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!
What you need for the Indian Nose sunrise hike:
- Base yourself in San Pedro or San Juan
- Runners; hiking boots aren’t necessary
- 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.
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.
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