Monday, May 3, 2010

Volcano Hiking in Quetzaltenango

Last week we visited some of the most important municipalities of Quetzaltenango, some because of their flourishing economy and the important role they play in the development of their communities, some others because of their historical importance and beautiful architecture. Today, I want to take you on a trip that I never did and probably never will: Volcano Hiking in Quetzaltenango.
Except for the Pacific coastal area and the Peten lowlands, the Guatemalan territory is mountainous and the Sierra Madre is the longest mountain range, crossing the country from West to East beginning near the Mexican border and ending at lower elevations close to El Salvador.
All of Guatemala's 37 volcanoes, 4 of them active, are located along the Sierra Madre and within the limits of Quetzaltenango we can find the following: Almolonga / Cerro Quemado (3,197m), Chicabal (2,990m), Santo Tomas (3,505m), Zunil (3,542m), Santa Maria (3,572m), Santiaguito (2,520m).
Because of its extraordinary beauty and importance for the Maya descendants, we will explore the Chicabal volcano and lagoon, which is located in the municipality of San Martin Sacatepequez (also known as San Martin Chile Verde). According to the experts, this exploration will be an easy to moderate hike that takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to the top, where there is a lookout point to admire the Santa Maria and Santiaguito volcanoes. 
From the summit, there is a steep descent for about 20 to 30 minutes to the crater lagoon, which is surrounded by cloud forest and is a sacred site to the local Maya-Mam descendants. There are often Maya ceremonies taking place around the lake, so we might be lucky enough to witness one of them.
Because of its constant activity, it is important to mention the Santiaguito volcano, which is a very young cone formed from a big explosion in the Santa Maria volcano in October 24, 1902. It is not possible to determine its exact altitude due to the constant activity, but we know that it is around 2,500m. The Santiaguito volcano is considered one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world.
Because of their naturalist importance, exploring the Zunil and Santo Tomas volcanoes has to be an amazing and highly rewarding experience. Both peaks are located within the limits of the Zunil Municipal Park and even though it is a difficult hike, the experts say it is beyond worthy. The ascension passes by 4 different ecological zones, going through pine-oak forest to a grassland plateau. Along the way, there are 7 Mayan ceremonial sites still in use. Along the trails is a paradise for nature lovers.
While at the summit, we will enjoy some of the most impressive and breathtaking views of the mountain chain.
The descending goes through a cloud forest to the Fuentes Georginas hot springs, perfect to relax the muscles after the hard work.

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