Edit Blog Post
Published: March 21st 2014
Yesterday I completed the final objective of Central America's high points, Volcán Tajumulco in Guatemala. Even though it is the highest of the high points it was by no means the most difficult. Actually, it was quite easy once we got to the trailhead, a 2 hour o'dark-thirty drive from Xela. Most people do the trek as an overnighter with a camp very high close to the summit. That normally involves taking chicken buses to and from the trailhead, each way a 3½ hour trip. Moreover, it is purportedly very cold and windy at the camp making for an uncomfortable and sleepless night. One day round trip was the way to go and I was lucky one of the tour operators had such a trip going the day after I arrived in Xela.
$US ≈ 7.7 Guatemalan quetzales
Quetzaltenango (a.k.a., Xela)
Base for Tajumulco and other treks but also becoming popular for long term stays while studying Spanish. "Real" town (country's second largest city after the capital) as opposed to touristy places like Antigua or Atitlán. Accommodation and food
Since I thought I'd be doing the hike with Quetzaltrekkers I opted to stay at their
Just starting out around 7:00.
affiliated crash pad at Casa Argentina. There are dorm rooms and private rooms with or without bathrooms for Q20, Q60, and Q40 respectively. The private bathrooms have awesome hot water showers whereas the shared bathrooms have the electric shower head that spurts tepid water with close to zero flow. It's relatively cold in Xela at night so the hot water was much appreciated. The sprawling lodging has a couple of kitchens, purified drinking water, and good WiFi. Around the corner is Mini Antojitos La Criolla for cheap breakfasts and Q20 almuerzos
. The nearby market stocks plenty of produce, groceries, and there are a few places to eat. Also close is the bakery/coffee shop Panadería Don Juan. Closer to the center one block off of the park is Ut'z Hua where a very good fish almuerzo
was Q25. Transport
When I was dropped off here from Panajachel I alighted at Avenida 19 which was a ~20 minute walk to my hotel and well before the main terminal at Minerva. Local minibuses do run all over town but I couldn't be bothered trying to find the correct one from the bus stop. Planning to take a direct bus to Chichicastenango tomorrow
Right on the border with Mexico, seen on the ascent of Volcán Tajumulco.
morning (Saturday) to secure a place to stay before the large Sunday market. Alternate way would be to take a Guatemala City bus to Los Encuentros and change there for "Chichi." Summit Trek to Volcán Tajumulco
I ended up not going with Quetzaltrekkers because at the last minute I found out there was a one day trip with Monte Verde tours. Quetzaltrekkers only does 2 day trips for Q400 but it's not really 2 days of trekking as there are at least 7 hours of round trip rides on chicken buses. The hike itself to the summit and back probably takes the same amount of time. The only downside of the one day trip (cost Q280) was the early morning departure time of 4:00. But on the bright side, waking up to my alarm at 3:00 precluded being woken up by the nearby rooster. Bonus!
Josh, Monte Verde's manager-owner, swung by mi casa
just after 4:00 with 2 passengers already on board. We picked up 2 more then sped off on the deserted streets heading to the highway to San Marcos. We must have gone over at least 50 speed bumps (apparently 50,000 country wide, most constructed by
Rock scramble section about half an hour below the summit.
local residents) by the time we got to the trailhead at 6:15. The weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky, little wind and we stared hiking at 6:30. The initial elevation was over 3000 meters and I was sucking wind after about 10 minutes but no one else seemed to be bothered by the thin atmosphere. I quickly lagged behind and the story of the tortoise and the hare kept playing over and over in my mind. At least that was my optimistic attitude.
Turned out to be correct as 3 others eventually succumbed to the altitude and we all reached the summit more or less together at 9:49. Unlike the rest of the hike, the summit area was insanely windy but with amazing views of Volcán Tacaná in Mexico, nearby Volcán Santa María, and east towards the Lake Atitlán area (volcanoes there obscured by clouds much like when I was there). Even though the weather was mostly clear with great views and we reached the summit very early, we could only tolerate about 15 minutes of summit time because of the wind. The descent only took 2 hours and we reached the minivan at 12:03. There
Volcán Tajumulco Summit Pose
Seriously bad hair day with that wicked wind on top.
was much more traffic on the way back to Xela and I was dropped off at my hotel just after 14:30 after zonking out in the backseat for most of the ride.
Panajachel (a.k.a., Pana)
While Lago de Atitlán is certainly one of the most beautiful places in all of Central America, the same can not be said for the principle town on the lake. I opted to stay here upon my arrival in Guatemala solely as a matter of expediency. Might have liked it more had the weather been nicer. Two of the 3 days I was there were completely socked in and the volcanoes were totally covered in clouds. Accommodation and food
Didn't take long to find Villa Lupita a short walk uphill from the bus stop in the town center. Rooms with share bathroom run Q48.8/person but the common showers suffer from the same problem as in Xela - electric shower heads that don't work very well. On the second day the upstairs guests without private bathrooms were asked to use a much better shower in one of the private rooms (~Q88/person, include TV) to prevent overcrowding of the downstaris shared bathrooms. The
Volcán Tajumulco Summit
Looking out towards Lake Atitlan but clouds prevented seeing any of the volcanoes there.
hotel also provides hot and cold drinking water and good WiFi. There is no shortage of places to eat in Pana most geared towards tourists, overpriced, and patronized exclusively by gringos
. I stuck to the local joints where I don't think I paid more than Q20 for any meal, maybe less for breakfast. Ate a couple of times at Churrascon Chef Alex in addition to Restaurante Santander and Comedor El Centro, all serving typical Guatemalan dishes - meat, chicken, or chorizo
, rice, beans, guacamole, and an ample supply of tortillas
. Fresh squeezed OJ can be had in the street for Q5, same price for fresh fruit salads. Good stuff but not if your stomach isn't acclimated to third world hygiene standards which are quite low. Transport
There are 3 or 4 direct buses to Xela early in the morning starting ~5:00 and a couple more in the afternoon for Q25. I took the 13:00 direct bus and arrived in Xela at 15:00. Otherwise, catch a Guate bus to Los Encuentros and change there. For the mirador
overlooking the lake, take any Sololá bus (seem to leave every 5-10 minutes or so) and ask the driver to stop
Volcán Tajumulco Summit
Volcán Tacaná in the distance.
at the lookout (Q2). The helpful INGUAT tourist office has updated bus schedules.
Tot: 1.693s; Tpl: 0.059s; cc: 21; qc: 82; dbt: 0.0518s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.5mb