Volcan San Pedro View Over Lake Atitlan Surrounding Villages

How to Hike Volcan San Pedro For Free Without A Guide

In Guatemala, Hikingby Erik10 Comments

Volcan San Pedro looms over Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and provides excellent views from the top – find out everything you need to know on how to hike Volcan San Pedro for free without a guide.

Volcan San Pedro: Info & Planning

Volcan San Pedro is one of two relatively easy hikes surrounding San Pedro La Laguna.

The other is near San Juan La Laguna – find out how to hike Indian Nose without a guide here.

Some people decide to take tours when they visit Volcan San Pedro, but they are not required.

A guide for your group is included with your Q100 per person entrance fee.

The trail is easy to follow, but you might as well have the guide join you since you are already paying for their service.

Consider them an extra layer of security, wildlife spotter, or even a chance to practice your Spanish.

Volcan San Pedro View from Indian Nose

You can trade views if you hike both Volcan San Pedro & Indian Nose.

We recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip to Guatemala, especially if you plan on doing any hiking.

We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.

For more details check out our World Nomads review here.

From San Pedro La Laguna, you can walk roughly 2 km uphill to the start of the Volcan San Pedro trail, or take a tuk-tuk.

There are some shortcuts noted on Maps.me if you decide to walk instead of taking all the switchbacks.

At the entrance, sign in & pay your fees before starting your hike.

We’ll cover how to avoid the entrance fees later since many will not want to avoid paying, and can skip that section.

Shortcuts to Reach Volcan San Pedro Starting Point

We stayed a lot closer to the start of the hike, but for most backpackers it is less than 2.5 km.

Try to time your hike with very clear weather as there is no point climbing Volcan San Pedro if your head is in the clouds.

Consider checking the website Mountain-Forecast for specific weather forecasts.

Since clouds tend to form around the peak after 10 am, aim to start your climb around sunrise.

This should be before 7 am at the latest. I consider myself an avid hiker, and it took me 2 hours up & 1 hour down.

Most people can add 50% to those times for a rough estimate.

Cloudy Volcan San Pedro

If you can’t see the top of Volcan San Pedro, wait another day for the hike.

Plan on preparing your breakfast and at least a light snack the day before.

If you know you are a slow climber, then plan a lunch as well.

The top would be the perfect spot for an impromptu picnic & no doubt one of the best things to do in Guatemala.

We recommend Lonely Planet’s Guatemala guidebook to help you plan your trip.

Volcan San Pedro Summit

The summit is perfect for a picnic as you stare out over Lake Atitlan.

How to Hike Volcan San Pedro Without a Guide

As I mentioned before, the trail is well worn & easy to follow.

At the entrance, you can choose to forgo the guide if you want a more intimate hike with nature.

Either way, the path remains the same.

The beginning starts off relatively flat until you cross a dry stream.

This affords you your first open look consisting of a rock wall, and out to the lake as well.

Volcan San Pedro Rock Cliff Near Dry Stream Crossing

There are only a handful of clearings on Volcan San Pedro, & this provides a small glimpse of what you will see.

From this point forward, you start to climb more steadily through the forest.

A bit further up is the best view you will get until you reach the top.

The lookout tower has a clear view, and is a great place to stop for those less fit that still want a good viewpoint.

The pavilion also provides a great place to wait out a rain storm.

Volcan San Pedro Lookout Tower

The Lookout Tower provides excellent views over San Pedro, but you need to reach the top to see Santiago de la Laguna.

As you get closer to the top, the vegetation & moss thicken since you have entered the cloud forest section of the trail.

The moss growing on the north side of the trees disproves the adage that moss always grows on the south side.

There is just more light on that side due to the location of Volcan San Pedro.

Volcan San Pedro Moss

You can see how green cloud forests can be as you make your way to the top of Volcan San Pedro.

You know you are close to the top when you reach a hut with an outhouse.

Remember to bring your own toilet paper if you plan to use a proper bathroom on your hike.

The trail then levels off before making the final ascent.

Volcan San Pedro Shelter Bathroom Near Peak

Just a few more minutes & you made it to the lookout on Volcan San Pedro.

If you are using Maps.me to follow the trail, the path differs at the end.

Instead of going for the actual summit, you continue straight to a rocky outcrop that provides commanding views over Lake Atitlan & the surrounding villages.

Be careful as you boulder hop as it is a long way down!

Return the same way you came once you have finished taking in the views.

Volcan San Pedro Trail to Lookouts on Maps dot ME

As you can see, Maps.me shows the entire Volcan San Pedro trail, including the two lookouts.

Wildlife on Volcan San Pedro

There isn’t much to see in terms of wildlife along the way besides birdlife & small lizards.

The one oddity was a large bird that squealed like a pig, but your guess is as good as mine for what it was.

Keep an eye out for snakes as well since I did encounter one on the trail before it slithered off.

Volcan San Pedro Snake

Watch out for snakes while hiking. They do exist!

How to Hike Volcan San Pedro for Free

If you are like us & feel that the Q100 / $13.65 fee to climb Volcan San Pedro is high for Guatemala, then you may be interested in how I visited for free without a guide.

Please note that this is not legal, there are many complications, and the staff do a solid job maintaining the trail for accessibility and safety.

That being said…here is how you do it.

Volcan San Pedro Lookout Tower View

The view from the lookout is just one of two amazing viewpoints over Lake Atitlan.

Step 1:

Download Maps.me so you know where the entrance gate & trail are.

Step 2:

Walk to just short of the entrance.

Your goal is to disappear into the coffee plantations just after the white wall on the last bend without being seen.

Follow this row until you reach a small path that runs perpendicular & turn right.

Combine listening and use of GPS to make sure you don’t get close enough that they hear you crunching through the forest.

Sneaking Through Coffee Plants

While sneaking through the coffee plants, you have to rely on your gut to find a way past the entrance.

Step 3:

Veer left as you get closer to the entrance.

This will take you down a small valley before you head up to the main path.

Note that the trail runs level & you are exposed during this time.

Try to link up with the trail 100 meters past the official start of the Volcan San Pedro hike.

Then continue left up the volcano.

Pay attention since you will have to repeat this on the way down as noted in the section below.

Start of Volcan San Pedro Hike

I circumvented the entrance & wound up at the pin, which should be far enough from the entrance to prevent issues.

Problems You May Have

Most people choose to take a guide since they don’t know what to expect, and for security.

For this reason, you stand out like a sore thumb when climbing Volcan San Pedro without a guide.

Luckily, I got there early and was able to climb to the top without seeing anyone else.

In the beginning I knew there were several hikers just behind me when I stopped to take pictures at the stream because I saw a dog.

Volcan San Pedro Trail Signs

The Volcan San Pedro trail is very easy to follow with many groups climbing each day.

I was able to get past the entrance & to the top with little difficulty, but ran into trouble on the way down.

The first guide I ran into questioned me about when I started my climb and if I was alone since he obviously went with the first group of hikers.

This probably led him to call and notify the other staff figuring I just arrived very early and didn’t sneak around.

Volcan San Pedro Ladder to Reach the Peak Mirador

My troubles started not long after I descended the latter near the peak.

Many of the other guides were friendly on the way down, but it left me feeling uneasy the whole time.

The worst was when three workers inquired about my name and country when they saw I was alone.

I chatted for a minute, made up some answers, and scooted along when they began to call the main office to verify the information.

Volcan San Pedro Corn Fields

I ran into the staff group just north of the corn fields as they were preparing to level another section.

At this point I was prepared to pay the entrance fee, but really didn’t want to given that I had already made it this far.

I originally planned on just leaving through the main entrance, but now I would have to skirt it again since they were warned about my existence.

Volcan San Pedro Entrance

This is a sight I would never see. (Photo courtesy of a TripAdvisor member)

I didn’t run into anyone else on the way, and decided to take a larger detour to make sure they didn’t find me.

That is when sh*t really hit the fan.

I took a small path that ventured off the main trail before my phone started randomly turning off and on again.

Without GPS to help, I had to wing my escape and trust my internal compass.

Volcan San Pedro Trees

Without GPS I couldn’t see the forest from the trees.

I knew roughly the direction I needed to go, and the first obstacle was an exposed slope that could be seen from the Volcan San Pedro trail.

Luckily, no one passed as I ultimately just took a long detour back to the path I wanted to avoid.

Having failed try number one, I decided to just stay on the path until I passed the stream section.

Volcan San Pedro Trail Splits & Then Merges

Sometimes you need to take the less trodden path. In this case, they just meet up further along.

After passing that last exposed section, again I ventured off the main path in the direction of the lake.

This took me down into a ravine I needed to scramble down, and somehow manage to scale an 80 degree rock face with loose dirt for footing.

To say the least I was not happy when I got to the top.

Luckily at that point, it was back to fields of coffee plants so I could walk a bit easier.

After pushing my way through another path of dense vegetation, and skirting some workers I eventually made it back to the main road.

A hot shower and change of clothes later, I was ready to grab a much needed meal.

Volcan San Pedro Dry Stream

With steep slopes, it is no surprise that there are ravines on Volcan San Pedro.

Security on Volcan San Pedro

In general, I felt safe climbing Volcan San Pedro.

You have the option of a guide, I saw two police on the trail, and there are enough people climbing the volcano in the early morning that there is some help nearby if needed.

Volcan San Pedro Safety

Safety comes first, & Volcan San Pedro felt as safe as you can get while hiking in Guatemala.

Know Before You Go

Base Village: San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan

Entrance Fees: Q100 /  $13.65 which includes a guide

Level of Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking Duration: Plan on 4-6 hours return

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Volcan San Pedro looms over Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and provides excellent views from the top or from a distance as you gaze upon the volcano. Find out what to expect, and how to climb for free without a guide. Along the trail you will find excellent lookouts, & wildlife including snakes too!

***The Final Word – Climbing Volcan San Pedro is definitely worth doing, and in hindsight paying the expensive entrance fee would have been a smarter choice ***

Not recommended DIY travel; take a tour instead

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links which means that we receive a small commission if you click on a link & purchase something that we’ve recommended, at no extra cost to you.

Visited in September 2016

 

Comments

  1. Wow! What an experience!!! You certainly took a lot of chances, especially when your GPS went out. I would never be able to do this mainly because I don’t hike and I wouldn’t want to be slipping and sliding over boulders nor worrying about creatures and snakes.

    1. Well, the hike is in good condition if you aren’t trying to skirt the entrance fee. There aren’t too many dangerous animals out during the day & in significant numbers in Guatemala either. They are mostly in the Peten region up north by Tikal. I was lucky to see the snake as I almost stepped right on him. Most of the time they scurry off when they hear you approaching.

  2. Thanks for the descriptive and well-explained post. Definitely helpful.
    And, yes, screw all these Latin American countries (including Gua) who continue having these double sets of pricing, where the foreign tourists are being milked. Not only we bring money which is crucial for their livelihood but they feel they need to squeeze us to the last drop. Then there are the locals which unfortunately so many of them see us only a Dollar sign. Not to mention the thieves who see us as a free walking Dollar sign. All you need is a Machete or a rusted knife or a broken bottle. Hooray!!

    1. I decided to brush up on the current situation for the hike, and it appears from TripAdvisor reviews that the bandits are more brazen than ever with multiple recent attacks. That’s really a shame when essentially paying a high entrance fee for security. However, it seems guides and police on the trail can not stop the thieves. Some groups have been turned around before reaching the top as well. Sad.

  3. That’s wonderful! Thanks for sharing this great information about avoiding the fee. I am not the fan of paying for the nature places, especially mountains… I will try to do this tomorrow or the day after tomorrow as I am already in San Pedro.

    1. This is one of the tougher ones to avoid the entrance fee since there is one path up and back. Everyone is required to have a guide so they can spot an independent hiker easily. It also doesn’t help that everyone starts very early in the morning to avoid cloud cover. I don’t like to pay entrance fees for nature either, but in hindsight I would have for this hike. Hopefully the security situation improves so tourists can start enjoying the views from the top again in peace.

  4. Erik, how was the hike? We are planning to do it in March and curious what it is like now without a tour guide. Thanks in advance!

    1. Alena, I only climbed once in September 2016 so the current situation is beyond me. However, reading TripAdvisor reviews from December 2018 it seems the bandits are in full force and it might be worth going with a Hostel that arranges a police escort as safety comes first. Even that isn’t 100% guaranteed so backup your pictures and take as little with you as possible.

      The hike itself is continuously up with viewpoints only at the half-way shelter and the peak. The mossy section of the trail is nice, but the viewpoints at the top are still the main reason to go. You have to get there early though before it clouds up.

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