Diary: hiking the active volcano Acatenango in Guatemala

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

We have been in Guatemala for a few days now. The country is known for the many active and not so active volcanoes. Acatenango is one of these volcanoes, and we have decided to climb it. In this blog, I will tell you all about this amazing experience.


Day 3: hiking the  Acatenango and Fuego

Acatenango is one of the highest volcanoes in Central America, almost 4000 meters high. It is an active volcano, but the last eruption was in 1972. Right next to the Acatenango, is the volcano Fuego, literally translated as the fire volcano. This one is a lot more active and spits every 20 minutes ash, rocks and lava. The last major eruption was on June 4, 2018, and caused more than 60 deaths.

Those eruptions of the Fuego volcano, that’s what it’s about in the coming days. You can see the eruptions from the Acatenango volcano that we are going to climb today. It is eight o’clock in the morning, and together with the other hikers, we are having breakfast at Wicho en Charlie’s, the organization where we booked our hike. After a simple breakfast, we try on some extra coats and then we take the buses to the start of the hike. Today is a sunny day, and we are very lucky with that. The weeks before it rained a lot and it was super cloudy. This makes the hike a lot heavier, and the result is that the visibility at the top of the volcano is almost zero.

Under a burning sun, we start climbing while chatting with the other participants. The biggest part of our group consists of Americans and Australians who already know each other from their hostel. Next to that, there are also some Dutchies, people from Sweden and from Austria. The first part of the hike is the heaviest. We plough ourselves up through loose volcano sand and have a short break every 20 minutes. The view from here is already beautiful, around us are large meadows full of flowers and below them, small valleys surrounded by hills. We hike most parts together with Dutchies Stef and Laurens and Matthias who comes from Austria. Ries leads the way and has a high pace but not everyone can keep up, therefore after an hour the guides decide to split the groups in half. This allows our group to go very quickly.

Walking above the clouds in Guatemala

As soon as we reach the cloud line, it is time for lunch. Enjoying the peace, the group eats the baguette that we have gotten. With renewed energy, we start the last one and a half hours. The landscape keeps changing the higher we come. With misty light shining through the tall pine trees, everything seems to be covered in mystery. It starts to be a bit chilly now as well, however, because the last part still contains some steeper tracks we stay warm enough. When we walk up to basecamp the sun shines and everyone crashed down in the chairs to enjoy the view. And that view, that’s amazing: we look straight at the Fuego volcano and see large clouds of ashes being spewed out.

Basecamp

The basecamp consists of a number of large tents, each offering space for six people. There are stretchers with lots of blankets on top. There is also a cooking tent and two campfires. We rest for an hour and then we split up. Ries, along with Matthias and Martin, will climb the Fuego volcano. The rest of the group, including me, will go to the top of the Acatenango. This takes another hour and is not easy because of the altitude. When we arrive at the top, the wind is blowing horribly hard and it is freezing cold. Unfortunately, the summit is surrounded by clouds and we don’t see the Fuego volcano. However, with these clouds we have a beautiful sunset: the clouds are purple, pink and orange and sometimes seem to be on fire.

The return to the basecamp is very dark. My headlight comes in handy, but I still glide around in the loose volcanic sand. In just 20 minutes we are down, a lot faster than up. Back at basecamp, dinner is being served at the campfire: spaghetti with tomato sauce and a glass of red wine. After a long day of hiking, it tastes very good! Now that it is dark we can see and hear the eruptions of Fuego very good. Large, orange fireballs shoot into the air and tumble down the steep sides. Secretly I think it’s pretty scary that Ries is somewhere out there.

Spaghetti, marshmallows and a fire camp

But half an hour later I take a sigh of relief. The three hikers together with their guide, have safely returned back to basecamp. All three are tired, they have made a beautiful but especially very difficult trip. Ries is very hungry and eats lots of spaghetti. At the campfire, he catches his breath and talks about their journey. While we listen, we roast marshmallows and we get homemade popcorn from the guides. Around 10 p.m. everyone is tired and we crawl into our sleeping bags. Unfortunately, it is freezing cold, and despite the different thick blankets and sleeping bags, I cannot warm up. I don’t sleep much but lie quietly listening to the different outbursts.

hiking the Acatenango

Day 4: sunrise on the Acatenango

At 5 o’clock we get up and take our blankets outside to watch the packed sunrise. It was also an option to climb the summit of the Acatenango around 4 o’clock to view the sunrise from there, but with the memory of the cold wind there, we decided to stay at basecamp. In addition, the view from the basecamp is already beautiful. We sit around chatting while we look out at the horizon, which begins to colour more and more red. The sun rises and is a huge orange ball. There are no clouds and we couldn’t have wished for a better sunrise.hiking the Acatenango

After a breakfast of hot oatmeal and coffee, we pack our things and walk down in three hours. The buses are waiting for us there, and around 11.30 we are tired, sweaty but with a wonderful experience, back in Antigua.

Off to Lake Atitlan

Together with Stef and Matthias, we will catch the bus at 14.00 to Lake Atitlan, but first, we are going to have lunch together. Unfortunately, that lunch is disturbed when I receive a message from Wicho and Charlie’s, with whom we also booked the buses, that something went wrong when booking the buses. I look at our ticket, and indeed, we should actually have taken the bus at 12.30 pm. It is now 1.15 pm and that bus has already departed. Ai, this means buying new tickets and hoping that there are still two tickets available. Fortunately, that does not seem to be a problem and at 2.00 pm we sit on the bus with a slightly lighter wallet.

We are on our way to Lake Atitlan, a large lake surrounded by volcanoes. On the lake are a number of small villages, including San Marcos, a hippie village where we will stay the next nights. Unfortunately, the bus trouble is not over yet. After an hour and a half, we encounter a strike from the teachers in the area. The road is blocked and traffic is therefore completely fixed. About 2.5 hours later we have moved up just 100 meters. Well, this is annoying since it looks like we are not going to get the last boat to San Marcos, and so we have to stay in the backpacker village of San Pedro. After some negotiations with the bus driver, who is not flexible at all and is mainly out to cheat us, we make a decision. It is already dark and before we arrive in San Pedro it will be after 8 pm. Although Guatemala feels super safe, taking a taxi or tuktuk in the evening, is not smart.

In San Pedro, we walk with Stef and Matthias to their hostel which fortunately has a private room available. We inform our hostel in San Marcos of the fact that we will arrive tomorrow, but will pay for this night as well. Ries is going to have something to eat with your boys but I am so tired of the hike and the bus ride, that after a nice shower, I immediately fall asleep.


Conclusion: climbing the Acatenango or not?

Certainly, do!!! For us, the hike to Acatenango was the highlight of our trip through Guatemala. The camping is fun, during the hike we made new friends with whom we have travelled further and the views during the climb are great! In addition, it is incredibly spectacular to see the Fuego volcano erupt every few minutes. An experience to never forget!


Click here to read all you need to know before climbing the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala!



Blogs on Guatemala

All my other blogs about Guatemala.


Other blogs about Guatemala

Travel guide Guatemala: Climbing volcanoes Acatenango & Fuego!
Diary: our first days in Antigua

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