I’ve been waiting a long time for this shot from the Indian Nose Trail, overlooking Lake Atitlan in Guatemala. 3 volcanoes line the shore of this beautiful lake, and it is without a doubt, one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve ever seen. Join me as I take you along from start to finish, in what is to-date, my favorite and most rewarding image I’ve had the pleasure of creating.
I woke up at 3:00am, stumbled out of bed, gathered all my gear and headed out the door. I walked from our B&B Casa Lobo, making the 30 minute walk into the charming town of San Pedro La Laguna. This town, and Guatemala in general, gets a bad rap about safety. But I walked at 3:15am, for 30 minutes, alone and carrying a backpack full of expensive camera gear and a tripod sticking out the side. Not a single issue. The only people out were gringos smoking or going on the hike with me.
I met my guide, Pedro, at the boat dock where we waited for a chicken bus to take us to the trailhead. The bus was mostly travelers, either heading to Indian Nose or to Santa Clara, the small town just past the trail. I chatted with Pedro and another guide on the hour long ride about what to expect.
We arrived at the trailhead, jumped off the bus, grabbed our headlamps, and began walking in the dark through some farm fields along a dirt trail. After about 15 minutes, we got to the spot where it was straight up hill. It was fairly challenging, but doable. We stopped about 3 times on the 15 minute vertical climb for water. We arrived at the “first summit,” where we stopped and caught our breath. What a great view. But we had about 5 more minutes of climbing to get to the top lookout or “mirador.”
It was about 5:30am, and the sunrise was due in about 45 minutes. We could see the lights from the towns of San Juan, San Pedro, and Santiago way in the distance! I set up my tripod on the front of the lookout, ensuring I’d get the best view and pictures, hehe. I set up my camera, threw on my lens, and started taking pictures of this beautiful lake. You could barely see at first, but the magnificent views of San Pedro, Atitlan and Toliman were peaking out from the clouds below. Truly extraordinary.
I set my aperture at f/9, and had my lens focused to infinity because everything in the frame was far away. This first image you see on this article is a 2 shot panorama at 24mm. I shoot fully manual, so my ISO was at 64, the lowest native setting for my Nikon D810, and my shutter speed to slightly under expose for the sky by 2/3 of a stop.
The next picture you will see here is right as the sun rose above the clouds. The sunrises here are unique. Because of the haze, the sun’s brightness is diffused quite a bit, making it a round orange ball that looks pretty cool.
Once I had my fill of pictures, my guide and I walked back down to the trailhead, where I assumed we would catch the chicken bus back to San Pedro. Well, I was wrong. We got to the place where the bus dropped us off, but we just kept on walking. Then, he started to jog. Of course, monkey see monkey do, so I followed right behind him. He spotted an old Toyota pickup truck driving up and picking up a few guys on the side of the road. Pedro flagged them down and we just jumped in the back! The pickup had a welded cage around the bed that you had to stand up and hold on to. I swear. We rode the whole way back down, dropping from about 9,000ft in elevation, to about 5,000ft at the lake level over the next hour. So there I am, with 4 Guatemalans, standing up for an hour in the back of this truck, going around sharp turns, over potholes, passing bigger trucks full of pigs, tuk tuks, and trying to comprehend what was happening.
I found out later that those trucks drive from town to town, and you can just jump on, get to where you’re going, tap the hood and jump off, giving them 5 Quetzales(less than a dollar). I can say at this point and time that the story, along with the anticipation, and the luck of the weather, made this my most memorable shot to date. If you ever go to Lake Atitlan, this is definitely a must do. You won’t ever forget it.
Equipment: Nikon D810