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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Download Maps.me so you know where the entrance gate & trail are.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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***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
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Visited in September 2016