As a self-proclaimed volcano junkie, it’s no surprise I booked a last minute trip to Guatemala after seeing a mesmerising photo from the Acatenango volcano hike.
Starting point – Antigua, Guatemala
I arrived in Antigua, a beautiful and colourful colonial town. I immediately eyed up three picture perfect volcanoes, looming in the distance, active Volcan de Fuego, dormant Acatenango volcano and majestic Agua volcano.
I decided on the two-day overnight hike up Acatenango volcano and Fuego, which are collectively known as the La Horqueta. The hike advertised as the “toughest volcano trek in the area” and should only be attempted by those in top physical condition. I hesitated for a second but decided it couldn’t be worse than summit night of Kilimanjaro, and eagerly signed up for the next day.
Day 1 Acatenango Volcano hike
Following a 4.30am start, we drove an hour to the beginning of the trail (1,500m) and before I knew it we were hiking a gruelling 7 hours up Acatenango Volcano (3,976m). The first hour and half was the toughest. As we continued to gain elevation I reminded myself hiking is 20% physical and 80% mental. I slowly pushed on. Luckily our beautiful surroundings were the perfect distraction and we eventually found ourselves in a barren volcanic landscape.
The hard work was worth it and as we reached the campsite we were rewarded with this amazing view of Acatenango’s twin volcano, Fuego (3,763m).
Fuego Volcano hike
We set up camp, dropped off our heavy bags, added a few extra layers of clothes and set off to get a closer look. This involved hiking down the steep slopes of Acatenango volcano to the “knife-ridge” of Volcan de Fuego, a small trail with 500m drops on either side leading to the fuming caldera ahead. This wasn’t for the faint hearted.
I stopped half way along the ridge, hoping to take some close-up shots from a safe distance (that’s not to say I wasn’t ready to run if I had to!). The volcanic ash and scree that covered the ground wasn’t the best place for a tripod so I balanced my camera on a rock and hoped for the best.
I will never forget the feeling of the ground rumbling beneath my feet, the heat on my skin, and the smell of sulphur lingering in the air. I had no sense of control over the situation yet I felt empowered by the volcanoes strength.
After spending some time at the ridge, hunger and exhaustion hit us. We had been solely fuelled by adrenaline for far too long, so we made our way back to camp. Luckily, dinner (and even a glass of wine) was waiting for us, along with some stunning sunset views to enjoy whilst huddling around the campfire.
Camping overnight on Acatenango Volcano
As darkness hit, I realised how exposed we were. The temperature plummeted and I knew we would have to head into our tents for shelter soon. Eagerly, we made a plan to wake up at 3am. We would hike to the crater lake summit of Acatenango, to experience a panoramic view of the area at sunrise.
However, an early night wasn’t in store for us.
Nestled into our sleeping bags and peering out of our tents, we were captivated by the bright molten lava. It was creating a fiery path down the knife-ridge that we were standing on only a few hours before. Not surprisingly, we stayed awake most of the night mesmerised by the raw power, sound, force and excitement of the explosive volcano in front of us. The experience felt surreal, and the unpredictable behaviour of Volcan Fuego meant we were at the mercy of the volcano. This was one way to awaken your senses!
Day 2 Acatenango Hike to Volcano Summit
Surprisingly, I did wake up for the 45 minute hike up to the Crater Lake. It was a steep ascent and the sand and gravel trail didn’t make trekking in the dark any easier. Luckily, we were blessed with an impressive 360 degree sunrise view of the chain of volcanoes stretching from Mexico to El Salvador.
We headed back down to base camp for breakfast and paused to enjoy our surroundings one last time before packing up and hiking four hours back down.
Why should the Acatenango Volcano hike be on your bucket list?
I’ve hiked many volcanoes in my time but this experience was different, rarely can you be in such close proximity to fresh magma manically spewing from the Earth’s core. I will never forget the smoke and fire filling the sky, the luminous lava streaking across the landscape and the thunderous sounds echoing around me. Fuego is a true testament to the power of Mother Nature, making this hike, definitely one for the volcano bucket list.
Acatenango and Fuego Volcano hiking tours in Guatemala
Three options exist, the day tour if you are short on time, the volcano Acatenango overnight tour which I thought was ideal or a 3 day hike which is a slower version of the doubly whammy hike. My Acatenango volcano overnight experience was with the group tour company, Ox expeditions, but make sure you research the tour companies offering this hike as they do differ. Make sure you bring good hiking boots and are prepared for the altitude sickness you may experience.
Note: If you are looking for an easy volcano hike in Guatemala then try the Pacaya Volcano but don’t expect fireworks.
How to get to Antigua Guatemala
International flights into Guatemala, land at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. From there you can catch an uber, an airport taxi, book a private driver, tase a shared shuttle or get the chicken bus to Antigua. The journey is 40km but it can take anywhere from 1-3 hours depending on traffic.
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If you loved the Acatenango volcano hike and are looking for other bucket list adventures check out my other hiking trips.