Climbing Volcán Atitlán (Lago Atitlán)

This is really an informative post about climbing Volcán Atitlán, since most people assume it’s not really possible.  Although quite a tough hike and despite what people and agencies will tell you in San Pedro, guides do exist and from what I could see, it seemed relatively safe.  (Although this is only based on my experience after one day on the volcano so check the current situation before heading out).

After completing my time in Quetzaltenango I headed to Lago Atitlán.  Having not known too much about the volcanoes there, I hadn’t really planned on climbing any before I arrived.  However, I ended up climbing both Volcán San Pedro and Volcán Atitlán.  Volcán San Pedro is fairly straight forward and can be reached from San Pedro. It cost 100 Q to enter the park and you get an optional guide included in that price.  It’s not really necessary but since it was included I took the guide.  It took me 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to the summit from the entrance at a fast pace (something like a 1200 metre change in elevation). The views at the top were pretty good but really only 180 degrees.  In the distance I could see Volcán Atitlán, the highest peak in the area, sitting another 500 metres higher than I was standing and requiring 2000 metre change in altitude from the lake to climb it.

Although there were a couple of reports on the internet for Volcán Atitlán (see peakbagger.com), most people claim it isn’t safe to climb due to robberies. Also local agencies claim that no one will guide you up there and it would be easy to get lost etc. I thought I’d head over there myself to find out.  It can be climbed from two sides: Santiago and Sun Lucas.  On arriving at Santiago I was offered extortionate quotes by the locals (500Q or 600Q), all of them claiming it would take 7 or 8 hours to reach the top. I knew it could be done faster.  Undeterred I headed over to San Lucas where the route is more established (the town is not touristy at all and has a very different feel to the rest of the lake).  Checking into Hotel Emmanuel on the main square (80Q / night) the hotel reception called up someone who could guide me.  I wanted a fast climber planning on a 3 hour 30 minute ascent.  He appeared in the form of Alex (77220869 / Edwinxep@yahoo.com) and his friend (Manuel).  For both of them I paid 250Q total (i.e. 125Q each guide).

We left at 3am and summited at around 6.40am experiencing spectacular views of the lake and beyond.  We could see Santa Maria and Tajumulco to the west and Acatenango to the east.  There are no trees for the final 300 metres which makes it an exceptional viewing experience.  I’m told there are only threats from robberies around Christmas time.  I thought Alex performed his duties well and was extremely fit; he said he had 8 trophies from various sporting events.  So if you want to do it fast, he’s an excellent guide to take.  You could also enquire at restaurant Toliman near the water, they have the names of guides too. One or two boats go to/from Panachel per day or you can get a 7Q ‘collectivo’ to/from Santiago and then boat to /from San Pedro.  It’s a big hike and a slow group could expect to get to the top in 6 or 7 hours I suppose; we virtually ran when we did it.

(I was told of a story of a couple that climbed Toliman without a guide and then got lost trying to find a different route back to the town. Apparently they fell down a hole and couldn’t get out for a day.  They stumbled back half-starved 3 days later!  Stick to the tracks!)

 

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Looking down from the summit onto Volcán Tomilan and Lago Atitlán

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View of Volcán San Pedro

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Volcán Acatenango (left peak) and Volcán Fuego

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Alex – final few hundred metres to the summit. San Lucas is right next to the closest part of the lake.

15 thoughts on “Climbing Volcán Atitlán (Lago Atitlán)

  1. Hi Nick! Nice report. I have climbed San Pedro as well as Acatanango. Acatanango is great if Fuego is erupting.
    Cheers.
    Hamish

    • Hi Hamish! Yes I was lucky enough to climb Acatenango as well, a spectacular climb. We saw fuego have a minor eruption. I hope to post some photos soon. When did you do it? Cheers, Nick

      • Climbed acatanango around five years ago. I visit Guatemala nearly every year on a medical volunteer trip. Looking forward to seeing more of your photos.
        Hamish

  2. Hi Nick
    Great to hear about your adventures. Jen and I are back home trying to adapt to normal life again and planning the next adventure.
    Charles

  3. Dude! Thanks for posting this and the info. I’ve been searching the internet for a while and this is the best information I’ve found about climbing Atitlan. Checked out a bunch of your other posts too. Looks like you’re having a great adventure!

  4. thanks for the post, actually hit up your guide for volcan atitlan now as I just got to Santiago and want to get up there as well! 🙂 Hopefully he will read it in time, he does not answer his phone sadly but the post is also 1 year old now so who knows..

    • It could be worth just heading to San Lucas, not that far. You’ll probably find a guide there by just asking around or ask in Hotel Emmanuel. It wouldn’t be impossible without a guide if you’re reasonably experienced, there would be some navigation until you hit the saddle. I guess there’s a slight risk of being robbed as with all these places but it wasn’t notoriously bad when I was there. The guides said locals kill the robbers!! I think have the GPX route somewhere if you want if you have a smartphone. The other commenter – josh hayward – did it without a guide and , from memory, hacked his way through from Santiago in a Herculean effort on an untracked route!

      • GPX route would be grand! I have my compass, head torch and solid hiking boots with me and expierence on 6000m mountains, so the only thing im worried are my bad spanish 🙂 I think i can get up there pretty fast too, what do you think about a day hike? Maybe we can have a chat on facebook?

        • I will check for my gpx, also have a look on peakbagger.com – I seem to remember someone else might have put one up there. I did it as a day hike (3 hours 45 mins to the top from San Lucas, 3hrs would be extremely fast). But leave at 2 or 3 am for best chance of sunrise and clear skies because it can cloud up early, also less chance of people seeing you head up there reducing chance of someone following you! Maybe bring a machete or some bear mace like josh did! (He camped on the summit and said it was epic- there’s a small hut). Thinking about it, the guides would probably only speak Spanish but you’d almost certainly find someone to take you up there in San Lucas, it would make it little safer. Just a question of finding someone to do it cheaply.

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