If you are visiting Guatemala, there is little doubt that climbing a volcano is on top of your list. Volcan Acatenango near Antigua is a popular choice as it gives tremendous views on the active Fuego. However if you want to add bragging rights to an incredible view, you should climb Tajumulco, the highest mountain in Central America.
Volcan Tajumulco is a dormant volcano in Eastern Guatemala. With 4222m above sea level it is the highest peak in Central America. Though, the climb is not as hard as the elevation might suggest. 1400 meters of elevation needs to be conquered between the trailhead and the summit. Therefore it can be done as a day hike, but we recommend an overnight 2-day trek, as this would allow to see the sunrise from the summit.
On a clear day you will see some mountains in Mexico, other volcanoes in Guatemala (all the way to Volcan Agua) and wonderful panorama view to towns and villages around the volcano.
With or without guide?
Fair is fair. I did the climb with a guide. Not because it is a difficult trek, but after days of consideration, I liked the idea of climbing with a group and have some company along the way. The fact that it was a non-profit guiding agency supporting education for Guatemalan children was a great extra.
I only got confirmation of the climb going through the day before the ascent. So by that time I already had plan B prepared to do it individually.
What to pack
If you plan to do the climb as a day hike, bringing 3-4 liters of water and some food or snacks is sufficient. Also bring extra layers of clothes, as it can be quite cold on the summit because of the wind.
For an overnight trek
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Gas stove + gas or matches to make a campfire.
- Torch (if you plan to do summit for sunrise)
Camping equipment can be rented in Altiplanos on 12 Avenida in Xela
Food and water
You can eat a huge breakfast in San Marcos, but you will need more food offcourse. Most people just bring taco’s with vegetables, some salsa and guacamole as this doesn’t require a gas stove. But it’s up to you. You can also just bring some sandwiches since it’s only a 2-day trek.
Bring at least 3 liters of water with you as there is NO extra chance to find water along the way.
The summit of Tajumulco can be very cold. Also the night you spend on the campsite can be quite chilly. So bring extra layers of clothes! Also bring an extra t-shirt as the one you are wearing will probably get wet from sweating and it’s much warmer in the evening if you have a second t-shirt to wear. Long pants and gloves make the experience more comfortable.
Offcourse hiking boots are highly recommended!
The climb itself
How to get to the trailhead?
When you think of climbing Tajumulco, you probably will spend the days before in Xela (aka Quetzaltenango). This is the base for most hikers climbing the volcanoes in this part of the country.
From the central busstation Minerva you can take the chickenbus to San Marcos, which takes about two hours. Here you change buses and take the one towards Tuichan, where the trailhead is located (direction Tacana / Crucero Tajumulco). It takes about an hour from San Marcos to reach it.
The stop itself is not distinctive, but if you ask the bus driver’s helper about Tajumulco, he will be more than happy to let you know when to get off. (maps: 15.073847, -91.870121)
- Xela – San Marcos
- San Marcos – Tuichan
Permit and entrance fee
The great thing about Tajumulco is that it doesn’t require a permit or an entrance fee.
The route from the trailhead is pretty straightforward. It’s start with a cobblestoned road, before turning into a dirt road for most of the way. It’s not the most interesting trail but easy to navigate. You can also opt to take some shortcuts along the way which are nicer than the road. At the end of the road there is a walking-only trail. This trail continues towards the pass between Cerro Concepcion and Tajumulco. It’s a hiking trail that is easy to navigate so it shouldn’t be a problem for experienced hikers. At many points there will be a couple of trails seeming to branch off in different directions, but don’t freak out, they all end up merging into the main trail again. If you have doubts, download a gpx file on your phone and you should be fine. On the pass (about 4000m) you will find the unofficial camping site. From here the route continuous first around Tajumulco before climbing up to the summit.
The walk to camp takes about 3 hours. From here to the summit you should add another hour. The descent takes about two hours.
A quick note about altitude sickness
Tajumulco is 4220 meters high, so AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is a possibility. If you have been to high altitudes before, you may know what to do. If not… read on.
I never felt altitude sickness before, but in the group I was joining on Tajumulco, a German guy did suffer from it. It always starts with a headache and you may feel dizzy after a while as well. At this time the best thing to do is drink more water and see how it goes. If you feel like vomiting (or vomit), it’s highly recommended to descend as soon as possible. You will feel better quickly as well.
How to avoid altitude sickness?
Whether you will or will not suffer from AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) is genetically determined, so there is little you can do, except: climb slow and drink lots of water.
But even this doesn’t guarantee you won’t have altitude sickness.
Also! Don’t take aspirines or other drugs to help you with the headaches or vomiting. This will only take away the symptoms, but not the dangerous consequences of altitude sickness. Descending is the only right option when you feel like vomiting!
In case you reach the summit, this is the view you can expect: