Hike a volcano

ACATENANGO

In Guatemala and especially in Antigua, the ascent of the Acatenango volcano is a must! This is a 2-day excursion that takes you to the top of the Acatenango volcano. You leave with an agency at about 2,600 m. You will watch the sunset from the camp at 3 756 m, with a direct view on the voclan del Fuego and its eruptions. And the next morning a last walk to reach the summit of Acatenango at 3 976 m for the sunrise.

I made my excursion on Wednesday 01 and Thursday 02 December 2021 with the agency SOY TOUR that I highly recommend. It was hard, but nothing insurmountable if you take your time! A crazy experience that promises great memories!

My opinion on the Acatenango hiking

I’m really happy to have done this adventure! The reward was worthy of the effort! An incredible spectacle and a beautiful first ascent! Even if I had a lot of aches and pains for several days, I still remember those two days full of emotions!

I recommend it a thousand times over for anyone who likes to push themselves a bit and wants to experience a nice little adventure. Although the route is exhausting, it is not particularly complicated, even if you are an occasional sportsman, it is possible to do it!

My experience

Day 1

The preparation

I’ve been excited about climbing the Acatenango volcano for several days now! This is the first volcano trek I’m going to do and I don’t know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it!

In the morning, I was a bit disappointed with a 6:30am wake up call. The motivation was not there when I woke up, but after a coffee it was back on! The agency comes to pick us up at the hostel with a van. We are 6 people between 24 and 28 years old. We talk a bit and it’s between excitement and apprehension that we take the direction of the agency for our departure.

After a short briefing, the agency provides us with coats, trousers, hats and gloves because in the evening temperatures can drop to -15°C. We choose our clothes and try them on quickly to make sure they suit us. It is possible to take a walking stick (which is more a wooden stick). We all decide to take the extra stick for 5qtz (best investment of my life so far). Then the guides give us our picnic and we pack everything in our bags. Mine must be around 8kilos with water, my camera and lenses, my tripod, my picnic and warm stuff for the evening.

After yet another briefing, and a reminder about altitude sickness (to be taken seriously), we leave. The agency is 100m from the beginning of the trek, which is a positive point! The weather is good, a blue sky and a radiant sun promise us a beautiful day.

The trek is divided into 3 parts: a part in the fields, the Rain Forest (2/3 of the time), and a part in the mountains.

The beginning of the climb

I was expecting a smooth and simple start. Well, I was surprised to find that it was the opposite. The sun was beating down and the body was already taking a beating. The path only goes up and is mostly sandy, you have to be careful with your steps. After 1 minute of walking, the stick already shows its usefulness. We will take several breaks before reaching the first break point. This is a place where the “fresh” hikers meet those coming down from the day before. There are snacks and coffee to be bought. I look at the people around us and I am surprised by the age. We were overwhelmingly between 22 and 32 years old all the way. We passed a few older people, but not many.

The Rain Forest

After several minutes of walking, we reach the Rain Forest. The advantage is that we are cool and shaded, but we feel the humidity. The path again is not complicated, but it is only uphill with a sandy path. In the forest it is quite complicated to appreciate the landscape with the constant effort and the eyes riveted on the ground. Especially as the landscape is quite redundant (trees, lots of trees).

After a good moment of walking, comes the lunch break! I simply devoured my meal! First of all, it was DELICIOUS, and secondly my body needed energy. So I gobbled up my chicken, rice, vegetables, fruit, chocolate cake and apple juice. I feel better despite the fact that I’m starting to feel tired, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.

We pick up our bags and sticks and continue our adventure. The wooden stick is an unprecedented help in this adventure! It allows us to stabilize ourselves, I can clearly see a difference with it! But despite everything, we have to give our all energy to climb this volcano. Once again we take many breaks and the guides are attentive to our rhythm and to the symptoms of altitude sickness.

The final stretch!

We gradually emerged from the Rain Forest and left the coolness of the trees behind us to face the heat of the sun. This was surely the hardest part and every time we found some shade, it was a blessing.

On the last part, the landscape and the view are gradually revealed. This makes the experience a bit more enjoyable. The path is also a little less steep and we cross a slope of ash from the volcano.

The camp

Then, at 3 756 m, the arrival at the camp is a real relief for everyone. And above all what a joy to discover the view from the camp. Direct view on the Del Fuego volcano. It’s still early (3pm) to watch the sunset so we sit around the campfire that our guide has just lit.

We settle down with my adventure companions near the fire and we discuss. Then slowly, the sun declines to leave warm colours in the sky. It’s a wonderful show with the clouds creating a special atmosphere. Then it is the turn of the Del Fuego volcano to wake up time to time to offer us eruptions of different sizes.

The sunset

The guide offers us the possibility to climb the Del Fuego volcano (for an extra fee) to get closer to the eruptions. I had feedbacks on the difficulty of the route with the exhaustion of the day. Because you have to go down a valley and back up again and then do the same thing at nightfall without having had dinner. 90% of the people I heard had done it, didn’t have the strength and energy in the morning to finish the ascent of the Acatenango and watch the sunrise. With my companions, we don’t have the motivation and we prefer to save ourselves for the next morning!

The day ends slowly and intermittently the Del Fuego volcano reminds us of its presence by rumbling and letting out clouds of ash. Little by little, the sun declines to give way to different colours. We start to see the lava flows. It is a splendid sight. We are like in a cocoon nestled between two volcanoes and the sun.

It is surely one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life, because it is magnificent and I deserved it!

The dinner and lava eruptions

After dark, the guide starts cooking around the fire for us. We can observe stronger lava eruptions intermittently (1 every 15/30min). We have our eyes riveted on the volcano so as not to miss anything of the show.

Then it’s time for dinner and we are treated to another delicious meal. Our guide has prepared a Guatemalan meal for us: red beans, mashed potatoes and vegetable noodles. Afterwards we are treated to some excellent hot chocolate and we taste an alcohol made of apple, pineapple and a fruit that I couldn’t translate. Perfect, warming ourselves by the fire as the chill settles in and so do our layers of clothing. Fortunately the drink and the campfire warm us up.

To shower, it’s simple, there’s nothing! But honestly, it doesn’t matter, a little deodorant and we forget about this adventure.
The toilets are dry and located at about thirty meters high of the camp. With the entrance facing the Del Fuego volcano, if you’re lucky, you can do your business and watch the volcano erupt (it’s very stylish).

The evening goes on with discussions and eruptions more or less impressive, but always nice to see. Then everyone heads back to their tents to rest for a few hours before the final ascent of Acatenango.

Day 2

The wake-up call

I slept quite well, but my mattress was making me fall every 5 minutes. I had decided to put on as few layers as possible to let the air circulate and warm me up better. Well, I can tell you that it worked! When I woke up I was extremely hot! Unlike those who had wrapped themselves in layers of clothing and were very cold.

At 3.40am our guide wakes us up and we get ready to climb the last few metres. At 4.00 am the group was ready and we set off!

The last few metres of the Acatenango

Despite my excitement and great motivation, the course is tough. The slope is steep and my body, exhausted from the day before, is struggling to keep up. I wonder how I’m going to make it through the 40 minutes of climbing. I concentrate on each step. Then at the umpteenth break, when I ask the guide (in Spanish) how much time we have left and he tells me 25 minutes, I just want to cry. However, I have a good mind but the tiredness and the muscular pain in my legs hinder me from seeing how I’m going to make it. But I only think about the next step. Not the hundreds of others I have to take, otherwise I feel like giving up. I hold on to my stick and continue the climb.

Then finally, 5 minutes later, the guide announces that these are the last few metres! My Spanish was not perfect and I had misunderstood! What a relief, and I have more energy for the last few metres!

The Acatenango summit

Once at the crater, we are surprised by gusts of wind and a very cold weather! We count the seconds to get our fingers out of our gloves to take pictures! I am quite surprised to see that we are quite numerous, at least fifty people. Indeed, I knew that several agencies shared the slopes of the Acatenango volcano for this excursion, but I thought that we would be half. No problem, there is enough room for everyone to enjoy the show.

We climb the last few meters to be on the highest points of the crater at 3,976m and watch the sunrise over Del Fuego at its best. Once we arrive, I collapse for 5 minutes, because after 2 months of drinking tequila on the beach, my body is a bit exhausted.

The sunrise

We arrived just before the sun started to rise. And as the first rays cross the horizon, we can see the silhouette of the sun coming into view. Even though we don’t have eruptions in the morning, it’s a mixture of joy, relief (because the hardest part is behind us), and merit. And it is this mixture of feelings that makes the moment so beautiful.

This morning, the volcano didn’t want to give us an eruption, but no matter, the view and the colours were superb. We could even see the shadow of the volcano on the surroundings and go to the lake Atitlan at several kilometres!

Back at the camp

After enjoying the sunrise, our guide signals us to return to the camp. There we had to have breakfast and pack our bags before heading back on the road. When we arrived at the campfire, a guide was waiting for us with breakfast. He had just come up the Acatenango just to bring us breakfast. So fast that the pancakes were still warm!

Back at the agency

Once everyone is ready, we head back to return to the agency and conclude our adventure. The return journey was so easy that I found myself wondering how the day before was struggled! The only difficulty is that the way is long, especially in the Rain Forest.

But after a few breaks, we finally arrived at the agency around 10am. We return the borrowed equipment and we have the right to a cold beer to reward us for this adventure and exchange one last time with our fellow travellers. Of course, it’s 10am, but with a 3am wake-up call and this day, it’s almost the aperitif for us!

After thanking our guide, we take the van back to our hostel. The adventure ends with a great satisfaction and a great tiredness.

Tips for climbing the Acatenango

Before to leave

  • Choosing your agency
  • Check the weather before you book! Otherwise you may not see the volcano, the sunset and sunrise

The equipment

  • Have good hiking shoes (forget your nice sneakers)
  • Have an outfit for the climb during the day (heat) and an outfit for the evening / next morning (cold and wind)
  • Take a good hiking bag
  • At least 3L of water
  • Take snacks
  • Take a walking stick (the agency rented us some for 5 quetzals)

During the climbing

  • Listen to your body
  • Go at your own rythme
  • Breathe well
  • Drink plenty of water
  • If you feel unwell, tell the guides directly

My opinion on Soy Tour - Acatenango

The choice of agency for this adventure is essential for me. And I can only recommend Soy Tour. The guide was attentive, regularly asked if everything was going well and was ready to help if necessary. The agency makes it a point of honour to only send small groups (maximum 10 people), and that makes the difference for this type of excursion. The food was excellent and generous! The camp was simple but with a breathtaking view of the volcano. The sleeping area was in a wooden shelter to protect from the wind. The camping equipment was in good condition and relatively comfortable. The clothes and accessories were second hand but in good condition and did the job. But above all, the clothes were included (apart for the stick) in the price of the agency, because often you have to add a supplement. Also, the entrance ticket to the park and the shuttle to and from the park are also included in the booking. And bonus point, the beer on arrival is welcome and especially since the agency is 100 meters from the road. Because on the way back, you don’t have to wait 30 minutes for your bus with 50 people around the stop.

In short, DO IT!

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