The Santa María Volcano is a large stratovolcano in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Its catastrophic 1902 eruption was one of the largest eruptions in the 20th century.

The 12,375-foot (3,772-m) Santa María Volcano is a symmetrical stratovolcano set along the Pacific coastal plain of Guatemala. The volcano is conical, but has a 1-mile-wide crater on its southwest flank due to the 1902 eruption. Prior to this eruption, Santa María was dormant for hundreds (or even thousands) of years. The eruption began on October 24 and lasted for 19 days, although the largest explosions occurred in the two days after the initial explosion.

The 1902 eruption devastated much of Guatemala. Pumice fell over an area of about 105,000 square miles (273,000 sq km) and was reported to have reached as far away as California. Around 5,000 people died in the wake of this eruption.

These days, most volcanic activity takes place at the Santiaguito Volcano, which is right next-door. Santiaguito is actually a lava dome that grew out of the crater of Santa María. Much to the delight of travelers, it still spews ash and lava on a regular basis.

The Santa María Volcano is one of the most popular hikes in the area around Quetzaltenango. Hiking this volcano is an enjoyable and rewarding way to experience the Guatemalan landscape.

The trailhead begins at the village of Llanos del Pinal. The trek to the top takes around 4 to 5 hours and passes through grassy meadows and pine tree forests. As you get closer to the summit, the trail turns to switchbacks and gets noticeably steeper. You’ll know you’re near the summit once you’re above tree line.

The view from the top is spectacular. You can look out at the smoking crater of the Santiaguito Volcano, which usually erupts a few times every hour. If the weather is clear, you’ll also be able to see the cones of eight more volcanoes, including Acatenango, Fuego, Agua, Atitlán, San Pedro, Tolimán, Tajumulco, and Tacaná. Sunrise is one of the best times to be at the summit, as this is when it’s clearest.

It’s safe to hike Santa María, especially with the increased police presence in recent years. Even so, taking a guide is strongly recommended. Trail signs are not always obvious, and people have gotten lost here before.

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