Daytripper San Pedro: Hiking The San Pedro Volcano
by John J. McGraw
Coming upon Lake Atitlan for the first time, the looming volcanoes let you know this isn’t just any other 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 and headed across town to meet the other hikers and our guide, a lithe Tz’utujil named Adrian. He hikes the volcano 3-4 days a week with groups organized through Bigfoot (Q100). Adrian led us through town until the settlement merged with the jungle/woods, then onto a path which we followed until we reached the highway that snakes from San Pedro around the volcano to Santiago Atitlan and beyond. After about a kilometer we reached the visitors’ center at the entrance to the volcano path. Adrian paid our entrance fees and we began on the path which dropped down from there – this was the last downward slope we would see until we came back this way.
The path began climbing up through lush forested areas and eventually took us through cornfields high on the volcano’s slopes. 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 that I had seen the whole lake rather than just some piece of it. We sat 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 harder on the knees and hips. Each step has to be placed carefully due to the steep and usually muddy terrain. A good pair of shoes is crucial. After you finish this stunning but challenging hike you’ll definitely want some down time and a soak in one of San Pedro’s hot tub establishments. Your legs won’t allow you to do much for a day or two, so sit back and enjoy San Pedro for a while.