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Sunrise trip to Indian Nose at Lake Atitlan


The locals call it La Nariz de Indio, or Indian Nose. It’s a mountainside on the western end of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and it’s the favorite for sunrise hikes because it looks back across the lake, mountains and volcanoes.

We decided to experience this with a private Maya guide. He doesn’t usually interact with tourists, but he wasn’t working that day, he could have used a side job, and he was recommended by someone we trust.

Our guide met us at our bungalow rental a few minutes after 4:00 a.m. We took the chicken bus from San Pablo headed towards Xela, at about 4:30 a.m. Twenty to 30 minutes later, we got off the bus in the village of Santa Clara, walked a few streets through town, and then went through some crop fields. (Trail pictures are from the way down, after sunrise.)

Farm path to Indian Nose

After the fields, it was arriba – up, up and up. From where the bus let us off in town, it took about 40 minutes to reach the second stand at Indian Nose.

We can see Indian Nose from off the back porch at our rental. The first viewing point is the most challenging – it’s the highest point. The second, where we went, is easy enough for someone like me to do. The third and lowest point is a fairly easy hike from Santa Clara, according to our guide.

Viewing points on Indian Nose

After a few breaks stops on the way for about a minute (we’re at more than 5,100 feet above sea level), we reached the second stand before dawn. The lights still twinkled in the villages along the lake. The closest village to this spot is San Juan, and then San Pedro to the east. There is a great view of the San Pedro Volcano.

Watching the sun rise on Indian Nose

Tedly at dawn's first light on Indian Nose

The morning was a bit cloudy on the horizon, so the sky was colored with grays and a hazy, dull yellow, and visibility wasn’t great. We could not see other volcanoes in the distance.

Still, the strokes of God’s art in the sky made for a globe of fiery pinkish orange several minutes after sunset. Pictures don’t do this experience justice.

Sunup at Indian Nose

It’s an amazing feeling to look down onto a crater lake – made by an gigantic explosion some 80,000 years ago – at the dawn of another new day on Earth.

Our planet is incredible.

Sunrise at Indian Nose

We were the last people to leave that morning – we enjoyed every minute before heading back down the trail.

It took another 40 minutes to get to the center of town, where we caught a chicken bus back to San Pablo. (A different spot from where we jumped off the bus.)

The road to San Pablo zig zags on crazy switchbacks with a few steep drops over the side, but at this point, we are used to rides that would have seemed perilous and so foreign in another life.

Bus from Santa Clara to San Pablo

Official tour guides to Indian Nose seem to want $35 a person. That includes transportation up the mountain (usually a tour van), and the entrance fee.

With our private guide, we agreed on a reasonable and fair price of $15 for both me and my husband, plus we paid our guide’s entrance fee ($3 per person) and bus fare (about $4 for three people round-trip). In addition to the $28, we gave our guide a $7 tip because we liked him. Our total was $35, instead of $70 plus the obligatory tip we would have had to give a guide with a company. We saved a little more than half the cost, still supported a local person, had a fantastic morning, and memories to last forever.

Another way to the top is hike the whole way, either with or without a guide. Starting from the bottom of the mountain can take anywhere from 2.5 to 3.5 hours in the dark to reach the viewpoints for sunrise. Since my eyes aren’t so great in the dark, and I’ve been sedentary for a month, we opted for the shorter route.

Pablo on way down from Indian Nose

If you want to find a private guide, ask people you trust. We found ours through our rental landlord. Often there will be someone available who is kind and knowledgeable about the his home area, like our guide Juan.

Juan carried a machete during the trip as a deterrent against any vicious stray dogs, and it came in handy when he made me a walking stick.

Tedly, Pablo, and the machete

We still had an entire day left upon our return home. We took naps and had refreshments, and played with the landlord’s kids for a few hours that afternoon. Our afternoon with the kids tired us out more than our five-hour trip to Indian Nose.

What about a volcano hike?!?! (I can hear my sister thinking that as she reads this…) I definitely need more time to recover and get back in shape. Juan told us the hike up San Pedro (pictured above) and back can take five hours minimum, and must be done in daylight because it’s a little tricky. We probably won’t do that volcano while we are here, but I would like to hike up another one at some point. We plan to be in Antigua for a month after Lake Atitlan, and volcano hikes are accessible from there (active volcanoes, too!) so stay tuned…

Tedly and me on Indian Nose before sunrise

(Credit to Tedly, who took most of these pictures.)

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Categories: budget travel, Guatemala, Lake Atitlan, sightseeingTags: , , , , , ,

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