Krista and I hiked to the top of our third Guatemalan volcano yesterday. Though not as high in elevation as Volcán Tajulmulco, Volcán Santa Maria was a much more strenuous hike. The perfectly conical volcano dominates the southern horizon from Quetzaltenango, the city where we have been living for the last three weeks. The incline is much more drastic than the other volcanoes, and it reaches over 12,500 feet. On a typical day, the top has a clear view until about 10am or 10:30am and then the clouds obscure views, but yesterday happened to be the clearest day in over a month, so we had excellent views in every direction. 50 km northwest, we could see Volcán Tajulmuco, which we had climbed last weekend. About 80 km to the southeast, we could see a cluster of volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan and Antigua. One of these volcanoes was San Pedro, the first volcano we hiked in Guatemala. To the south and to the east, low clouds crept in from the Pacific Ocean, and 7 km to the north, we looked down to the city of Quetzaltenango.
However, the most dramatic view was peering straight down to the southwest. A few thousand feet below the peak of Volcán Santa Maria sits Volcán Santiagito, one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. Approximately every 30 or 40 minutes, Santiagito erupts, releasing a big cloud of gases that forms into something that looks like a giant gray broccoli. The sound of a volcanic eruption is scary enough, but the cloud of smoke is unlike anything I’ve seen before. You can see the cloud of smoke here.
We ate lunch at the summit of Santa Maria and saw two eruptions out of Santiagito. For five or ten minutes after each eruption, Santiagito continues to grumble as it releases more vapors and gases. I am so thankful that we had such a clear day to witness one of the more unique things I will ever see. I am even more thankful that I got to enjoy this with the love of my life.