Santa Maria (3772m) towers like a pyramid above Xela and protect this city from the very aggressive Santiaguito crater on the other side of its slope. It's notorious for armed robberies on the trail.
We paid only 125 Quetzal (16 USD) each to join Monte Verde Tours. We had used this agency on Tajumulco and was very pleased with them. It was an easy decision to do this as an organized tour. Tommaso and myself would save no money if we went independently, because taxi to/from the trailhead is fairly expensive. Secondly it was a matter of safety because the trail to Santa Maria is notorious for armed robberies. If any bad guys would show up, we figured it would be beneficial to have a local guide "talking" with them, rather than sorting this out ourselves in broken Spanish.
Carlos - Guide from Guatemala
Tommaso - Italy
Lyngve - Norway
Clara - England
Chad - USA
Alex - USA (Filipino) - absent
Josh at Monte Verde Tours picked us up as agreed in the morning. Unfortunately Alex could not join us because of his stomach bug, so we left him sleeping in his bed. It was only a short drive to the trailhead, around 20 minutes or so. Two policemen were supposed to meet us at the trailhead at 5:30 AM. They were going to escort us because there had been an armed robbery the previous day. The police did not show up, but we decided to hike up anyway. Our local guide Carlos was awesome, he even speak excellent English.
The trailhead is located around 2500 m.a.s.l. The path is in excellent condition, because a new trail was built only 3 years ago. We arrived at the summit in less than 3 hours. Then we spent almost 2 hours on the top and got to see the nearby Santiaguito explode two times. It's a weird thing to stand on top of a volcano and see straight down into the crater of another volcano, which happens to be very active.
I carried no valuables whatsoever on this hike; no camera cellphone or money. Tommaso brought his cheap Lumix camera, and thanks to him we actually have a few photos from this hike, see below :-)