Chasing Sunrise at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

The Indian Nose sunrise hike is an absolute must when visiting Lake Atitlan. I hear ya, who the hell wants to wake up at 4am for a leg workout while on vacation?! Trust me, this one’s worth your time. Plus, the hike ain’t even bad!

It’s named ‘Indian Nose’ because it’s shaped like a side profile facing the sky. You can cheat and end your hike at the mouth (like we did), or you can continue for another 10min to go all the way up to the nose. We hired a guide to take us because we weren’t comfortable navigating in the dark alone, especially after hearing stories about armed robberies in the area. This doesn’t mean a guide will protect you from these situations!

Kollecting Koordinates - Indian Nose sunrise hike

What you need for the Indian Nose sunrise hike:

  • Base yourself in San Pedro or San Juan
  • Runners; hiking boots aren’t necessary
  • Water
  • Layers; it’s cold at the peak but hot after the sun’s up
  • Flashlight (or “Okay Google, Lumos!” if you’re also a geeky HP-loving Android user)
  • Guide; optional but highly recommended

There are 2 starting points for the Indian Nose sunrise hike: in San Juan (2-3hrs to the summit) or Santa Clara (around 40min). Do yourself a favour and base yourself in San Pedro or San Juan so it’s easier to catch the chicken bus. Hardcore drinking in the party town of San Pedro the night before might not be wise when you have to wake up at 3am but hey, to each their own right?

Don’t make the same noob mistake we made and stay elsewhere the night before the Indian Nose sunrise hike. We failed the first time because we were at La Fortuna which is all the way across Lake Atitlan. By the time we reached San Pedro by boat (a 40min ride that set us back $50USD since public boats don’t run that early) and hopped on the bus, the sky had already begun changing colours. What a waste of money and time that was!

Our guide Luis felt bad about us missing out so he rented a car to take us on our second attempt. He picked us up in San Pedro at 4:30am and we arrived at the Santa Clara starting point half an hour later. We were led through the back alleys of villagers’ homes and farmlands in complete darkness. Before we knew it, the incline began. We arrived at the viewing platform just before 6am.

The reward is breathtaking! You can see the two sleepy villages of San Pedro and San Juan to your right, twinkling in the night, and 3 volcanoes lined up forming a majestic landscape. Volcán San Pedro towers over the villages, followed by Volcán Tolimán, and Volcán Atitlán on the southern rim of the caldera. The last two are still active; in fact, we saw a fiery orb in the distance spewing smoke.

Kollecting Koordinates - Indian Nose sunrise hike

The first glimpse of light

This is what the trail looks like in daylight. We city kids are always fascinated by animals chilling freely in the open field.

How difficult is the Indian Nose sunrise hike?

There is a steep incline for the initial 5-10 minutes; the remainder of the hike is a piece of cake. Pretty sure even my grandma can do it, for real!

Now, is it safe?

We’ve read stories online about armed robberies that take place in the mountains. Travelers have lost their valuables to bandits who work together, similar to an organized crime. These stories have been confirmed by the locals, so don’t go running around with your flashy gear garnering unwanted attention. Fortunately, we didn’t run into any problems nor did we see any suspicious persons or activities.

Can I do the Indian Nose sunrise hike on my own without a guide?

If you’re brave, yes. From the San Pedro dock, walk 10 minutes up the steep hill until you reach the church. This is where the hour-long chicken bus ride starts. Ask the bus driver to drop you off at the starting point in Santa Clara. From there? I have absolutely no clue (lol). If it weren’t for our guide we wouldn’t have been able to find our way. 

So save yourself the trouble and hire a guide. It costs less than $15USD and it includes transportation, entrance fees, and a guide. Because Indian Nose is on the border of San Juan and Santa Clara, people have had to pay the entrance fee twice because the two don’t recognize each other’s permits. You’ll avoid this sticky situation with a guide.

We paid a little more for Luis at Lake Atitlan Day Tours because we wanted more than just a hike. He’s a certified national tour guide born and raised in San Juan so we were able to delve deeper into the geography, history, and culture of not only Lake Atitlan but also Guatemala. Hit him up if you want the best out of your Guatemalan experience. This sweet and humble dude took really good care of us and we’re glad to have befriended him on this journey.

Kollecting Koordinates - Indian Nose sunrise hike

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Kollecting Koordinates - Indian Nose sunrise hike

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32 thoughts on “Chasing Sunrise at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

  1. I’m glad you covered the difficulty level! I love hiking, though I admit I’m not very good at it- and I’ve read a couple posts on great sunrise/sunset/panoramic hikes that when researched further, were totally outside my skill level. It’s awesome that its such a great pay-off (with the view) for relatively low-exertion.

    • Yes! I’ve seen ones where you need to hike at least 2 hours to get to a viewpoint and as soon as I saw that I thought NAH forget it… This one’s great because it’s less than an hour and not too bad at all!

  2. I’m all for a leg workout on vacation lol but I typically don’t wake up unless it’s amazing 😀 This looks like it would be worth the 4am start though! I love that you can see everything from sleepy villages to volcanoes lined up as the sun comes up for the day. Pretty spectacular!! Thanks for sharing your tips and photos 🙂

  3. Looks like great hike! I think its important you mention hiring a guide, i think abroad is good to have a local who knows the area, for orientation and safety reasons. The sunrise picture is stunning, definitely worth waking up at 3 am.

  4. This hike looks amazing! I’m in Mexico at the moment & looking out for Central American ideas so I’ve pinned this too. The early morning sucks but its most definitely worth it for those views! 🙂

  5. I’d prob take a guide just to be safe especially at 4AM when I’m drowsy and not even fully awake yet haha. Those photos are stunning but I think I prefer places with beautiful sunsets hahaha At least getting up for a hike would wake me up for the day!

  6. This looks fabulous! I love these hikes but now I travel with a 5 year old I often don’t do them anymore. But by the sounds of this she could probably do it too. One to add to my India list.

    • I think your 5 year old would be able to manage! Might need some help here or there for the steeper parts but she’ll love it. This is in Guatemala by the way!

  7. I love trekking and hiking. I live in Scotland and we have lots of good mountains to climb/hike. I also started a trek at 4am, in Nepal in the dark, as I headed up and over the Thorong La Pass at 5416m. Enjoyed reading your post. The views are stunning.

  8. That sunrise is indeed so beautiful. Reminded me of a small hill near my own town where we often head to view sunrise. And the morning trek and trip is totally worth it.

  9. What a landscape, simply stunning!
    Since we live in Switzerland we also discovered the fun in hiking and I agree – especially getting up very early in the morning and enjoying this silence and peace is incomparable. Good tip to ire a guide btw, a hiking should not end up in a mess or chaos.

  10. Im not one for getting up early but if you’re going to do it, that sunrise is a great reason. I love a good hike and it must’ve been worth it for that amazing experience and view!

  11. It can be rough waking up for a sunrise hike, but it’s always worth it! Your photos are gorgeous! Thanks for the tips on whether or not to hire a guide. So many times I’ve tried to do things on my own and ended up totally lost…although it’s led to some fun adventures.

  12. The best part of hiking for me as a hobby photographer is definitely the nature and the views. Your photographs looks absolutely stunning, especially the once where the sun sets and rises. Its much appreciated that you covered the difficulty level and the safety aspects. Thank you for a well written and informative post!

  13. Those are some incredible views! Those photos are worth an early morning wake up call. And I’m glad the hike is simple too. I’m sooo out of shape, so the easier the hike, the better it is for me, haha.

  14. Sometimes going for the more expensive option of a tour with a seasoned professional guide is worth the investment. Thanks for all the honest advice and sharing your perspective. It’s a bummer you missed the sunrise the first time but I see it was worth the effort!

  15. Gorgeous photos. Sounds like a fabulous hike. I agree with you – Luis of Lake Atitlan Day Tours is the best!! We’ll have to have him take us on this hike the next time I find myself lucky enough to visit Lake Atitlan.

  16. Hi Ivy,

    I cannot thank you enough for taking your time in writing such a wonderful blog about the Indian Nose Hike! Our second attempt to Indian Nose was amazing! Watching Fuego Volcano erupting is quite something! What a special morning and Sunrise! Thanks for everything! I will keep you both in my thoughts!

    For those who need more information about the hike or any other question about Guatemala I am here to help! Check out out my website

    Regards,
    Luis Cholotio
    National Tour Guide

  17. Armed robberies…? Damn sounds like an early AND dangerous hike! XD But those views really are something else and the tour guide fee doesn’t seem too expensive either! Would for sure love to do this someday although maybe I gotta meet a buff boyfriend first to protect me LOL!

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