Trek Length: 3 days
Price: Q600 (plus Q90 optional bag-drop fee)
Trekking Distance: 45km
Highest Elevation Reached: 3050m
Our trek from Xela to Lago Atitlán might well be our most popular trek – and for good reason. The trek winds through the heart of Guatemala’s rugged volcanic mountain range and ends on the shores of Lago de Atitlán: famously described as, ‘the most beautiful lake in the world´.
This physically challenging and scenically diverse hike will see you pass through cloud forests; traverse dramatic valleys; stroll through sweeping high altitude grasslands and scramble down sheer river gorges. On your way you will visit remote mountain villages; return the giggly greetings of inquisitive children; relax in a temascal (a traditional Mayan sauna) and dine on the finest chicken in Guatemala (if that’s your thing). On the second night we are warmly welcomed into the home of a local Quiché family, enjoying great food and company around an open fire.
The trek culminates with a breath-taking sunrise from a mirador perched high above the volcano studded lake. Then it’s only a short descent down to the lake itself where we round off a great hike with a well-deserved swim and a hearty lunch. If you like, we can have your luggage meet you at the lake for a small extra fee....or you can return to Xela with your guides.
We meet at the office at 6:30am for a hearty breakfast before walking to the bus stop and taking a bus to the nearby village of Xecam – our starting point for the trek. There are only two major uphill climbs on the trek and we hit the first one straight off the bus! The ascent out of the Xela valley is both sweaty and beautiful with great views back down onto the city through gaps in the forest canopy. At the top of the hill we emerge, almost surreally, out of the forest and onto a high-altitude grass plain (known locally as Alaska). Passing through the highland village just over the rise, we hit our highest point on the trek at 3050m.
From there, the rest of the day is downhill (literally, not figuratively). Descending through the cloud forest on the other side, we dodge goats and make way for Mayans carrying impossibly heavy loads of wood before breaking at a clearing in the middle of the forest to tuck in to a delicious QT-prepared lunch. From lunch-spot, we continue our descent down to a dirt road hugging the side of the valley. At about 5pm we call into Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, an isolated highland indigenous village with a town-hall that we call home for the night. There´s time to wash up in a local family´s temascal (a traditional Mayan sauna) while the guides serve up dinner and hot drinks. After a chat around the cook-pot, we unroll our sleeping mats and bags and get some well-deserved sleep.
We wake at 6am and gather our things before heading to a local comedor for a big breakfast of eggs, rice and tortillas. Then it´s ‘packs on’ to start the morning´s hike out of Ixtahuacan along the spectacular Nahualá Valley. When we reach the bottom of the valley, we take a break beside the river and contemplate the second and final major uphill climb of the trek, this time up the other side of the Nahualá valley. The first half of the climb has come to be known as Record Hill - current record: 9mins 37secs (in case you want to try and break it). Most of the group, however, is likely to heap up at a slightly more relaxed pace. Once at the top we can all wipe the sweat off our brows and enjoy our reward- a panoramic view of the expansive valley.
We then pass through another highland-village, this one surrounded by acres of cornfields and filled with giggly children shouting ´Hola!´ at the funny-looking group of people walking past. We settle into a picnic lunch in the milpas on the other side of the village before hitting a steep, forested descent down to the Payatza River. We change into water shoes on the bank and spend the next 2 hours criss-crossing the forest-covered river before popping out in the village of Xiprian, where we spend the night. Here, Don Pedro and his family throw open the doors to their home, light up the wood-fire and cook us all a sumptuous meal. After roasting a couple of marshmallows with the kids, we once again unroll the sleeping mats and bunker down in the spare-room.
We wake up super early on Day 3 and start hiking under the stars. After about 40mins, we reach our mirador and get our first glimpse of the faintly-lit lake villages – 500m below us. The guides set about cooking breakfast and hot drinks and everyone gets comfortable for the approaching sunrise. The show kicks-off with the sun´s colorful rays creeping up from behind the distant Antigua volcanoes before illuminating the Atitlán volcanoes and finally the lake itself. If anything could make you forget your weary eyes and sore muscles, this sunrise is it!
When the show is over, all that is left is a 2-3 hour descent down the famous ´Indian´s Nose´ trail. The steep trail offers impressive views of the blue lake all the way to the bottom at the lakeside village San Juan La Laguna. Depending on what time we arrive, we might have some time for a swim and a beer before making our way to a women´s weaving cooperative in the San Juan village-centre. And then...congratulations, you´ve made it! After sharing a delicious traditional lunch prepared by the women of the coop the trek is officially over and it´s hugs and goodbyes all-round.
If you´ve opted to have your extra bags meet you at the lake, they´ll arrive at the coop just after lunch (about 1:30pm) and then you´re free to move on to San Pedro, San Marcos and beyond. Otherwise, those who want to can return to Quetzaltenango with the guides in either the bus or the pickup truck.
Price includes: guides, accommodation, eight meals, snacks, water, equipment rental, all transport and local trail-usage fees.
When: the trek is scheduled to take place every Saturday through Monday although we also regularly schedule mid-week departures. On-demand treks are often possible. See online schedule for details or contact us.
What to bring:*
Sleeping bag/ mat
Light-breathable clothes for hiking
Warm clothes for the night (ie. a good fleece)
Comfortable shoes for hiking (ie. tennis shoes)
Rain coat/ poncho
Bathing suit and small towel
*Don’t have all this stuff? No problem- we’ll lend you what you don’t have
Here comes the sun
Sunrise over the lake
Hitting the high-altitude grasslands
curious young locals
Locals on the trail
exploring Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan
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