Everybody knows that Central America is famous for volcanoes right? The whole continent in fact is a volcanic arc. Acatenango is perhaps one of the most famous in the whole of Central America.
Located around an hour outside of Antigua, this huge stratovolcano stands at a staggering 3,976 metres high. That’s over 13 thousand feet in old money. As you’d expect, it’s a challenging ascent, but when you reach the top, you’ll see some of the most mind-blowing views of your entire life. Here’s everything you need to know about the hike.
You can totally hike Acatenango on your own without a guide, if you want to die… It’s a dangerous hike, and tourists have died before attempting to scale the volcano on their own. So book a guide!
We opted to book through our hostel, Matiox, which had been super reliable throughout our time in Antigua. The tour company they recommend is called ‘GT’ and they charge £45 per person.
This includes pick up from your hostel, food during and after the hike and use of their tents once at base camp. Personally, we wouldn’t recommend them at all. We found them to be really unprofessional, not very attentive and quite expensive for what they offered.
We met several people afterwards that booked through a company called Gilmer Soy, who sounded much better and cheaper. So look out for them. All the proceeds from their tours go towards funding local school projects too, so you’re putting back into the local economy.
Although the temperature in Antigua and the surrounding areas is normally a balmy 18 degrees, you need to remember you’ll be climbing at altitude. With altitude comes the cold. Temperatures can drop to below freezing at night so make sure you bring layers that you can easily add the closer to the top you get.
Also, without wanting to sound patronising, wear the proper shoes. It’s seems obvious to say, but hiking boots are a must. The amount of people that hike up in flimsy trainers is astonishing. Look after yourself and make sure you don’t wreck your feet on the trek.
Water is the next big thing. Most companies recommend bringing 2-4 litres with you for the hike. Err on the side of caution and go for 4. No-one we spoke to managed to drink just 2 litres. If you can, even go for 6 litres.
Then there’s the snacks. Our company didn’t feed us well at all. We had the equivalent of a pot noodle and half a sandwich for the entire day, so snacks are essential. Bring nuts, chocolate and anything you can think of that will give you a much needed energy boost.
“Hell on Earth”
“Physically and mentally draining”
“So easy I could’ve ran it!”
“Just like climbing the stairs”
These are just some of the reviews that you’ll hear from people fresh from hiking Acatenango. The truth is, it’s somewhere in between. It’s incredibly demanding physically, especially for an Irish and English couple who aren’t used to altitude.
Acatenango is almost 3,000 metres higher than the tallest mountain in the UK, so you’re breathing will be affected. We suffered from headaches and shortness of breath at around the halfway mark, which made the hike feel a lot harder than it was.
The first hour see’s you scale a almost vertical slope, with no scenery on either side, just walls of mud. That’s tough, real tough. Your knees and thighs will start to burn hotter than the inside of the volcano.
Once that’s over though, the rest of the ascent is pretty straight-forward. There are challenging steep parts, but most of it is at a fairly gradual incline, with some great scenery along the way.
Ascent to base camp is supposed to take anywhere between 4-8 hours. Unfortunately there were Germans in our group, and German’s love to treat everything like a competition. So consequently we arrived at base camp after 3 hours.
If I were to do it again, I’d take my time and aim for the 5-6 hour mark. Purely so I could enjoy the walk, the scenery and the feeling of hiking an actual volcano! Plus once you reach base camp, the only thing you have to do is watch Volcan De Fuego erupt. And you struggle to watch it erupt at mid-afternoon when it’s surrounded by low-lying clouds.
So do take your time, arrive an hour or so before nightfall, have some food and then settle down to watch Fuego erupt against the backdrop of the pitch black night sky.
“If you don’t climb the mountain, you can’t see the view”
The view is the main attraction of the hike and it does not dissappoint. From base camp you can see Guatemala City, Antigua and, at a push the sea. That’s not to mention the several volcanoes surrounding Acatenango.
Then of course, a few hundred metres to your right will be the active Volcan De Fuego, coughing and spluttering molten hot lava all day and all night. As I mentioned earlier, night is the best time to take in the views.
The shimmering lights of the cities will guide your eyes below and the magical, glowing lava slipping down the side of Fuego will mesmerize you for hours.
Booming apocalyptic noises from the erupting volcano will keep you on your toes as well. All in all, this is a fantastic once in a lifetime experience which you must do when you’re in Guatemala.
Stay tuned for the next blog, when we’ll be exploring more of the wonderful nature that Guatemala has to offer.