Tajumulco hike was the first of many multi day hikes we did in Latin America. It was a short hike, only two days and was the start of our year long hiking adventure in the region. The hike is moderate difficult and short just take it easy, don’t rush and enjoy the view.
Xela the gateway to Tajumulco
Nearest big city to Tajumulco is Xela (full name Quetzaltenango), our first stop in Guatemala. Actually the very first stop was in Huahua (crazy Guatemalan names!) but it was unplanned. We had to stay there for 2 days due to food poison right after crossing from Mexico and having dinner at one of the local food places.
Xela is not the most beautiful city in the world, the main square is nice but not much else. All tourist places are located around it. The city is a very popular place for learning Spanish. Guatemala in general is a very good and cheap place to do a course. The main reason is price, one week in Xela including accommodation (local family), food (three meals) and of course Spanish classes (five days a week, 5-6 hours a day) will cost you about 100$. Not bad for what you get.
The highest mountain in Central America, 4220 m. Nevertheless it’s classified as a volcano there is no documented prove of any eruption happened here, very peaceful volcano. It’s possible to get to the top and back in one day. Don’t worry you don’t need to go from sea level all the way up to 4220 m. The hike starts at 3000 m so you go up 1220 m which is absolutely possible to do in one day. Just be aware of altitude don’t go too fast otherwise you can get sick. To make it in one day you’ll have to start quite early and walk fast, plus you’ll miss a chance to see the sunrise from the top. We had time and decided to do it in two days.
Two days hiking itinerary
1st day. Xela – Tajumulco base camp (4000 m), 7 hours.
Early start, first you need to get from Xela to Tajumulco, a couple of hours on chicken buses. Buses leave from Minerva bus terminal, a chaotic place with hundreds buses surrounded by a big market. To get there you can by public mini bus that stops right next to the hostel. You’ll need to switch two buses before you get to Tajumulco.
Once at Tajumulco you start walking. On the first day we walked almost all the way to the top, up to 1000 m and camped at the base camp. Total distance 8 km but due to steep up it took us about 4 hours. Don’t rush and drink enough water to minimize risk of getting altitude sickness. First symptoms; headache, nausea, tiredness.
Base camp is basically just a flat area with fire places and some rubbish around, no facilities like toilets or showers. Important to get there before it gets dark otherwise it’ll be difficult to find the camping and pitch a tent. Once at the camping find a path that goes up to the top. If you want to make it for the sunrise next day you’ll have to start very early in the dark. The path goes from the camping to the top of Tajumulco.
If you think the walk up was the most difficult part of the day you’re mistaking! The most challenging was to try to sleep in the tent. It was freezing, nobody could sleep, we all were just laying in our sleeping bags waiting for the morning.
2nd day. Tajumulco base camp – peak – base camp – Xela.
Luckily we had an early wake up, once the alarm went off we all jumped ready to start moving in hope to warm up a bit. At 4.30 am we left our camp and started the climb. It’s just 200 m up but at 4000 m it felt quite a distance. It took us 1 hour to get to the top, just before the sunrise. It was very windy and cold up there but the view is stunning!
We spent 20-30 minutes on the top then we got absolutely cold and went back to the camp. After freezing night and morning a cup of hot tea with cookies was amazing! In 2-3 hours we were back to the heat, caught a bus and went back to Xela. We were so tired after sleepless night that despite noise on the bus slept all the way.
What to pack for Tajumulco hike
It will be cold specially at night, bring all warm clothes you have if you have any, experience cold it’s not what you expect from Central America. Normal camping equipment; tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, hiking shoes, torch. Drinking water, you won’t be able to get it anywhere during the hike, bring enough for drinking and cooking. Pot to boil water or cook noodles can be quite handy, there are fireplaces at the camp. If you don’t have all the gear you can rent it for not much in one of the tour agencies.
You can do a 2 day hike through an agency as well, prices are around GTO 400/$50, including transport (chicken buses), food, water, gear rental and guide.
Buses in general are very cheap but you should always ask locals how much they pay ticket guys try to overcharge tourists. Bus ride in Guatemala is an adventure on its on. Old US school buses painted blue/green/pink etc, with posters of Jesus, lights and loud local music non stop. Plus locals climb in carrying all sort of stuff; including chicken (here comes the name ‘chicken bus’). Vendors with food, magic medicine, musicians jumping on and off all the time. You sit squeezed between two or three locals and hope to make it to your destination. To cover 50 km can take two hours. But anyway it’s a lot of fun!
Where to stay in Xela
We stayed at Hostal Casa Seibel, nice hostel, cool vibe, good place for meeting people. The owner is an Australian guy, very friendly and helpful. It has all necessary facilities; kitchen with pots and dishes, hot water, wi-fi, washing mashing (additional cost to use it), located in the center, market and shops are nearby. Bed is dorm costs GTO 50/$6,5, double from $10 per person.
For more on Guatemala check our Guatemala backpacking guide