Hiking around Lake Atitlan allows you not only to get in a good sweat but also to learn about the native fauna y flora and delicate ecosystems of the region. There is so much to learn about the lake off the beaten path and beyond the backpacker trail.
Whether you are a newbie hiker or a prolific mountain climber, there are some truly incredible hikes to do around Lake Atitlan. Cross maize and coffee plantations, stroll between colorful indigenous Maya towns, and trek up steep slopes to reach the summit of ancient, and once volatile, volcanoes.
Here are some of the best hikes around Lake Atitlan to add to your bucket list!
Ultimate Guide to Hiking Lake Atitlán in Guatemala
Ruta La Finca Hike
- Difficulty: Easy
- Time: 1 hour, out-and-back
Starting with one of the easiest and pleasant hikes to do around Lake Atitlan, the Ruta La Finca is a popular trail in San Pedro La Laguna that leads to an abandoned coffee farm and a semi-private black sand beach.
Many of the Tz’utujil Mayas of San Pedro frequent this trail on weekends, usually loaded up with coolers, snacks, and floaties to enjoy a swim in the lake outside of town.
You can get there by hopping in a tuk-tuk and asking for “La Finca.” The trailhead begins just behind the outdoor basketball court and meanders through an overgrown path skirting the base of the San Pedro volcano. This is also a popular horse riding route, which you can also do to reach the viewpoint at the end of the trail overlooking Toliman and Atitlan volcanoes and the village of Santiago.
If you want to hike all the way down to the beach, it will take around 45 minutes on foot.
There is no sign indicating where to go, but you can easily guess it because there is an obvious fork in the path that leads down to the left toward the shore. From there, it takes about 20-25 minutes. You will pass the open-air abandoned coffee farm before walking past a local’s home. Keep going. Right after that point, a dirt path leads down to the shore.
Lower Mayan Trail (Santa Cruz – San Marcos)
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Time: 2.5 hrs, one-way
For a moderate hike with perhaps the best views of the lake and the three volcanoes, you can do the hike from Santa Cruz-San Marcos La Laguna which crosses several Mayan towns (also known as the Lower Mayan Trail). You can either do this trail in sections or do the whole thing.
Some people start in San Marcos, but I would recommend starting from Santa Cruz La Laguna since there’s only one trail path leading out of the town so it greatly reduces the chance you’ll get lost.
To get to the trailhead, take a lancha boat to Santa Cruz (from San Pedro La Laguna it costs Q20 per person). Once you exit the dock, take an immediate left onto the path that passes by the hotel and restaurant Arca de Noé. This path will take you all the way to San Marcos La Laguna and crosses the towns of Jaibalito and Tzununa.
Alternatively, you can start in Jaibalito and do a shorter trip to Tzununa and vice versa. Or, if you are based in Panajachel, you can go book a guided day trip.
The Santa Cruz-San Marcos hike takes about 2.5 hours and consists of frequent ups and downs. There are some steep sections with stairs in some parts so it can get tiresome on the knees. The overall elevation gain is around 500m or 1640ft.
There have been reports of robbery on this hike on weekends, so it is recommended to go with a group (rather than alone). Paul and I went together on a Saturday morning and I carried my camera gear visibly around my neck almost the whole time and didn’t have a problem. Whether it was an off-day for the petty thieves or a lot of luck, I’m not sure. In either case, we are so glad we did this hike. You will be saying “Wow!” virtually the whole way.
Pro Tip: The hiking trail is the most scenic between Santa Cruz and Tzununa. Once you reach Tzununa, you can opt to hop in a tuk-tuk to San Marcos since this last section of the hike follows the gravel road in between the two towns and is fairly plain and dusty.
Indian Nose Hike
- Difficulty: Moderate-Hard
- Time: 2.5 hrs up, 1.5 down (long) // 45 mins up, 25 down (short)
Now on to perhaps the most well-known hike around Lake Atitlan – the Indian Nose hike! You have two options for this hike.
You can either hike the longer version from the base of San Juan La Laguna (takes 2.5 hours up, 1.5 down), or take a chicken bus to the town of Santa Clara La Laguna and then hike up the trail from the backside of the Mayan face via a shorter 35-45 minute path.
The Indian Nose hike is touted as being one of the best short hikes around the lake. Most people book the guided short hike for sunrise, but if you want an extra challenge and sense of reward, go for the long hike. The elevation gain from San Juan up to Indian Nose is around 750m or 2460ft.
We did this hike with a geologist which really added to the experience as we got to learn about how Lake Atitlan and the caldera and volcanoes formed long, long ago.
San Pedro Volcano Hike
- Difficulty: Very Hard
- Time: 5-7 hours round-trip
If you felt that the hike up to Indian Nose was a piece of cake, then you might want to try the strenuous hike up to the San Pedro volcano. There is an elevation gain of about 1400m or 4000 ft, which makes this hike fairly strenuous! You should only set out to do it if you are in great shape physically.
You can hike up Volcán San Pedro on your own, but it is recommended to go with a guide (which you can hire to go with you at the entrance of the park – Parque Ecológico Xe’ch’imaay). The cost to enter the park and hire a guide is Q100. Note: You will pay that whether you choose to have a guide or not.
Getting to the trailhead is easy from San Pedro. All you need to do is hop in a tuk-tuk and ask for the San Pedro volcano trailhead (here are the directions). To beat the weather and get a head start, make sure to arrive at the park no later than 8 AM. If you arrive too late, chances are a guide won’t be as willing to accompany you on your ambitious trek.
It takes about 3-4 hours to hike up San Pedro’s steep slopes and 2-3 hours to descend. But for some, it may take a bit longer. Overall, you can expect this hike to take all day even if you start early!
Atitlán Volcano Hike
- Difficulty: Very Strenuous
- Time: 7-9 hours round-trip
Want an even bigger challenge? To reach the highest viewpoint around Lake Atitlan, you can do a guided Volcán Atitlán hike. This hike truly spans all day and is one of the most grueling yet rewarding of the hikes around the lake.
With an elevation gain of around 1600m (5249 ft), you won’t need to worry about getting your exercise in for the week as this hike will take care of that.
As such, the Volcán Atitlan hike is not for the faint of heart. You will need to pack wisely, bringing and wearing adequate clothing for both mild and cold temps as you reach the summit.
To do this hike, you will depart from the Mayan town of Santiago Atitlan, tucked cozily between San Pedro volcano and Toliman volcano.
Tolimán Volcano Hike
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Time: 7-8 hours round-trip
With its two peaks and crater, the Volcán Toliman is yet another incredible volcano hike to do while in Lake Atitlan. Although it’s not as popular a hike as its neighboring volcanoes, you will still get rewarded with expansive views from the top as well as rainforest and cloud forest views on your way up.
If you hike Volcán Toliman with a guide, which again is highly recommended, then you will also have the chance to learn about the birds and flora of the region, as many guides are professional birding guides. You may even get to spot a stunning quetzal – the national bird of Guatemala!
In addition to guided day trips, you can also book overnight camping trips where you’ll camp overnight on the El Chanán plane area that connects Toliman with Atitlan. Just like for the Volcan Atitlan hike, you will begin your ascent from the town of Santiago Atitlan.
Lago Atitlan – Xela (Quetzaltenango)
- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Time: 2-3 days overnight hiking trip
Finally, if you are craving a through-hike (thru-hike), then you can actually hike all the way from Lake Atítlan to Quetzaltenango (Xela), a bustling city located a 2-3 days’ hike away.
Should you do the other hikes around Lake Atitlan on this list, then you will no doubt be adequately prepared to do the thru-hike from Lago Atitlan to Xela (you can also do it the other way around – from Xela to Lago Atitlan).
Other Hiking Trails Around Lake Atitlan
There are many hikes to do in Lake Atitlan. The ones mentioned above are just the most popular.
One hike that I’d love to do departs from Santiago Atitlan and consists of hiking along the lower ridges of Volcán Atitlán to a nearby hidden waterfall. You can also set out on a hike to the Sacred Caves, where you can partake in a traditional Mayan ceremony with a local shaman.
Want to do even more hiking? There are plenty more trails around Lake Atitlan and the Sololá region on AllTrails.
Here are a few things to remember/pack when you set out on a hike around Lake Atitlan:
- Follow the 7 Leave No Trace Principles
- Pack out what you pack in
- Wear proper hiking boots
- 2x large reusable water bottles
- Lightweight rain jacket
- Day hiking backpack
- Biodegradable insect/mosquito repellent
- Map, emergency phone #’s
And don’t forget to tell someone where you’re going! In any case, for all the volcano hikes you should hire a guide. For the Lower Mayan Trail and Ruta La Finca hike, you can easily go on your own (but not alone) and be mindful of your whereabouts.
If you have any questions about hiking in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala feel free to reach out!
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