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Daytripper: Cool Trips. Close by.

Daytripper is XelaWho’s regular monthly series on day trips within easy reach of Xela. This month’s article is called: A Sunrise Over Atitlán

by Tad Bradley

“The most beautiful lake in the world.” So said writer Aldous Huxley of Lake Atitlán. For years, “The Lake” has captivated poets, travelers and geologists with its shimmering deep-blue water, quaint Mayan villages and spectacular volcanic peaks. While a bus will get you there, the three day trek from Xela offers a much more adventurous route.

The journey begins in the small village of Xecam, just outside Xela and easily accessible by bus from the Minerva terminal. The trail ascends steeply through lush cloud forest. A brief break offers stunning views of the Xela valley, Volcán Santa Maria and Volcán Tajumulco, perched far on the horizon.

As the trail crosses the dry, wind-swept plateau “Alaska” (nicknamed so by the locals due to its cold, somewhat inhospitable climate), trekkers will encounter indigenous people hauling impossibly heavy loads and tilling their fields of corn, peas and cabbage. Practice your K’iche, as Spanish is a distant second language in this part of the highlands.

Finishing the day in the gritty mountain town of Santa Catarina, a traditional Mayan temescal, or sauna, awaits. The second day starts with an easy stroll along a mountainside trail and then a steep climb up a beautiful ridgeline, offering fantastic views of the river valley below. Giggling children, waddling pigs and crowing roosters greet hikers in the village of Tzucubal, followed by lunch and a siesta in a picturesque valley. The trail then meanders its way along the Payatza River, ending at the home of a local family in the town of Santa Clara La Laguna, just above Lake Atitlán.

After a delicious dinner, the group relaxes around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, trading stories and learning traditional K’iche’ songs. Rising well before dawn, a short, starlit hike leads you to a viewpoint 500 meters above the lake. As the sun nears the horizon, it throws a reddish-orange hue over the broken cloud ceiling and illuminates the shadowy figures of the volcanoes San Pedro, Tolimán and Atitlán. Earning Huxley’s description, the sunrise over Lake Atitlán is a quintessential Guatemalan experience and a well-deserved reward at the end of this incredible trek.

-Tad Bradley is full time volunteer for Quetzaltrekkers, Xela´s only all volunteer non-profit trekking company, located in Casa Argentina, Diagonal 12, 8-37 

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