Cerro Quemado has the best developed climbing in Guatemala. This is also some of the coolest climbing in the country as the crag is located above 9000 ft. The routes start at 5.8 and go to 5.12, though the locals probably inflate some of these ratings. Most of the routes are bolted but there are lots of opportunities to use your gear.
One very interesting thing about this area is that the Maya and evangelicals consider the area sacred and use it as a place for worship, so you will hear gospel singing, chanting, and preaching echo off the walls as you climb. This is not a problem for climbers or worshipers so long as you respect presence. Sunday is the best day to meet local climbers. All are very friendly and willing to have people visit the crag.
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.
At this point, you 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, I suggest you stay at Hostal Don Diego (7a. Calle 15-20, tel. 7761-6497). The place has clean rooms and 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. There are three shared bathrooms for the hostel, so we sometimes had to wait to use them. All were clean and had hot water. 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.
The 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. 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. There is one shared bathroom with no water pressure and a rather sketchy shower.
Once you are in the village, Canton Chicua, ask anyone where the trail is to the rocks.
Cerro Quemado (whose name means Burned Peak), is an active volcano that in all likelihood will erupt again. It located immediately south of Guatemala's second largest city, Quezaltenango (Xela). About 1200 years ago, part of Cerro Quemado's dome collapsed, producing a debris avalanche and an associated lateral explosion that swept across the valley to the west as far as the flanks of Siete Orejas volcano. The latest eruption in 1818 produced a blocky 2.5-km-long lava flow. Hot springs are located on the northern and eastern flanks of Cerro Quemado, and the Zuníl geothermal field, the site of a geothermal exploration project, lies on the SE flank of Cerro Quemado.
In addition to having some of the best rock climbing in the country, Cerro Quemado also offers an opportunity to do some alpine climbing. At 3197m, the peak has a little altitude as well as some serious attitude. It is not at all uncommon to find the entire area wrapped in a blanket of fog. Because this area is the product of a massive volcanic explosion, the climb to the "peak" is over very rugged terrain. In fact, hiking over this area feels like a trip across Mordor. You should seriously consdier taking a knowledgeable guide with you as it is very easy to get lost climbing this peak.
This Volcano, a large hill just south of Xela, actually appears as a spine poking out of the left shoulder of Cerro Candelaria, and makes for a great short day hike. From the summit Mayan ceremonies can be heard resonating throughout the nearby peaks. This hike also adds on nicely if planning to summit Cerro Candelaria, and can even be combined with Santa Maria.
It is important to point out that this hike can be done quickly by foot (we got to the top in two hours from Xela’s Parque Central), or even quicker with public transportation. From the Parque Central, walk south (towards the Cristo Vine sign). In a few blocks you won’t be able to walk any further South, take a left and head up hill - on the ‘highway’ towards Almolonga. As soon as you get on the Almolonga ‘highway’ you will be able to differentiate between Cerro Quemado from Cerro Candelaria - look for a rocky outcropping that looks like several craggy fingers sticking up from the ridgeline to the left of the summit of Candelaria.
Alternatively take a bus from Xela towards Almolonga. In either case, you will be on this highway only for about one Kilometer. Then get off the highway and take a road to the right which heads toward the Cerros and also the thermal baths marked on the highway as “Baños Los Vahos” (a fairly well known spot, and a good landmark for this hike). The baths are created from geothermal energy from the still active Volcano and are a good stop on the return from a long hike. After heading up the road for about 200 meters, turn at the sign “Baños los Vahos.” The baths are to the right, the Volcano to the left. Walk up the paved road for about 30 minutes and you will arrive at a community called Chicuá. Directly before the village, and at the sign talking about unauthorized entrance into the village take a right off the road onto an obvious trail paved with stones. 15 minutes up this trail will bring you to a soccer field, and from there several obvious paths lead up to the mulit-summit Volcán Cerro Quemado.
Enjoy time climbing around the craggy summit, and the great views of Xela, but beware the volcanic rock is very unstable. From there either summit Cerro Candelaria, visit the lava hole directly to the South-East, or head back via Baños Los Vahos for some relaxation time.
Special thanks to BLong
for his great contribution to the Mountain Climbing section.