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santa maria

One of the reasons for coming to Xela is its proximity to two of Guatemala’s highest mountains. Santa Maria looms over the town at 3771 metres and Tajumulco, Central America’s highest peak at 4220 metres, is not far away. I am keen to climb both of them.

After stocking up on some warm cloths at Xela’s markets and second hand clothes shops Silke and I set off, on a Sunday morning, to scale Santa Maria with enough food and gear to spend a night or two there, if we wish.

The Santa Maria trailhead is a mere 7 kilometres from the centre of Xela - a short ride away on a chicken bus.

We reach the summit in a few hours. We are high enough to be above the majority of the clouds.

We set up camp on the summit of the volcano above a sea of clouds.

A local man has gone missing somewhere on Santa Maria in the last couple of weeks and when arrive at the summit we meet a large group from his village of San Andres who have come to search for him, one last time. Abundant flowers have been left at the summit to mark his passing.

Santiaguito, a smaller volcanic protrusion to the south of Santa Maria, is actually part of the same volcano and is constantly active.

Every couple of hours smoke and vapour roils upwards accompanied by an ominous throaty roar.

Evening light.

Sunrise illuminates the volcano chain to the west. The volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan are those in the middle distance and the ones further away are the volcanoes which surround Antigua.


A couple, who have canoed, walked and cycled their way from Alaska, also spent the night on Santa Maria. Yannick, from France/US, stands on the summit against a dawn sky.

Santa Maria casts a deep shadow to the west as the sun rises.

The clouds clear and we get a better view...

...of Santiaguito's feverish activity.

As the morning passes groups of village folk arrive at the summit and congregate in groups - praying and wailing in religious ceremonies that amalgamate disparate elements of Mayan ritual and evangelical religion.

It's a weird scene.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. julie | March 28, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Just catching up again after being away
    That mountain camp looks soooo cold – did you manage to get any sleep? Is the yellow tent a new purchase or is it your friend’s? Glad that you have managed to revamp your bike – amazing that it has done you so well and gone so far until now. You seem to be doing better than the bike – you look wonderful! Lots of love Julie xx

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