The drive into San Marcos on Lake Atitlan was extremely windy and took about three hours from Antigua. It was worth the terrifying roads and windy path because as soon as we could see a view of the lake we were in awe. It is a stunning body of water surrounded by eleven small towns complete with their individual personalities.
We stayed at La Paz hostel for our first three nights at the lake. It is tucked away by the main dock in San Marcos and is best known for its authentic Mayan sauna. They have a vegetarian restaurant and yoga classes that run a few times a day. It is a beautiful place to stay, extremely peaceful and very affordable. When we arrived to San Marcos we spent a bit of time looking for a place to stay as most places had been booked up for the weekend. We were lucky that La Paz had space for us given the short notice.
In Antigua we really wanted to climb a volcano called Acatenango. We decided not to in the end for a number of reasons but we were a little disappointed to be missing out on the intense challenge of climbing a volcano in Guatemala. It is a well known thing to do as Guatemala has the highest volcanoes in Central America. Acatenango was a two day hike where you hike six hours the first day with a large bag containing tents food, warm clothing, and a sleeping bag. You reach base camp and watch as a neighboring volcano erupts 4km away. It is supposed to be amazing, challenging, freezing, and the hardest thing most people have ever done in their lives. After much deliberation we decided not to take on the challenge because we weren’t entirely sure if we were ready for something that grueling. I was definitely scared of being cold and of not being able to climb the 13,000 feet to the top. All of that to say that when we arrived to the lake we decided to climb Volcan San Pedro.
The San Pedro volcano is only 9,000 feet so it isn’t an easy climb but it isn’t as difficult as Acatenango. The nice thing about San Pedro is that you can be up and back in a day so you don’t need to carry any heavy packs and the hike is only four hours up opposed to six hours up. We decided to try it out on Sunday morning and let’s just say it was quite the adventure.
We were staying in San Marcos which is about ten minutes away from San Pedro by boat. We hopped on the public boat and got dropped off in San Pedro at around 9:30am. San Pedro is a backpackers party town on the lake and is also home to Volcan San Pedro. We picked up sandwiches and caught a tuktuk to the volcano trail head. We began our climb at 500 meters and once we got going it was a little before 10:30am. This was our first major mistake. We should have began our climb at 7:00 or 8:00am.
The first twenty minutes were brutal where I wasn’t entirely sure I could make it up the mountain. The steep climb combined with the drastic change in elevation was not something I had ever experienced before. I knew it would be a challenge but I had done plenty of challenging hikes in the states so I assumed this would be on par. I was wrong. This was the most challenging hike I had ever done in my life. After an hour we made it to the first look out spot and the view was stunning. We were a little worried about not being able to see much as we climbed higher due to the thick clouds gaining on us. It is rainy season in Guatemala which means nice mornings but heavy rainfall each night. We did get lucky with no rain in Antigua but we were not so lucky with weather on the lake.
As we continued our climb we both hated everything but knew we had to make it to the top. We reached the summit at around 3:00pm with lots of breaks and a stop for lunch. The top of the volcano felt like a great accomplishment but was also way too cloudy to be able to see anything. I, hilariously enough, would recommend this hike but only if you are visiting during dry season. We hiked back down the volcano chasing the sun so we wouldn’t get stuck in the dark. We made it down in three hours but as we neared the bottom the real adventure began.
About five minutes away from the trail head a massive downpour ensued. We stood under a tree for about five minutes hoping and praying that the torrential rain would let up. It eventually stopped and we ran to reach the entrance to the hike and some real shelter. Of course only minutes away from exiting the trail, we got hit again with hard rain this time that didn’t stop until the morning.
We had to run. There was no other way to get off the trail in the pouring rain. We ran until we found the gazebo where the trail head starts and the guides are able to help you. Or so we thought. We reached the trail head where we started but there was not a person in sight. It was coming down even harder and luckily we had cover under the gazebo but we slowly started to realize that we were stranded. With no working phones and not a soul around we walked down to the road and stood under an awning hoping that any car driving by would see us and offer a ride down the road back to San Pedro. After ten minutes and a few cars driving by without stopping, we figured our best option was to walk the mile and a half back to San Pedro. We were going to be soaking wet and we were going to be slightly miserable but at least we would be on a path home.
We start walking and by some stroke of miracle a small store is located on the side of the road we are walking down. We stop in, even though they are clearly closed, and we realized it is a lookout point for the volcano and a convenience store. I asked them if they would be able to call us a ride back to town and they said yes so we waited in their little outpost until a tuktuk driver pulled up and saved the day. The ride down in a tiny tuktuk with the pouring rain was probably not our safest decision but we were trying to rush back to the dock so we could catch the last boat back to San Marcos.
Boats run from San Pedro to San Marcos every half hour and we thought they ran up until 7:00pm but of course, something else had to go awry in our plan for the day. After Zev got out of the tuktuk and pushed us up a hill, we reached the dock to be told we either had to pay for a private boat or stay in San Pedro for the night. We could take a taxi to San Marcos as a third option but it would take an hour and cost just as much as the private boat which takes less than ten minutes.
We got on our private boat and started speeding into the rain, thunder, and lightning on very choppy waters. I was wet and cold but happy to be going back to San Marcos where we had all our stuff and a warm bed.
We walk back to La Paz soaking wet with little dignity left and to warm up and call it a night. Like a hero, Zev ventured out and got us a mushroom pizza which we ate in the warmth of our room.