Volcan Atitlan: Majestic views from atop a steaming volcano

Crossed the Guatemalan border and made my way towards Lake Atitlan and Panahachel, a lakeside village with a reputation as a party town. Stopped off in both Huehuetenago and Quetzaltinango, stately colonial-style towns, to change busses and look around. Then on to Solola and Lake Atitlan.

26 December, Sunday

Got up at 3.30am in order to catch the 4am bus to Solola. The streets, so full of people last night, were deserted. But our bus was there. $1.50 for the 81 kms to Solola. The early morning was beautiful, watching the glow of the sunrise slowly silhouette the volcanos. We reached the road cutoff to Solola and began to descend. Steeply.

There the bus stopped. I got my bike down, stowed my gear and coasted / braked the seven kms to Panahachel. Lago Atitlan. Surrounded by volcanos. Muy hermosa aqui.

I rode down to the beach and ate a real good breakfast: steak, avocado, salad, rice and chocolate caliente, all for one Quetzale. Just kinda sat and enjoyed the sun and scenery.

About 9am I decided I was going to need a room for a couple of days so I went to a few posadas. Either no room or too expensive. But I ran into some people who were living in Panahachel and they said I could stay at their compound for a while. Great.

So I walked with them over to their place with my bike, about a km out of town. A nice place. I was staying at Dennis’ house. Relaxed a bit, unpacked my bike, etc. Dennis told me of a nice road along the lake to Santa Catarina. So I rode off down the road. Almost immediately it started to rise above the lake, giving beautiful vistas of the whole Lake. Superb. Superlative beauty. The volcanos, the blue sky and lake. Incredible. Four kilometres down overlooking the town. So peaceful. Rugged, rocky cliffs to the Lake below. Blue, green and brown. So fine.

I sat on a rock atop a sheer cliff down to the Lake. The water is crystal clear, the bottom drops off into a deep purple, into the depths. Sat for a while then rode back to town. Went to the mercado and bought a few munchies and real good helados. Buzzed back to Dennis’ and relaxed and looked over the South American Handbook. Got some good info on Guatemala City. Walked into town a bit later and walked around. Then Dennis and I walked up the road to watch the sunset. Very beautiful. I just can’t describe the beauty. Volcan Atitlan looked majestic.

Walked back to Dennis’s and ate a good meal of vegetable stew. Kinda decided to climb the Volcan tomorrow if we get up in time. To bed early.

Kms     17                    To date            979

26 December, Monday

Up very early. Being as the boat for San Lucas at the foot of Volcan Atitlan left the beach at 7am and it was 6.30, we hastily packed our gear and ran down the beach. In time, as it turned out, because the boat was late. So when it came, on we climbed and off we went, across the crystal clear Lake water into the rising sun with volcanos and cliffs surrounding us. Striking.

Soon San Lucas came into view and shortly there-after we docked and disembarked. Walked up the steep path to the town from the lake, bought a few supplies, ate a quick breakfast then hit the trail to the Volcan.

The trail started easily as we walked through coffee and avocado groves that blanket the lower lava slopes. As the trail slowly climbed, maize became the chief crop. The ancient method of slash and burn was still being used. Up we climbed.

Up, up we climbed til the maize gave out to pine woods. By then we were on the cone itself. Very steep, with cinders, very fertile underneath. Up more til the pines shrank to scrub, then just cinders.

Finally, just past the steaming rocks was the summit. Made it at 5.30, seven hours. But what a view. Guatemala, Volcan Atitlan, 11,543 feet, 6000 foot vertical climb from the lake. Steam was escaping from crevasses on top. Thermal action.

Watched the sun descend over the Pacific. Unreal atmosphere. Set up a small shelter from the misty breeze and watched the stars, satellites & shooting stars as I fell asleep. What a place to sleep. Atop a 11,500 foot steaming volcano.

28 December, Tuesday

Sunrise. Atop Volcan Atitlan. The shadow of the cone formed a phantom pyramid on the eastern horizon. Blues, roses, over the rugged Guatemalan landscape. We could see the Mexican Escarpment, the Mayan Mountains of Belize, the Honduran Highlands and the El Salvadorian coast. A five-country view. Clear as a bell. Incredible.

After the sunrise it started to warm up. Muy bien. Just spectacular high over Guatemala on a steaming volcano. Just looked over the countryside til around 10.30 and then we packed up and headed down.

Real steep down the cinders to treeline, then down. Scrub, pines, maize, jungle then coffee. To the first bar for a refresco frio the the panadaria. Muy bien.

Decided to thumb back to Panahachel rather than wait for the boat manana. We made it half-way then camped out on the side of the road, under the pines and stars, by the side of Lago Atitlan

29 December to 14 January

Stayed in Panahachel for 10 days and then took the bus into Guatemala City for a few days to take care of business. Then I packed up the bike and headed down out of the highlands towards the Caribbean Coast. Many bridges still in ruins from last year’s big quake. But the road were otherwise in good shape and it was a downhill ride into the valley of the Rio Motagua and the Mayan ceremonial center of Quirigua.

Published by Phil Parent

Phil Parent is a geographer residing in Queenstown New Zealand.

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