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The Nariz del Rostro Maya Sunrise Tour

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Care to watch the sun slowly rising behind a series of gorgeous volcanoes while the light gradually makes its way across the glorious expanse of beautiful Lake Atitlan? Well, have we got just the tour for you! The (locally) famous Nariz del Rostro Maya Sunrise Tour, at your service.

Also known as “Indian Nose”, although that name has been slowly phased out because the term “indio” is considered offensive by local Mayans. “Rostro Maya”, on the other hand, means “Mayan Face” in the local Mayan dialect and “nariz” is Spanish for “nose”. So even the acceptable name still makes a rather pointed statement on the relative shape of Mayan facial features, but at least everyone seems fine with this one.

Rostro Maya seen from San Juan la Laguna

Name aside, Nariz del Rostro Maya is an exceptional Lake Atitlan viewpoint, whether you venture up in the dark for sunrise (recommended) or later in the day (very hot). The sunrise version of the tour involves a relatively short walk from the ridge town of Santa Clara la Laguna. However, it is also possible to hike up from the lake, from San Juan la Laguna to the top, which we have done in the past. The upside: great views that continue to improve all the way up. Downside: very little shade and the sun beating directly on you the entire way.

In this post we’re going to focus on the sunrise tour but if you want more detail on the hike from San Juan, check out our complete guide to hiking on Lake Atitlan.

The Nariz del Rostro Maya sunrise tour is normally done with a guide – must be, according to the guides, anyway. In reality, it is possible to hike up on your own, you’ll just have to pay a fee at the top, anywhere from 25-40q depending on who we asked.

Volcanoes and a lake at sunrise from La Nariz del Rostro Maya viewpoint

The guide we went with, Luis, runs Luituy Tours out of San Marcos la Laguna and was excellent. Organized, friendly, knowledgeable and very quick to respond to all our questions by WhatsApp, we can highly recommend him. There are also several other companies that run Rostro Maya tours out of almost all the different villages nearby, especially San Juan la Laguna and San Pedro la Laguna.

Rostro Maya Sunrise Tour Details

Start: 4 am (from San Marcos)

Arrival in Santa Clara: 4:30 am

Hike up: 45 min

Arrive at top: 5:15 am

Sunrise: 6:30 am

Start back down: 7 am

Hike down: 30 min

End: 8 am (San Marcos)

Man looking out over Lake Atitlan at sunrise

There are lots of different companies and individual guides willing to take people up to the nose for sunrise but most follow a very similar schedule.

They try to make it to Santa Clara by 4:30-5:00 am to start hiking. Your starting time will depend on where you are coming from. For us, we were picked up at Pasajcap (between San Marcos and Tzununa) at 3:45 am, passed through San Marcos at 4 and made it up the hill to Santa Clara by 4:30. So early, really early, is what I’m saying.

We had a group of 6 and were picked up in a nice van, which was much warmer and more comfortable going up the steep hill to Santa Clara in the middle of the night than a tuk-tuk, which is what some of the other guides use. If this matters to you, be sure to ask about the transportation details ahead of time.

La Nariz del Rostro Maya Hike

From the cemetery in Santa Clara (also worth exploring once it is light out on your way back), you hike down through a deep valley, then back up the other side, following switchbacks, dirt trails and some rough stairs up to the top after 30-45 minutes of hiking. It is not a strenuous hike but does involve around 210m of elevation gain to get there and maybe another 70m coming back. Enough to get the heart rate up but fairly manageable for most people.

Group of hikers going uphill in the dark

The path is well-defined but there are a few different ones and it will still be pitch dark, making the guide a big help. If you have a GPS map of the hike you’d be able to find your way but, as I mentioned, they certainly discourage people trying to do it independently. And, in our opinion, the prices are very reasonable for what you get, making it well worth going with a guide who knows the trails, the best viewpoints and can’t wait to offer you coffee and hot chocolate at the top.

The top is very set up for guided groups so it might be tough to find a seat on your own but the views are still great. It is also possible that you could visit alternate viewpoints at “the mouth” on your own. However, we can’t promise that and if there is one thing we’ve learned over our many years visiting Guatemala, it’s that the rules today aren’t necessarily the rules tomorrow. So if you are determined to do it on your own you’ll need to ask around when the time comes (and find someone who has nothing to gain by steering you one way or the other).

La Nariz del Rostro Maya Viewpoint

We made it to the top at about 5:15 am and were the first group there, although it was only a few minutes before other groups started showing up. There are several benches staggered over three levels providing unblocked sightlines, with each bench featuring straw mats for added comfort. There are also a couple extra benches with backs if you really want to lounge after your exertions and pair of (very) basic pit toilets hidden by tarps for when nature calls.

Group sitting on a bench looking down at San Juan la Laguna in the dark

The sun rises at different times throughout the year so the exact time will depend on when you visit. We did it in February when the official sunrise time was 6:30 am. So it was still fully dark when we arrived but by 5:30 – roughly an hour before sunrise – the first hints of orange started to appear over the far edge of Lake Atitlan. In our opinion, if you’re going to bother getting up in the middle of the night to experience the Nariz del Rostro Maya sunrise, you may as well get there early enough to enjoy ALL of it. Some of our favourite views were just as the sky was first starting to lighten.

View down over the lights of San Juan la Laguna and San Pedro la Laguna in the near-dark before sunrise

We were lucky enough to have (accidentally) picked a perfectly clear morning and it was quite dramatic to watch the lake slowly appear out of the darkness, the lights of San Juan la Laguna, San Pedro la Laguna and Santiago Atitlan gracefully giving way to emerging light from the sky.

There are three reasons the view from Rostro Maya is so amazing:

1) All of Lake Atitlan is laid out in front of you in all its glory.

Sunrise from Rostro Maya

2) It is the perfect angle to view 6 different volcanoes all in a row. San Pedro, Toliman and Atitlan next to the lake itself, then Pacaya, Acatanengo and Fuego in a cluster near Antigua (3 hrs by road but less than 100 km as the crow flies).

3) Not guaranteed but pretty consistent – the fantastic eruptions of Volcan Fuego. There is no specific pattern to these impressive bursts of fire and smoke but you can usually expect to see at least a couple per hour. Some are big, full of lava and fury, and others are small, just a polite little puff of smoke like a sheepish smoker on a crowded terrace.

Volcan Fuego erupting at sunrise

We’ve gotten quite accustomed to this fun phenomenon since you can see old Fuego from the window of our Pasajcap apartment, but “accustomed” is not at all the same as “bored”. We never get tired of watching these random examples of the power of nature.

You can also look to the west (away from the lake) for a good view of the picturesque ridge that features prominently in several of our other favourite Lake Atitlan hikes. And some of the twitchers in our group were quite enthralled with the continuous calls of a nearby whippoorwill (and possibly a second replying) which, I’m told, is quite rare. Indeed.

Grassy ridge and hills

Alternate Viewpoints

Just below the nose, toward the lake, is the “mouth”, which also features a couple viewing platforms (Cerro Cristalino on Google Maps, although when I used that name to a local he looked at me like I was crazy) and a rather campy and bizarre giant hand (Mirador la Mano). Put there for Instagram purposes, clearly, although it may have some additional significance as well that isn’t apparent beyond the cluster of tourists queuing for their turn.

So it looked like a good time, I suppose, and as it is lower, the hike is slightly easier, but the overall view from there is not quite as panoramic or dramatic as from the top. It is up to you which one you choose, just make sure you clarify the exact destination with your guide when reserving your spot, so as not to end up at the wrong one.

Soft light over a hilly lake shoreline
Cerro Cristalino and Mirador la Mano

Once we were settled into our viewing spots at the top, our guide and various helpers started to come around offering up either coffee or hot chocolate (maybe both if you asked nicely). All the guides seem to work together on Rostro Maya and we actually passed the guy making the hot chocolate near the top of the trail, using a large stick to stir a huge vat like he was brewing some ominous witch’s broth.

People kept trickling up until the last group made it shortly after 6, and I would guess there were around 40 of us up there in the end. However, the way the area is set up, with all the different levels and benches and viewing zones, it never actually felt crowded and didn’t require any of the annoying jockeying for positions common to other popular viewpoints.

Sun rising over hills with a lake and volcanoes

At the top you are at around 2,250 metres above sea level and it will still be dark, so will probably be colder than you’re expecting if you’ve been spending your days enjoying the warm sunshine on the lake (1,400m). I wore long pants, a merino long-sleeve shirt, a fleece and a wind jacket on a calm morning and I was very comfortable. Tougher folk than me (there are plenty of them) could probably get by wearing less. Although it wouldn’t take much wind to change that opinion, I’ll bet.

In general, you are far better off over-dressing than under-, case in point the three women in t-shirts and shorts shivering with cold below us until Laynni eventually offered them the extra blanket she’d brought.

Group of people watching sunrise from Indian Nose viewpoint in Guatemala

The sun itself finally made an appearance at around 6:30 and we eventually packed up and started down just before 7. The hike back down was a bit faster, as you’d expect, but don’t forget about that last short but steep climb back into Santa Clara at the end.

We made it back to San Marcos around 8 am, paid our 200q/pp (approx. $US25) plus a tip and went straight to a restaurant for second breakfast, quite pleased with the whole experience (and desperately looking forward to the inevitable later day naps).

Rostro Maya Map

Click the star to save this map to your Google Maps – then find it under Saved/Maps (mobile) or Your Places/Maps (desktop)

Lake Atitlan Quick Links

Here are some of our other popular Lake Atitlan posts to help you plan your trip to the best destination in Guatemala.

The Ultimate Guide to Lake Atitlan

Where to Stay: The Best Hotels on Lake Atitlan

The Best Hikes on Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan Swimming: Best Places for a Dip

Best Lake Atitlan Photo Spots

Best Yoga Retreats on Lake Atitlan


Couple selfie with the sun shining on their faces

Overall, it was a terrific experience, and only partially because we were lucky enough to visit on a perfect, clear morning where the only semblance of clouds was the slowly drifting smoke from Volcan Fuego. We’ve been coming to Lake Atitlan every year for more than a decade and have seen this extraordinary place from nearly every angle. So believe us when we tell you the Nariz del Rostro Maya sunrise mirador is one of the very best viewpoints on the lake.

Even if you’re not a morning person, we would recommend setting aside your aversion to alarm clocks for at least one day to make sure you don’t miss out on this amazing experience.

Other useful articles you may want to check out:

San Marcos la Laguna: Lake Atitlan’s Spiritual Village

San Juan la Laguna: Lake Atitlan’s Artistic Village

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

Santa Cruz la Laguna: The Best Views on Lake Atitlan

Jaibalito: Lake Atitlan’s Quietest Village

Tzununá: Lake Atitlan’s Holistic Village

Pasajcap Rentals: The Best Place to Stay on Lake Atitlan

Panajachel Guatemala: Gateway to Stunning Lake Atitlan

Santa Catarina Palopó: Lake Atitlan’s Most Colourful Village

San Antonio Palopó: Lake Atitlan’s Pottery Village

San Lucas Toliman: Lake Atitlan’s Secret Village

Santiago Atitlán: An Authentic Mayan Town