When traveling, you’re often told stories and catch photos on Instagram or go to places, things to see and do, and ‘must do’s for any given destination. There’s so much hype around such sites that when you visit, it usually lets you down.
I mean there are some beautiful places in the world and some incredible historical sites. Still, for the most popular attractions, you stand in a crowd of hundreds of other tourists, jostling for the prime insta-worthy shot position and paying $8 for a coffee…
However, upon arrival in Guatemala, I quickly found out that this next ‘must do’ activity would be drastically different. Hiking Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala is, without doubt, one of the best things you can do in the country and one of the most incredible, humbling, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities you’ll experience anywhere in the world.
Let’s discover everything you need to know before you hike.
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How To Climb Acatenango Step By Step
Firstly, make your way to Antigua. Guatemala’s former capital lost its title to Guatemala City due to an earthquake in 1717. The city is cobbled streets, with an abundance of accommodations for all budgets.
Wondering the streets will present you with spectacular architecture, incredible views of surrounding volcanos (there are five), and some of the best street tacos I’ve ever eaten and I’ve traveled ALOT in Latin America.
From Antigua, you’ll be able to book your Acatenango hike through some of the various companies in the area. You NEED a guide for the hike as weather can change quickly, and it’s handy to have the knowledge, guidance, and information from the guides each company provides.
Acatenango is almost 4000m high and stretches through 3 bioclimates. As you approach the summit you’ll have spectacular views (weather provining) of Fuego volcano, the main attraction of the hike. Fuego is an active volcano that erupts with varying levels of power every 20 minutes on average. It’s truly awe-inspiring and although the hike is fricking tough, catch a view of Fuego erupting, and you won’t regret it.
There are many companies in Antigua with slightly varying prices. I did my hike with OX Expeditions, and it cost around $80usd, including a backpack, meals, camping equipment (we stayed in cabins near the summit), and your guide.
While what’s included will depend on the company, most operate in a similar way. But be sure to check what’s included and what isn’t when you book. Bookings can be made online or through a company office in Antigua.
Before you read on, note that climbing Acatenago is bloody hard. It’s super steep, the terrain is loose, and you’ll be knackered. If you don’t exercise daily or consider yourself extremely fit, I wouldn’t recommend doing the hike.
Make sure you bring:
Most tours operating from Antigua will give you a similar hike structure. Which is as follows:
Day 1 – Hike to base camp, roughly around 2/4 to the summit of Acatenango.
Day 1 – Afternoon lunch around ½ up towards the summit of Acta enago
Day 1 – Evening – (Optional) an optional 4-hour round trip hike to a ridge taking you up close and personal to the Fuego volcano; if there is any chance of the weather being clear enough for you to see this, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Being so close to something so powerful is truly incredible and something you won’t forget. And no, I’m not just saying that to make my blog post read better. Here, see for yourself…
For this hike, you will head from base camp, down from Acatenango, and back up the other side to Fuego. You then return after a few eruptions. As it’s getting dark, you may be able to see lava as Fuego blows its top…
Day 2 3.30 am – The toughest, steepest, and least enjoyable part of the hike. Again this part is an option for anyone in the group who doesn’t feel up to summiting Acatennbago. The start of the hike is super steep, and the terrain is very loose volcanic rock, which is almost sand-like. Super hard on the calves on the ascent, but super fun to slide back down when you come back.
The aim is to make Acatenango summit by sunrise, catch the sunrise, some epic colors, and hopefully some more firey Fuego action! Well worth it.
Day 2 – Afterward, you hike back down, which is tougher than it seems, especially on your quad muscles.
The hike is tough. I won’t lie to you here. From the starting point on the roadside just outside of the town of La Soledad, the track doesn’t mess around and takes you straight into a steep climb, and from here, it doesn’t get much more forgiving.
If you’re with a guide, however, you’ll have plenty of water/food breaks, and there’s certainly no rush, so if you’re fit, healthy, and used to hiking, you’ll be fine with a few breaks. Our group was averaging breaks every 30 minutes or so.
Around lunchtime, you’ll get to stop for lunch where you can relax, and luckily the track does flatten out somewhat for the last part of the first-day hiking as you reach base camp. After settling in at camp, which will be slightly different depending on who you book with, you’ll get the chance to hike to Fuego.
This hike is super tough and a touch demoralizing as you have to go back down, to go back up, and then come back just to get to base camp for the night! Catch Fuego blowing its load, though, and you’ll be so amazed that you’ll forget about how hard the hike is. Remember your camera and take in the moment; just pray for clear skies!
Fuego is an active volcano and should be treated with the respect that something so powerful commands. Your guide will let you know how close to go and has years of experience monitoring the volcano. But due to their unpredictable nature, a significant eruption can happen at any time!
Many companies now have cabins installed at their camps, while some will still have you camping. But however you camp, know that that high up is super cold at night, and temperatures hover around 0 Celcius most of the night, so come prepared, bring more warm stuff than you think you’ll need and you’ll be good!
At the camp, you’ll have a fire with your group, eat dinner, drink wine out of a carton, and hopefully, catch Fuego erupting under the stars. Magical!
If you’re up for the summit of Acatenago, you’ll be woken at 3.30 am to do what is the toughest, steepest part of the whole experience. It’s dark, you’re sore, you’re tired, and you should be sleeping, but when you reach the summit with red skies, the sun coming up, and a volcano exploding with 360 views of 5 other volcanos in the area, you’ll forget how shit the hike was.
Descending is one of the most difficult parts of the hike. For me anyway. I thought that descent hurt my knees and it was much easier to run in sets of the way down. You’ll get down much quicker than you got up but still, don’t forget to take lots of breaks and listen to your guide for where to run, where to relax, and where to stop.
Summary - Acatenango Volcano Over Night Hike
Overall I couldn’t recommend hiring Actaneango and Fuego enough. I’m not usually one to boast about tourist attractions, as I think they are often overhyped. However, hiking Acatenango volcano is not.
Make sure you are prepared, get everything ready, book with a reputable, trusted company, and expect it to be hard because it is! Although you’ll hate the hike and ache for days afterward, the views, photos, and videos you’ll take away will last a lifetime. Just remember to charge your camera.