Indian's Nose - The best sunrise hike on Lake Atitlan
The “Indian's Nose” is a lookout point on the North Western side of Lake Atitlan, above the town of San Juan la Laguna, so called because the shape of the cliffs look like a reclined face. On a crystal clear day it’s possible to see 8 volcanoes, in a straight line, and most of the Atitlan III caldera, in which Lake Atitlan now sits.
There are a couple of different ways to hike the Indian's Nose; either a 1.5-2 hour hike from San Juan or a 45 minute hike from the town of Santa Clara. The shorter hike from Santa Clara is usually the option taken when aiming to get to the top of the Nose to catch the spectacular sunrise and is certainly the more popular way to do the hike.
The shorter Santa Clara hike
The sunrise tour starts early. We leave San Pedro at 4am (or San Marcos at 4:30am) and drive up to the town of Santa Clara. It’s then a 45 minute walk, with around a 200m (650ft) vertical change, to get to the top before sunrise. Once the sun has come up and the majority of other tours have left I teach a basic geology class with handouts and diagrams. I aim to explain how the lake was formed and why you can see 8 volcanoes from the top. In order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the caldera-forming eruption, I go right back the start with the structure of the planet, why that leads to plate tectonics and talk about earthquakes and “normal” volcanoes in order to get a sense of scale for the massive eruption that formed the caldera in which the lake now sits.
We then walk back down to Santa Clara stopping on the way to talk about the maize fields, coffee plantations, local customs and, from previous experience, a lot more geology! I aim to make this an educational tour experience, not just a hike with a great view. We’re normally back in San Pedro for around 9-9:30am.
For those based in hotels on the Northern side of Lake Atitlan, or in Panajachel (who are unable to make the sunrise hike as the boats around the lake don't run at night) I offer the shorter Santa Clara option but with a later start. This allows customers to get the first public boat that leaves Panajachel at around 6:30am. I will then meet you at the dock in San Marcos and we drive to Santa Clara from there. We miss the sunrise this way but it's still a glorious view and many people do prefer the slightly later start.
The San Juan hike
The hike from San Juan is very steep and around a 700m (2300ft) vertical change, but does have a lot of good rest stops where we talk about the flora and fauna on the trail. There’s little point doing the hike from San Juan for sunrise as the whole of the hike up is spent in the dark and hence better to drive up to Santa Clara. But for those who don’t want a very early start I tend to do the hike up from San Juan leaving San Pedro at around 7:30am. We’re then back in town for around lunch time.
Itinerary - sunrise
Depart San Pedro - 04:00 (San Marcos - 04:30)
Start hike - 05:00
Geology class - 06:30
Hike down - 07:30
Arrive San Pedro - 09:30 (San Marcos - 09:00)
Itinerary - later start
Depart San Pedro - 07:00 (San Marcos - 07:00)
Start hike - 08:00
Geology class - 09:00
Hike down - 10:00
Arrive San Pedro - 11:30 (San Marcos - 11:00)
1-2 people: Q800 ($110)
3 people: Q900 ($125)
4 people: Q1000 ($140)
5 people: Q1125 ($155)
6 people: Q1200 ($165)
For larger groups please ask for a quote
What to bring
Water and snacks
Sunscreen and bug-spray