The departments of Quetzaltenango, Totonicapan, and Huehuetenango make up that part of Guatemala known as the Western Highlands. This is a very mountainous region with stunning natural beauty. In addition, this area is home to a large number of Mayan people whose culture is a vibrant part of this region’s lifestyle.
The City of Quetzaltenango is Guatemala’s second largest urban center and serves as the commercial hub of the Western Highlands. Almost half of the city’s residents are members of the K’iche’ Mayan people. Most of the people who live here call the city simply Xela (Shaylah).
Driving to Xela is fairly straightforward. From Guatemala City, get on Route CA1 heading West. Follow this route all the way to Xela (see the road map in my maps album). You will pass through Chimaltenango and Tecpan. At Los Encuentros you will find a junction, take CA1 to the South. Stay on CA1 until you reach San Cristobal. Here you take Route 1 South directly into Xela. The drive will take between three to five hours depending on traffic and road conditions. You can use the map in the images below to see the route.
A word of caution if you decide to drive. You should be aware that there are bandits who pose as police officers. If you suspect something is not right, like there is no police car or the people look suspicious, do not stop. Also, make sure you leave in plenty of time to reach Xela before dark. The roads in Guatemala are not safe to drive on in the evening and your chances of getting robbed increase dramatically.
From Guatemala City take a taxi to the Transportes Galgo bus station on 7a. Avenida 19-44 in zone 1 (tel. 253-4869). For about Q60.00 you can purchase a one-way ticket to Quetzaltenango (Xela). The trip will take between 3.5 to 5 hours depending on weather, road conditions, traffic, and how many people the bus stops for along the way. If you check in gear, make sure you keep track of your luggage ticket. After you arrive in Xela, take a taxi to the Parke Central, about Q25.00, where you can catch a good meal and enjoy downtown Xela.
For more on buses and schedules click here
Where to StayYou can either stay in Xela for the evening or go on to the village at the base of Cerro Quemado.
If you stay at Xela, there are plenty of places to choose from in every price range. I usually stay at Hostal Don Diego (7a. Calle 15-20, tel. 7761-6497). The place has clean rooms and a sunny courtyard with a large eating area. The dorms feature single beds instead of bunks, but are a bit cramped. Private rooms are more spacious and all have comfortable beds piled with plenty of blankets for chilly nights (for a picture of a typical room, see images below). There are three shared bathrooms for the hostel, so we sometimes had to wait to use them. All were clean and had hot water. Price includes a cup of instant coffee and a hard roll in the morning. This hostel is very popular with foreign students coming to Xela to study Spanish. Costs run Q50.00 for a private room and Q40.00 for a bunk. From Xela you are about a 15 minute drive from the base of Cerro Quemado. The taxi ride to the trail head costs about Q70.00.
An alternative is to stay at the Hospedaje Elim (5379-0523) in the village of Canton Chicua. The advantage of staying here is that you are at the base of the volcano and can get an early start. This place costs about Q20.00 per person. It has large rooms with four or five beds in each room. The beds are only box springs with no mattress or sheets. You do get some blankets and a small pillow. For a picture of a typical room, see images below. There is one shared bathroom with no water pressure and a rather sketchy shower. If you stay here, be prepared to make your own breakfast and coffee. I searched throughout the village for a hot cup of java and was unable to find one. This is a really small village that does not cater to tourists.
GuidesThere is an army of guiding companies here in Guatemala who are prepared to take you anywhere you desire at whatever comfort level you require. Many of them have offices in Antigua and Lake Atitlan. Below are a few that I have either used or who have excellent reputations as guides.
Adrenalina Tours offer half day and full day tours to Indigenous villages, markets, and colonial churches. They also offer several hikes of different difficulty and rock climbing. Their office is inside Passaje Enriquez, Quetzaltenango. Tel.7761-4509, Tel. 78321108, 53083523. Tel.24Hrs 53081489. E-mail: [email protected] Click here for their web site
Mayaexplor is a Guatemala - based tour operator specializing in customized cultural and adventure travels to and throughout the Mayan world. 1 Avenida A , 6-75 , Zona 1, Quetzaltenango. E-mail: [email protected] Click here for their web site
Quetzaltrekkers is a volunteer run organization offering excursions throughout the highlands of Guatemala. Quetzaltrekkers was created as the fundraising branch of Escuela de la Calle (EDELAC), a Xela based organization that provides important educational, social, and medical programs for Xela´s children in need. By choosing Quetzaltrekkers, you provide the children of EDELAC with an opportunity to learn and grow in a supportive environment. In turn, they cover all the logistics, providing you with food, equipment, transportation and experienced, multilingual guides for all trips. Tel: (011-502) 7765-5895, E-mail: [email protected] Click here for their web site
Emanuel Lappala is an experienced guide that can take you to the top of any peak in Guatemala. He is also a very experienced rock climber and is familiar with all the rock climbing areas in Guatemala. His cell cellular number is (502)5526-9110. you can reach by email at [email protected]
Miguel Arango is an independent Xela guide. In fact, he is responsible for setting many of the routes in the Cerro Quemado area. He is highly respected in the Guatemalan climbing community and comes highly recommended. You can reach him by phone at home 7765-2105, or his mobile at 5395-8141. Use his home number in evening.