Santa María is a large active volcano in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, close to the city of Quetzaltenango. It is the second tallest peak in Central America with close-by Tajumulco taking first place. Its eruption in 1902 was one of the three largest eruptions of the 20th century.
The 1902 eruption blasted away most of one side of the 3,772 m tall mountain. Some 5.5 cubic km (1.3 cubic miles) of volcanic material was ejected during the 19-day eruption, and the ash column reached heights of up to 28 km. The eruption devastated the surrounding areas.
In 1922, a new volcanic vent formed a new volcano in the shattered flank of Santa Maria, named Santiaguito. Santiaguito has been erupting ever since. Today, it is possible to climb to the top of Santa María and look down on the ongoing eruptions at Santiaguito, 1,200m below, a situation which may be unique in the world.
Access to Santa María's summit (3768m) is possible via a foot trail which leaves from Llano del Pinal and a place called Chicavioc, 3 km north of Santa Maria. Llano del Pinal is accessible by an all-weather dirt road from Quezaltenango (route 11), Chicavioc is at the southern edge of the Llano. The foot trail climbs from 2500 m to 3772 m in 3 km, and takes 3-5 hours, depending on conditioning. Climbs are best in the early morning, before dawn, because viewing conditions are best at dawn and cloudy, rainy and lightning-filled afternoons are common.
Parts of the trail going up Santa Maria, especially the lower sections, are used by drug runners carrying cocaine and other substances to Mexico. A number of shootouts have occurred along this trail between the military and these criminals. Use extreme caution along the lower sections of the trail and DO NOT wander off the trail.
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