• Summary
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Day 3
  • Additional Info
Trek Length: 3 days
Price: Q650 donation (optional bag drop Q100; additional bags 50Q each)
Trekking Distance: 36 km
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 by Aldous Huxley 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 some of the finest home-cooked chicken in Guatemala (if that’s your thing). On the second night we are warmly welcomed into the home of a local K'iche' 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 leisurely visit to a local coffee co-operative folled by a hearty lunch in San Juan la Laguna. If you opted for our bag drop service, your baggage will arrive shortly after lunch and you can be on your way to your next destination by 1 or 2 pm. Anyone choosing to return to Xela can do so in the good company of thier guides.

Check out photos of the trek here!

We meet at the office at 6:30am for 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! Although strenuous, the ascent out of the Xela valley is beautiful, with great views back down onto the city through gaps in the forest canopy. At the top of the hill we emerge out of the forest into a high-altitude grass plain (known locally as Alaska). Here, at an altitude of 3050m, we hit our highest point on the trek.

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 locals 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. After lunch we continue our descent down to a dirt road hugging the side of the valley. Around 5pm we arrive in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, an isolated highland village whose town-hall 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. The first half of the climb has come to be known as Record Hill - current record: 9 minutes, 3 seconds (in case you want to try and break it). Most of the group, however, is likely to climb 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 by. This is a great place to buy ice cream or another refreshing treat at the local tienda. Shortly thereafter we settle into a picnic lunch in the milpas on the other side of the village before beginning 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 river before arriving in the village of Xiprian, where our friend Don Pedro and his family graciously welcome us into 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 for the night.

We wake up super early on Day 3 and start hiking under the stars. After about 40 minutes, we reach our mirador and get our first glimpse of the faintly-lit villages around the lake 500m below us. The guides set about cooking breakfast and hot drinks as 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. With enough time, we stop at local coffee cooperative La Voz Que Clama del Desierto for a much deserved latte. We then make our way to a women´s weaving cooperative, Ixoq Ajkeem, 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 co-op 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 San Juan La Laguna just after lunch (about 1pm) and then you´re free to move on to San Marcos, San Pedro or beyond. Otherwise, you can return to Quetzaltenango with the guides in either the bus or the pickup truck.
Price includes: guides, accommodation, temascal (mayan sauna), eight meals, snacks, water, equipment rental, all transport and local trail-usage fees.

When: the trek is scheduled to take place every Saturday-Monday, and every Tuesday-Thursday. On-demand treks are sometimes possible. See online schedule for details or contact us.

What to Bring:*

  • Large backpack
  • 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
  • Water shoes and strap-on sandals/water shoes
  • Bathing suit and small towel
  • Sun Protection
  • Flashlight

*Don’t have all this stuff? No problem- we can lend you everything you don’t have. Do have some of this stuff but don´t want to carry it anymore? Consider leaving it as an equipment donation! Quetzaltrekkers relies the generosity of individuals and companies for equipment.