Laguna de Chicabal, otherwise known as Laguna Chicabal, Chicabal Lake or Laguna Seca, is located in San Martin Sacatepequez (San Martin Chile Verde) in Quetzaltenango (Xela). Similar to Ipala Volcano in eastern Guatemala, Laguna de Chicabal is an awe-inspiring crater lake. Given its beauty and ease of access, you 100% need to visit Laguna de Chicabal during your Central America trip.

Forming part of the 2,720 metre-high inactive Volcan de Chicabal (Volcan Chicabal), the crater lake is one of the most hidden gems in Guatemala. The best way to explore this beautiful place is by hiking from San Martin to the exceptional Mirador and then walking around the crater lake itself.

In this guide, we’ll cover all your questions about doing the Laguna de Chicabal hike. We’ll tell you why doing a guided tour of the lake is the best option, but also explain how to visit independently. Throw in some detailed hiking specs, epic photos and information about camping, and you have the most comprehensive online guide about hiking Laguna de Chicabal!

We hope you find this guide useful. For other fantastic Guatemala hikes, check out Volcan Santa Maria, Natural Monument Semuc Champey and Volcan Acetanango/Fuego. Or, feel free to check out our 17 Best Hikes in Guatemala list.

Laguna de Chicabal in Guatemala: Tour or No Tour?

For many hikes in Guatemala and Central America as a whole, there’s always the question of whether to do a hike as part of a tour or to have a go independently.

Beck and I would usually prefer to hike without a guide. It’s just what we’re used to, spending most of our time hiking in Australia and the UK without the need for a tour. But, for the Laguna de Chicabal hike, we opted for a tour and we think you should too! Why? Well, let us explain!

Mirror reflections and a small amount of mist hangs over the crater lake.
Chicabal Lake in Guatemala

Weather at Laguna de Chicabal in Quetzaltenango

If hiking Volcan Santa Maria taught us one thing, it’s that you should visit summits and viewpoints in Quetzaltenango well before 10am. That’s because it’s super common for clouds to cover the area and surrounding volcanoes from mid-morning.

Dan descends a misty trail during the Volcan Santa Maria hike.
The weather turns for the worst at Volcan Santa Maria, well before 10am

If you arrive at the Mirador after 10am, there’s a chance that you’ll have no views of the crater lake on Volcan Chicabal. Absolutely nada! By far, the highlight of this hike is seeing the gorgeous lake from this viewpoint and to miss out, in our opinion, would almost make it not worth the visit.

Sadly, we saw many people visiting independently, who were arriving at the Chicabal Lake entrance at around 10am. By then, the Mirador, lake and the entire area was covered in mist.

Funnily enough, I even ran into an English bloke at our guesthouse, who visited around midday. He left Chicabal disappointed as he couldn’t see anything. If only he had taken a tour, where you’re guaranteed to arrive early before the weather turns.

Of course, it’s possible to visit independently and arrive early enough before the clouds take over. But, you always run the risk of an unreliable, late or slow colectivo spoiling your plans.

The convenience of a Laguna de Chicabal Tour

Convenience is the other reason you should choose a tour. Accommodation pick-up and drop-off after finishing the hike meant Beck and I could enjoy our afternoon chilling out and exploring Xela. That’s why we loved our Laguna de Chicabal tour with Monte Verde Tours.

Josh, the owner of the tour agency, gave us a warm greeting when he picked us up at 6am. We then collected our excellent English speaking guide, Rudi, on the way, who then drove us to and guided us around the beautiful volcano and lake.

Rudi told us about the history of the area, geological facts about Volcan Chicabal and explained the native flora. This was much better than us having to Google everything about the lake.

Rudi discusses Volcan Santiaguito, which has left ash on this leaf in the cloud forest
Beck and our legendary guide – Rudi

After finishing the hike, there was no dilly-dallying for a colectivo. We immediately set off, and were back in Xela by midday!

Saftey at Laguna de Chicabal in Quetzaltenango

Generally speaking, Chicabal Lake is safe to visit independently. So, safety wasn’t really a factor in choosing a tour. But, as we’ve learnt from locals and other travellers, safety is an ever-evolving situation in Guatemala. So, for peace of mind and to play it safe, particularly if you’re travelling with loved ones, choosing to do a tour is always the less risky option.

Laguna de Chicabal Tour

If you’re interested in doing the Chicabal Lake tour with Monte Verde Tours, simply book a tour online, message them on Whatsapp (+502 5729-6279) or visit them in-person (13 Av. 8-34 Zona 1 Quetzaltenango) to book a tour or check availability. You’ll also find that many of the hotels and hostels in Xela recommend Monte Verde Tours.

Beck and Rudi stand by a 4WD, parked on a cobblestone road. The town of San Martin is in the distance
Monte VerdeTour’s 4WD got us to the trailhead in one piece!

Laguna de Chicabal Trail Preview

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 9km
  • Time: 3.5–4.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 630m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead: Toritos para La Laguna

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The Laguna de Chicabal Hike

If you follow suit with a guided tour, expect to be picked up around 6am. After a 5am pick-up from Monte Verde Tours for the Volcan Santa Maria hike, we were content with an extra hour’s sleep! Unexpectedly, en route to Chicabal Lake, we made a quick stop at a bakery and cafe called Xela Pan – a local institute, which serves amazing pastries and coffee.

Starting roadside beyond Toritos para La Laguna in San Martin, you’ll begin to climb a steep and wide dirt road at around 7am.

The initial climb is nothing special, but the winding trail soon passes increasingly green surroundings. To your left, there is farmland. You’ll see the farmers working the land and mostly growing potatoes. To your right, there’s a healthy amount of cloud forest. Make sure to get a close look at the leaves. You’ll notice they’re covered in ash from the nearby active Volcan Santiaguito.

Dan and Rudi talk during a hike with dense forest either side of the trail

The trail gradually steepens and is a real leg burner in some sections. You’ll begin to have better views of the surrounding countryside and mountainous landscape the higher you climb Volcan Chicabal.

Laguna de Chicabal Entrance Fee

Eventually, you’ll reach the entrance to Laguna de Chicabal Park. Here, your guide will pay your entrance fee (included in the price of the tour) and there’s also a bathroom here. Once you’ve taken advantage of the loo, you’ll take a trail through the increasingly dense forest.

If you visit independently, the entrance fee is 50Q.

Dan stands by the Laguna de Chicabal Park entrance signs
Laguna de Chicabal Park entrance

Laguna de Chicabal Mirador

Not far away, the trail splits in two. Take a left, and you’ll arrive at the incredible Chicabal Lake Mirador. The viewpoint provides an exceptional snapshot of the crater lake and the surrounding forest.

Views from the Mirador

There is another wooden platform mirador facing in the opposite direction. It doesn’t provide any views of the lake, but you can see other volcanoes, including Volcan Santa Maria and Volcan Santiaguito.

Crater Lake

We then recommend walking around the lake itself. Descend the steep stairs and you’ll be lakeside in about 5–10 minutes.

Dan descends a steep series of steps heading to Laguna Chicabal
The steep stairs leading lakeside

The loop around the lake is a flat and easy trail. Enjoy the calm lake and the stunning mirror reflections of the forest bouncing off the still water.

Take note that swimming in the lake is forbidden!

Mayan-Mam Sacred Site

You’ll see many local people making the trip down from the top of Volcan Chicabal to the lake, to pray and give thanks. We saw heaps of flowers on the lake’s edge, which are placed there by the locals as offerings to the volcano.

There are also a few spots where Mayan rituals are performed. Our guide, Rudi, explained some of the legends and Mayan ceremonies that take place here. Around the lake, you’ll see signs informing visitors about Mayan hieroglyphs.

The Alternate Trail

To head back, we recommend taking the forest trail. It’s fairly overgrown in sections, but you’ll manage without a machete. The best part of this winding forest trail is a hidden mirador. This lookout provides another beautiful view of the lake.

Another great Mirador of the crater lake during the Laguna de Chicabal hike
Another great Mirador to check out during the Laguna de Chicabal hike

Once you exit the forest trail, you’ll soon re-join the original inbound trail. Simply retrace your steps to finish off the hike. Given the decline, your return journey will be much quicker than the hike up. Beck and I enjoyed some speed hiking and a bit of fastpacking on the way down.

What’s the difference between speed hiking and fastpacking? The main difference is that fastpacking involves running the descent. With speed hiking, you generally wouldn’t run or jog at all. But, if it’s a steep decline, sometimes it’s easier on the knees to jog or run a descent and let momentum do its thing!

Recap

Laguna de Chicabal in Guatemala is an amazing natural attraction and one of the best things to do near Quetzaltenango. By taking a tour, you have a much better chance of arriving early and experiencing good weather whilst hiking on Volcan Chicabal. So, you’ll have an overall better experience!

Dan and Rudi chat about Mayan culture and history related to Volcan Chicabal

How to Visit Laguna de Chicabal Independently

It’s actually fairly straightforward to visit Laguna de Chicabal independently. A colectivo will set you back 7Q, which you’ll need to board from the intersection of 6a Calle and 16 Avenida in Zone 3. Look out for the van labelled ‘Chile Verde‘, and ask the driver to drop you off at Laguna Chicabal. The ride should take around 45 minutes.

Returning to Quetzaltenango

To get back to Quetzaltenango, it’s possible to catch a collectivo from where ir dropped you off initally in San Martin Sacatepequez.

Camping at Laguna de Chicabal in Guatemala

Considering the peaceful ambience at Laguna de Chicabal, we reckon camping there would be idyllic. Thankfully, the good guys at Monte Verde Tours also offer an overnight hike and camping tour. Our guide, Rudi, mentioned he and his family had camped at the lake many times and spoke very highly of it.

For the pleasure of camping lakeside with Monte Verde Tours, the trip comes to 450Q/person. This includes the guide, roundtrip transport, entrance fee, all necessary camping equipment and three meals. We think this would be a great option to experience the lake in all its glory and would definitely be a non-touristic thing to do. Win-win!

Beck and I didn’t camp there. But, there’d be plenty more camping for us in Guatemala. This included our multi-day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan and overnight Volcan Acatenango/Fuego adventure.

Dan walks a forest trail at Laguna de Chicabal

Five hiking gear essentials

These are our five hiking gear essentials for hiking Volcan Chicabal and its amazing crater lake. For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.

Hiking Essential


Why do you need this?


See it in action

These hiking boots are very comfortable and a great choice for the Laguna de Chicabal hike

This camera is the best compact digital camera out there. Lightweight, small and durable, the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII takes high-quality photos and 4K videos

A jacket is necessary for the Laguna de Chicabal tour as you'll be starting the hike before it's warmed up

This is an awesome backpack for day hikes. It has plenty of space, so you can pack whatever you need

The GoPro Hero 9 is a fantastic action camera. We captured some great footage during the Volcan Santa Maria hike

Bonus Tips

  • When to visit: like most hikes in Guatemala, it’s best to do them in the dry season, between November and April. And, as mentioned, it’s very common for clouds to consume the volcanoes of Quetzaltenango from around 10am. This means you’ll miss out on the splendid views from the Mirador if you arrive from late morning onwards.
  • Go for a dip: Quetzaltenango is well known for its incredible hot springs. When you’re in town, make sure to visit Las Fuentes Georginas, Los Vahos or Las Cumbres. If you do a tour, you may have time in the afternoon to squeeze in a visit to one of these amazing hot springs.
  • Make Laguna de Chicabal your first hike in Quetzaltenango: if you haven’t been in Quetzaltenango for long and haven’t acclimatised to the altitude, make this one of your first hikes before tackling the much higher Volcan Santa Maria or Volcan Santo Tomas.
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