Santa María Volcano, towering over 3772 meter adobe sea level, is Guatemala’s fourth highest volcano. (more…)
Posts Tagged ‘volcanoes’
Today, January 8th, was the fourth edition of the Reto de Las Cruces. (more…)
Volcan de Pacaya is the closest to Guatemala City and it happens to be the largest most active. This volcano constantly causes trouble to near by villages and towns. In the year 2010, a series of small eruptions, culminated with an eruption that ejected debris in a column 1500 meters high. This large eruption caused ash and sand rains that cover all its surroundings, including Guatemala City, with several inches of volcanic sands.
The views from this location are incredible, you have a clear view of Like Amatitlan, you can see the entire Guatemala City and the neighboring volcanoes.
the slops of the volcano are pastures for horses, which tourist may rent out for a modest sum.
Don’t do what Eli does
Going at night might raise some risk, specially in the rainy season and dense fogs may get people disoriented and it is very easy to get lost and end up at a unwanted situation. Last night hike started about 6 o’clock pm. and we were engulfed on this think fog that did not allow us to see more than 10 feet around us. Luckily our guide was very experienced and knew the trails very well, enough to navigate them blind as we were. So make sure you only hike up the volcano when conditions are optimum.
Eli goes hiking up the volcano with no jacket and nights can become incredibly cold and insanely windy, so make sure you bring a good jacket.
And of course, Eli wares shorts. Don’t you dare; unless you want your legs to be cover by this ubiquitous Chichicaste -Nettle, Urtica dioica- which flanks your every step.
This is an active volcano and eruptions can occur at any time and gas-clouds can suffocate a human being in seconds, so don’t you dare -an it is prohibited as-well- to hike up the volcano’s crater.
The terrain might be a little demanding, I’ll advice you not to bring your nicest pair of shoes because surely they’ll get ruined. And if you decide to spend the night, there is a shelter on a hill next to the crater that provides you with a great view (unless fog like yesterday), well, you can set up camp outside the shelter because it’s roof collapsed during last major eruption.
Volcan Santa Maria, 12,375 ft in Altitude.
Getting to the volcano is easy, a four hour drive from Guatemala City to Xelaju, Capital city of Quetzaltenango. From here it is an easy 10 or so minutes drive to the little town where one can start the hike up the volcano.
There is plenty of private parking lots, where you can leave your car overnight for a small fee of Q30, less than $4.
From this parking lot, it is an easy three kilometers hike, with a slight degree of inclination, to a small plateau where one can witness a great view of the volcano. At this plateau we found dozens of people resting from their hike down from the summit.
I saw a large group of children, maybe around 10 years old, led by three or four foreigners, they sounded like USAians. Next to them were 10 large black trash bags full of empty plastic bottles. Of course, left behind by fellow hikers. Yeah, it is one of the realities here in Guatemala, whenever you hike up a mountain, the easiest way to find your way is to follow the trash… I’m glad there are people like them who are willing to help clean up our mess. Too bad I never got to ask who they were.
Locals are mean.
When we starting the hike up the volcano from this plateau, we asked a local coming down from the summit: How long to the reach the top? He replies: about two hours. Much later we ask the police officer escorting us, how long to the summit. He says: About two hours. Great! We were not moving at all. A little later we encountered another local coming down the summit and we enquired the same: how long to the summit, he tells us about two hours. We continue hiking up on this very difficult terrain and about thirty minutes later we found a couple of local elderly men coming down from the summit and we ask them the same. Oh, you still have a long way to go, but keep a steady pace and you’ll get there. Our moral is shattered but we continue up hill.
Much later when the summit is within reach, there were three local children, no more than twelve years old, coming behind us. They were running, seemed fresh, no sweat on their faces, while we were consumed by exhaustion. They passed us and we witness them running up this very steep road like there is no tomorrow. Meanwhile we could not keep a steady pace form more than ten minutes without having to stop a few to get some rest.
On our way up the volcano, we find this couple of Guatemalans coming down from the summit. Surprisingly, someone from our group knew who she was. She is Barbara Padilla he says, she is climbing Mount Everest month. Next day when we were returning from the summit, half way down we found the same couple again; I enquired: Are you going up again. Yes! “solo vamos a subir y bajamos de una vez.” We are just going up (the Summit) and immediately coming down.
At the summit
Our large group split in several small groups, some way behind. I remain on the leading group along two other hikers. We were exhausted but the summit was within reach and we just kept on going. We reach the summit and they stayed on the crater, while I ran up the rock that were the highest elevation! Just to please my arrogant competitive spirit. Don’t you dare doing the same! I mountain-goated (my word) up these rocks to reach the highest one and when I stand on the top one, with my backpack on, there was a very strong wind gust which almost knock me over.
Great! Another summit and it is very cloudy, one could see nothing down bellow. I was able to observe the sun, few minutes before it set, but it was of course covered by clouds the rest of the time.
I quickly went down the campsite area and set up my tent to withstand the extreme cold temperatures and the wind.
A little later I leave the comfort of my tent to see if I can do some stars photography but, once again, it was too cloudy to see any, and the cold temperatures and strong winds forced me back to my tent.
A little after ten o’clock, I peek through my tent’s window and see a very clear sky!
I get out and start to do some night photography. Nothing great came out of this session, the cold was almost unbearable, too harsh to keep handling a cold tripod and camera.
I went to small group of people who were attempting to heat up some water for soup. There was no firewood at the summit, and everyone was too cold and tired to go down and get some.
We all ended up using lukewarm water for our instant soups before going back to the tents for some much needed sleep.
Eli does not sleep much.
I getup around 3am and to my surprise, there was no wind and skies were 100% clear! I set up all my equipment and start playing with my camera and finally got some nice pictures of the dense area of the Milky Way. I saw some shooting stars and bumped into some other sleepless people like me.
Sun rise and an insolent Santiaguito Volcano
Everyone starts waking up around 5:30ish and we line up to see the sun rise. This is an splendid show: one can see a series of volcanoes on the horizon, we see a large gas cloud from the erupting Volcan de Pacaya, and closer to us; Volcan de Fuego is also giving us a great show!
After sunrise, Paul, a friend of mine, invites me to go see the Santiaguito Volcano, a tiny but powerful volcano next to the Santa Maria. We reach this cliff where one has a nice view of the volcano and we started waiting for some activity. I’ve heard the volcano is very active, with constant small eruptions. We were seated there waiting for some activity and nothing happened. We waited and waited for around 30-40 minutes and finally we hear some rumbling, some large rock rolling from up high and we start observing some gas emissions and we hear a loud Bang and there it is, the volcano erupts! I got some nice photographs during the eruption and a little later I start walking back to base camp. I’m coming up this cliff and I hear the same symptoms of the previous eruption and I tell myself: This bad boy is going to erupt again! I stopped walking and set up my tripod and camera again, and there it is, another smaller eruption of the Santiaguito! I stay there for another 15 minutes or so, just waiting to see if anything else happens. Nothing! I leave towards camp.
There is some folks boiling water with a gas stove, I approached them and asked them if I could have some of the water for my soup. Of course they say. I go back to my tent, leave my tripod and camera and grabbed a cup of instant soup. No more than two minutes later, water was ready.
And I turned my head towards the other side of the camp site (where the cliff were Santiaguito is visible is) and I see a huge, ginormous cloud. That’s from Santiaguito I tell my self. I leave my soup behind and ran to that side! Paul: you just missed it! There was an explosion ten times greater than I had seen. In fact, Paul tells me, there was some red magma at the bottom of the explosion!
I hate you Santiaguito! Couldn’t you have done it 10 minutes earlier!?
Oh, by the way: there was a Mayan Ceremony at the summit. I’ll give a better account of that later.
This volcano is located in the province of Santa Rosa, South/East of Guatemala City, roughly an hour and a half drive.
The summit is covered by large trees, which obstruct most of the view. This, as many other important Guatemalan volcanoes, is inside a private property, surrounded by coffee trees. This month (February) is great for visiting the area. Coffee grains are ripe, and you should try picking them on your way and eating them. They are incredibly sweet and chewing the seed becomes addictive. There is a sulfur lagoon short from the summit of the volcano. This is great to exfoliate your skin, of course, if you don’t mind the smell of rotten eggs. And the lagoon is accessible by car, a few steps on the side of the road. Oh, one more thing; avocado trees are abundant in the area and they give a very delicious fruit. I spent some time collecting a few of them, which where great. Just bring salt, limes and a few tortillas and you’ll have a exquisite snack on your road up the volcano.
The first time I went to La Antigua Guatemala, I asked a local indigenous woman about the volcanoes, she names one of them as Hunahpú, as she tells me the names of the others, I did not realize she was referring to Volcan de Agua. Well, Hunahpú was the native’s name for the volcano, it became “Volcan de Agua” only after the area was destroyed by lahar from the volcano in 1541. Hunahpú means Place of Flowers in the local Mayan language. You only have to walk a few feet on the road to the summit to figure out why Mayan people called it that.
Most foreigners (and a lot of Guatemalans city dwellers) assume that the volcano is part of La Antigua Guatemala. Understandable, because it is seen from anywhere in Antigua and it has become iconic to La Antigua Guatemala. Well, the truth is that the volcano belongs to a neighboring municipality; Santa Maria de Jesus, a short ten minutes drive from La Antigua.
Don’t trust on locals!
When I started the hike, I asked a capesino (local farmer): How long to the summit? He replies: Como tres horas, around three hours.
Well, it took me almost six. This has happened to me in other occasions; when I hiked Volcan de Tacana (the second highest in Guatemala), I asked several people along the way how long to the summit. Many times they told me: tres horas, cuatro horas. It took me more than six!
Choose wisely when to hike.
I’m a very experience hiker and camper. I don’t usually hike with a jacket or much heavy equipment, because I’m used to the cold temperatures of the Eastern U.S. In fact; this hike of the volcano I did it wearing sandals.
I regret it somewhat this time. The day was very cloudy, and it started to rain when I started hiking. I reached a shelter very close to the beginning of the path and stayed there for few minutes for the rain to pass. I continued the hike and not long after, it starts raining again. I produced my emergency poncho and rest for a minute and then continue.
When I reached the summit, the cloths I had on were completely soaked. Well, Eli always brings spares.
I set up my tent at the bottom of the crater’s rim. It continues to rain heavy all night. At some point, the rain was so much, it started to enter my tent, without me realizing it. By the time I noticed the water; my backpack, spare cloths, globes were soaked! the outer skin of my sleeping bag was wet too, luckily the inside was dry. Not for long! After a small break from the rain, it started to downpour again. This time the water was reaching the inner layer of my sleeping bag.
Around 11pm it got very very very cold and we started to get some strong wind gusts. My hiker partner and I spent the rest of the night seated on a corner of the tent, covered by the only partially dry blanket.
I wanted to be up there to see if I could get a chance to photographs the meteor shower. Weather did not allow a second of clear skies.
Well, I was ready at four o’clock to attempt some photographs of the sun rise. I stepped outside the tent, put my cloths on top of my tent, so they can dried up a bit. I grabbed my camera and go shooting some photos. If you wonder: Yes, I did go photographing wearing only my underwear and sandals, under very cold morning temperatures and strong wind gusts. I’m glad there was no body besides my hiker partner.
No point of hypothermia would stop Eli of reaching one of his goals.
After sun rise, I put on my still wet cloths and hiked up the crater’s rim.
It was worth the effort.
One has to leave ones comfort zone to really enjoy life.
A Journey with the majestic views of Lake Atitlán!
Atitlán and Tolimán are the largest volcanoes of the department of Sololá; they are part of the chain of seven volcanic peaks around Lago de Atitlán, Lake Atitlán. With 3537 meters and 3158 m respectively, makes Atitlán volcano the largest in the region, and one of the largest in Guatemala, yet there are two of youngest peaks of the volcanic chain of Sololá.
The origins of these volcanoes is the result of the collapse of old volcanoes, like San Pedro volcano and other small peak that produce the major volcanic events in America and that resulted in the huge crater that actually is filled and we know now as the Lake Atitlán.
The volcanoes Atitlán and Tolimán were formed centuries after this majestic lake was formed. The original lake had a different shape; it was round, but volcanoes Atitlan and Toliman emerged from the bottom of the lake and reached up to the their actual size, resulting in the current appearance of Lago de Atitlán today and its majestic views.
The first welcome you get as you fly into Guatemala is from our volcanoes. We have 37 of volcanoes, four of them are active, but if you´re flying into Guatemala City you’re most likely to be greeted by either Volcán de Agua, Volcán Pacaya (active), Volcán de Fuego (active) and Volcán Acatenango. In the picture above Pacaya volcano is missing. Anyway, welcome to our beautiful, mountainous and volcanic country.