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XelaWho by Issue

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: Santa Maria, A Full Moon Adventure

by Tad Bradley

Volcán Santa Maria. If you haven’ t spied this volcanic beauty yet, then either you just arrived and are still finding your way around town or you have been spending WAY too much time at your Spanish school. Located just 10 kilometers outside of Xela, it happens to be one of the best and most accessible day trips in the area. That said, the best way to experience the mountain is at night on a full-moon hike. 

With cold hands curled around bowls of steaming hot soup, a group of guides and hikers enjoy some much-needed sustenance before embarking on this moonlit adventure. Just after midnight, the hikers take to the trail, located on the edge of the small village of Llano de Pinal. As the trekkers begin their ascent, their bobbling headlamps appear like an earthly constellation. Though recently blazed anew, the path to Santa Maria’ s summit is no easy hike. Steep, full of switchbacks and often slick, the darkness makes the ascent even more challenging. High up on the flanks of the volcano, the group reaches a break in the thick forest, where the glimmering lights of a sleeping Xela valley are visible far below. The trail becomes steeper as the group nears their goal, requiring the occasional rock scramble or assist from a strong root. Finally, after five strenuous hours, the group reaches the summit at 3,772 meters. A faint glow illuminates the eastern horizon, the sun just beginning its rise into the early morning sky.

Below the summit, all huddle together in the frigid temperatures, the multiple layers of clothing and shared sleeping bags fending off the cold. As the night passes into dawn, guides heat water for hot drinks and pass sandwiches to the snuggly-wrapped group. Visible 2,000 meters below is the steaming crater of Volcán Santiaguito. As if on cue, the volcano rumbles to life, venting massive columns of gas, steam and ash skyward. The final touch on this spectacular show is the giant westward shadow cast by Santa Maria. Despite the cold and the lack of sleep, the group happily descends, the incredible images from atop Xela’ s volcanic jewel fresh in their minds.

Tad Bradley is full time volunteer for Quetzaltrekkers, Xela´s only all volunteer non-profit trekking company, located in Casa Argentina, Diagonal 12, 8-37

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