Hiking El Volcán Chicabal

Hiking El Volcán Chicabal

Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

If you find yourself in Guatemala, go to Quetzaltenango (which shall henceforth be referred to as the locals do—Xela).  This walkable little city is marked by twisted streets, Gothic architecture, a good selection of restaurants, and hundreds of Spanish language schools.  When people visit, they stay for a while.

But this post is not about Xela; rather, it is a post about one of the many places you can get to from Xela.  This is about La Laguna de Chicabal.

hikes near xela guatemala volcan chicabal
Photo Courtesy of XelaWho

About the Magical Laguna Chicabal

Laguna Chicabal is a crater lake nestled at the summit of  El Volcán Chicabal.  Volcán Chicabal is a caldera which stands at 8,920 feet (2,720 m) in the midst of a cloud forest.

The lake itself is 1090 feet (331 m) deep and the backdrop of the cloud forest makes a perfect habitat for native birds such as quetzals and pink-headed warblers.

This magical place is considered a sacred place of cosmic convergence by the Mam Maya.  It is a place for regular ceremonies and offerings—evidence of such is shown in the altars positioned at different points along the laguna’s shores.

Because of this,  Laguna Chicabal is preserved as a sacred site, and visitors are asked to respect the lake and grounds and not go swimming in the hallowed waters.

travel to xela guatemala laguna de chicabal
Altars around Laguna Chicabal

Getting to the Volcán

If you are staying in Xela, it is relatively straightforward to get to the base of El Volcán Chicabal.  The volcán itself is located in the municipal boundary of the pueblo San Martín Sacatepéquez,  an 45-minute bus ride away.

map of quetzaltenango xela guatemala

To catch the bus, go to the Minerva Terminal in Xela and hop on one of the many buses to San Martín Sacatepéquez (cost: 5Q).  The buses run every day from 6 am-5 pm, though note that they run with less frequency on Sundays.

Once the bus passes into San Martín, you will see a large sign for Laguna Chicabal Park — this is where you get off.  If you are nervous about missing the stop, tell the driver you are going to Laguna Chicabal and most likely he let you know.  The starting point for the volcán is in the center of tiny San Martín, and the road winds through its small neighborhoods before heading up the slopes. This allows you a peak into the life of the local population of San Martín; the majority use the lower slopes of the volcano for agricultural purposes.

Hiking the Volcán

The hike to the entrance station of La Laguna Chicabal Park is approximately 1.5 hours from the center of town.  These town roads can be convoluted and confusing, so if you get lost don’t be afraid to ask a local to point you in the right direction. Very quickly the trail heads uphill — make sure you pack water, snacks, and a sweatshirt.

When you reach the entrance station you will see an open field and some buildings. This is where you pay the entrance fee of Q15 and you will often see families picnicking or playing fùtbol.

Entrance to Laguna Chicabal Xela Guatemala
Entrance to La Laguna Chicabal

From the entrance to the edge of the crater is another 45-minute walk.  About two-thirds of the way up you’ll reach a fork, where you can either go right to head directly to the water’s edge, or left up to the miradores (lookouts), and then down 600+ wooden steps down to the edge of the lake.

Once you are by the water’s edge, you will see a path that circumnavigates the lake.  This tranquil trail  is less than a mile long, and the beautiful, peaceful environment allows for a reflective and profound experience.   As mentioned before, you can usually see leftover altars, camp areas, and fire pits.

camping around laguna chicabal xela

If it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to see several large Guatemalan volcanoes from the miradores.  If it’s foggy, the only thing you’ll be seeing from the miradores is the inside of a cloud.  When I visited, the entire hike up was shrouded in fog, but dissipated by the time I reached the water’s edge.

Returning to Xela

Walk back down the way you came, and once you get back into San Martín, just go out to the road and wait for a bus returning towards Xela. If you have doubts, just ask, “Xela?” as you board the bus and the driver will let you know.



Entering the Fog

Entering the Fog

Yesterday I hiked a volcano and I thought it would be a nice outing with the sun and a steady-but-not-too-steep-incline ending with a lake and a pretty  view of water and land. 

I needed that.  Life was getting away from me, and I had been feeling confused, foggy. I wanted some peace, some water, some time to think.

It was almost all  those things but imagine if they were dipped in the Eternal Fuck You and then laid out to dry in the Continual Yes. Two hours of upward pain broken by moments of reverie. A man and his child touting wood.  A cow meandering along the path.  The cry of a bird.

hiking to laguna chicabal guatemala

At the summit, I walked directly into a cloud and could see nothing. I was standing above the cratered-lake but couldn’t see a thing because nature doesn’t give a fuck about vistas or your plan, and to tell you the truth, it didn’t really bother me because at this point I am finally getting used to hurricane beaches and cloudy viewpoints and who am I to complain when the clouds decide to swoop in? Hiking endorphins just made me happy to be there, breathing hard and deep.

I descended billions of wooden stairs to the lake’s edge and it felt like Loch Ness — all fog and monster. I decided to walk around the lake because I was there and it was so tranquil and quiet and creepy. I knew I had to.

Laguna Chicabal Guatemala

I started walking and the fog was oscillating between thick and thin and I could see Mayan altars in the water… it was beautiful and eerie and I had no fear of anything.  For the first time in a long time, I felt happy and mystical and lucky.

Maya Altars Laguna Chicabal Guatemala

I continued walking around the lake and as I did, there were more altars on the shore and the fog and clouds were rising and thinning and going and by the time I finished my circumambulation, they all had lifted and I could see across the lake and into the sky and it was  gorgeous and clear and if that’s not a metaphor what is?

Guatemala hiking laguna de chicabal xela