I decided to celebrate my birthday this year doing something spectacular. And hiking Volcan Tajumulco in Guatemala, the highest mountain in Central America sounded like a great idea. Was it? Read on to find out.
We arrived in Quetzaltenango, known in Mayan as Xela, the day before my birthday. Not because we love big cities, but this was the base for all treks to the nearby volcanoes. We went to the tour agency to talk to guides about the trek and booked it for the next day.
We will hike Tajumulco volcano with one English guy and two American guides. They are volunteers for an organization providing education for kids from the streets. All the profit from the trip will go to those children.
After we were instructed to choose the gear we needed to borrow (tent and sleeping bags), other supplies and water bottles were divided between all of us. Each person needs to carry their belongings, 4l of water, some food and part of the tent.
When I lifted my backpack, I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea. For a person who never carried a heavy backpack up the mountain, it felt very heavy.
It is possible to hike Tajumulco in one day, but we opted to go on an overnight trip. Since it was a rainy season and a chance to see the sunset or any view during the day was low, we were excited to see the sunrise instead.
Arriving at the base of Volcan Tajumulco
Our day started at 4:30 in a hostel, which is too early even for a morning person. We’ve met with guides in front of the hostel and a pickup truck drove us to the bus station. It was still dark and I was half asleep. We would need to take 2 buses to get to the base of Tajumulco volcano. The first chicken bus took two hours and drove us to San Marcos. We had a little break and fuelled up with delicious Guatemalan breakfast consisting of omelette, beans, platanos and tortillas.
Then we took the second bus and after an hour we were right under the volcano, near town Tuichan at 3000 meters above sea level. We could see the top of the volcano right at the beginning.
Now we only needed to hike 6 km to our camp. Easy..haha, right. 6 km is not a lot, but with a backpack and increasing altitude, it was quite challenging.
Hiking Volcan Tajumulco
9:30 was a good time to start, not too hot and still hours away from the everyday storm. The first kilometre was easy, slowly going uphill. It was a dirt road with few Mayan houses along the way. Some people were working, maintaining the cabbage and corn fields. Few children were smiling and waving at us.
It got a bit steeper afterwards. Huge erosions were keeping the trail visible even without signs. Beautiful views around distracted me from watching my steps. Therefore I had to make several stops and was almost always the last one from our group.
It is unbelievable where people live and have fields. Some parts of this mountainous country are so steep that I thought there is nothing there. Yet people build their houses on the hills and grow the food on the fields connected with just a handmade dirt road.
When the views were over and clouds rolled in, we were getting tired a lot quicker. Guides were keeping our spirits high when reminding us how much longer we have to keep going until the next break. Handing snacks on each break helped a lot as well. Luckily none of us had any issues with the altitude by the time we reached the camp.
It took us 5 hours with all the breaks. I had tears in my eyes because I couldn’t believe I’ve made it. First time on an overnight hiking trip, carrying a heavy backpack and I made it without any issue at all. I was overwhelmed with happiness.
Camping on Volcan
200 m below the summit was our base camp, a patch of dirt with a lot of trees. It felt more like we are in the forest, not on a volcano. We set up the tent and our cooking area. It started to rain shortly after so we weren’t going to watch the sunset. Instead, our guides made some sandwiches and we took the much-needed nap.
All the food was well prepared and we had more than we needed. Spaghetti with tomato sauce and beans were for dinner. Michal and I celebrated my birthday with rum and coke we bought in the supermarket. Pretty sweet drink given the location and altitude we were at.
The whole group was off to sleep very early. Waking up soon again won’t be easy.
Summiting Volcan Tajumulco in the morning
At 4am, we packed our sleeping bags and headed in dark with headlamps to the summit. Hike involved some scrambling and not knowing where we are headed to. The air was getting thinner and we had to stop several times to catch the breath and have a sip of water. I was excited to see the sunrise from the highest place possible in all of Central America. Tajumulco volcano rises to 4220 meters.
After half an hour we arrived at the top. It was very windy but there were already shelters from rocks built by previous groups. It was dark and our guide told us to follow her to hide behind the rocks. I was still freezing and found out later that we were right in the wind on the other side of the shelter. And we thought only one of the guides don’t have backpacking experience when he used a very thin tree to set up his hammock and later broke the tree.
Anyways, the packed banana bread was a nice touch from our guides. It helped us fight the hunger and shorten the wait for the first light of the sun. With just a few clouds, the sunrise was spectacular. We waited silently until the sun came up higher and warmed us with sunlight.
After a walk around the crater, it was time to head back to the camp. We had breakfast and headed down the volcano. Although we were carrying less heavy backpacks with almost no food and very little water, mine still felt heavy. Hiking down the mountain is more difficult on the knees and the excitement of summiting the mountain is gone. It only took us 3 hours to the base of the mountain where we had lunch.
Surprisingly, bus rides back to Xela took a lot less. It was a fast death ride but we survived. One piece of advice – don’t sit in front of the chicken bus. It’s better not to see how close the driver is getting to other vehicles, people, trees and traffic signs. We arrived in Xela at 4 pm.
Final thoughts on hiking
The views make everything better. Hiking above the clouds no matters the weight of the backpack really makes you feel on top of the world. I’m glad for this experience; it exceeded my expectations and outweighed all my previous birthdays.
For anyone thinking of doing this trek but still on the edge – you can do it and you will love it! Trust me and you can thank me later 😉
Tips on hiking Volcan Tajumulco
- Bag – take a small one for your valuables and keep it with you at all times. Backpacks are going on the roof of the chicken buses and anybody can get to them.
- Layers – pack a lot of them, we needed them on the top even though it was warm at base camp. See what we usually pack.
- Snacks – pack your favourite chocolate to cheer you up along the way, this helped me tremendously (tip – Wal-Mart in Xela has a great choice of well known international snacks)
- Shoes – running shoes are ok, we all wore them, but higher hiking shoes would be more comfortable
- Headlamp – having one will make your climb for sunrise much easier
- Breaks – take a lot. You won’t remember the trip for the strenuous climb but for the gorgeous views.
Video of the trek:
Read more stories:
Have you been on a hike that challenged you? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Spread the word! PIN this to your Pinterest board.