So, you’re finally here. You’ve taken three chicken buses and two colectivos, survived the winding descent down the hill from Solola, and you’ve made it to the lake. Alive. You make your way down to the docks and breathe in the cool air. Staring out across the lake, you see it: the elegant, looming volcano set against the setting sun, and image that will continue to tease your brain until you have finally conquered this fire-breathing mounting. This is Volcán San Pedro.
Okay, maybe it’s not as menacing as I’ve made it sound. It actually doesn’t breathe fire anymore – it’s been dormant for millions of years. Long enough for it to be declared an Ecological Park by the Guatemalan government, which means that it is now a protected wilderness area. The trail is well-maintained, the entrance fee is affordable and includes a guide, and the hike is difficult on the legs and lungs but not beyond the abilities of the average mountain hiker. Coffee and avocado trees line the trail, and if you hit it between September and November, you might be able to indulge in some ripe avocado snacks.
Hiking Volcán San Pedro is my #1 favorite thing that I’ve done in the Atitlan area. Here are some helpful tips so that you, too, can see all of Guatemala from the top.
Getting to the Trailhead
You can easily take a lancha to the town of San Pedro from any other town around the lake. The earliest boats leave Panajachel at 6:30am. However, I would recommend spending the night in San Pedro. There, you can find San Pedro hostels from anywhere between 30Q (4 U.S. dollars) and 100Q (12 U.S. dollars) per night. If you’re looking for more luxury, San Pedro has plenty of nice hotels that are still very affordable for the average traveler.
It’s best to get an early start when climbing the volcano so that you can get the clearest view from the top and avoid being rained on. If you catch a tuk-tuk in the town of San Pedro at 7:00am (when it is starting to get light), they will take you to the trailhead (about a ten minute drive) for 10 quetzales.
When you arrive at the visitor center at the trailhead; you will need to pay an entrance fee of 100 quetzales – this includes a guide, should you choose to take one. Some people and so-called “official” travel agencies in the town may try to convince you to hire a guide through them and pay them to transport you to the trailhead. However, you will still need to pay the 100Q entrance fee at the visitor center no matter what, so hiring an outside company is redundant.
The hike itself is about 5 miles round-trip, and the elevation change is 4,000 feet. The trail is a dirt foot path that is more gradual at the bottom, and gets steeper towards the top. About halfway up, stone steps begin appearing on the trail, and the last hour or so of the hike is up a stone staircase. Be sure to pace yourself at the beginning, because it definitely gets harder.
The ascent takes the average hiker between 3-5 hours, and the descent isn’t much faster because of the stairs. There are several look-out points along the trail, some with benches that overlook the lake. The top of the volcano looks out across the lake as well. Because the volcano is taller than many of the mountains surrounding the lake, you can see past the lake and feel like you are standing above the clouds. A pretty cool sensation.
What to Bring
There are some mosquitoes throughout the hike, so long pants are recommended. Even if it is a hot day, the top of the volcano is windy and cold. Be sure to bring at least one long-sleeve layer in addition to a rain jacket – you never quite know when the clouds are going to break over Lake Atitlan.
Be sure to carry at least two liters of water and plentiful food. It’s a full-day hike, so keep in mind that you probably won’t make it down until 3:00pm or 4:00pm, even if you start at 7:00am.
Most importantly, bring a camera.
After The Hike
After the hike, there are plenty of delicious restaurants in San Pedro. If you can find the hostel Zoola (it’s a bit tucked away), head there for some hummus and smoothies, and stretch out and veg on pillows while you enjoy your meal. Just remember that the last boat for Panajachel leaves at 5:00pm, so don’t miss it if you’re planning to head back across the lake that day.
And now, as you’re gazing across the lake as the sun is setting and the menacing Volcán San Pedro looms on the horizon, you can remember triumphantly what it felt like to be on top of that volcano, looking out across the world.