A Guide to Hiking on Lake Atitlan

The best thing about spending extended periods of time on beautiful Lake Atitlan is the scenery, although you don’t necessarily need months to enjoy the main highlights. A stunning crater lake surrounded hills and volcanoes that looks amazing from every angle. The second-best thing about it, however, is the hiking on Atitlan. There are tons of great trails all around the lake, offering unique combinations of views, village life and rural charm and hiking is one of the best things to do on Lake Atitlan.

Unfortunately – or maybe fortunately, if you relish the opportunity to avoid the crowds – trails in Guatemala are notoriously difficult to hike independently. Trail markings are non-existent, many pass confusingly through farmer’s fields and small villages and a few of them have a disappointing reputation for robberies. However, with the proper descriptions and some GPS assistance, as well as advice on how to stay safe, there is no reason you can’t tackle many of these great hikes during your visit to this iconic Central American lake. Here is a list of the 16 best hikes around Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

The 16 Best Hikes on Lake Atitlan

Since we always stay on the north side of the lake at Pasaj-Cap apartments (between San Marcos and Tzununá), most of the hikes are shown starting from there. If you are staying in one of the other villages you will obviously need to take a lancha (boat) to the starting points. Anyway, while there are definitely more hikes around the lake that I haven’t done (especially in the Panajachel and Cerro de Oro areas), this list of 16 should be more than enough to keep you busy.

The estimated hiking time includes short breaks but excludes any transportation to or from the trail – keep in mind, this will vary considerably depending on your personal fitness and speed. The links are to the Wikiloc files. Wikiloc is a hiking app that is free to join and features hiking trails all over the world. Once you have the app installed and an account set up, when using your phone just click on the link in a browser (i.e. Chrome, Safari) and it should automatically open in the Wikiloc app. If you prefer a different trail app (All Trails and Maps.me are two popular ones) it is possible to download the actual GPX file out of Wikiloc. From there you should be able to import it into your app of choice.

You can also check out these other Atitlan posts:

A Guide to Lake Atitlan

Volcan Atitlan: The Big Climb

Atitlan Villages – Where to Stay

1. San Marcos to Santa Cruz

Distance: 10km

Elevation Gain: 550m

Time: 2.5-3 hrs

Difficulty – Moderate

This map only shows the stretch from Tzununá to Santa Cruz. However, if you want to start (or finish) in San Marcos, you simply add 3km (45min) on the dirt road between the two villages.

This is by far the most popular independent hike on the lake (most people use a guide to climb Volcán San Pedro), and for good reason. The stretch of road between San Marcos and Tzununá hardly qualifies for the name, and after you pass Lomas de Tzununá (hotel on the hill) it is all single-track along a ridge high above the lake with outstanding views the entire way. Unlike many of the other trails, it does not involve any particularly steep or slippery sections. It is the perfect length and difficulty for a nice morning hike with lots of good lunch choices waiting at either end. Many people shorten it and stop in Jaibalito specifically to eat at Hans’ Place (officially called Posada Jaibalito), reducing the total by 2km and 30 minutes.

Robberies, unfortunately, do take place on this trail so if at all possible you should hike in a group (even 3 or 4 should be enough) and avoid carrying valuables. Sundays, in particular, have a bad reputation (Young guys off work and drinking? It’s a theory). Having said that, however, we do this hike at least once a week and have never had any problems personally. Usually we are in a group, but I would say that my wife and I have done it alone at least 50 times without incident, and I often jog it alone as well. So don’t be scared off, just be smart, and don’t carry a bunch of stuff that makes you look like a target. This is the one hike on Lake Atitlan that every able-bodied walker should try.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/santa-cruz-tzununa-lake-atitlan-22075066

2. Tzununá to Jaibalito – Middle Route

Distance: 4km

Elevation Gain: 350m

Time: 1-1.5 hrs

Difficulty: Moderate

This is actually a variant of trek #1 so you could easily extend it to Santa Cruz (2km, 30 min) or San Marcos (3km, 45 min). The only difference is that partway through the hike you veer off up the hill to take a higher route. This involves more climbing and a slightly more narrow and more challenging trail, but it gets you completely above the treeline (even better views) and avoids the barking dogs you can sometimes encounter on the main trail (they normally only get really worked up if you have a dog with you). It involves a short steep, slippery section at either end.

The figures above are one-way but the recorded route shows us doing the hike both there and back.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/tzununa-jaibalito-return-23062277

3. Tzununá to Chuitzanchaj – Jaibalito Loop – High Route

Distance: 6.5km

Elevation Gain: 650m

Time: 2-3 hrs

Difficulty: Strenuous

This involves a steep, difficult climb out of Tzununá with great views, a scenic cemetery and passes through the traditional village of Chuitzanchaj before heading all the way back down to Jaibalito. The figures above are one-way estimates, while the recorded route shows us making it a loop by returning via the middle route from #2.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/tzununa-chuitzanchaj-jaibalito-tzununa-lake-atitlan-23015885

4. Tzununá to Pajomil – Chuitzanchaj Loop

Distance: 10km

Elevation Gain: 770m

Time: 4-5 hrs

Difficulty: Strenuous

The climbs just keep increasing as we go along, with this one going straight up the valley behind Tzununá to yet another photogenic ridge before reaching the village of Pajomil. Then it loops around to reach Chuitzanchaj and all the way back down the same steep ridge we climbed up in #3.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/san-marcos-pajomil-chuizanchaj-45529073

5. Tzununá to San Marcos Ridge Crossing

Distance: 5km

Elevation Gain: 450m

Time: 1.5-2 hrs

Difficulty: Strenuous, but short

Here you climb up through the less-trodden upper areas of Tzununá before hiking through farmer’s fields to the ridge that separates the two valleys. There are the usual amazing volcano and lake views, but now you also get a bird’s eye view of San Marcos and the western part of the lake. It can sometimes be slippery coming down, then the last 15 minutes is through the less touristy upper barrios of San Marcos. The recording shows us starting from Pasaj-Cap apartments, an easy 15-minute downhill walk to Tzununá.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/pasajcap-tzununa-san-marcos-33528314

6. Tzununá Ridge Hike

Distance: 10.5km

Elevation Gain: 1,200m

Time: 4-5 hrs

Difficulty: Very Strenuous

The hardest hike you can do on the north side (without combining multiple trails). This starts out the same as #5, climbing up out of Tzununá to the low ridge separating Tzununá from San Marcos but, instead of heading down, you now continue even farther up. You climb the ridge all the way up to the top of the valley overlooking Tzununá (and the entire lake), an awesome viewpoint we have always referred to as the “picnic area” (it will come up in later hikes as well). The second part of the ascent is particularly difficult and involves some scrambling and climbing, although nothing that requires equipment, just extra effort and caution. Then you circle around and return down the same path through small villages that you would have gone up on the Pajomil hike (#4). All in all, a very difficult hike but it provides at least 4 different unique views, making it potentially the most scenic hike on this list outside the volcanoes.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/tzununa-ridge-hike-lake-atitlan-22342806

7. San Marcos to San Pedro

Distance: 10km

Elevation Gain: 200m

Time: 2-3 hrs

Difficulty: Easy

For a complete change of pace, this road walk takes you all the way around the end of the lake from San Marcos, through San Pablo and San Juan, and up to the market in San Pedro. We usually do this hike every Saturday morning to hit the market and have brunch/lunch in San Pedro. An easy walk, but occasionally dusty and there is usually a fair bit of traffic. It definitely doesn’t compare to the higher trails on this list for scenery (although there are still a couple nice viewpoints) but you get an interesting look at the different villages. The recording once again starts at Pasaj-Cap so from San Marcos you can reduce the overall time by about 15 minutes.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/pasajcap-san-pedro-la-laguna-32609003

8. Parque Chuiraxamolo to Tzununá

Distance: 17km

Elevation Gain: 440m

Time: 4.5-5.5 hrs

Difficulty: Strenuous

Now we are into the trails that require transportation. “The Parque”, as it is normally known, features one of the very best viewpoints on the entire lake. Shuttles often stop for photos on their way down from Highway 1. This hike starts at the entrance to the park but we don’t go in, instead we follow the road farther up for a little while before veering off onto some quiet dirt roads (if you’ve already seen the parque viewpoint you can stay in the minibus to the next village and save 15-20 minutes of road walking). Eventually you end up on a small, relatively easy trail through the woods (there is one short slippery descent) that takes you to the “picnic area”, the incredible viewpoint at the top of the Tzununá valley mentioned in #6. This is a much easier way to reach it than by climbing up the ridge, although if you opt to walk down like we do in this version it can be a pretty exhausting descent (the main reason I’ve listed it as “strenuous”). This hike is a strange combination, being very long and with a difficult descent but no extended uphill climbs.

We normally take a tuk-tuk from San Marcos to San Pablo (10q each), then ride in the back of a pickup up the steep switchbacks from San Pablo to Santa Clara (5q each). Then there are minibuses to the park from Santa Clara (5q each) about a block from the main square – they leave from the same place the truck drops you off, or you can just ask around.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/parque-chuiraxamolo-tzununa-32484498

9. Santa Lucia Utatlan – Tzununá Overlook Village Loop

Distance: 16km

Elevation Gain: 550m

Time: 4-5 hrs

Difficulty: Moderate

Most people prefer this version over #8. It starts out exactly the same but at the picnic area, instead of trekking all the way down the valley, it loops around through several small villages to return to the starting point. The downsides are more road walking and the need to get transport back down as well as up. However, the roads are typically pretty quiet, the villages friendly and interesting, and it is easy to catch a minibus back to Santa Clara once you reach the main road, or sometimes there will be a chicken bus that can take you all the way to San Pablo.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/santa-lucia-utatlan-tzununa-overlook-loop-45822660

10. Parque Chuiraxamolo to San Juan

Distance: 15km

Elevation Gain: 350m

Time: 4-5 hrs

Difficulty: Moderate (Easy if you stop in Santa Clara)

On this hike we finally head into the park itself (20q each). They have done a lot of work in the park in recent years, adding several picnic areas, miradores and even ziplines and a climbing wall. This hike passes all of that stuff then continues gently downhill into the scenic, forested hills between the park and Santa Clara. Up until Santa Clara (2 hrs) it is a nice, very easy starter hike that we often use for people recently arrived at the lake that haven’t acclimatized to the altitude yet. Stopping here and taking transportation down is the common choice for those who want to avoid the long descent into San Juan and it reduces the numbers to 8km / 150m / 2 hrs. Continuing on from Santa Clara it is still relatively easy, although there are a couple hills to contend with while circling around behind the Indian Nose / Rostro Maya summit to the fantastic ridge above San Juan, with its panoramic views and interesting fields. Shortly after the ridge the trail starts downhill, with a solid hour’s descent into the great village of San Juan, many tourists’ favourite destination on the lake. If you just do the part from Santa Clara you are looking at roughly 7km / 200m / 2 hrs.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/parque-chuiramoxolo-san-juan-la-laguna-lake-atitlan-22528156#wp-22528163

11. Santa Clara to San Juan – Long Ridge Hike

Distance: 10km

Elevation Gain: 200m

Time: 2.5-3.5 hrs

Difficulty: Moderate

As a group, this is probably our favourite hike. While it is obviously possible to start at the park, just like in #10, that adds an extra 3km so we normally just start in Santa Clara. It follows the same route from Santa Clara to the ridge, but when the trail forks soon after you take the right option which leads through the trees up a steep hill for about 10 minutes. After that you follow an undulating trail through fields, forest and past several more viewpoints before joining up with a dirt road that leads off to nearby villages (more on this in #12). Then we leave the road for another 1-hour descent into San Juan, but one that is slightly less steep than #10 and through a different valley with close-up views of Volcán San Pedro.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/santa-clara-la-laguna-san-juan-la-laguna-long-ridge-hike-lake-atitlan-22978294

12. Santa Clara to Panyevar Ridge Hike

Distance: 7km

Elevation Gain: 200m

Time: 2-3 hrs

Difficulty: Easy

This is another alternative for those with knee issues or if you simply don’t like hiking downhill for extended periods. You get to enjoy the same ridge views and moderate ups and downs of the “long ridge hike” but then skip the downhill by staying on the dirt road to the little village of Panyevar. From there you can catch a bus or minibus back to Santa Clara and beyond.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/santa-clara-la-laguna-panyevar-lake-atitlan-22668319

13. San Juan Ridge Loop

Distance: 10km

Elevation Gain: 670m

Difficulty: Moderate

For those who want to balance out their climbs and descents, this one goes all the way up to the ridge from San Juan (map starts right at the dock), then goes across and down just like on the Santa Clara – San Juan Long Ridge Hike. A good loop for someone looking to kill a few hours visiting San Juan.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/san-juan-ridge-loop-47242101

14. Indian Nose / Rostro Maya

Distance: 6km

Elevation Gain: 950m

Time: 3-4 hrs

Difficulty: Strenuous

Some people find the name “Indian Nose” (in reference to the shape of the hill) mildly offensive but since that is still the term most commonly used to describe it (by tourists and Mayans alike) it should be mentioned. Rostro Maya means “Mayan Face”, which doesn’t really avoid the whole nose shape comparison but does avoid the word “Indian”, I suppose. Anyway, it is a very popular hike out of San Juan, particularly for sunrise. While it is not as high as Volcán San Pedro and doesn’t take nearly as long (roughly 2 hrs up, 1 hr down), I personally found it a bit harder because virtually the entire trail is exposed to the sun, whereas San Pedro is mainly in shade. Of course, this would not be as much of an issue if you hike up very early in the morning instead of at 10 am like I did. It costs 20q for entrance to “the park” and if you don’t take a guide you may get stopped and asked for additional fees by enterprising farmers along the way. I’m not sure what the latest situation is in that regard and it changes frequently so I suggest asking around before you go. It is also possible to book a guided sunrise tour where you get a ride to near the top, then just have a short walk up to the viewpoint.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/rostro-maya-san-juan-la-laguna-25197409

15. Volcán San Pedro

Distance: 9.5km

Elevation Gain: 1,200m

Time: 4-5 hrs

Difficulty: Very Strenuous

A rite of passage for a lot of the many backpackers that come to San Pedro, it is one of the most accessible volcanoes in Guatemala. As with most volcanoes, it involves a long, steady climb followed by the same route back down, so hiking times will vary considerably depending on your fitness. I know a guy who got to the top in an hour and a half and others who struggled up for over 5 hours. 3 hrs up and 2 hrs down is the typical conservative estimate, however. The hike is in a protected park with an entrance fee of 100q. While this is a bit pricey, it does include a guide (although you can opt to go alone if you or someone with you already knows the trail). Bear in mind that most of the hike is in the trees so you only get views at a mirador about an hour in, then at the top. So it is best to start as early as possible (I think it opens at 8am) because there are usually fewer clouds in the morning. I have done it three times. Twice we enjoyed amazing views from the top but once we were completely shrouded in and couldn’t see a thing. Also, like the San Marcos-Santa Cruz hike, there have been reports of robberies in the past. Having a guide should take care of that problem but it is worth asking around to find out the current situation.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/volcan-san-pedro-lake-atitlan-23017085

16. Volcán Atitlán

Distance: 12.5km

Elevation Gain: 1,600m

Time: 5-6 hrs

Difficulty: Very Strenuous

Here’s the one for those who really want to challenge themselves. The only time I did this was about a week after arriving, not acclimatized to the altitude and not in optimal shape, and I found it very difficult. Don’t take it lightly, but it should still be accessible for anyone with decent fitness as long as you pace yourself. I believe that guides are still required to climb Atitlán, and you’ll probably want one anyway as the trail isn’t well marked and there have also been reports of individual trekkers being robbed here. You will want to spend the night in Santiago Atitlán so that you can get a very early start, and make sure to pack plenty of snacks and water. When you reach the top, however, the views are incredible. You have a similar panoramic look at the lake as from San Pedro but get the added bonus of expansive views toward Antigua where, on a clear day, you can spot several more volcanoes.

https://www.wikiloc.com/hiking-trails/volcan-atitlan-22075195

Hiking on Lake Atitlan Summary

Easy

7. San Marcos to San Pedro

10. Parque Chuiraxamolo to Santa Clara

12. Santa Clara to Panyevar

Moderate

1. San Marcos to Santa Cruz

2. Tzununá to Jaibalito – Middle Route

9. Parque Chuiraxamolo to Tzununá Overlook Village Loop

10. Parque Chuiraxamolo to San Juan

11. Santa Clara to San Juan – Long Ridge Hike

13. San Juan Ridge Loop

Strenuous

3. Tzununá to Chuitzanchaj – Jaibalito Loop – High Route

4. Tzununá to Pajomil – Chuitzanchaj Loop

5. Tzununá to San Marcos Ridge Crossing

8. Parque Chuiraxamolo to Tzununá

14. Indian Nose / Rostro Maya

Very Strenuous

6. Tzununá Ridge Hike

15. Volcán San Pedro

16. Volcán Atitlán

You can follow the individual links to the specific Wikiloc files or you can browse the entire list at:

https://www.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/user.do?id=2996888&event=favorites&listId=67888

Happy trails!

There are also many good value places to stay in the area. Here are a few that we would recommend:

San Marcos la Laguna

Pasaj-Cap Rentals

Lush Atitlan

Jinava Bay

San Pedro la Laguna

Santa Maria del Lago

Sababa Resort

Pin it!

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

A Complete Guide to Lake Atitlan

San Pedro la Laguna: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Most Popular Village

San Marcos la Laguna: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Spiritual Village

San Juan la Laguna: A Guide to Lake Atitlan’s Artistic Village

Semana Santa on Lake Atitlan

A Volcan Acatanengo Hike Guide

Volcan Santiaguito

Xela to Lake Atitlan Hike and Volcan Zunil Summit

Universal Packing List

Roam: The 9 Greatest Trips on Earth

Slow Travel – Settling in for the Long Haul

7 thoughts on “A Guide to Hiking on Lake Atitlan”

  1. Hey! How much are those apartments a month? I am home for f’ing tax season. I am not sure when I can get a long haul flight again as I may have some other business here in California. So, I am wondering, that might be a good quick flight place to hang out.
    Your Antarctic Explorer Friend,
    Mike

    PS I know a shit ton of bloggers and I don’t read but a few. You always make the cut. Good material and relaxed format (relaxed!).

  2. Most are $700-850/mo, but the deal gets worse the shorter your stay. It would be great to see you again if you could find time to make it down here! It’s usually fully booked up in high season (i.e. now) but I can never keep track completely and there are often cancellations. If you’re serious give me some example dates and I’ll talk to Pierre and see what he has.

  3. Hi! Did the Tzununa Ridge hike yesterday. It was pretty epic. Difficult but manageable.

    Any idea how to contact this Antonio fella from Santiago? Wouldn’t mind tackling Volcan Atitlan as well.

    Trying to figure out how to load all the wikiloc files onto one map. I think I figured out how the trails overlap.

    You basically GPSed the major trails on the North Side of the lake. That’s about as helpful as it gets! Thank you!

    1. Yeah, that’s a pretty cool hike, glad it worked out. Antonio’s number is 5828-4986, good guy. On Wikiloc, if you can get to the page with a list of trails on the left and a map on the right you can click on the eye symbol next to all of the hikes you want to show up on the map at the same time. You can’t do much besides look at them on that screen but maybe that’s enough. I know how to get there from my trails list but not sure how it will work for someone else. Good luck!

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