It’s kind of a given that you will hike a volcano when visiting Guatemala, the most popular choice being Acatenango, which is a short drive from Antigua. To be honest I thought it would be easy and didn’t really prepare myself for how hard it was going to be. The struggle was most definitely real but, oh so worth it! To see an active volcano erupt at sunrise was one of the most breath-taking sights I have ever witnessed!
Who to hike with
We had met a few people throughout the trip who had already hiked Acatenango so we were recommended a really good local guide called Gilmer. Gilmer has some of the best reviews on trip advisor and we can definitely vouch for the fact his tour is awesome!
The cost of Gilmer’s tour is slightly more expensive than you can find in the town but the great thing about choosing Gilmer is that he uses all profits from the tour to build schools in his local village. Gilmer’s story is really quite special; he lost his vision many years ago in an accident and was told he would be permanently blind. Luckily, Gilmer was flown to the states for eye surgery and when he finally plucked up the courage, he opened his eyes and couldn’t believe he could see again! Gilmer took this as a message that he too should help people the way someone had helped him. This is when Gilmer decided to become a tour guide and use the money to help families in his village. The tour costs 300Q which is only around £30 and includes transport from Antigua to Gilmer’s house which is just a short ride away from the start of the hike. It also includes all kit such as sleeping bags, mats, tents, lunch, dinner and breakfast.
If I can give you one piece of advice, it would be to pack as light as possible! It’s quite tricky as you need to take your big backpack and as many warm clothes as possible but you really don’t need much. For the hike I wore some workout leggings, a long sleeved black top, 2 pairs of socks and my Regatta walking shoes. In my backpack I packed jeans, some thick tights, an extra, long sleeved top, a tank top, a fleecy jumper, a scarf, a regatta waterproof jacket, hat, gloves and underwear. I also took wet wipes which turned out to be a lifesaver as you will be covered in volcanic ash, and with no access to water you are going to want to clean up. I also packed my travel pillow which was quite an extravagate addition to the bag but I was so happy to have this when it was time for bed.
At 7.30am you are collected from your hostel and taken to Gilmer’s house to pick up your equipment for the hike. You will need to have room for a mat, sleeping bag, tent, 3L of water and snacks (which you need to purchase in advance) along with the food that is provided by Gilmer. The bag is heavy so you need to be prepared, if you think you won’t be able to handle it, you can book a porter to carry your bag to the camp but this will cost you around 200Q.
Once you have collected all your items for the trek, it’s time to head to the starting point of the hike and begin your climb. There is no easing you in gently, as you set off, you are immediately faced with a steep climb through volcanic ash which makes you feel you are going one step forward and three steps back! Luckily there are plenty of breaks along the way for you to catch your breath and steady your legs.
The climb takes about 4-5 hours depending on how fit your team is and this factors in breaks every 20-30 minutes and a longer stop for lunch. About half way through the hike the terrain evens out and becomes enjoyable with stunning views from high up in the clouds and even a little show from Fuego if you’re lucky.
We finally reached camp at around 3.30pm and the lovely guides set our tents up for us. Another plus with choosing Gilmer’s trek is the guides assemble and take down your tents, a lot of the other tours leave you to fend for yourself.
We were lucky enough to have a clear night and see Fuego constantly erupting (although we only saw smoke and no lava!) Once the sky had turned the most gorgeous pink and purple shade it was time for the stars to make an appearance. I wish I could have captured just how amazing the sky looked but that will just have to stay forever in my memory.
After a hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows on the fire, we all headed to bed at around 9pm, ready for the very early start the next morning to reach the summit. I was quite surprised that I actually managed to sleep as I am terrible at sleeping in tents. I thank my travel pillow for that as nobody else managed to get much sleep.
Reaching the summit
At 4am we were woken by the guides and at 4.30am we set off on the last part of the hike. It’s pitch black so you will need a head torch, it’s also freezing cold so you need to layer up. You will most probably be cursing me on the hike up as you will be sweating with all the layers on but believe me, when you reach the summit of Acatenango it is FREEZING!! This is the most difficult part of the hike and many people suffer with altitude sickness. Luckily, Chris and I were ok and pushed each other to get to the top. We literally ran the last few 100 meters and thank goodness we did because as soon as we reached the top the magnificent Fuego erupted for us!
The whole experience of the sunrise at the summit of Acatenango is one that I will treasure forever, the unbelievable site of the volcano erupting, the stunning sun rising directly in line with Volcano Agua and being high above the clouds with my favourite human. I literally had tears of joy during the whole time.
Once we had walked the entire summit of the volcano, it was time to descend and this part was really fun! Imagine skiing with no snow, that’s what we did on the way down the volcano except we were skiing on volcanic ash.
What goes up, must come down
Once back at camp, Fuego was giving an almighty show as we packed away our belongings, had breakfast and prepared for the trek back down. This part for me was the most difficult and I slipped quite a few times but I had Chris on hand holding onto my backpack so I wouldn’t slip.
We finally made the trek down Acatenango in one piece and the sense of achievement overcomes any tiredness you feel. You will be extremely dusty and dirty when you arrive back and will be craving a nice hot shower so make sure you check in to a hostel with hot water!
This hike showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to and the view from the top made all the pain so worth it!
Have you ever hiked a volcano? Would you like to hike Acatenango? Let me know in the comments below.
Keep on wandering!