The hike up Acatenango Volcano was the big highlight in Guatemala, something we’d seen in numerous blogs and guidebooks before we even started our trip. The prospect of hiking up Acatenango Volcano for hours in the sweat of our brow, only to see its twin, Fuego Volcano, spewing fire, smoke and lava directly across the street, is actually worrisome. Not to mention spending the night in a tent at 3600 meters above sea level on an active volcano in Antigua, Guatemala: What could be more blatant?
On our Guatemala trip we chose Antigua as our first stop. After a few days of sightseeing in the really beautiful old town of Antigua, we knew that we would take the adventure of climbing the Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala. We were aware that the volcano hike would be very exhausting and we would probably also go to our limits. But the reward of camping on top of an active volcano while watching another highly active volcano spit fire was definitely worth the effort for us.
We struggled up the steep volcano over sandy-slippery ground and at the beginning could hardly see the volcano Fuego at times through the clouds and dense fog. We tormented ourselves at 4 o’clock in the morning with whipping wind and zero visibility up to 4000 meters and were really close to give up. Nevertheless, the hike on the Acatenango was one of the highlights of our trips so far and definitely our highlight in Guatemala.
You have to see something like that and you have to do something like that. Despite all the efforts. Why we didn’t give up in the end and how the tour to the Acatenango actually works, you can read in this article.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
Facts about the Acatenango and Fuego Volcanoes
Acatenango is a stratovolcano and with its 3976 meters the third highest volcano in Central America. The last eruption was in 1972, so it was a little bit longer ago. Not so long ago was the last eruption of its twin volcano Fuego. In fact, the almost equally high (3763 meters) volcano Fuego (Fire Volcano) erupted for the last time just under 1 year before our hike (on June 3, 2018).
Several hundred people died and more than 12,000 people had to be evacuated. It was thus one of the most severe eruptions in the past 40 years. So, as you can see, climbing the neighboring Acatenango volcano carries some risk when directly across the street is one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes. Nevertheless, you should not miss this adventure. However, keep in mind that the forces of nature can not be controlled and of course you can not say when the next eruption is imminent.
How to organize a hike to the Acatenango Volcano Guatemala
You can organize a hike to the Acatenango volcano perfectly from Antigua or Guatemala City. We started the tour from Antigua. Each of the numerous travel agencies in the city offers tours to the volcano and usually at similar prices. We did some research on the internet and came across Soy Tours. This has no office in Antigua, but can only be reached via its website or WhatsApp.
The special thing about Soy Tours is not only that they have pretty good reviews on Tripadvisor and also generally offer a good organization of the tour, but that they donate part of the proceeds for the local village (eg for the expansion of schools).This is of course a fine thing and has encouraged us even more to choose this provider. After we found out the cell phone number via their website, we wrote to the owner via WhatsApp and booked the tour for the following day totally uncomplicated.
The cost is 35 USD incl. 5 USD for the entrance to the national park. Although the provider is not located directly in Antigua, you are picked up by a minibus from your hotel in Antigua and drive with other participants to a small village (San Jose de Calderas) at the foot of the volcano to gather at the provider’s office, stock up on warm clothes and get the last info for the upcoming hike up the Acatenango volcano.
This is then also one of the most important information you should know. At night it can get very cold on the volcano Acatenango. With us it became at night up to minus 5 degrees! But you don’t have to bring your winter clothes from home or even buy them on the spot. With Soy Tours (as with all other tour operators) you get warm clothes or you can rent them for a small amount.
We got really warm winter jackets for free and could borrow gloves, a scarf and a hat for 10 Quetzales (about 1,10 Euro) each. Together with the sweater, which I carried around anyway, I was already very well equipped clothing-wise. In addition, you can also borrow wooden hiking poles for Q 10 on site, which you definitely need for the steep hike. We had brought our foldable trekking poles from home, so we did not have to borrow any.
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Facts about the Hike on the Volcano Acatenango
- The volcano hike to Acatenango takes 2 days and you will spend the night on top of the volcano in tents.
- On the first day you will be picked up from your hotel around 7:30 am and drive to a small village at the foot of the volcano
- Around 10 o’clock in the morning the volcano hike starts
- The ascent takes about 5 hours (incl. breaks) and takes you from 2500 meters altitude to the base camp at 3600 meters
- There will be some breaks and the group will automatically split into faster and slower hikers
- The next morning you will hike at 4 o’clock for about 1 hour to the top of the volcano at sunrise, and there you will have a 360 degree panoramic view at 4000 meters
- The way back to the village takes about 2-3 hours.
- In total you will walk 7.5 kilometers and climb 1500 meters of altitude
How warm or cold is it during the hike up Acatenango Volcano?
At the beginning it is still very warm and I walked in shorts and t-shirt until I reached the base camp. Some others have already put on a jacket during the lunch break (after about 2h). Since one hikes the whole time strained, it is actually the complete hike over quite warm. At the top, however, I have also put on long clothes. At night, of course, you leave the thick clothes on, but is already very well in the thick (provided by the provider) sleeping bag.
The hike to the sunrise is then in full gear (winter jacket, hat, scarf, gloves). During the way back, we also still had the full winter gear on, but gradually got rid of the warm clothes during the walk. Once we reached the bottom, it was already so warm again that we changed into shorts and T-shirts.
What to bring with you on the Volcano Hike?
Even if most things are carried by your guides or are already up there, there are some things that you have to carry yourself.
You need to carry your water that you want to drink during the 2 days. We had 3 liters per person and that was enough for us.
Additionally we had a lot of snacks with us. Cookies, cereal bars, some cake and also something salty to nibble on were part of our luggage. You get lunch, dinner and breakfast from the guides. But especially with the hard effort that is not really enough, so some nibbles should definitely be part of your equipment.
If you still have a warm sweater, then you should bring it. You should also bring outdoor clothes, like trekking pants, a rain jacket and good hiking shoes. Sneakers or even sandals are completely out of place here. By the way, we also had a change of clothes (T-shirt, underpants, socks) with us, but we didn’t take off our clothes at all during the 2 days, let alone change them. So we could have saved ourselves.
Toothbrush, toothpaste, toilet paper and something to wash your hands you should pack. Upstairs there is only a musty outhouse of course without sink and toilet paper, so you should take e.g. wet wipes or disinfectant ointment to clean your hands.
Pack your camera, because the photos you’ll take of the spewing Fuego volcano will be unique. Also, a power bank will help your phone last the two days. A good flashlight (or headlamp) is useful for the sunrise hike. The light of your cell phone is also sufficient in case of need.
We recommend you to take a real (big) backpack or to rent one from the tour operator and not to use a small daypack for the hike. With a large backpack you usually have a comfortable hip belt so that most of the weight is not on your shoulders but on your hips. This makes it much easier.
What do you get from the tour provider?
On top of the volcano there are tents ready for you. Usually one tent for 2 persons. In addition, there are sleeping mats and really thick sleeping bags in the tent. Also the food that will be prepared for you on the volcano will be carried by your guides. You only have to carry the first lunch, which you eat during a break on the hike up the volcano.
Do you have to carry everything on the volcano hike?
No. If you cannot walk the route with your luggage or even at all, then there are other options.
Guides carry your backpacks
Two girls in our groups didn’t want to/couldn’t carry their backpacks themselves, so they paid a little extra to have their backpacks carried up the mountain by guides. Apparently they only paid 50 quetzales (€5) per backpack for this.
By horse on the volcano
If you are really lazy about walking, you can also ride up the volcano on horseback. Horses are available from the ticket control about 30 minutes after the start of the hike, and will transport you to a point about 30 minutes before the base camps. You have to pay about 200 Quetzales (20 €) for this. However, as animal lovers, we do not recommend this. The steep hike is also very difficult for the horses. Also, unfortunately, the animals are often not well cared for and are not in good shape.
How strenuous is the Volcano Hike?
We have heard from some people and read in many blogs that for many it was the most strenuous hike in their lives. And we also have to say that is was really exhausting. We didn´t given up, but we were already at the edge of our capabilities. The really exhausting thing about the hike on the volcano Acatenango is the height in which you move and the many meters of altitude that you bring in the shortest time behind you.
Thank God we were able to take breaks about every 20 minutes. Regardless, even in between when you couldn’t take any more, you could stop for a moment and rest. Since the group has divided with 4 guides anyway after the shortest time in fast and slow hikers (we were of course in the slow group), the fast ones also did not always have to wait for the slow ones. Only at the larger breaks was again waiting for us slower and the group was reunited. We find the hike on the Acatenango volcano is feasible for any reasonably athletic people.
Our eExperiences of the Hike on the Acatenango Volcano
After we were picked up from our hotel in Antigua, the tension rose continuously in us and also with our fellow travelers. You could literally feel it. Everyone was excited and wondering what was in store for us. The approximately one hour drive to the foot of the volcano passed very quickly.
After we have stocked up on warm clothes in the office of the tour provider and packed our lunches for the day, we got a small introduction about what would be waiting for us. After a few more minutes of riding the minibus to the start of the trail, we are finally off.
Acatenango Hike – The Adventure Begins
At about 2500 meters above sea level we start the hike and at first we are still in a very cheerful mood and happy about what would be waiting for us. But this changes after a few minutes. The first part of the trail, which passes green fields and meadows, is super steep from the start and so sandy that you slide down again two steps almost for every step you take upwards.
After about an hour of the steep climb up Acatenango Volcano, the trail now leads through dense pine-scented coniferous forest. The landscape is still beautiful, the path still incredibly steep. We are all very happy when we make our lunch break after 2 hours and eat the lunch we brought with us. There is chicken with salad and rice. Tastefully okay. The many dogs that have been following us for some time are less picky. They are happy about everything you throw them. No matter what to eat or even water.
In the meantime it has become a bit cooler. The others have already put on sweaters or outdoor jackets, I (Andreas) was still sitting there topless, I was still damn warm from the effort. When we start walking again, I also put on my T-shirt again. You notice that the temperature drops continuously, the higher we climb. After the lunch break, the climb continues to be very steep.
But the beautiful surroundings and the funny conversations with the other hikers (at the end of the group) partly compensate for the exertions. After about 3.5 hours the ascent is no longer continuous. There are straight passages again and in the meantime we are so high that we can catch the great view of the further surroundings and also of the volcano Agua (near Antigua).
Sabrina and I have been extremely tired for some time and can’t wait to get to the top of the base camp. The backpack pulls more and more at the shoulders and it is from step to step more strenuous to pull a step forward with the heavy hiking boots from the slippery sand.
Every break, no matter how small, is celebrated with relish. Even if it is only 5 minutes without the backpack on the shoulders and the body weight on the feet to carry. Sit down? Yes, of course, with pleasure and often! Only the onset of cloud cover seems to provide some relief. It is now much cooler than at the beginning of the hike. I hardly sweat, but not because it would be less strenuous. But only because it becomes even cooler.
Acatenango Hike – The Basecamp
After 5 hours, Sabrina is walking ahead for quite some time, the camp is in sight. Sabrina is up there before me. She calls to me and tries to motivate me for the last meters. I still allow myself a little break. You never know. After climbing the last incline and reaching base camp, I plop down on the ground. Done! Unfortunately I can’t see anything of the surroundings.
Everything is covered in a thick foggy soup.
The visibility is maybe 20 meters. I try to imagine where exactly the volcano Fuego is and how it would look like if it would spit fire here and now. For now it is time to move into the tents, put on warm clothes and rest. Dinner will be served in a few hours. Thank God the sky has cleared up a bit in the meantime and we get a great view of the actual reason for the efforts of the last hour: the Fuego volcano, which is only a few kilometers away as the crow flies and at about the same altitude.
The tent camp consists of a main tent with fireplace in which the food is prepared and also eaten and about 10 two-man tents, which are all arranged in a line left and right around the main tent. Around us we spy other tent camps from other tour operators. This causes the trees in the whole area around us to be cut down. Good for the view, bad for the environment. About a hundred meters from our camp is the toilet, although that is actually still too nicely put.
It is an outhouse, a hole in the ground with some wooden boards around it. It stinks beastly. One would rather not sit down. Everything is a bit disgusting. But you are also in nature.
Finally, we can assign something visual to the almost regular eruptions that sound like muffled cannon blasts. Almost every quarter of an hour the volcano erupts and mostly only a large, dark gray debris cloud is ejected. Sometimes, however, red glowing lava is ejected in a high arc. This is always the highlight for the group. A loud aaahhh can then be heard from almost everyone. However, it is very easy to miss the beginning of the eruption if you are not watching all the time.
Since sound is known to be slower than light, if you don’t start looking at the volcano until the loud bang, you’ve already missed half of it. While a small part of our group for an additional fee of just under 15 € per person on another, more than 3-hour hike to the foot of the volcano Fuego, we are waiting eagerly for dinner. Never in a dream would it occur to us to walk even further after all the exertion, just to be able to catch a slightly better view of the volcano.
Dinner is reasonably tasty and especially warm and for dessert there is still a hot cocoa. Really super tasty when the outside temperatures approach zero. As it gets dark we see at the foot of the volcano Fuego the flashlights of the people who have started the additional hike to Fuego. An amazing sight: Above the volcano Fuego spits loudly fire and some hundred meters further down the flashlights of people from our group twitch on the way back to the base camp.
Has something of a bad disaster movie! After we watch still some time the volcano with the spitting of the lava and marvel at the landscape diving into the dark, we decide to go to bed or tent. The next morning we still had another adventure awaiting for us. The alarm clock would ring at 03:30 again!
The Hike to the Sunrise
After a short, but still quite restful, sleep we were actually woken up by the guides at half past three. Wow, that was a short night. But not as cold as expected. The sleeping bags kept surprisingly warm. After everyone has gathered, we are already off. Directly above the camp starts the trail to the top of the volcano Acatenango. At the beginning it is still bitterly cold, but that changes quite quickly with the beginning of the effort.
The air gets thinner and thinner with every meter and the hike becomes more and more exhausting. In addition, an incredibly strong wind whips us in the face and it almost seems as if the volcano does not want us on its summit. We take several breaks and leave behind two people on the way who cannot continue due to knee or circulation problems. They are accompanied by one of our guides back to the camp.
Visibility is still zero. Everything is full of fog, clouds and swirling dust. Our flashlights illuminate just a small part of the path and our respective front man. If you let yourself fall back a bit, you can almost no longer see him. We fight our way up the mountain. When we have almost reached the top after more than an hour, dawn slowly sets in.
The first sunbeams flash over the surrounding mountains. It is still very hazy and very stormy, but the feeling of success still brings a smile to our faces. We have made it. 4000 meters high we are. On a volcano. At sunrise. Oh my god!
We can hardly believe it and are overjoyed. And from one second to the next, the clouds disperse and it glows fiery red. But this time not on the volcano Fuego, but on the horizon. The sunrise can be marveled at in all its glory. We quickly take a few photos, because as quickly as the sun shows itself, it disappears again. The game is repeated a few times.
When the wind gets too strong and too cold, we quickly walk a few meters down the mountain again into a small hollow. There it is almost windless. We can briefly recover and warm up our ice-cold limbs.
After about half an hour we start the descent again, which is much faster than the ascent. First, it is no longer so cold and dark. Also, the sandy, slippery spots that made us struggle so much on the way up are now a way to slide down the mountain in a very fun, but not very elegant way. In the end we have the shoes full of sand, but also a lot of fun.
Once down, the volcano Fuego erupts again several times before we finally have breakfast. Meanwhile the open campfire in the main tent gives us warm hands, but also after smoke stinking clothes. Shortly after the meal we have to pack up our things, take a few last photos and start our descent. The guides are really shooing us. VAMOS, VAMOS! The next group is already waiting at the bottom.
The Way Back
I actually thought that the descent would be a lot faster than the ascent. But fiddlesticks! For this we needed also 3 hours. The path is of course also downhill so steep that it is quite exhausting to run down. You have to support yourself with every step. That is quite exhausting for the calves and of course also the knees.
We have to take numerous breaks again and get, once again, pretty much to our limits. Shortly before we arrive at the bottom, the first hikers for the new day come towards us and torture themselves up the mountain. We are really glad not to be in their place. Around 10:30 we arrive at the bottom of the road and are just relieved and happy. All at the same time!
Acatenango Volcano Hike – Our Conclusion
For us, the volcano hike up Acatenango was the highlight of our Guatemala trip, if not our complete trip through South and Central America. It was incredibly strenuous and probably one of the most strenuous hikes we have ever done. At the same time, it was so awesome to stand up there above the clouds and watch the Fuego volcano, just 2 kilometers away from us as the crow flies, erupt and spew ash and red hot lava. Anyone who is even moderately fit can do this hike and should also embark on this adventure.