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On the Roof of Central America

Tajumulco, GuatemalaI needed to get out of Xela and explore another part of Guatemala but when my alarm went off at 3:50 am on Saturday morning I was wondering why I thought trekking up the highest peak in Central America was a good idea. The peak is a dormant volcano named Tajumulco (Ta-Who-Mull-Co) which rises [...]

Tajumulco, Guatemala

I needed to get out of Xela and explore another part of Guatemala but when my alarm went off at 3:50 am on Saturday morning I was wondering why I thought trekking up the highest peak in Central America was a good idea. The peak is a dormant volcano named Tajumulco (Ta-Who-Mull-Co) which rises 4,220 meters (13,845) above sea level. 

Map from worldatlas.com

At 4:10 I rolled out of bed, threw on my pack and walked out the door. The streets were dark and the only other living things roaming the streets were some stray dogs. I was thankful I only saw some stray dogs in the street since walking alone in the dark at 4:30 am isn’t the smartest thing to do in Guatemala.  By 5:00 am I was standing in the bed of a pick-up truck with ten others and all of our gear on our way to the Xela bus station.
There were 31 of us in all (including the four guides) going on the hike which was run by a local non-profit called Quetzaltrekkers. They had this trek down to a science and their plan for the day was to bus 1.5 hours from Xela to San Marcos. We would eat breakfast and then take an hour bus ride to the trail head. The trail to the summit starts at 3,000 meters (9,843 ft) and we would hike up to 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) where we would set-up camp.

At 10:00 am the chicken bus pulled over at the side of a dusty road and we began pulling our packs off the top of the bus. Ten minutes later we were walking up-hill.

From Tajumulco 2010-10
Unloading the chicken bus and getting ready for the hike 

Within the first hour I had a solid understanding of what I was in for. The incline of Tajamulco isn’t too bad but with thin air and a heavy pack the walk up the volcano became more challenging. Several hikers started suffering from altitude sickness within the first two hours. Not the standard small headache or fatigue but full out I’m-dizzy-seeing-colors-and-about-to-faint altitude sickness. Although I have to say it was their own fault since the day before the hike they came from one of the lowest points in Guatemala. To put it in perspective I later found out that at 3000 meters there is 30% less oxygen in the air than at sea level (i.e. Philadelphia and Cleveland) and at the summit there is 40% less oxygen.

When the walking up-hill became monotonous “James The Irisman” provided comic relief. Stories of climbing the tallest lamp-post in Europe as preparation, or how he jumped off a ladder onto a rake kept spirits high. James lives up to all Irish stereo-types (except having red hair) and as one girl said, “He must travel the world to ensure that all people know Irish stereo-types are not based on false pretenses.” The amazing views also kept me moving along.

We reached base camp around 3:00 and there was enough time to set-up camp and then hike up to the smaller of the two summits to watch the sunset.

From Tajumulco 2010-10
Sunset from the lower summit of Tajumulco

Immediately after the sunset the temperature dropped into the ‘ridiculously cold’ range. Two shirts, two jackets, two pairs of pants, two pairs of socks a hat and gloves kept me warm for the night. Tired of not seeing in the dark and exhausted from the day I called it a night at 8:00 pm. I wasn’t able to sleep a wink so I wasn’t too upset when the guides woke us up at 3:45 am to start the climb to the summit to watch the sunrise. The only real disappointing part about waking up so early was that I had to crawl out of my sleeping bag into the cold air.

The climb to the summit was cold and dark (obviously since we were climbing the volcano to watch the sunrise). As we approached the summit the wind started blowing…hard. With the windchill the temperature dropped from ‘ridiculously cold’ to temperatures approaching ‘Cleveland in February’. On the bright-side there was no snow…and an amazing sunrise over the Guatemalan volcanic chain that stretches to Guatemala City (I think).

From Tajumulco 2010-10
Guatemalan Volcanoes. Volcano on far right is Santa Maria which is just outside of Xela.

After watching the sunrise we walked around the crater and then began the descent. Nothing too spectacular here except the same amazing views and an easier hike down-hill.  This hike was exactly needed after spending two weeks in a concrete jungle and would do it again in a heart beat.

Also, for those who care. The entire climb was done in my Five Finger Treks.

From Tajumulco 2010-10

All Photos of the Hike are Here:

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Filed under: Cubicle Ditcher, Guatemala

About the Author:

Sam Langley left a comfortable and profitable job with an insurance company in the USA to travel the world. He has been going for years, and has not stopped yet. Keep up with his travels on his blog at Cubicle Ditcher. has written 147 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.