The Ultimate Guide to the Acatenango Volcano Hike

The Ultimate Guide to the Acatenango Volcano Hike

The Acatenango Volcano hike is the stuff of legend. It’s a volcano on which you can sleep and watch molten lava burst out from it’s neighbour Fuego. It’s not hard to see why this one and a half day trek is one of the top experiences in Guatemala.

However, a traveller’s experience can range from incredible to downright awful, so I’ve put together this guide to tell you all everything you need to know. What to prepare and how the volcano will blow it’s top and your mind!

Anyone can attempt the Acatenango Volcao trek, but make no mistake. This is NOT a walk in the park.

Doing the Acatenango Volcano Hike

You’ll depart Antigua around 9:00AM and by 10:30AM you’re dropped off at the side of a non-descriptive road. There’s nothing but a steep and dusty path through farmers’ fields leading the way. It’s hard to imagine this is the foot of one of Guatemala’s most impressive volcanoes. Less than 100 steps in, you realise it’s going to be a tough hike ahead. Not only is the path steep, but the sun is pounding down and there’s little shade.

Farmers field at Acatenango Volcano
Only half an hour in to the hike, it’s already steep

Half an hour later there’s an opportunity to stop and catch your breath at a brief 20 metre stretch of flat ground. Then the ascent starts again! At this point you’ll wonder why you signed up for the experience. But an experience it is, so onward you go.

Steep hiking path Acatenango
Your legs are going to get a good workout

The path winds and enters a lush forest and the ground is littered with black volcanic rocks pressing under your feet. You’re now on the side of Acatenango Volcano and there’ll be no more flat ground until you reach the summit.

Volcanic Trees
The forest on the Acatenango Volcano hike

Trees now shade the path giving some relief from the heat, but the path is about to get steeper. It will become slippy too. As you sink your feet in, they get buried in clouds of thick ash. Try to stay focused as the ash swirls in the air, turning your face and the inside or your nostrils black.

Turning left then right, left, then right, the path zig-zags through the forest. The air starts to thin and it feels like you’ll never reach Acatenango’s summit.

Fuego Volcano Purple Sky
Don’t worry, this view awaits!

After three gruelling hours of exertion up Acatenango Volcano, the surrounding forest suddenly changes. The trees become bare, having been stripped of all their leaves by volcanic eruptions. With the view now clearing, take the time to lift your weary head and look around. It’s now you realise that you’re actually walking above the clouds.

Acatenango Volcano hiking path
Coming up to the final stretch

“One more stop to go” the guide announces. “Maybe half an hour”. You know it will be longer, but hope gives some light relief to the group as the path on Acatenango Volcano subtly ascends and allows for a more steady hiking pace.

The hike may feel like it never ends, but as you work your way around the back of Acatenango, a sudden turn reveals something you never thought you’d see. The campsite awaits!

Relief kicks in. Tired and weary, back packs are laid down. People drop to the floor and it’s time for a well earned rest. This spot is also where you’ll sleep on Acatenango Volcano.

Fuego Volcano erupting in the afternoon
Fuego Volcano amongst the clouds

Suddenly, there’s a sound like a rocket going off. Heads raise up to look what’s causing the commotion. It’s Fuego Volcano erupting right before your eyes. Huge plumes of smoke bellow in to the air like an atomic cloud. It’s remarkable and all the hard work to get here is forgotten.

Keep your eyes fixated on Fuego Volcano, you won’t want to move for fear of missing the start of another eruption.

Chilling out at a volcano

Some quick chill time

Watching an erupting volcano is the perfect backdrop to your rest break before phase two commences. This is a short 15 minute trek to watch the sunset over Fuego. A sky made of purple, orange, yellow and blue forms the beautiful backdrop.

Sunet Fuego Volcano
Fuego Volcano Sunset

It gets better though. As the light dims, the first glimpses of lava can be seen. Fuego doesn’t dribble lava down the side. It shoots it 100 feet in to the air. Nothing can prepare you for a site like this.

Back to the campsite, sitting patiently in the dark gives one of the most rewarding experiences imaginable. In pitch black you’ll hear a rumble, then see the lava in full effect. The earth vomiting right before your eyes.

Fuego Volcano Eruption
Fuego Volcano Eruption

It’s worth staying up for, as you tell yourself “I’ll just wait for it do erupt one more time”. Volcano watching suddenly becomes your new addiction.

Don’t stay up too late though, you’ll be undertaking another ascent at 4AM. This time your journey is in the pitch black of night. The timing may sound crazy, but another one and a half hours uphill leads to Acatenango Volcano’s crater. This is your viewpoint to watch the sun rise. Again, this ascent is not easy. Black volcanic dust slips and slides as you try to get a grip. It can take two steps to move forward one.

Fuego Erupting during sunrise
Fuego Erupting during sunrise

At the volano’s summit pain turns to pleasure. All you can see below you are clouds and volcanic peaks. The summit of Acatenango is 3,976 metres. To climb it in less than 24 hours is no mean feat. Nature has rewarded you handsomely with this unforgettable view.

Volcano Agua Sunrise
The sun rises over nearby Agua Volcano

An hour later and it’s time to descend. You’ll be thankful for trekking up in the dark. If the sunlight had shown you the previously dark path, you’d probably have wanted to go back down. It’s SO steep. Enjoy it though. It’s time to have some fun. I discovered there’s fewer simpler pleasures in life than running and jumping down a volcano. Your feet sink so deep in to the ash it’s as if you’re playing in snow. Although it sounds dangerous, it’s actually hard to fall down.

Running down Acatenango Volcano
Running down Acatenango Volcano

After witnessing a breathtaking sunrise from Acaentenago Volnaco, it’s time to return to the base. Descending Acatenango is of course easier than hiking to the top and with a confident swagger from what you just achieved, you’ll fly down.

Haggard trekkers on their ascent will pass you and stare. Their eyes pleading that the Acatenango hike is going to get easier for them. Just smile. You’ve been there. You know how hard it is. They have it all to come and like you, will be treated to the experience of a lifetime!

View of Fuego Volcano Guatemala
You have to get at least one selfie with an active volcano!

How to do the Acatenango Hike

All Acatenango hike tours depart from Antigua and there are dozens of agencies to choose from in the town. Your accommodation will also be able to sell you a tour for the hike. The tours offered by accommodation aren’t directly run by them. They will contact a preferred tour operator and group you with other people across Antigua who have booked in the same way. You should therefore ask relevant questions in advance to ensure all your needs are covered.

The Cost of the Acatenango Hike

Prices for the overnight Acatenango hike vary from Q225 ($29 USD)  – Q685 ($89) USD.

What to look for in a Tour Operator When Booking the Acatenango Hike

A good travel agent should always include the following in their price:

  • Return transport from Antigua to Acatenango Volcano
  • Equipment (see the full equipment list below)
  • Food
  • Guide

Note that many agents don’t include the Acatenango National Park entrance fee. That is an extra Q50 ($6.50).

Finding a good tour operator for the Acatenango hike can be difficult and I heard plenty of horror stories of travellers having a bad experienced with poor service. With so many Acatenango hike tours on offer in Antigua, how do you decide who to go with?

The quality of guides is a huge part. Food given to trekkers is another. Safety is of course paramount. A large part of safety is the equipment offered to trekkers. A quality travel agent should provide you with the following items of equipment for the Acatenango hike:

  • Warm hat
  • Thick warm jacket
  • Pair of gloves
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Head torch
  • Hiking poles or sticks
  • Water

If they don’t offer these items, you need to think twice about booking with them. Promises may be made as they take your money, but unless they can show you the actual equipment before departure, they can’t be trusted.

The temperature at the summit of Acatenango Volcano can be as low as 0oC. Many travellers are promised jackets by tour operators, but end up with thin and torn clothes. The gloves are odd sizes and they aren’t provided with a head torch. Remember that it will be pitch black. Ascending Acatenango for sunrise without a head torch isn’t easy!

Find out what food you’ll be provided with too. All travel agencies will provide three meals, but some ‘meals’ are a limp sandwich or snack bar. You will want some carbs and pasta, rice and fruit are all good foods to keep your energy levels high.

How to Choose the Best Tour Operator for the Acatenango Volcano Hike

Feedback and discussion with other trekkers leads me to conclude that OX Expeditions may well be the ‘best’ Acatenango hike. However, their prices are by far the highest and generally double what’s charged elsewhere. Exceptional guides, great food and high quality equipment are all part of their service though. OX Expeditions are also up front with their price and no other travel agency in Antigua listed a price. This means everywhere else is open to negotiation.

CA Travelers are also highly recommended. Providing all trekkers with the added bonus of five litres of water in a camel back, quality food and an inflatable mattresses.

So which travel agent did I choose for the Acatenango hike? I trusted my hostel owner and went with their tour (Mary’s Place was an exceptional place to stay in Antigua). The price was Q275 ($35 USD) which was slightly less than the average Q300 ($38 USD) charged elsewhere.

Before attempting the trek I did a lot of research and knew what to prepare. The hostel owner offered me a warm jacket, gloves and a hat and I could try them all on first to find the best fit. I felt that even if a tour operator was lacklustre, I’ve got the relevant equipment and paid a fair price. Ultimately I trusted the hostel owner and trust goes a long way with this kind of thing.

I later found out the tour operator agency they booked me with was called ‘Reliance Tours’. They were reliable. I wouldn’t say they went above and beyond, but the food was good, the guide pleasant and I got the Acatenango hiking experience that I wanted.

However, no-one else in the group brought a head torch with them and Reliance Tours didn’t offer them. The guide had a couple of regular torches spare, but I fortunately had my own. This saved me attempting to light the path with a smartphone.

There was a fellow vegetarian in the group and they were given a meat dinner. That’s far from ideal. Their ticket even said ‘vegetarian’ on it. Remember to shop around or be prepared yourself.

Checklist of Questions to ask an Acatenango Hike Tour Operator:

  • What equipment do you provide (clothes, torches, walking sticks, sleeping bag, ground mat, tent)?
  • How many meals do you get and what are they?
  • Do you use recyclable and reusable food packaging?
  • Is water provided?
  • Is the cost of Acatenango National Park included?
  • Are the guides local?
  • How much does the hike cost?

Recommended Equipment for the Akatenango Hike

  • Hiking boots (some people did it in trainers. They slipped over all the time. Kudos to them for completing the hike, but it just makes it harder).
  • Gators (these will stop the rocks in your shoes and the pain that causes).
  • Walking socks (support your feet and they’ll support you).
  • Five litres of water (this is thirsty work).
  • A quality hiking backpack (not a rucksack or day bag. You need to carry water, food, clothes).
  • Head torch (useful for this trek and late nights in dark hostel dorms).
  • Battery charging power bank (don’t let your battery run out and miss those epic shots. Keeping your phone in airplane mode helps preserve the battery too).
  • Snack bars, granola or peanuts (keep your energy up. Lots of stores have these; they’re better than eating crisps!).
  • Toilet Paper or Wet Wipes (you’ll be going in the woods, so want to stay clean).
  • Lip balm (I hate chapped lips and these ones last ages).
  • Dust mask or head scarf (breathing in volcanic ash isn’t ideal).
  • Sunglasses (at some points it’s hard to see ahead. Protect your eyes so you can see Fuego Volcano erupt in all its glory).


The Ultimate Guide to the Acatenango Volcano Hike

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