So High, Solo
Central America’s highest peak, Volcán Tajumulco (13,845 ft.) is an easy enough climb to do solo. In fact, it can even be done as a day trip from Xela if you can get up early enough to grab a 5.00 am chicken bus to San Marcos. There are a few tour companies in Quetzaltenango that offer guided hikes to the peak, along with a night of camping on the way up in order to get everyone acclimatized to the altitude.
We worried that a solo climb would be difficult and found scant evidence online regarding this. So here we go with this post, hoping it will be of assistance to anyone who would like to bypass the tour groups.
Via San Marcos
We decided to take our time with this adventure, choosing to arrive in San Marcos and stay the night. In the morning we got a bus to the town of Sabinal at 5.30 am. Roughly 1.5 hours later we were at the trail head, which is at the turn-off for the village of Tajumulco.
The start of the trail is already at 10,000 feet and Quetzaltenango (Xela) has an altitude of 7,640 feet, so your being acclimatized to the elevation has already happened if you have been in Xela for several days prior to this excursion.
Pace yourself, though. Even as volcano hikes go, this isn’t mad-steep like Volcan Concepción (Nicaragua) or Santa Maria (Guatemala); the air here is noticeably thin though, resulting in a few moments here and there to catch one’s breath. The trail is easy to follow on the way up.
If you are lucky you will be joined by the same 3 bored dogs who followed us up most of the way! We named them “Miss Clingy”, “Burr” (he’s covered in burrs), and “Standy-Offy” (though he warms up to us in a very non-emotive way!) He accepts pets but is indifferent!
It was about 10.00 am when we reached the top, and the weather was quite good. We could see into Mexico, with the city of Tapachula visible. Shorter volcanic peaks are also visible; even the smoke plume from Volcano Santiaguito could be seen. It was tempting to climb down into the crater of Tajumulco, which is a possibility. After an hour we headed down with Miss Clingy, the other two dogs having abandoned us.
Having nearly reached the point where we joined the trail, we met a group from one of the tour operators in Xela. There must have been about 30 people, along with 4 or 5 donkeys hauling gear. They were on their way to the campsite, which is about 400 feet below the peak. At this point we were promptly ditched by Miss Clingy, who latched onto a more promising meal ticket, even though it meant heading back up the mountain.
The benefit of going with the tour group and camping is you get to be close enough to the peak to make it up there for a sunrise. In that case, the tour may be just what you are looking for. If DIY adventure is your thing, then do this under your own steam. We do not suggest you head up into the hills all by yourself to camp out, unless that is exactly what it is you plan on doing. We do suggest finding your own way, though. Is that not what it is all about?
As A Day-Trip
As I mentioned, this can be done as a day-trip from Xela, which is 1.5 hours away by bus. Service tends to wind down by 6.00 in the evening. So, saying you get to San Marcos at 7.00 am, that puts you on the trail by 9.00. Allow 3.5 hours up, leaving this at your discretion, 1 hour at the top, 2.5 hours down to the road where a bus will take you back to San Marcos, and that leaves you time to transfer to your final bus back to Xela.
That is cutting it real close, but it can be done. Or you can base yourself in San Marcos, which is a pleasant enough place where we spent 2 great nights. What’s the rush?
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