Volcan San Pedro
Coming upon Lake Atitlán for the first time, the looming volcanoes let you know this isn’t just another lake. Like great Mayan pyramids, these dormant cones imbue the area with mystery. While some of the volcanoes are relatively remote, Volcan San Pedro stands just above the popular backpackers’ stop of the same name.
Recently I was glad to wake up to clear skies, the better my chances to have good views from the top of Volcan San Pedro. I dressed lightly, packed my backpack full of water and snacks, and headed across town to meet the other hikers and our guide. I was the last to arrive, right at 6am. Our guide, a lithe Tz’utujil named Adrian, hikes the volcano 3-4 days a week with groups organized through Bigfoot (100Q). Adrian led us up through town until the settlement merged with the jungle/woods. We followed a path up through this until we reached a well paved highway that snaked from San Pedro around the volcano to Santiago Atitlán and further to parts unknown. We hiked up this road about a kilometer until we reached the volcano visitors’ center that sat perched on the entrance to the volcano path. Adrian paid our entrance fees, I did not see how much they were, and then we began on the path which dropped down from there; this was comically misleading since it was the last downward slope we would experience until we reached the top of the volcano and turned around.
The path rose up through lush forested areas and eventually took us through some cornfields high on the volcano’s slopes, pity the farmer. As we proceeded higher up the terrain became noticeably alpine. The hiking was merciless, a steep incline that never let up…a real calf burner! If you’re not in reasonable shape, I wouldn’t attempt this trip.
The top of the volcano offered panoramic views of the entire lake. This was the first time, in fact, that I have seen the whole lake rather than just some piece of it. It turns out that it’s shaped something like a catcher’s mitt! We sat around enjoying the views from the top and resting for half an hour before heading back down. It can get chilly on the peak so bring that extra sweater.
Heading down was less difficult on the lungs but much more so on one’s knees and hips. Each step has to be placed carefully due to the steep decline and usually muddy terrain. A good pair of shoes is crucial, DO NOT attempt this in flip-flops! After you finish this stunning but challenging hike you’ll definitely want some down time and a nice soak in one of the hot tub establishments in San Pedro. Your legs won’t allow you to do much for a day or two so sit back and enjoy San Pedro for a while.
-John J. McGraw, from the September 2007 issue of XelaWho