Watching sunrise at the Rostro Maya (Indian Nose) is a must-do experience during your time in Guatemala. Commonly advertised and known as the Indian Nose (La Nariz de Indio) or India Nose in Lake Atitlan, the Rostro Maya hike (a more politically correct term, meaning Mayan face hike) has become a popular activity for sunrise. As more tourists flock to this impressive landmark in the San Juan Mountains at dusk, safety has become more of an issue. One thing’s for certain, the Indian Nose hike from Santa Clara is the safest trail option.
In this guide, we’ll further detail the three key factors that’ll make your Indian Nose hike in Guatemala an enjoyable, but more importantly, a safe experience. While we’re at it, we’ll provide detailed hiking specs of the safest route from Santa Clara La Laguna, show you some epic sunrise shots from Rostro Maya and review the unsafe trail route option from San Juan La Laguna.
We hope you find this guide useful. For other fantastic Guatemala trails, check out Volcan Santa Maria, Volcan Santo Tomas, Volcan Acetanango and Volcan Pacaya. Or, check out our HUGE 17 Best Hikes in Guatemala guide.
Table of Contents
Safety Tip #1: Do Not Attempt The Indian Nose Hike Without a Guide
Like many hikes in Guatemala, there’s always a question of whether to take on a trail independently or with a guide. For many day hikes in Guatemala, hiking without a guide is a safe and realistic option, such as Chicabal de Laguna or Corazon de Agua.
However, unfortunately, many trails in Guatemala, particularly in Lake Atitlan, can be unsafe due to the presence of bandits. It’s been reported by many locals and tourists that these local undesirables will rob tourists of their belongings, and sometimes, even injure them. The chances of getting mugged by a bandit are much higher if you hike independently without a guide.
Sure, the likelihood of a negative encounter with a bandit doesn’t completely disappear by having a guide. But, it’s well known that it’s much safer to hike with a guide, on trails known to have bandits. That’s because local guides have their connections, knowledge, street smarts and experience. So, don’t be a hero. Do the Indian Nose hike in Guatemala with a guide, particularly if it’s for sunrise when bandit activity is higher.
Rostro Maya Guided Tour Options
Personally, Beck and I completed the Indian Nose sunrise hike as part of the incredible 3 day Xela to Lake Atitlan hike organised through Monte Verde Tours. Included in this trekking experience in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, was a guided tour of the Indian Nose sunrise hike on the final morning.
We highly recommend this option as a unique way to experience the nose in the San Juan Mountains! For more information, simply message Monte Verde Tours on Whatsapp (+502 5729-6279) or visit their website.
If you’re set on doing the Indian Nose trail as a one-off sunrise expedition, there are plenty of tour agencies in Lake Atitlan to choose from. The only tour company we can recommend, because we know the guide takes you on the safest route from Santa Clara (more on that below), is Henry from Guatemala sur Mesure. He speaks English, and can be contacted on Whatsapp (+502 5836-7172 or 5967-9135). Otherwise, feel free to visit their office in San Pedro (4 Calle 325 Zona 2, San Pedro La Laguna).
Safety Tip #2: The Indian Nose Hike From Santa Clara Is The Safest Route
The most common route to Rostro Maya is from San Juan La Laguna. Our guide, Feliz, from Monte Verde Tours, warned us that this route is the most dangerous. Bandits tend to hang out along this route around dusk, given its the most popular trail option for sunrise. So, your chances of meeting a bandit is higher if you do the Indian Nose hike from San Juan La Laguna.
The alternate trail option from Santa Clara La Laguna is currently the safest option. We, nor our guide, have heard of any reports of tourists having problems taking the Santa Clara route. Better yet, the Indian Nose hike from Santa Clara doesn’t require an entrance fee. Whereas, the Indian Nose hike from San Juan La Laguna incurs a 30Q entrance fee. So, it’s a no-brainer. The Indian Nose hike from Santa Clara is the safest and cheapest trail option. Win-win!
Safety Tip #3: Choose the Lower Mirador vs. the Upper Mirador
Doing the Indian Nose hike from Santa Clara, with a guide, will hopefully help you avoid any problems during your sunrise adventure. But, for the icing on the cake, we advise you to avoid the nose, AKA el rostro, component of the Rostro Maya landmark. We know many people will want to visit Rostro Maya specifically to get to the epic upper Mirador. But, this can be potentially unsafe.
Again, our guide Feliz, advised that the main upper Mirador for Rostro Maya was very exposed. This meant you could be an easy target for bandits, particularly, if you have flashy camera equipment. Thankfully, not far from the main Mirador is an awesome lower Mirador that’s a bit hidden and much safer. This Mirador is located in the mouth (la boca) of the Mayan face (rostros). It has a couple of large platforms and is very spacious.
Best of all, this lower Mirador provides an absolute exceptional viewpoint of sunrise over Lake Atitlan. We promise no FOMO for skipping the exposed upper Mirador, and siding with the safer and equally impressive lower Mirador.
Rostro Maya Hike Preview
- Type: Out & Back
- Distance: 3km
- Time: 2.75 hours
- Accumulated elevation gain: 160m
- Difficulty: Easy
- Trailhead: Santa Clara La Laguna
- Map: AllTrails
Rostro Maya Sunrise Hike from Santa Clara
Thankfully, as part of our Xela to Lake Atitlan 3 Day Hike, our homestay on the second night was located in Santa Clara La Laguna. In fact, the homestay was literally a minute walk’s away from the trailhead of the safer Santa Clara route.
This meant, compared with hikers visiting from other parts of Lake Atitlan (commonly San Pedro La Laguna), we got a bit more of a sleep-in. Completing Rostro Maya as part of the Xela to Lake Atitlan trek was a very convenient way to enjoy this popular hike.
After a 4:20am wake-up, at 4:30am, with our head torches tightened, we set off to Rostro Maya for sunrise. Whether you’re doing the Indian Nose hike as part of the Xela to Lake Atitlan trek, or, just on its own, you’ll be joining the same trailhead in Santa Clara La Laguna.
From the roadside, you’ll initially walk on a dusty and flat trial with farmland on either side. Shortly, the trail narrows and ascends to the first Mirador. In the dead of the night, you may be lucky enough to see the active Volcan de Fuego, erupting in the distance. From here, you can also see Mars!
Rostro Maya Lower Mirador
After a few minutes here, you’ll continue to climb to the mouth (la boca) of Rostro Maya. This is where the lower Mirador is located. It’s a steep, but short climb to this lookout. Given this is the safest Mirador at Rostra Maya for sunrise, expect there to be quite a few people around. This didn’t fill us with joy, but safety does come first.
Besides, this lower Mirador is quite spacious with lots of space. There’s even a small wooden platform, a bench and a large double-story lookout. This provides shelter and is where some of the guides cook up breaky on an open fire. On the second level, it’s possible to camp! When we visited, we saw just one tent pitched. Personally, we wouldn’t recommend this. We can’t imagine a crowded Mirador to be a tranquil place to camp.
Sunrise over Lake Atitlan
The lower Mirador of Rostro Maya provides absolutely spectacular views over Lake Atitlan. It’s a fantastic place to enjoy sunrise during the Indian Nose hike. Orange and purple hues parade over the horizon, bringing life to the calm lake and shedding light on the surrounding volcanoes. The lower Mirador is a wonderful vantage point to see light splay over the popular Lake Atitlan towns such as San Marcos, San Juan and San Pedro. The sunrise over Lake Atitlan at Rosto Maya is a highlight of any trip to Guatemala.
After enjoying the sunrise from Rostro Maya and avoiding the bandits, it’s time for one more awesome viewpoint. Simply retrace your steps, descending the trail until you find a rocky outcrop. It’s not very high, easy to climb and provides another fabulous perspective of sunrise over Lake Atitlan. This is one of the best places for a photo during the Indian Nose sunrise hike.
From here, enjoy the orange-lit forest on your way back down to Santa Clara La Laguna.
Indian Nose Hike Guatemala: Recap
Sunrise at Rostro Maya is an unforgettable hiking experience in Lake Atitlan. As long as you hike with a guide, do the Santa Clara trail and watch sunrise from the Lower Mirador, you’ll have a much better chance of an exciting and safe Indian Nose hike.
Rostro Maya from San Juan La Laguna
The Indian Nose sunrise hike is commonly completed from San Juan. But, this is not considered a safe route. Although, as part of Xela to Lake Atitlan multi-day trek, we would actually follow part of this trail that connects San Juan La Laguna to Rostro Maya. That’s because the Xela to Lake Atitlan trek finishes in San Pedro La Laguna. So, after completing the out and back Indian Nose hike, we would depart from our homestay in Santa Clara La Laguna after breakfast and hike to San Juan La Laguna to reach San Pedro, using part of the San Juan – Rostro Maya route.
But, thankfully, we’d be hiking from Santa Clara to San Juan at around 9am, which was well after dusk. Plus, we wouldn’t be hiking up to Rostro Maya. We’d merely just pass by the base of it. In doing so, we have some experience in hiking part of the Rostro Maya trail from San Juan. It’s not a trail that we’d recommend due to safety.
Our Experience Hiking From Rostro Maya to San Juan
Personally, we hiked from our homestay in Santa Clara to the base of the Rostro Maya Miradors, where we then picked up the Indian Nose – San Juan trail. The trail itself steeply descends through the forest and provides awesome views of Lake Atitlan. On the way, there is a wooden Mirador that provides a sweeping lookout of the lake. From here, you get awesome views of the surrounding volcanoes such as Volcan San Pedro.
The steep, narrow and dusty track eventually joins a flat paved path, leading to a large Mirador, called Mirador Kaqasiiwaan. It’s a beautifully decorated Mirador with vast views of Lake Atitlan. After checking out this popular Mirador, a trail with regular sections of steps winds down to San Juan La Laguna.
We didn’t encounter any problems hiking this trail as part of the Xela to Lake Atitlan trek. But, of course, it may be a different story if you hike this trail from San Juan to the Rostro Maya, specifically for sunrise.
Five Hiking Essentials For Rostro Maya
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: these hiking boots are super comfortable and lightweight.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a fantastic windproof/waterproof jacket.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for hiking, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- The North Face TKA Glacier Fleece Jacket: an excellent warmth:weight ratio fleece jacket that’ll help keep you warm.
- Columbia Convertible Trousers: a value for money pair of water-resistant convertible trousers.
The Rostro Maya sunrise hike only requires the bare essentials. Or, if you can’t help yourself, some cameras to capture the glorious sunrise! You’ll also want to pack sunglasses for when the sun finally pops up over Lake Atitlan, as well as a small bottle of water.
For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.
- Ask the tour agency which route they choose for their Indian Nose sunrise hike trip: make sure your Lake Atitlan based tour agency hikes Rostra Maya from Santa Clara, not San Juan.
- Best time of year to visit Rostro Maya: like most outdoor activities in Guatemala and Central America, you should do them during the dry season (November to April).
- Hike Xela to Lake Atitlan: we can’t recommend this off the beaten track multi-day hiking adventure enough. It conveniently includes the Indian Nose sunrise hike, so why not?
Have you visited the Indian Nose at Lake Atitlan recently? Let us know in the comments below if you had any problems with safety during your sunrise hike!