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Our Volcano Acatenango Hike: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It took about ten minutes after starting our hike up Volcano Acatenango to decide that this was a terrible idea that was all going to go horribly wrong.

Similarly, it took about ten minutes after gratefully returning to the paved road the next day where a van was waiting to drive us back to Antigua to decide that it had all been worth it.

Every moment in between? Well, it was characterized by one of those two extremes. My emotions spent most of the two day/one night trek up Volcano Acatenango mirroring the rumbling Volcano Fuego that we observed during our hike: times of peace and quiet followed by boiling frustration and occasional eruptions.

Our Volcano Acatenango Hike: The Good

Hiking Volcano Acatenango rewarded us with some of the most fascinating views that we have ever seen.

The hike leads tour groups up Volcano Acatenango in search not only of a summit and sweeping views of the region but of an up-close-and-personal look with nearby and very active Volcano Fuego.

Tips for a Volcano Acatenango Hike

Several hours into our hike, as we were approaching the campsite, our small group that was hiking Volcano Acatenango together caught our first sight of Volcano Fuego sending billows of smoke into the air–at that moment, all pain and exhaustion were forgotten, and you could literally feel the energy shift to pure excitement. I will never forget that moment–and not just because it provided the adrenaline needed to finish the hike without pain.

Our campsite was set up directly in front of this neighbor, which was happy to cooperate with us.

While some tour groups have had disappointing experiences due to a quiet Volcano Fuego or cloudy weather obscuring the view, we were greeted with often clear views of Volcano Fuego and so many eruptions of smoke and fire that I lost track. It was easily upwards of 10 times that we saw Volcano Fuego in action, and that’s not even including the deep groaning of the earth that we could hear at night when trying to sleep.

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Both sunrise and sunset were incredible to behold, and we found ourselves snapping photo after photo in an effort to capture the beauty.

We hiked Volcano Acatenango with a tour that we booked through our hotel. As in many places around the world, our actual tour group was a hodgepodge made up of people from several booking agencies–and luckily, they were all wonderful. Group trips are always enhanced when the people get along, and we loved getting to spend portions of our time hiking Volcano Acatenango (not the mention the time around the campfire at night) getting to know people from all over the world.

Tips for a Volcano Acatenango Hike

Our Volcano Acatenango Hike: The Bad

Without a doubt, hiking Volcano Acatenango was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things that we have ever done. Harder than a 14-mile day hike in the Grand Canyon, harder than our challenging hike in Slovenia, harder than summiting a 14,000-foot peak in Colorado.

The altitude, the incline, the loose pebbles and dirt that made up large swaths of the trail, and our particularly fit group members all contributed to the physical and mental challenges.

My pride was injured more than once, due both to being slower than I like to consider myself as a hiker and also due to falling more times than I care to remember on the way back down. As I type this, I can see scrapes on my hands from catching myself several times.

The worst sting of all? Jeremy and I missed summiting Volcano Acatenango by about 200 meters of incline. While we’ve decided to let that go and consider the challenge complete, we are not thrilled with missing the official mark.

Hiking Volcano Acatenango

Our Volcano Acatenango Hike: The Ugly

While the guides with us while hiking Volcano Acatenango were kind, the actual organization of the tour made the entire experience less pleasant than it had to be.

This tour is advertised around Antigua as including 3 meals (lunch/dinner/breakfast), guides, sleeping bags, sleeping mats, and tents. Beyond that, though–your information will vary.

We had group members who were not told that they would not be provided with a bag to carry their gear, so ended up strapping sleeping bags to their day packs.

We had group members who were not told that the “meals” were more like “snacks” and that hikers needed to be sure to pack plenty of food of their own.

Volcano Acatenango Hike, Guatemala

We had group members (us!) who were not told to bring a flashlight or headlamp for the final portion of the hike before dawn, and therefore missed the summit (yep–it wasn’t physical strain that prevented us from going to catch the sunrise at the summit, but the fact that it is literally impossible to climb a volcano when you can’t even see your hand in front of your face).

Something all of these miscommunications had in common? The only people who heard about what was actually the case were those who knew to ask those specific questions–for example, Jeremy and I clarified the food situation after I read an account of the hike up Volcano Acatenango from The Girl and Globe.

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Even worse, in my opinion, was the lack of safety precautions. Yes, tents, sleeping bags, and mats were provided as advertised–but the sleeping bags were all different weights. Despite the near-freezing temperatures at the top of Volcano Acatenango in January, Jeremy and I were both given summer-weight sleeping bags. To add insult to injury, the zipper was broken on Jeremy’s and it refused to stay closed all night.

It made for a very uncomfortable night–and a pretty concerning one, once we learned after the fact that six people had died of hypothermia while hiking Volcano Acatenango just weeks before our hike.

Hiking Volcano Acatenango

There are a few tour companies in town that cater to higher-end travelers who book in advance (this tour you can book online is run by the reputable Old Town Outfitters, and OX Expeditions is a popular choice)–the price much higher for a similar experience as far as the views and itinerary go, but we have seen that many people leave much more satisfied with their attitude toward safety.

Check out this 2-day Acatenango tour from Old Town Outfitters!

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Tips for Hiking Volcano Acatenango in Guatemala

While the experience and views that we had near the top of Volcano Acatenango were incredible, this was easily filed under the “Yeah, it was amazing, and we are never doing it again.” group of activities.

Outside of the views of the eruptions and the sunrise/sunset, the Volcano Acatenango hike itself and surrounding landscape were not incredibly beautiful–it had a certain charm, but for as much effort as it took to reach it–I’ll take majestic snow-capped mountains over quirky volcanoes any day of the week.

Hiking Volcano Acatenango

What to Pack for Hiking Volcano Acatenango

Headlamp — A headlamp is absolutely essential to hiking Volcano Acatenango–without one, you’ll probably end up not being able to reach the summit in the morning! It still stings a bit that we made this mistake.

Several Layers — It is cold on top of Acatenango! Bring several layers–we had 3-4 each and were still freezing during the night. 

Gloves — Both to prevent blisters and to keep you warm–I barely took mine off for the 24 hours we spent on the volcano.

Warm Hat — You don’t want to end up summiting without one–ours made the evening so much more comfortable–but I will say that our $1.40 hats that we purchased at the base of Acatenango are still some of our favorite travel souvenirs, so it’s up to you if you want to buy a hat in advance!

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Hiking Boots — Learn from my mistake: bring. hiking. boots. Not hiking sandals, not casual walking shoes. Boots. You can get away with sneakers if you need to, but your hike will be infinitely more comfortable if you bring boots.

Plenty of Food — Unless you book with a luxury company, the “meal” provided for hikers on Acatenango are really more like snacks: be sure to bring enough water and food that you can sustain yourself comfortably during intense hiking.

Walking Stick — You don’t necessarily need to purchase this ahead of time, but be sure to rent one at the base of the hike before starting your climb!

Hiking Volcano Acatenango

 

27 thoughts on “Our Volcano Acatenango Hike: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”

    • Hey Claudia!

      That’s a great question and honestly, I don’t know. We booked through our hotel (La Dolce Vita, which I highly recommend for those on a mid-range budget like us), and ended up with a group that was made up of people who had booked at hotels, hostels and travel agencies all over town.

      We’ve found that’s a pretty typical experience with tours in the developing world–no matter who you book with, you’re essentially buying the same experience. We paid 150 quetzales per person, our group members paid between 140-300 quetzales per person.

      I do recommend waiting until you’re on the ground to book–the companies that offer booking in advance charge a lot more for the same experience (I recommend taking a look at the post from The Girl and Globe–she went with a well-known company and ended up with many of the same concerns).

      Check back on the blog in a few days–I’ll have a post coming out with all the things you should know before the hike. If you’re planning to hike in the next few days, email me through the contact form and I’ll be happy to send you a copy of the draft of the post.

      Reply
    • Just popping in with a recommendation to use Quetzaltrekkers in Guatemala. I went on two hikes with them in Leon and they definitely take safety and preparedness seriously. Plus it’s volunteer-run and all the profits benefit local underserved communities. I would think it would be the same in Guatemala and will be using them again when I’m visiting 🙂

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      • I have heard good things about Quetzaltrekkers in Nicaragua (both preparedness and their non-profit aspect), and to be honest, I didn’t even know they were in Guatemala. That is definitely good to know. I hope you have a blast in Guatemala!

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    • Same here, recovering today from the hike of Acatenango. Your blog mirrors how I felt over the last two days. What a range of emotions, from watching fiery Fuego at base camp to summitting Acatenango, to sitting on the ground after your 20th fall climbing down the mountain, fighting back tears. The memories will be with me forever….

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      • They definitely will!! To this day, Acatenango is one of our most well-preserved memories of all our travels–it sticks with you. Range of emotions is definitely the right word for it!

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  1. Hey, what a great article! I did the same hike as you guys, but went with OX Expeditions and highly recommend them. They were more expensive but the whole trip was very professional. We had a pre-trip meeting the day before and they told us EXACTLY what it was going to be like, they lent us high quality gear at no extra cost, had English speaking guides etc etc but what I felt the real difference was reading your article is that they actually cared about us and giving us a memorable experience. Anyway just thought I’d give them a shout out here as I experienced none of the issues you guys did!

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  2. Your first two sentences made me laugh. Just finished the tour last week. Well we are in 50s and that was our first hike… now you can imagine. :)) . I like “Soy tour” . They took care of us as much as they can.

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    • I certainly can! Worth it in the end, I hope, but we’re still not in a hurry to go back ourselves! Glad we could give you a chuckle as you recover. 🙂

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  3. My girlfriend and I did the two hour hike with Soy Tours, they had gloves, hats and jackets to rent/get for free, as well as backpacks. The meals weren’t amazing, but definitely filling, we ate so much. The tents weren’t super comfortable as no tent it, but warm and sleeping bags working properly.

    We made the same mistake of no bringing a headlamp, but we just turned our phone light on and tried to stay close to the people that did have the lamps. (definitely the hardest bit of the hike and half the group didnt make it even though they had lamps)

    You should go back and Summit it! But go with Soytours, tour was 300 each i think but we also paid 200 quetzales each for our bags to be carried to basecamp, which was totally worth it!

    Anyone wanting to do it, I totally recommend it, and take your time if it is really hard, keep haing breaks, and the beggining hour is the hardest as there is no trees and your climbing on ash basically, but then it gets easier and easier, until the morning of course 🙂

    Enjoy!

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    • Ha–can’t say I’m in a big hurry to climb that volcano again! I agree the summit would be amazing… maybe one day. 🙂

      So glad you guys enjoyed yourselves and had a good experience!

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  4. Haha. Amazing how much your experience mirrored mine. Next time someone asks me how it was, I’ll just send them to your blog. Only difference was that I reached the summit, but that was because a friendly Brit with a headlamp saw me blind and struggling, and escorted me to the top. Amazing experience, but I’ll never f**king do that again. Lol.

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    • Amen to that! Definitely a once in a lifetime thing. I’ll think of that climb (and not necessarily with fondness) every time I see a volcano for the rest of my life. Glad you got to experience the summit! 🙂

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  5. Just for another perspective, my husband and I did this about a month ago and we didn’t use any guide or tour group. It’s encouraged, but not required and since we’re driving and had all of our gear with us, we just went solo. It made for an awesome experience and we would highly recommend!

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  6. Hi guys, I did this hike a week ago with Tropicana. It cost a bit more (£50 GBP) but they were really great – lots of food at the base camp, cabin already there & set up with sleeping bags blankets etc. I’d definitely recommend them. The actual hike was tough but so worth it for the night views of Fuego erupting. 6 of the 10 in our group made the summit in the morning for sunrise but we didn’t stay long as it was so cold! Coming down was a breeze in comparison to going up! Glad you enjoyed Guatemala, I certainly did.

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    • So glad you had a great experience, Nick! Those views were definitely worth the effort–we still remember them (and all of Guatemala!) fondly.

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  7. Hey Kate,
    Loved your article on the Acatenango hike! Just wondering, did you experience any form of altitude sickness? If not, had you been in the area for a few days prior to the hike?
    I’ve hiked up to Everest Base Camp and experienced symptoms of altitude sickness, and that was even after acclimatising at various altitudes. However, for this hike I’m planning to fly in from the UK and start the very next day – perhaps not the wisest idea?! Any advice welcome 🙂
    Thanks,
    Sam

    Reply
    • Hi Sam!

      We didn’t notice any severe altitude sickness at all, but we did experience minor symptoms like getting a short of breath a bit quicker than normal, etc. I would imagine absolutely nothing like the level Everest Base Camp, though!

      We were in Antigua for several days before starting the hike and had been traveling through Mexico and Guatemala before that, though nowhere at a particularly high altitude.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  8. This was awesome to read and remembering The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly made me laugh. I’m SO grateful I did this overnight hike, but I will never ever ever do it again haha. We were lucky enough to have the adjacent volcano insanely active all night with lava and smoke thundering around us constantly. There are simply no words to describe the magnitude of the sounds and the views. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience.

    However, the last couple hours on the hike down WERE miserable (albeit HILARIOUS in hindsight). I can envision constantly pulling myself up in the deep deep volcanic sand/loose rock using my hiking poles and just constantly falling, flailing, etc. It was a hoot but it was ROUGH. Envision an exhausted Gumby hiking. And this is from a Colorado girl who is no stranger to hiking.

    One suggestion I haven’t seen is that if people like to drink whiskey around the campfire while it is freezing cold out – don’t forget to bring your own whiskey/liquor!! Maybe even enough to share with your campmates. I wrongly assumed since the tour company provided wine with dinner that there would be extra wine or liquor for sale, but there was not.

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    • So glad you got to see so much activity that night!! … Because yes, definitely a once in a lifetime experience, lol. Still not ready to relive that, but so glad we did it once! Sounds like you had a very similar experience to us. 😀

      Reply

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