This is a guide to the Volcano Acatenango hike! It documents my experience and some tips & advice for your upcoming trip!
It all started in the spring of 2019, when our mini-van tore through the mountainous highway. Outside, Antigua’s colorful villas faded into lush greenery and rolling hills.
With another turn, we came face to face with Volcano Acatenango, its peak disappeared into the blanket of clouds that characterized rain season Guatemala.
I looked over excitedly at my friend.
Towering at 3880m above sea level, this stratovolcano near the city of Antigua will be our home for the next two days.
Why the Acatenango Hike?
I first learned of Acatenango through a quirky post on Guatemala.
It’s not difficult to find a tour group for the Acatenango hike. Guided all-inclusive overnight Acatenango hikes dot the internet. However, I was weary of spending more than US 60, which was a chunk of my two-week budget on a single expedition.
As with many frugal travelers, I turned towards Couchsurfing groups for advice. Low and behold, a Brazilian girl saw my messaged and happily reached out with a local tour guide that charged less than half of the price I saw online.
We arrived at a small local village. Children looked up at us with curiosity as Juan, the tour organizer led Mercy and me into the front yard of a spacious bungalow. A few locals chatted excitedly. We were handed a sturdy walking stick and a neatly packed plastic bag that contained our lunch. Before long, Mercy and I were shuffled onward into another mini-van towards the foot of Acatenango.
Our guide was Pablo, a 33-year-old Guatemalan that had a sweet smile and a quiet demeaner. He carried a 60L backpack that contained all the dinner pots, had no walking stick, and followed patiently behind us to offer help when needed.
Embarking on the Hike towards Acatenango
As Mercy and I began taking our first steps forward, we noticed a few disgruntled descenders. They were hunched over, sliding down along the rocky route with little enthusiasm. I could almost sense their dismay for the road ahead.
“Casi!” Mercy blurted helpfully.
I first met Mercy in Guate City at the beginning of my two-week backpacking trip across Guatemala. Although she was only supposed to be my host during my last days in the country, we hit it off right away.
I convinced her that it’d be a brilliant idea if she can go on the Acatenango hike with me. I mean, it’s her country and she’s never been!
In truth, I was also afraid of tackling the hike solo.
It looked really damn hard.
So here I was, huffing and puffing up the rocky hills, with a few liters of water and bags of snacks to accompany me through one of the biggest hikes I’ve done.
And thank god I had a friend by my side.
Conquer the Acatenango Hike by Sections
The Acatenango hike can be divided into 3 sections. The first 30 mins-1 hour is an unpaved road along crop fields. It is decently wide and layered with loose soil. The second section is amongst aged trees and dirt hills. It lasts for 3-4 hours. The final and hardest battle is left for dawn-it consists of an hour-long trek along the edge of a cliff. The entire length is filled with loose debris and giant boulders.
As we struggled along the crop fields, the view below became increasingly breathtaking. We could see the rolling hills, dense grass, and small houses that peeked through the greens. On top of the mound, alongside a few other fellow hikers, we squat down and took a breather.
“I think I’m going to head back,” I heard a guy say amid the protest of his friends, “it’s the beer.”
I looked around and saw a guy in his mid-twenties. He was sickly pale and looked extremely tired. I remembered my friend warning me of drinking before the Acatenango hike.
“Don’t.” She had said.
Having sat around for a few minutes, Mercy, myself, and Pablo proceeded forward.
It took a short 10 minutes before we reached the edge of the forest, where the trails grew smaller while the slope became bigger.
I felt my heart pounding against my chest as the bag on my back began to weigh on my knees.
I was never much of a hiker.
It was an hour before we reached the ticketing station on the hip of the hill. There were 2 other groups, a max of 10 people that chatted excitedly with one another.
The tickets cost Q 50 for foreigners and less for locals. There were a few benches that sat on the platform. Beside them, stood a huge sign
Another hour passed before we reached peak hunger. I took out my lunch bag and opened the lid to find a neatly packed bundle of joy. It contained a piece of perfectly fried chicken over a stack of rice, some vegetables, and a piece of corn.
I’ve never even heard of Guatemalan food and now I’m head over heels for the cuisine! (You gotta try chile relleno, it’s mouth-watering just thinking about it!!)
Out of nowhere, a horse stopped in front of us. The boy in front pulled and dragged but the creature would not budge. Its owner looked desperate. He cooed and clicked to not avail. The horse stood steady, peering out at us with its crystal-clear eyes.
Ahhh the food!
Mercy understood too. She walked over with a piece of corn in her hand, which the horse took happily before trotting away.
Rejuvenated with food, it took what felt like less of an eternity before we arrived at the camp site.
Arriving at the Acatenango Camp Site
Most camp sites in Acatenango are situated on the same side of the hill, which faces the active Fuego Volcano. When we arrived, there were four other campers from an earlier tour offered by the same company as ours-a talkative American who was teaching in Guatemala, a Guatemala native, and two quiet European girls. We sat around the campfire and watched the explosions from afar.
Fuego burst and rumbled, hissed and roared.
Clouds of dark smoke shot into the sky. It was mesmerizing.
Shortly after, Pablo asked whether we’d like to join him for sunset.
The group of us walked carefully along the edge of the cliff. We could still identify the trails of destruction that Acatenango left while it was active.
Eager to avoid these highways to hell, Mercy and I trailed slowly behind the rest.
After a dozen or so boulders, we climbed atop a large rock that overlooked the valley
Fuego stood proudly before us. It continued to burst black fog while the sun set steadily to the west.
We were above the clouds.
When we returned to camp, the guides were ready to serve dinner. They produced a pot of pasta from barely any ingredients and joked along us while we watched the lava roll down Fuego.
Before heading to bed, we were informed that the last leg of the Acatenango hike would be completed at 3:30 in the morning.
The Final Countdown!!
When morning hit, I soldiered onwards with a slight headache and some residue leg pain.
This part of the hike is the most difficult.
The road was no road.
The debris was thick and rocks were loose. I’d put a step forward and slide three back. If it weren’t for my sturdy stick, I’d be climbing on all fours (which I literally did at one point)!
Mercy and I formed a robust support group, muttering “you go girl”, “you can do it” and some next cliche under our breaths.
We could see thousands of stars blinking on top. A few headlights can be spotted amongst the otherwise dark hills.
With the help of our walking sticks, lots and lots of freaking rests, and a couple pushes and shoves, we finallllllly ascended. :’)
I felt like we just conquered the freaking world and it really looked like we did!
Standing above layers of dense, fluffy clouds, we could spot the rising sun that seemed an arm’s length away. The rays steadily expanded across the vast cotton blanket.
To the west, Fuego continued erupting thick fog into the sky.
Although there were quite a few hikers, everyone was stunned (and froze) into a peaceful silence. We knew nothing about each other, but we shared a piece of nature so vivid and enchanting, that it felt like we were all connected. We were all part of one (cue church music).
The Hike Down
The hike back wasn’t nearly as demanding. Once we packed our belongings, Mercy, myself, and Pablo walked triumphantly down the hill. It was super fun to run down these volcanic roads and we ended up finishing the descent within 2 hours! (It usually takes 2.30 hrs)
Graphic!!: As I write this, my toe nails are slowly falling apart from the Acatenango hike that happenedd with shoes that were too small. My face still a tad burnt from the morning sun. And a sense of excitement that’d reoccur whenever I think about the vastness of the experience.
I’ve also decided that hiking volcanos is my new favorite thing!
Best Time for the Acatenango Hike
Luckily, the temperture doesn’t change much in Guatemala so you can hike the volcano year round. However, the best time to complete the Acatenango hike is during the dry season between November and April. It might be cloudy and/or rainy during the wet season from May to October.
Things to Bring on the Acatenango Hike
- Extra clothes, a good jacket might be necessary!
- At least 3 liters of water
- A good pair of hiking boots
- Cash for the permit (Q 50)
- Everything to the left
- A walking stick helps!
- Tent & camping gear
- Lunch & dinner
Tips for Combating Altitude Sickness
For those prone to altitude sickness, it’s best to not smoke or drink prior to the trip. Get enough rest beforehand and make sure you have all the needed gear for the Acatenango hike! Drink plenty of water and have snacks in-between.
Was it hard? Yes. I think you do need to be decently fit if you’d like to take on the Acatenango hike. However, those who aren’t all that physically active on a regular basis (like me), just take tons of rests in-between and tackle it at a slower rate!
Will I do it again? Hell yea! I think seeking out volcanoes to hike is my new found passion in life!
From Tikal National Park to the colonial streets of Antigua, there are many things to do in Guatemala. Here are some additional tips for visiting Guatemala and trust me, whether it be two weeks in the country or two months, you will fall in love with this Central American gem!