Posted by: Jack | December 3, 2007

Guatemala – Volcán San Pedro

Rising just before the sun on this Halloween day, we got to experience another fantastic sunrise over the lake.

We hiked down near the water’s edge — literally down, the entire town of San Pedro is on a steep slope — where we met our private guide for the day, Julio. Turning right around, we all hiked for about a half hour along various roads until reaching the new visitor center for the recently established national park of Volcán San Pedro. Without a moments hesitation, we continued our ascent of the volcano. The trail was not originally developed for hiking, but rather to provide access to the farmlands on the mountainside. As such, no attempt has been made to create a trail which can accommodate the novice hiker. Rather than installing switchbacks to provide a longer, but more level trail, this route made straight for the peak. Gaining 5000′ of elevation in 2.5 kilometers meant that the average grade was about 60%. Compare this to very steep roadways which rarely exceed 10% and you might get an idea of the intensity of this climb through the thick and lush forest.

But, Anna and I are awesome, and Julio does this all the time, so we made it from the water’s edge to the peak in just under three hours with little stop for rest. At the top, the forest began to open up providing endless views in almost all directions. Anna quickly spotted Volcán Santa Maria to the West, which she had climbed a few weeks earlier.

We had heard that San Pedro had to be climbed early because by mid-morning, the clouds roll in, enveloping the mountain tops and hiding the scenery. We managed to beat the clouds by a few minutes but looking over the cliff’s edge we could see them rapidly rising towards us. In fact, they rose so quickly that during my camera’s ten-second timer, a cloud lifted into view, throwing off the auto-exposure and ruining this picture…sort of.

We were a bit disappointed, having only had a couple minutes to reap the benefits of our climb, but sat down to enjoy the sun and some snacks. We had brought a couple sweet breads (basically cake) which were outstanding and a whole pineapple (~$0.50) which may have been the best I’ve ever had. As we finished off every last bite, the clouds which had continued to swirl all around us, began to clear and eventually we had an unimpeded view in all directions again.

On a totally unrelated note, I can do sustained handstands now. With a number of friends also refining their skills in this feat, I felt compelled to show off with a nice background. The volcanoes seen below are Atitlán (right), Tolimán (front and center) and in the distant left are two adjacent volcanoes near Antigua; Volcán de Auga and Volcán de Fuego. The latter of these — translating to volcano of fire — erupts on a small scale quite regularly. In fact, a few minutes later we saw a massive cloud of dark smoke billowing up from this mountain.

At such a high elevation above much of our surroundings, many of the views felt much like those more often seen from a plane. At the base of Tolimán is the town of Santiago Atitlán.

After an hour or so we reluctantly felt compelled to get out of the sun and begin our descent. At the same time, the clouds rolled back in providing some nice contrast among the volcanoes.

I realize this is a lot of photos from the same place — I took well over 200 on this hike — but I wanted to include this last one mostly for the long, thin, and very fake looking cloud in the sky. In the photo and in person as well, it really looked like it had been painted out there.

The descent took about half as long but was quite demanding on the knees and ankles. But again, it was extremely humbling when we passed a number of farmers who were carrying upwards of 200 lbs of wood each, from two-thirds of the way up the mountain…and would be doing so two or three times that day…and the loads were supported with a rope slung over the top of their heads with only a small towel for padding. There were even children as young as eight or nine years, carrying only slightly smaller bundles down this rugged trail.

Along the descent, I listened in as Anna and Julio, a 17-year-old native Mayan who spoke Spanish as a second language, conversed about the political situation in Guatemala and the corresponding craziness associated with the elections which would happen four days later. I was able to make out most of what was said and we were both impressed with Julio’s knowledge of his country’s political history. It was especially interesting to hear him speak of past presidents and current candidates much in the way that many American’s speak of Bush. He did make it clear that he would have been disappointed if we were supporters of our current president.

As we neared the town we spotted some avocado trees and bushels of harvested avocados awaiting transport to the market where the fruit costs about $0.75/dozen.

Passing through the same market we grabbed some tamales (basically a corn-mush stuffed with a small piece of meat and some spices. It’s then baked a bit in a corn husk and the result is quite filling and super cheap but not entirely satisfying) for lunch and returned to our hotel to relax.

Bright pink line on the Progress Map

Next: More time in San Pedro and onto Santiago Sacatepéquez



  1. […] Next: Volcán San Pedro […]

  2. […] Guatemala – Volcán San PedroAlong the descent, I listened in as Anna and Julio, a 17-year-old native Mayan who spoke Spanish as a second language, conversed about the political situation in Guatemala and the corresponding craziness associated with the elections … […]

  3. Oh Dear! Those are some awesome pictures! I just love what you did sith the sunrise. I guess it was photomerge, because i’ve never got such a wide view of Atitlan on a picture.

    My favorite is number eight. I wonder how much would you sell it for…


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