Following a Guatemalan road trip filled with gluttony, I thought it was high time to start beating my body back into shape. I’m staying in a charming, rustic hostel called Casa Felipe on Lake Atitlan, in a town called San Pedro. Above me is a volcano of the same name, and it’s been calling my name ever since I landed by boat.
The San Pedro Volcano, or Vulcan San Pedro, is a dormant volcano rising 3,020 meters above sea level. The vertical climb is about 1,100 meters from the trailhead.
There are several tour operators who will guide people up the volcano, but I opted to climb it myself, not necessarily to save the cost of the guide, which was negligible, but because I wanted to climb the volcano alone and at my own pace. I had been spending a lot of time with other people recently and was looking for a bit of alone time. San Pedro Volcano would provide that for me.
Early morning, I took a tuk tuk (hehe, took a tuk tuk) to the trailhead. I could have walked there, but I wasn’t entirely confident about its location. So for 15 quetzals ($2.70 CAD), I saved quite a bit of walking with the tuk tuk, which strained it’s way up the steep roads.
There is a kiosk at the trailhead, which is also the entrance to the Ecological Park of San Pedro Volcano. The entrance fee is 100 quetzal ($18 CAD), but I’ve been told if you go early enough before the kiosk opens, say at 6:00 am, you can get in for free, since there is no barrier to the entrance to the park. Just keep your safety in mind if you take this option. During regular hours, there are guards posted along the trail, providing safety to hikers from bandits. Unfortunately, bandits are a reality in these parts. Outside the park, a few hikers have been robbed at gunpoint recently.
After paying my entrance fee and being assured by the guard that I would be quite safe climbing alone, I headed up a well-maintained trail that wove through coffee and avocado farms.
Admittedly, for the first 30 minutes, I was huffing and puffing while my body started to adjust to the physical effort after a week of abusing it with food and alcohol. At about the 30-minute mark, there is a wooden platform that provides wonderful views of Lake Atitlan and San Pedro. After a short break there, I found my groove on the trail and hiked steadily to the top without another break. I summited in under two hours, but it could take up to four hours depending on your pace and how many breaks you take.
The trail is easy to follow, and at the two main junctions, there are arrowhead signs that read ‘vulcan’. So it would be difficult to lose the trail, even for a guy like me who lost the Bruce Trail about 85 times.
The trail has quite a few switchbacks, and hikers are asked to stay on the switchbacks instead of taking the shortcuts in order to prevent erosion. On the steep parts, the park officials have installed steps made of two imbedded posts with a log laid across them. Along the way, there are rope swings, designed, I imagine, to alleviate the tedium of the climb. To make it easier to monitor your progress, the park has installed elevation signs every two hundred vertical meters, starting at 2,200 meters. When you see the 3,000 meter sign, you know you’re only a couple of minutes from the top. The trail itself meanders up through thick jungle. There are views on the lower slopes, but as you gain elevation, the views are few and far between.
On the summit, I was disappointed that I didn’t have a view of either the lake or the crater, since the summit was covered in cloud. There were a couple of Canadians there, with whom I shared a breakfast of banana bread and good conversation. After about 45 minutes, they opted to descend since one of them had to catch a flight out of Guatemala City that evening. I waited another hour or so for the cloud to clear, chatting with other people who were also now reaching the summit, but after 90 minutes, the cloud seemed to have thickened even more and I was starting to get chilled to the bone, even though I was wearing a heavy sweater.
So not having had a view, I descended back to the lower platform, had something more to eat (cookies no less) and took pictures of the lake from there.
Descending to the trailhead, I high-fived a couple of guards and opted to walk the remainder of the way through town to my hostel, stopping for an awesome vegetarian meal at a restaurant called the Fifth Dimension (highly recommended).
It was a fabulous day, made even better by the good detox to my body and the great conversations with fellow hikers. Overall, a great outing.