the market and catch it on the south end of the market (away from the terminal). I am not sure if the buses run every hour or so, but mine started at 7 and dropped me off about 20 mins later in the town of Pinal. At 2Q it was a great price to get to the trail head.
It was chilly in the morning ad I suppose on a cloudy day it probably got colder as one headed up, but today the sun was out and the day was gorgeous. The jackets and waterproof’s I brought were useful only in the wee hours of the morning in Xela, I layered off pretty much within 20 mins of starting the climb. There were small shops in Pinal and I got some snacks to keep the energy levels up.
The hike started with a short residential road leading to the trailhead which seemed like a dry river bed. The route for the first hour or so (up to 3000m I reckon) was pretty much a horse track and I spotted a truck on it, I suppose one could ride a 4×4 for half the hike. But I enjoyed walking. The trail underfoot was soft and a bit damp and had great traction and the canopy above was just perfect. The vegetation would change from tropical flowering plants to Pine trees, Tussock and finally just at the summit, the treeline would stop. So pretty much a prefect hiking trail.
Around 3000m or so there was a lovely bit of camp site. The major issue along the track was the garbage strewn around. It wasn’t too much (seems like some one collected a bunch and burnt them at some spots), but still enough to make one wonder, why can people not bring their garbage back.
Mark had given me the best advice I have received on hiking unknown trails, “Follow the Garbage”. And it hadn’t led me down. There were paths that would diverge once in a while, but almost always the main trail was the one with the most plastic bottles and bags of chips, beer bottles, etc…
There was just one spot where one had to be careful to take the proper trail. The paths diverged, the left flank heading to the Summit of Santa Maria and the path to the right led to the Mirador for Santiaguito. Post that diversion, it was a pretty easy path to follow.
It took me 2.5 hrs to get up tothe top, I suppose my climbing rate is about 500m per hour and I was spot on. Once at the top, the view was stunningly clear and I could spot most of the major peaks in the distance. As far as Acatenengo and Fuego in the east and Tajumulco in the West. It was stunning views and I climbed down south a little to peek into the caldera of Santiaguito. The volcano just bellowed out smoke and I was lucky to see some of it before the clouds came in and obscured the view. There were some people praying and singing at the top and I tried not to bother them much.
I hung about for a bit there and watched Fuego and Santiaguito breathe out smoke for a while. I was glad Santa Maria was nice to me and after soaking in the views, headed down. As it is the case with me, downhill is harder and much slower and I took 2.5 hrs to descent. A downhill runner might do it in an hour or so I reckon. But I was not in any hurry and happy to take my time.
The return back to Xela was the same, I picked up a bus from the village and headed home for 2Q. I haev hung out in Xela for too long I think. Mark and Ana have been extremely nice to me and allowed me to hang about for nearly 10 days now. I have had an absolutely lovely time here and I should say it has taken up a spot in my list of favourite towns, definitely the best one in Gutemala.
Route: Xela – Hiking Volcán Santa Maria
Distance: 12.3 km
Ascent: 1300 m
Descent: 1283 m
Expenses: $ 12.23
Comment: Santa Maria seems to be a mountain with soul