Zunil, and its brother Santo Thomas, are very prominent land forms in this region of Guatemala. The volcano can be found between the towns of Zunil in the state of Quetzaltenango, Nahualá in Sololá, and Zunilito in the state of Suchitepequez. Although Zunil offers some of the most stunning views to be found in Guatemala, it is probably one of the least visited volcanoes. Zunil belongs to the oldest geological generation of the Guatemalan volcanoes. It is a heavily eroded cone, with no apparent crater and was for many years considered a mountain.
View of the Atitalan and Antigua volcanoes from the ridge leading to Zunil.
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.
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.
View of Santa Maria volcano from the ridge leading to Zunil. The cauldron in front of Santa Maria is the Cerro Quemado volcano. You can see an old lava flow on the extreme right of the picture.
There are several routes to the top of Zunil. The most common route is the Fuentes Amargas Georginas and starts at the thermal springs by that name. This is a steep climb that eventually takes you to the col between Zunil and Santo Thomas. See my Alaska Route
description for details. A second route starts from the village of Zunil, to the southeast, on the left side of the road that descends from Quetzaltenango in the direction of Cantel. This route is longer but less rugged and is very well marked. A third route starts from the spot in the highlands known as "Alaska", at km. 19 of the CA-1 highway that leads from Guatemala to Quetzaltenango. It is also known as "The Philo of Nahualá" and is an ancient Mayan trade route between the highlands and the south coast. See Brian Long's topo map below for an idea of the route.
If you plan to hike this route, you should consider staying in Quetzaltenango the night before so that you can get an early start. See my Logistical Center
on Cerro Quemado for places to stay and other information.
There is no red tape.
When To Climb
The best months are from December to early June.
You will find some excellent camping spots in between the cols along the Alaska Route.