After completing my adventure at Tikal, I take an overnight bus to Guatemala City, a shuttle to Antigua, another shuttle to Panajachel, and a boat ride, to arrive at San Pedro – a 16-hour journey.
I chose to skip seeing many other sites in Guatemala, wanting to spend most of my time around Lake Atitlan. What is special about this lake?
The lake basin is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago. It’s 5,125 ft. above sea level. It’s surrounded by three volcanos, with the last eruption in 1853. One traveler I met described this as “an area literally opening up to the heart of the earth”, giving the lake its spiritual ambiance (mostly in the town of San Marcos).
Aside from the geological significance, there is a lot to explore – ten towns surround the lake; I would be exploring at two of them.
The first town I decide to stay at is San Pedro La Laguna, a laid-back town popular with backpackers and tourists, having a reputation for being the party town among all the others.
Upon a friend’s recommendation, I check into a hostel called Casa Felipe, which used to be called “Yo Mama’s Casa” at some point in time. I chose this hostel primarily because it has more of a laid back vibe vs. being a loud, obnoxious party hostel. The hostel itself is simple and pretty (and cheap, 30 quetzals a night which is about $4).
After I check-in, I see a circle of people hanging out in the patio (mostly in their early 20s), rolling their own cigarettes, listening to music. For my next two days here, it seemed that these people would always be hanging out in the patio. I learn that some had been staying here for 2 weeks, just hanging out. As a result I wasn’t surprised when I asked the group if anyone wanted to hike San Pedro Volcano with me, and no one was up for it.
I venture out for lunch after my 16-hour journey. I find a restaurant called “Shanti Shanti”, whose name lures me in. And with a name like that I would be shocked if they didn’t have vegetarian food. I ordered the fajitas, and initially I was surprised to have such a healthy serving of guacamole – before remembering that I’m in a part of the world where avocados are abundant. Excellent…
I explore the town after lunch.
Later in the day I book a volcano hike with two American girls from my hostel who had just checked in – Miranda and Gabby. They are eager to do a volcano hike. All our tour operator told us is that the hike would take 7 hours – begin at 6am, back at 1pm.
Hiking the Volcano
I wake up at 5:20am. Along with the two girls, a Canadian guy, Jacob, would also be joining us. We meet up with our tour guide to begin our hike.
The trail reveals itself to be difficult early one – it’s steep. Unlike most trails I’ve done in places like California, the trail here doesn’t bother with switchbacks – it just goes straight up. As a result, its more strenuous.
About a third of the way up, Gabby decides to give up, her face red from all the exertion. I learn that she’s never really hiked before, and here she is trying to hike up a strenuous volcano trail.
The remaining three of us continue up. Time passes slowly, as we split up, and I walk alone. There is a stretch of the trail where at first I see a lot of white scraps of paper – but then I see it’s actually white leaves!
About another third of the way up, I met some other friendly hikers, Becky and Jamie, from the UK. We joked about how we are all having a difficult time, it must be the altitude, right?
I learn that Becky had quit her job back in Oxford and had just moved to Antigua, Guatemala. From there she is planning on working for an NGO. Overall it seems she will be staying in Guatemala for at least six months. I admire her adventurous spirit. Her friend Jamie is visiting Becky for two weeks, and he jokes how he would soon be back in London, sitting at his desk, and feeling sad when he would be remembering adventures like going up this volcano. The last third of the hike went by quickly thanks to good conversation and laughs.
Eventually we reached the peak to enjoy a panoramic view of Lake Atitlan. In the distance (far far away) we could see another volcano, actually spewing out smoke. A well-earned view after 5,100 ft. of elevation gain at an average 37% grade.
After we make our way back down came the moment to say goodbye to Becky and Jamie. I ponder whether I should invite them to connect with me on Facebook – in that moment I felt it was perhaps sweeter to not do so. In hindsight, I should have since we had a good connection and energy.
I rest the remainder of the day, feeling quite beat from the volcano hike. My energy level is down as well because of a minor cold. I check my Jawbone app for the number of steps I took, and I am astounded – 60,000+ steps!
In the evening I go to Buddha Bar with people from the hostel and enjoy live music from a band in the region, who perform Spanish hip-hop music.
I don’t stay out too late, wanting to rest up and prepare to leave San Pedro – tomorrow I would leave for the spiritual town of San Marcos.