Last Updated on May 13, 2020
Climbing Central America’s highest peak meant doing it on our time and according to our budget – that meant hiking Volcan Tajumulco without a guide and finding our own way to the trail. Independent budget travelers considering this must know how easily it can be done. Sure, pay for an “expedition” if you want, or do this hike as a day trip from Xela and save your Quetzales.
For info on unguided hikes in Xela check out my article Hiking and Hot Springs Near Xela, with maps of trails through beautiful countryside featuring stunning views of Santa Maria volcano – just minutes from the city! That article also features hot springs closer to Xela than Fuentes Georginas. Self-guided directions for the natural steam baths of Los Vahos are featured in my article, too. Check it out!
Is Hiking Volcan Tajumulco With a Guide Necessary?
Popular overnight guided hikes of Volcan Tajumulco are marketed by offering a chance to witness sunrise from the peak. Similarly, groups market the idea that hikers should camp overnight on the mountain to acclimatize to elevation, which I’ll mention later. Indeed, camping out with fellow hikers and watching sunrise from the peak of Tajumulco may be for you.
If hiking Volcan Tajumulco without that extra fuss sounds appealing, please continue reading. I’ll share everything you must know for a solo hike. Choose this as either a day trip from Xela or using San Marcos as a base. I recommend the latter, simply because the pace of a day trip from Xela gives you less time at Tajumuco’s peak.
Before attempting this or any hike, know the weather, know where you are going, bring plenty of water, snacks and sufficient protection from the sun! Also, carry a stick or a few stones in your pockets – dogs in the countryside tend to be very protective of their turf!
Getting to Volcan Tajumulco From Xela
- From Xela’s Minerva Terminal take an early chicken bus to San Marcos – the first early bird departs at 4:00 am.
- Transfer at San Marcos terminal to any minibus going to Sabinal or Tacaná. Ask to be dropped off at El sendero para Tajumulco.
- Volcan Tajumulco trailhead begins on the left side of the road, opposite Hotel Villa Real.
From Xela as a Day Trip
I suggest the earliest chicken bus to San Marcos from Minerva Terminal. This journey takes about an hour; in our *example a 4:00 am bus gets you to San Marcos no later than 5:15 am. The ride from San Marcos terminal to Volcan Tajumulco trailhead is about 1.5 hours. This has you on the the trail at about 6:45 am. Hiking Volcan Tajumulco takes about 3 to 3.5 hours. It’s now about 10:15 am as you reach the summit.
In our scenario, 1.5 hours at the top means you descend at 11:45 am. Expect slightly less than 3 hours for the descent, putting you roadside at the trailhead and on a bus to San Marcos by 2:45 pm. Arrive in San Marcos by 4:15 pm and transfer at the terminal to a chicken bus back to Xela. Expect to arrive at Minerva Terminal by about 5:30 pm.
* All times are, of course, merely estimations and you may or may not find these similar in your experience.
Why Hiking Volcan Tajumulco From San Marcos Is Best
Our above scenario is possible if you get that first bus from Xela and the rest of the journey goes smoothly. Things happen – you sleep in, the bus breaks down along the way or perhaps your miss the next transfer. This is why I suggest you base yourself in San Marcos for hiking Volcan Tajumulco. This allows for a much easier pace and gives you more time at the summit.
It clearly makes sense basing yourself in San Marcos rather than making this a day trip from Xela. We spent 2 nights here and found it a friendly place with cheap food and accommodation options. Step off the trail, so to speak, and spend time somewhere few travelers experience while visiting Guatemala. Above all, basing yourself here means you don’t need to catch a bus at 4:00 am!
The Tale of the Trail
The Volcan Tajumulco trail begins at an elevation of roughly 10,000 feet. Xela tops out at 7,640 feet, meaning any needed altitude acclimatization has likely happened while there. In fact, this entire region of Guatemala is at a considerable altitude and you likely don’t need to spend a night on the mountain to prepare. Of course, pace yourself on the climb and know your limits.
To further my point regarding altitude acclimatization and camping, consider exactly where Tajumulco tours set up camp. Groups hiking Volcan Tajumulco camp on a flat area of the mountain about 300 feet below the peak. At this point the toughest part of the climb is already well behind you. Again, pace yourself while hiking Volcan Tajumulco and know your own limits.
Hiking Volcan Tajumulco as a day trip from Xela is possible. Doing this requires two early morning buses and good fortune. Travelers with extra time to spare and a sense of adventure are better off arranging their Tajumulco hike from San Marcos.
Consider a tour if the enhanced experience of sunrise from the top of Volcan Tajumulco is what you want. Tours are often a good way to get perspective from local guides and for meeting plenty of other travelers. Whatever you choose, stay safe and have a great time!