HIKING VOLCAN SAN PEDRO IN GUATEMALA
Towering over one side of Lake Atitlan, Volcan San Pedro sits waiting, watching, knowing that you’ll soon cave. Do you have within you the instinct to climb and conquer, when a gloriously shaped volcano is right there, is it possible to not attempt a summit this peak?
That’s exactly what passed through our minds as we watched the sunset over the lake from Hostel de Lago. We cracked, signed up for a tour, and bright and early the next day we set off to find the top (feeling just a little unprepared).
Volcano San Pedro
At 3,020m, this is no tiddly hill to climb on a morning stroll, this guy will get you sweating. The town of San Pedro la Laguna sits at its base, giving way to tangled avocado and coffee farms and then cool cloud forest filled with exotic birds. San Pedro is part of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas Mountain Range, part of the “backbone of the Americas”. The Volcano, though extinct, is only 65,000 years old, a mere whippersnapper geologically speaking.
Curious? If you want to know more about how Lake Atitlan and the volcanos have formed, we’ve written all about exactly that here.
It takes roughly 6 hours to summit and descend this 3,000m volcano, but the view you get at the top is worth every sweaty, breathless, quite steep step. It’s a hike best completed with a guide (expect to pay around $13 or 100 Quetzals), as there are no trail signs and there is not much some safety information such as about what time to set off, what time to return, and what to watch out for.
We met our guide and the 3 other members of our little group (a dutch couple & American student) at 7AM by San Pedro ferry port. Our guide organised some tuk-tuks to take us from the centre of town to the trail-head and entrance canopy, around a 15 minute drive, or if you’re feeling wildly ambitious a 50 minute walk uphill… It’s worth spending a little time at the entrance canopy as information about the volcano as well as the the flora and fauna is displayed along the walls giving you a heads on what to keep your eyes peeled for, and a bit more context about where you’re hiking.
Setting off at a brisk pace (which, being a little unfit and hungover felt like a very fast pace) we began hiking through the avocado trees & coffee plantations on the lower slopes. The Volcano deposits over thousands of years have made the soil incredibly fertile and bright red coffee beans hung heavy from the branches.
After an hour of hiking we got to a small hut where we met two guys in uniform, they politely introduced themselves as tourist police and told us that in the past the route had been quite popular with gangs out to ambush solo hikers! Perhaps the most compelling reason to hire a guide who brings a machete with him…
The best thing about this little hut though was the swing that that been attached to a low-hanging tree. I say swing, I mean old rubber tyre but the result is the same. A run up and a push and you can fly off the side of the volcano with the ground dropping beneath your feet and views over the slopes below. A nice break from the climb! (check this out in the video below)
We continued on into the cloud forest. Also known as a water forest, it is a tropical evergreen area characterised by the constant low-level clouds at canopy level. And yes, this does effectively mean you’re walking in a cloud. And yes, this does mean you’ll get a little damp! Vines cross the path, flowers are on every corner and mushrooms sprout on every enormous trunk.
After roughly 3 hours of hiking we emerged at the summit of the volcano; the view was breath-taking. We had arrived just as the clouds were off on their lunch-break and the entire lake was stretched out below us. We could see scattered towns along the lakes shores and tiny lanchas making they way to and fro. We chatted to a group who had arrived at the summit before us and discovered that they’d been waiting for a break in the clouds for 30 minutes (obviously being very physically fit and dashing up the mountain didn’t do them any favours… not like us and our numerous stops to catch our breath).
We got lucky as our views & sunshine arrived as we did, but were still grateful for the jumpers we bought with us. It gets chilly at the top waiting for the clouds to part.
The descent took another 2 hours, back to San Pedro la Laguna. Our guide had kindly invited us back to his family casa to have a home-made meal of freshly caught Lake Atitlán fish. We followed him back and dined on grilled fish and fresh vegetables after meeting his wife and three daughters. A fitting reward for our hard work out!
Guatemala’s explosive geology lends itself exceptionally well to a bit of rugged exploring on foot. Hiking Volcan San Pedro had us volcano hiking hooked. As with any physical challenge, the incredible views across Lake Atitlan and the caldera as well as the euphoria once back on flat land made all the hard work worth it. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we made a point of making sure we had another volcano hike on our itinerary, heading up Volcan Acatenango a couple of weeks later!\
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More on Guatemala from the Curious Travel:
If you’re planning a trip to Guatemala, or looking for more inspiration, you can read more about this vibrant volcanic country here.