I was in Lake Atitlan in July 2019. The situation around Volcan San Pedro changes regularly, so keep that in mind as this information will be outdated soon enough.
After arriving in San Pedro, the first thing I asked my hostel host was about climbing San Pedro, the volcano towering over San Pedro La Laguna and visible from everywhere on Lake Atitlan. The shape instantly reminded me of the volcano’s I drew as a kid. Except this one is green.
Anyway, with my limited Spanish asked the hostel owner about the hike. From what I could understand she was saying not to climb it because of assailants (asaltantes in Spanish). A word I hadn’t heard in Spanish before but assumed it was assailants. This was correct (thanks to the Spanish Dict app)!
Shit. This was the one thing I really wanted to do at Lake Atitlan. It’s usually the first thing mentioned on travel blogs with things to do around Lake Atitlan…which usually don’t mention the latest safety information.
I still wanted to climb…this was just one person’s opinion, and my lack of Spanish didn’t give me the complete picture. So I jumped on TripAdvisor and Google to see what was being said over there.
The titles of the San Pedro TripAdvisor from 2019 include:
- I got robbed but it was a good experience. (3 stars)
- Bandits! (1 star)
- WAS ASSAULTED AND ROBBEN MAY 2019. (1 star)
- Not terrible but got robbed. (2 stars)
- Don’t both with this hike. (2 stars)
- Hike San Pedro “fake news”? (4 stars)
- Bring your hiking shoes. (4 stars)
- Not allowed to go to the top. (2 stars)
I’m not cherry-picking these. These are all the reviews from 2019 and it’s more or less the same on Google.
I flagged the hike for the following morning but was planning on asking the people at my next hostel. Every extra opinion was influential at this stage.
So at this stage of my research there were a couple of options:
- Turn up, pay your entrance fee and go with a guide halfway up the mountain. We wouldn’t venture out of the ‘safe zone’.
- Continue up to the top with a guide and see what happens. But in all likelihood you’ll come across a few people who are so desperate they threaten tourists using scare tactics to rob them of everything on them. I found no reports of people being injured or killed by these bandits.
- Hire armed security to go up the mountain. I didn’t consider this at all…way too much effort (no idea on what it’d cost either).
- I chose not to do the hike. I’m not the most risk-averse person out there (people think I’ve lost the plot when it comes to hitchhiking).
There was part of me that considered going up to the top with nothing but water on me. What could they rob if I’m empty-handed?
The following morning I switched hostels. The receptionist was great. She was from El Salvador and spoke great English. She didn’t outright say not to go up the volcano but was pretty much saying not to for the reasons above. You’ll get robbed.
Why I chose not to go to the top.
- I’ve been relatively lucky on my travels so far.
- If I go up..try and get to the summit, I’m just feeding the
trollsbandits. And I’m not going to attempt to be like that missionary and convert them. Even if I went up with nothing on me (who am I kidding, if there’s no photo did I even go?)
- If I go halfway up…I’m not getting the full experience and pretty much giving it the okay for people.
- Apparently there are police on the bottom half of the trail. Why the fuck can’t they just sort the problem out??? We are essentially giving them permission for status quo.
Back to my luck. I feel like there’s a bit of self-awareness from my end. It’s about picking those battles. A gut extinct of when to or not to push the comfort zone. Of course, all goes out the window after a few beers and I fall asleep in the back of a parked pick up truck on Quetzaltenango because a dog was barking at me (I woke up shivering at 5 am).
That was my two cents.
Do your own research and make your own decision.
I enjoyed Lake Atitlan for a couple of days though. Wandering San Marcos which reminded me of Pai and Bali. Exploring San Juan with its incredible artists, weavers, and chocolate. And tracking down Maxiño in San Atilan…a somewhat controversial diety with
A few more pictures from around the lake.