From San Martín, it’s a two-hour hike to the magical Chicabal Lagoon, ringed by lush cloud forest in a spectacular volcanic crater at an altitude of 2,700 meters (8,900 feet). It can be reached by taking the signed path on the side of the road from where the bus drops you off heading into town.
From there you’ll go uphill through fields, cresting and descending a hill. You’ll soon see the rangers’ station, where you pay a $2 park entrance fee. If you’ve driven out this way, parking costs an additional $1.30.
There’s a rustic visitors center here where you can get food. There are also some very basic bungalows with a (cold-water) shared bathroom. Bring your own sleeping bag if you’re thinking of staying here. You can camp on the shore of the lagoon for $1.30, though most folks end up camping at the visitors center.
From the visitors center it’s about 45 minutes to an hour, uphill, to a wonderful lookout point where you might catch a glimpse of the fantastic crater lake ringed by verdant cloud forest. Most of the time, however, the clouds have the view completely socked in. Opposite of the lagoon lookout is another lookout towards Santa María and Santiaguito Volcanoes; both have covered observation platforms.
From the lookout, a trail of stairs descends to the lakeshore and the gorgeous lagoon, which is caressed by wisps of cloud just barely glancing the waters’ surface. You’ll soon realize why it’s considered sacred by modern-day Mayans and a central element of their creation myths. An annual event includes 40 continuous days of prayers for rain and healing, ending on May 3. During the last few days culminating on this date, the lagoon is essentially off-limits to outsiders so as to allow the ceremonies to proceed undisturbed.
Bathing in the lagoon’s waters is strictly off-limits at all times and, as always, you should be careful to respect the native culture by not photographing any ceremonies that might be in progress throughout the year. You’ll find the locals extremely friendly and willing to answer your questions if you put forth the effort to inquire amicably. As always, a smile goes a long way.