Indian Nose (La Nariz de Indio) is one of the top hiking destinations around Lago de Atitlán in Guatemala. And for a reason. You’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Atitlán and its surrounding towns like San Pedro and San Juan. Hiking maps aren’t available, though, and the information you get is often contradictory. This post shows you how to hike Indian Nose on your own and save money for a guide.
There are quite a few reasons to go without a guide. You might not want to be grouped with a bunch of flip-flop wearing tourists. You might want to go at your own speed and take breaks whenever you decide to. Or you might just want to save the 12 US dollars (per person) a local travel agency will charge for the tour.
There are basically two options for this hike: A short way from a starting point at the road to Santa Clara (go by chicken bus and ask the driver to drop you there) or a long way up from San Juan. I recommend (and describe here) the second option as you’ll have more time to enjoy the hike. It will take you two to three hours to reach the top.
Get to the entrance
From San Pedro la Laguna take a tuk-tuk to San Juan. Ask the driver to drop you at the entrance (Spanish: “entrada”) to Nariz de Indio. The entrance is at the opposite side of a gas station (“gasolinera”) on the road to San Pablo. The tuk-tuk ride from the Pana dock in San Pedro la Laguna to the entrance takes around 15 minutes and will cost you only 5 Quetzales per person. Alternatively, you can walk all the way.
At the entrance, there is a little booth and you have to pay an entrance fee of 30 Q per person. Make sure you get a receipt (“recibo”). This trail is called Sendero Rostro Maya. No maps available. The booth opens at 5 o’clock in the morning and there’s no gate. Start well before five and chances are that you won’t have to pay.
There is another booth at the summit of Indian Nose. This is where you would have to pay your entrance fee, if you hiked up the short way from the road to Santa Clara. You also have to pay here if you come from San Juan and want to pass the summit in order to descent directly to Santa Clara on the other side (20 Q per person). The reason is that the summit is the border between San Juan and Santa Clara counties. So there are two different organizations selling entrance tickets and they don’t acknowledge each others permits.
When you just hike up the way I describe in this post and turn around at the summit, you don’t have to pay a second time here! That’s why you should keep your receipt.
The way will wind up the mountain through coffee and corn plantations. The path is very dusty and not marked, yet easy to find, as there are only a few junctions. (I had planned to post my GPS track here. However, the file is corrupted and doesn’t show anything. So I’ve tried to reconstruct the path on Google maps, which might be a little incorrect here or there, but the waypoints shown are obtained from the GPS and therefore reliable. Download the waypoints as a GPX file here) Please note that I won’t be responsible if you get lost.
There are only two critical junctions on your way: First, when you get onto the shoulder and the view opens up in front of you, take a left. If you take a right here, that will lead you to a huge cross. Second, approximately 45 minutes after the first junction, you have to take a left again. There is a sign, but it is barely visible anymore and easy to be overlooked. Be extra careful not to miss this junction. On your way back you’ll have to take a left here if you want to end your hike at the road between Santa Clara and San Pablo.
Only about eight minutes later you’ll see a branch leading to a Mayan ceremonial place (with waypost). Continue straight on here and you’ll reach some stairs. Watch out for nails sticking out of the wooden handrails! You’ll reach the top at about 2260 meters. On the other side of the mountain range you can see Santa Clara. It’s pretty close.
On your way back you can descend all the way down on the same path you came up. If you want to end your hike on the other side of Indian Nose, as we did, descend only until you reach the second junction described above. Take a left now and walk along the slope. You’ll see a tall red and white mast from here—it’s the same one you can see from San Pedro. At the next junction (about 45 minutes after the summit) continue to the right and follow the dusty path through the fields. The road between Santa Clara and San Juan is very close. Wait for the chicken bus to San Pedro here, take a pick-up taxi to San Pablo or negotiate a price with a tuk-tuk driver (to San Pablo, don’t pay more than 50 Q for two persons). Another tuk-tuk will bring you from San Pablo to San Pedro for 10 Q per person. Or visit San Marcos and take a boat back from there.
What to bring
If you start early, have a flashlight and backup batteries at hand. Bring sunscreen, sun glasses and a hat as well as sufficient water. It gets quite hot here early in the morning. I recommend sturdy boots.
Hiking Indian Nose from San Juan is considered to be relatively safe as of February 2013. Assaults seem to happen more often on the other side of the mountain (Santa Clara, San Pablo). Walking with a guide might make you feel safer, but doesn’t always protect you from robberies.
Having said that, the guy at the entrance of the trail warned us of people hanging around at the summit of Indian Nose. Unfortunately, our Spanish isn’t that great, so the following warning is somewhat vague: At the top of the mountain, there might be kids who offer to show you something and when you follow them, you might find yourself confronted by a group of adults who harass you. Don’t buy anything or pay anyone at the top of the summit. You might even consider not to go to the very top, but take your pictures at one of the viewpoints just below the summit and return from there. However, when I reached the summit on a Saturday morning around 10 o’clock, there was absolutely no one.
After our hike, we were waiting at the roadside for a chicken bus, when we were picked up by a police patrol. They drove us down the serpentines to San Pablo, telling us that this area was especially prone to robberies. According to the police, the bandits are well organized. Some of them observe the area and when they identify a worthwhile target, they get out their mobile and call an armed squad, which then carries out the robbery.
When we encountered on our way another tourist taking pictures with a large camera, the police officer stopped immediately and told him to hide it. He picked up the radio and informed other police patrols in the area of his observation, repeatedly telling us how this tourist put himself in danger.
I don’t write this to discourage you. Just take care not to carry too much money with you. Leave watches, iPhones and other fancy valuables at home unless you really need them. Always hide your camera in your backpack after using it. Take special care at the end of your hike.
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