Towering nearly 4,100 meters (13,120 feet) above the Soconusco region, Tacaná is an active volcano whose name means House of Fire in the local Mam dialect. Sailors used to refer to the volcano as the Lighthouse of the South, for the glowing lava flows that were once visible well out to sea.
Tacaná straddles the Mexico-Guatemala border, and is the second-highest peak in Central America (Volcán Tajumulco, in Guatemala, is the highest at 4,220 mts/13,845 ft). Climbing it is a challenging but scenic two- or three-day trek, passing through tropical, pine, and cloud forests, before eventually reaching the windswept summit and its spectacular views.
The volcano is part of a protected biosphere reserve, and you’re likely to see a variety of birds and animals along the way as well.
The Chiquihuites route is the less steep of the two, and is the route guides typically recommend. The trailhead is located about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from Unión Juárez and is accessible by private vehicle only; if you’ve got a guide, the ride typically is included in the rate, otherwise grab a taxi at Unión Juárez’s central plaza. From the Chiquihuites trailhead, it is a 3.5-to-4-hour hike to the base camp, Los Papales, where you can camp or make use of a rustic shelter (US$1 pp); local caretakers can prepare basic meals for US$1–2.
After spending the night at Los Papales hikers head to the top, another 5–6 hours away. The view from the summit is stunning, encompassing the highest peaks in Guatemala and an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean. There’s a campsite just 10 minutes below the summit, where most hikers spend a second night to be able to catch the sunrise at the summit—one of the best in Mexico—before heading down the volcano. Strong hikers can do the trip in just two days, usually by reaching the upper campsite the first day, a punishing 8–10-hour haul.
The less-traveled Talquián route starts at its namesake village, about seven kilometers (4 miles) north of Unión Juárez, and is reachable by foot or cab. There, a stone monument marks the beginning of the trail; it’s five to six hours of hiking to the small settlement of Trigales, and another six to seven hours of tough climbing to the summit. Camping is permitted along the trail but be sure to ask permission if you are clearly on private property.
The best time to climb Volcán Tacaná is during the dry season, December–April.
Come prepared! Though Tacaná doesn’t require technical climbing, it can get quite cold—at or below freezing at the summit. Bring several layers of clothes, including thermal underwear, hat and gloves, plus hiking boots, camping gear, and basic foodstuffs. There are springs along the way where you can fill your water bottle, but be sure to bring a water filter or purifying tablets.
Be mindful of the fact that the altitude may slow you down considerably; give yourself plenty of time to tackle the volcano and carry enough supplies to get you there and back.
A guide is recommended, as there are several settlements on the volcano and numerous paths crisscrossing the Tacaná trail. The one exception to this is during Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter), when hundreds of people turn out to climb the volcano and you literally can follow a trail of litter to the summit.
Guides can be hired in Unión Juárez; stop by the Palacio Municipal to ask about available guides or contact Fernando Valera Fuentes (tel. 962/647-2015, fernandovalerafuentes [at] gmail [dot] com), an experienced and recommended guide based out of Hotel Colonial Campestre. Rates vary dramatically—expect to be quoted anywhere from US$50 to US$125 per group (typically four to five people), and figure an additional US$10–20 in the rainy season.
Typically those with higher rates include two guides (one at the front, the other at the rear so that every hiker can ascend at his or her own pace), have CB radios, and/or have basic first aid training.
Camping gear can be rented at Hotel Colonial Campestre for US$20, which includes a four-person tent and two sleeping bags. Food and other supplies can be picked up around Unión Juárez.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition