Hiking Acatenango is a Guatemala backpacking right of passage. Along with “how long have you been traveling?”, “how do you make money?” and “where are you going next?”. The question of “have you hiked Acatenango yet?” is undoubtedly going to come up. We have slowly been getting better at hiking and were feeling pretty confident after our trip to Zion National Park. So we wanted to hike Acatenango for sure. That was until we had numerous people tell us it was the hardest thing they had ever done in their lives. And that they would never do it again! Let me set the record straight. Hiking Acatenango is moderately difficult and the weather plays a big part, but it is definitely worth it.
Hiking Acatenango- The Basics
- 6 hour hike up from the start to base camp
- 1.5 hours hike round-trip base camp to summit
- 3 hour hike down from base camp
- 18km (11 miles round trip)
- 1569m (5150 ft) elevation gain
- 3976m (13044 ft) total elevation
- Recommended for overnight hikes
Preparing to Hike Acatenango
We booked our hike and accommodations though Wicho and Charlie’s in Antigua. The total cost for the hiking package is 400Q and the beds are a reasonable 70Q per night. The reason I recommend booking the accommodations and the hike with Wicho and Charlie’s is because everything is included and their hostel is completely set up for people doing the hike. They even have a hot tub! Gear is also included in the price of the hike but I will warn you that their selection is closer to an old thrift store than an REI. I ended up hiking with a female glove on my right hand and a small mitten on my left. That being said it ended up working out fine.
All of the meals, snacks, sleeping equipment, and even a telescope are included in the cost. Most everything is already set up at the base camp but you are responsible for bringing up your own food (provided by the hostel), water (you MUST bring at least 4L) and clothes. I bought an entire change of clothes as I was worried about being cold but that might not be completely necessary. Rachel also recommends bringing toilet paper and face wipes for the ladies.
Unlike our hike at Lake Atitlán you do not have to wake up horribly early for hiking Acatenango. We got up around 6 am packed our gear, double checked our borrowed equipment and ate our included breakfast. At around 7:00 fellow hikers arrive from other hostels and by 8:00 you are in the shuttle heading towards the volcano.
At the base of the volcano locals sell walking sticks, last minute snacks, and some cheap liquor. For sure get a walking stick and, although it is a bit awkward at 8 am, I recommend getting some liquor too. By the time you make it to base camp you are going to be ready to warm up! They have the hike broken down into 5 segments with small breaks in-between and one longer break for lunch. We were told the hike starts out super hard and then gets easier. We found it to be about the same the whole way. The elevation can make you feel a little more tired than you normally would, but we found the hike to be manageable. We were definitely ready for breaks when they came, but we didn’t feel like we were going to die in between.
The first half of the hike is mainly on a muddy path through a jungle. The trees are beautiful and the air is the cleanest I have ever breathed. We passed the time by listing to audio books on Audible and taking in the sights. After lunch, you start to leave the forest behind and the scenery changes to breathtaking views of Volcano Agua and the surrounding landscape. After another hour or so of hiking, you will come around an unassuming bend and WHAM Volcano de Fuego will be right in front of you in all of its glory. The highlight of hiking Acatenango is actually being so close to its active brother Fuego. We had been having a mostly cloudy day but luckily as we made that bend the clouds started to part and we could see Fuego’s rugged beauty.
Acatenango Base Camp
We arrived at base camp around 3:00 pm tired but feeling accomplished. Basecamp consists of four tents in a row, a bonfire with an awning above it, and a bunch of camping chairs. There is also a tent off to the side for the guides. By the time we made it to base camp, the clouds had completely disappeared and we got to soak in the sun. It was chilly but in the sun most of us were comfortable enough to take off our jackets and relax. At around 4:00 pm our guide asked us if we wanted to try for the summit that night or wait until sunrise in the morning. We all agreed that we would be way more sore in the morning and we still had decent weather so we wanted to do it for sunset.
The hike from base camp to the summit is a good bit steeper than the rest of the hike. The ground transitions away from being a muddy path into more or less a steep wall of loose gravel and sand. About 45 minutes into our summit the clouds and wind came back. We took a break to let some of our group catch up and our guide told us that the weather looked worse at the top and we should probably go back and try again tomorrow morning.
After a bit of back and forth amongst the group, we all decided that we didn’t trust ourselves to get up and hike the next day so we wanted to continue on. True to the guide’s prediction the weather got increasingly worse the closer to the top we got. By the time we reached the summit I honestly thought Rachel would be blown off the edge. Check out the video below for the full effect. Needless to say we did not get to watch sunset. Luckily our guides were amazing and they helped us all get back to base camp safely (one guide literally carried Rachel for part of it)!
*We later found out that there is an option to hike Fuego itself from base camp. It is dependent upon activity and can be dangerous.
Camping on Acatenango
When we got back to base camp we were all frozen and soaked. Luckily the guides had already built a great bonfire and they had chairs all around it waiting for us. After warming up and drying off we were served some spaghetti and wine! Filled with the joy that can only come from “surviving” an experience like that (and the wine) we laughed, talked and sang campfire songs until about 9:00pm. Unfortunately, the clouds stuck around so we could not see any of the stars or nearby Fuego erupting.
At 10:00pm I woke up to someone yelling “FUEGO!!”. I quickly scrambled out of my tent to see the clouds had magically disappeared and the sky was literally filled with the most beautiful stars I have seen in a long time. And then, as if scripted in a movie, the gigantic volcano in front of me made a sound like a jet engine and shot lava streaming up into the sky. Watching lava cascading down the side of Fuego from my tent is one of the coolest things I have ever experienced.
For the rest of the night, Fuego erupted almost every hour preceded by a loud thunderous boom and the frenzy of me climbing over my tentmates to stick my head out the door. Needless to say, you do not sleep very much while camping near an active volcano but I would have been too excited to sleep anyways.
Hiking Down Acatenango
The next morning’s sunrise was absolutely spectacular. A few people got up early to do the summit again for sunrise but the view at basecamp was so spectacular I didn’t feel any FOMO at all. We watched the sunrise over Volcan del Agua, saw Fuego shoot up more smoke and enjoyed warm cups of coffee. The hike back down was way easier than the hike up and I was honestly not as sore as I thought I would be. The hike down took about three hours and when we arrived another group of hikers were just about to start their journey.
Back at Wicho and Charlie’s I took one of the best showers I have ever taken and then spent the entire night in the hot tub asking anyone that walked by if they “had done the Acatenango hike yet?”.
Was hiking Acatenango challenging? Yes.
Would I recommend it? ABSOLUTELY.
Even if you are not a hiker (we are not) this hike is do-able. Just bring a good attitude, some warm clothes, and focus on the insane beauty around you.
Want more information to plan your trip to Volcano Acatenango? Check out the Guatemala Lonely Planet here.