While staying in Quetzaltenango/Xela, I ran into a friend who I met in Lake Atitlan who told me about this 3-day hike from Xela to Lake Atitlan that Quetzaltrekkers offers. Quetzaltrekkers is a non-profit organization that offers guided hikes in Guatemala. It’s ran fully by volunteers and the money goes directly to help children in need living in Guatemala.
When my friend told me about this hike I got really interested as I’ve never done a multi-day hike before. I did question the difficulty of this hike as I’m not really fit. But after reading the description of the hike on their website and some blog articles, I decided to go ahead and sign up. They give you an option to take a bus to the next destination the second day of the hike if it becomes too hard for you to handle.
The cost of the 3-day hike is Q600 (around $77). This is a really good deal as it includes guides, transportation, food, and borrowing any equipment you don’t already have (you pay Q50 deposit if you borrow equipment which you get back once you return them). The trek usually starts every Saturday and returns on Monday or every other Tuesday-Thursday. If you have a group of at least 3 or 4 people you can also try contacting them to see if they can do one for you at your preferred date. You can sign up until the day before the scheduled departure.
This trek was definitely hard for me, I was usually in the back of the group, but I’m really glad I did it! Here’s the breakdown of the trek:
Our group met at the Quetzaltrekkers’ office in Casa Argentina at 6:30 AM and ate as much pancakes as we liked for breakfast. There were 13 of us, including 3 guides. We then walked for about 30 minutes from there to the bus stop and took a chicken bus to the beginning of the trail.
The trail started off with some uphill climbs already. We took breaks about every hour, with a short siesta after lunch. There were plenty of food so I actually regretted bringing some extra snacks with me as that just added weight to my pack. I’ve never really hiked with a big backpack before and that definitely made the hike much harder for me.
The weather that day was beautiful. We walked through forests, farms, and small villages that day. The locals seem very friendly as they always greet you as you pass by them. Some of them are also carrying tons of wood while walking uphill, which I find quite impressive. Definitely a bit different experience from my usual hikes. The total distance we covered that day was around 12-13 miles. We reached the village of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan at around 4:30 PM, where we would spend the night in the town hall. The villagers were actually still having a meeting in the town hall when we got there, so we had to wait outside for a bit.
After we unloaded our stuff in the town hall, a few of us decided to check out the local bar to buy some beer. It was very small and there were some interesting characters inside that approached us right away to chat. A couple of them kept insisting I’m either Chinese or Japanese even when I said I was not, and I couldn’t understand more than half of what they’re saying. We left quickly after we got our beers, but someone from our group stayed there for a little bit longer and somehow managed to get a free beer.
While a couple of the guides were preparing our dinner, we formed groups of 3 to use the temazcal, an old-school Mayan sauna. It was very small and only 3 people can fit at a time. You crawl inside this thing and sit down. There’s a bunch of heated rocks piled up in one corner and there were two buckets of water, hot and cold. You pour some water on the rocks and steam comes out to make you sweat. Go easy with pouring the water! Start with a small amount to see if you can handle the heat. If it gets too hot you can pour cold water on yourselves. It was very refreshing until our Italian friend tried to kill us when our time was up by pouring too much water on the rocks one last time, releasing all this steam while the other two of us struggled to get more cold water so we could breathe. Fun!
After the fun time at the sauna, you pretty much just want to sleep. Felt really good to be clean again! We had pasta for dinner then went off to bed.
Another early start at 6ish in the morning. Woke up a bit sore from the hike the previous day. Didn’t get as much good sleep as I’d like as I woke up a few times early that morning due to the church bells/speakers. We had breakfast at a localcomedor, just a short walk from the town hall where we were served eggs, rice, beans, tortilla, and coffee.
More steep climbs this day, even steeper than the previous day’s, but not as long. There’s a hill that the Quetzaltrekkers refer to as “record hill,” as you can get yourself timed and try to break the record of around 9 minutes and some seconds, which is pretty crazy. One of the guides was able to do it in just over 11 minutes, which is really really good. I didn’t time myself but it probably took me over 30 minutes to climb it as I made frequent stops to catch my breath and rest my legs. I’m just glad I was able to make it.
There’s more uphill after the record hill. Then downhills. I was worried my knees will start aching with all the downhills as it had happened to me before with much shorter hikes, but I was actually fine. There were also a bunch of really nice stream/river crossings that day which I actually enjoyed. I switched to my Vibram FiveFingers for those and it felt great! My feet felt so much lighter! I would’ve continued to wear them for the rest of the hike but I heard the trail gets a lot rockier so I switched back to my trail shoes.
It was another great day. We passed this village along the way where these cute little kids came out running to greet us with “hola!” as we pass by their village. They must find it amusing to see a group of foreigners with big backpacks walking around.
We ended the day at Don Pedro’s house, where we were welcomed with some delicious fresh pineapple and strawberry smoothies. Don Pedro also told us some stories and played three songs for us with his guitar as we gathered around the fire where they boil water. We had a nice dinner with chicken, rice, spaghetti, and vegetables. We then set up our sleeping mats/bags on the straw mats after dinner and went to bed early to prepare for the very early start the next day.
We all woke up at 3:40ish in the morning when we heard someone’s alarm go off. Still sore from the previous days’ hike but was really looking forward to this final day of the trek as we get to see the sunrise at a mirador. The hike this day was easier as well. It was a nice walk in the dark as the sky was clear and we could see a lot of stars.
We got to our spot around 5ish. As the guides prepare the water for breakfast, we set up our sleeping bags and mats on the grass and relax, staring at the stars, while waiting for the sunrise. It was one of the most beautiful sunrise I’ve ever seen! I say second only to the sunrise in Haleakala in Maui. I just love the view of the lake surrounded with mountains and volcanoes and the sun rising behind them. Must be really nice to wake up to that every day.
After the sunrise, we had breakfast and just hang out at that spot for a few hours. I spent most of that time reading on my Kindle, while the others were doing yoga or just lying down and getting some tan.
After the nice break, we hiked down for a couple more hours to San Juan, where we took a pick up to take us to San Pedro. We then had a nice lunch at Nick’s Place then said goodbye to each other. Most people in the group stayed in Lake Atitlan, while a few of us took another pickup to take us back to Xela.