Daytripper: Cool Trips. Close by.
Daytripper is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on day trips within easy reach of Xela. This month’s article is called: Playing With Fire, the Mirador Overlooking Santiaguito.
By Kathi Dunkel
The most active volcano in Central America, there are many ways for Xela’s inhabitants and visitors to glimpse Santiaguito’s frequent eruptions. From the suburb of Llanos del Pinal, an easy and well maintained trail leads to a beautiful grassy lookout halfway around Santa Maria. Here it is possible to watch the spectacular eruptions on a clear day after only two hours of moderate walking.
Another very popular perspective is from the summit of Santa Maria. From the same starting point as the walk to the Mirador, one can take a strenuous three to five hour climb to the peak. From there, hikers can actually see into the crater from above, close enough for a glimpse yet far enough to still be safe from the gases. It’ s good to get an early start, as Santa Maria likes to collect clouds around her from the late morning into the early afternoon, covering the much lower Santiaguito underneath a white blanket.
More adventurous hikers, fearing neither sweat nor lava, have dared to follow the Mirador trail further, descending the steep slope of Santa Maria towards Santiaguito and climbing up streams of petrified lava onto the enchanted moonscape of the inner craters. Just imagine trudging through a meteoric landscape, a place where one would not be surprised to meet a dinosaur or Gollum from Lord of the Rings, between steaming vents and resilient ferns. The crater offers an incredible view of the lava bursting out like fireworks, glowing rocks rolling down the slopes and ashes bursting from the mountain’ s liquid heart.
If that sounds a bit too close, you can also head to the foot of the mountain. It is only an hour long bus ride from Xela to Palmar in the tropical lowland heat of Retalhuleu. From there, take a pickup to Viejo Palmar, a ghost town destroyed by volcanic mud- and lava-slides called ” lahars.” Lying out under the stars and ash rains at night, you’ ll be able to watch impressive eruptions with lava rocks falling out of the crater and breaking into millions of glowing sparks covering the slope of the mountain.
-Kathi Dunbar works as a volunteer guide with Quetzaltrekkers, a non-profit, all-volunteer trekking group based out of Casa Argentina in Xela.