Daytripper. Cool Trips. Close By.

ChicabalDaytripper is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on day trips within easy reach of Xela. This February 2010 issue focuses on Laguna Chicabal, a lovely  volcano crater lake surrounded by Mayan religious sites.

One of the easiest and best daytrips from Xela is the hike to Laguna Chicabal located in the municipal boundary of the highlands pueblo of San Martin Sacatepequez. This beautiful crater lake was formed by the Chicabal volcano and is 331 meters (1090 feet) deep. Laguna Chicabal is famous for its mystical clouds that set down into the forests of the crater as fog around the lake at an elevation of 2,712 meters (7,130 feet). The moist climate of the cloud forest is perfect habitat for many native birds that you can hear and see along the way if you head out early in the morning.

Laguna Chicabal has long-been considered a sacred place by the indigenous Mam Mayan and is billed as the center of the Mam-Maya religion where traditional alters are still used on the lake shore. There are restrictions on visiting the lake during early May when the Mam people celebrate traditional ceremonies. On a recent Sunday, there was a ceremonial fire surrounded by many native indigenous people. You are welcome to make a fire for a picnic cookout, but there is not much dry, dead firewood around the lake. For this reason it is protected as a sacred site where no one is allowed to enter the crystal clear water.  It is advised to respect this special place and not go swimming, as tempting as it may be on a hot sunny day.

The hour-long chicken bus trip runs from the Minerva Terminal each day from 6 am until 5 pm and returns each day until 5 pm as well. The buses run a bit less on Sundays.  The bus trip to San Martin should cost Q5. Once you get to San Martin, step off the bus at the large sign to Laguna Chicabal Park about 100 yards down. From here you can hike the 1.5 hours or 4 km to the entrance station or get a pickup ride for another Q5. Cross the bridge over the Rio Talcana and wind up a fairly steep road by several small farms and houses. There, local San Martin men, women and children dressed in native garb greet you shyly. They are usually glad to pose for photos, but ask first .

Once past the outskirts of San Martin, there are many small farms and gardens until the road gets into the forest where people cut firewood that they pack off the mountain with head straps. At a dip in the road, there is a lovely meadow at La Laguna Chicabal Park entrance station where the guard charges Q15. From there you hike up another hour or 3 km to a fork in the road. Here, there is a choice between hiking down to the lake or to the ¨mirador¨ or lake overlook, but the two trails circle around and join together. The right fork takes you down a steep trail to the lake. The left fork takes you to the mirador, and if you want, down the shorter, steeper stairway to the lake. A beautiful beach greets you at Laguna Chicabal that has filled with rainfall. The trail circumnavigates the lake, so you can picnic on the beach in the sun or continue on around the lake to enjoy the shade of the forest.

After a leisurely lunch, you can stroll out either trail to go back to San Martin and catch the bus back to Xela content in another wonderful day of exploring the Guatemalan Highlands.

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