Welcome to Volcan Santa Maria, site of one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the 20th century. It was here in October of 1902 that almost half of the volcano blew away in an explosion that stretched for several weeks and pumped a combined 5.5 cubic km's of hot magma up from the bellows of the Earth. Now that's what you call a resume builder. And you're looking to hike to the top of it? Well you're in luck, because so are a healthy amount of others, making Santa Maria one of Quetzaltenango's most popular and accessible peaks. The ascent will take around 4-5 hours, and can be done with a guide or on your own (provided you have good experience and the right equipment). On the way up you'll pass through farmland and forest before arriving at the bare summit, which maxes out at 3,772 m with some amazing 360 degree vistas of western Guatemala. And this is where things get particularly interesting.
You see, while Santa Maria itself is calmly dormant now, the lava dome complex that formed in the aftermath of its 1902 eruption is another story. This group collectively is called Santiaguito, and El Caliente (one of the domes) happens to be one of the most active eruption sites on the planet. So if the views from the summit of Santa Maria didn't sound good enough already, just know that you'll also have front row seats to a few guaranteed volcanic extravaganzas. Just remember to stay away from the crater edge as you enjoy the show.
Note:It's possible, though not common, to find a guide who will take you to an overnight stay on Santiaguito. Just be advised that prerequisites include a slight tendency towards insanity. Check our links for more info.