Located 35 km (22 miles) southwest of the capital Guatemala City, sits Fuego volcano, one of three active volcanos in Guatemala. 12,240ft high and towering above Guatemala’s former capital, Antigua, Fuego volcano is in near-constant activity. Witnessing an eruption from one of the organised nearby hikes is not an unusual occurrence. Sightings of the Fuego volcano erupting is what makes the Acantenango hike an exhilarating and once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say Acatenango volcano hike or Fuego volcano hike, you’re in the right place. You’re about to have your mind blown. The Acatenango volcano hike is seriously a bucket list experience when travelling through Central America and having just completed it, I’m ready to share my top tips with you.
I actually arrived in Guatemala not even aware that the Acatenango volcano hike existed. It was only after I overheard a couple of people on my 12-hour bus ride from San Cristobal to Lake Atitlan talking about a bucket list hike they were travelling to, that I became aware of Volcan Acatenange and Volcan Fuego. More than just a couple of people on my shuttle were coming across the border from Mexico into Guatemala JUST to complete this bucket list hike. Apparently, it’s a pretty big deal.
I can confirm, the Acatenango volcano hike here in Guatemala is absolutely worth travelling through the country for alone.
The Acatenango volcano hike is officially up there with my favourite travel experiences to date. Others include witnessing the detonating swell arrive into Nazare Portugal, experiencing Finnish Lapland, Burning Man and road-tripping Iceland.
Thinking of adding the Acatenango volcano hike and sightings of Fuego volcano into your Guatemala travel itinerary? This travel guide will cover everything you need to know beforehand. If there’s a question you still have after reading this blog post, drop us a comment and we’ll update the travel guide for you!
Other travel guides we think that you may enjoy:
Where is Acatenango volcano? How do you get to Acatenango?
Acatenango, along with its twin volcano to the south, Volcán Fuego, overlook the historic former capital city of Antigua, Guatemala. To hike up one of the volcanos in this area, you’ll need a guide and to book on to a tour. Though the sought after views are of the active volcano, Fuego, it is in fact Acatenango that you will climb to attain them.
Most of the tours that you will likely come across and book on to will have their offices in Antigua, so this will be your starting point.
Plan to arrive in Antigua ahead of starting your hike and in fact, make sure you leave time before / after to explore this gorgeous city. If you don’t plan at least an extra few days to wander these coloured cobbled streets, you’ll regret it!
Shuttles run from all over Guatemala to Antigua city, I paid 125Q with Magic Travel from Lake Atitlan which took 3 hours. If there are a few of you, sharing a taxi may even work out cheaper.
Once you’ve booked onto a hike with a tour company, the rest is pretty much sorted for you. You’ll arrive to the tour company offices and they will organise the transport to the start of the hike and back again with your hiking group.
What time of year should you book the Acatenango hike?
OX Expeditions run the Acatenango trips all year round. In Antigua, Guatemala there is a 6-month dry season from November – April, and a 6-month wet season from May – October.
However, nothing guarantees the weather in either season. Between November – April you are more likely to have clear views and less likely to get wet.
I’ve just completed it in January and experienced ALL the elements.
What tour should you book on to for the Acatenango hike?
Acatenango day hike $59USD
The Acatenango Day Trip is the best choice for those travellers looking for some great trekking and an adventure-filled day hike; it’s perfect if you are short on time. This tour leaves our office in Antigua, at 5 am and you will be back in Antigua by sunset. This tour begins at a height of 2400 meters, ascending through farmland, cloud forest, high alpine and volcanic. Overall there is an elevation gain of over 1500 meters, reaching 13,044 feet (3976 meters) at the summit.
Includes: rental gear, water, lunch, bilingual professional guide.
Acatenango overnight hike $89USD (this is the one we booked on to)
The Acatenango Overnight Hike is currently Antigua, Guatemala’s most popular adventure among travellers. People come from all over the world for this one. This epic hike, just like the day hike, takes you to the summit of Acatenago only you stay overnight at basecamp to break it up. You have dinner around the fire with new friends by evening and wake up to views of Fuego before summiting to 13,000ft at sunrise. You meet at 7am on day 1 and return around noon on day 2.
Includes: Lunch, dinner and breakfast, rental gear, fresh coffee, breakfast before the tour starts, transport, a bilingual professional guide and free locker storage for luggage.
Double whammy volcano hike $129USD (this is what we ended up opting for on the day to extend the challenge)
I booked onto the Acantenago day hike (previous option) but when we arrived to base camp our guide gave us the option to take on the extra challenge and 4-hour hike to Fuego’s ridge and back. On a clear day, you’ll arrive and watch the sunset here. You’ll also get a phenomenal opportunity to witness the eruptions of Fuego up close. I’m not sure if it’s always an optional extra, our group hiked pretty quickly to base camp so maybe it’s time dependant. If you’re keen to experience and secure the double whammy, book on the link below!
Fuego volcano day trip $65USD
Fuego volcano overnight hike $99USD
OX expeditions also offer other volcano hikes and adventures. See all their offerings here.
My top tips for the Acatenango volcano hike:
Bring enough water for the whole hike (it’s heavy to carry but you are self-reliant on this one, you’ll get thirsty)
Bring some small cash
When travelling through Guatemala, paying with cash is nearly always the required payment method. So chances are you’ll have cash on you but in case you’re arriving straight into Guatemala for the hike, here’s your reminder. We used cash for:
– Tipping the guides at the end of our trip. They truly deserve it and are so grateful for anything you can give. The standard tip here is around 10% but tip from your heart.
– Renting the walking sticks to assist us on our hike. There will be locals offering them at the bottom of the hike just before you begin. Highly recommend grabbing 1 or 2.
If you’re prone to altitude sickness or are worried about it, arrive in Antigua 48 hours before the hike to acclimatise to the elevation gain. Buy something to settle your stomach when in Antigua, ahead of the hike.
Pack light, pack just the essentials!
Particularly, if like me, you want to take on the challenge of carrying your backpack the whole way up. The lighter the better. You’re hiking some serious inclines. and you’ll be glad you didn’t pack things just in case.
You can opt for a sherpa to carry your backpack if needed
If you do find you’re struggling with the intensity of the hike, there is the option to pay a sherpa to take your backpack up for you. I think it was maybe 200Q (£20) for them to take it up.
Take some sweets/sugar for energy
There were a couple of times I reached for some quick release sugar to relieve sickness/headache from low blood sugar. This hike gets pretty intense and will require you to fuel yourself right to sustain the energy the hike requires.
Take a camera!
For obvious reasons…
Bring good hiking shoes – they will help a lot!
A lot of the terrain is loose, uneven and on an incline. This makes it hard for non-grip trainers to carry you well. One of the things that the tour company does not provide is footwear. Many people were doing the hike in running trainers or similar and were fine but it was definitely a lot more comfortable in hiking shoes. I took my Merrell hiking trainers and they were amazing – particularly when it rained and the dirt tracks turned to mud!
Pack lots of layers
Do not under pack layers to save weight in your backpack. This is something that should take priority. We experienced all weathers and temperatures in January 2021 and I was so grateful for the additional layers. At night and for sunrise at the summit, temperatures are near freezing and you will get very uncomfortable if you aren’t prepared. It’s also very dangerous to not be prepared. In 2017, some hikers were very unprepared and there were fatal consequences.
The tour company provide as many layers as you’d like to take. Make sure you grab: waterproof layer, fleeces, jacket, gloves, headtorch, hat.
Have dry layers to sleep in
Having a spare set of clothes to sleep in that was dry after a wet sunset hike to Fuego was a dream. Not only do you need layers but you need a spare set of layers to sleep in, incase your hiking gear gets wet. Wet and cold are not ideal conditions to sleep in.
Pick up spare batteries on the stop off for your head torch
If you do just the overnight hike, you’ll need your head torch for the 3.45am summit. This literally lights up the path for you and is essential. It’s a real struggle without a head torch and near impossible to do relying on other peoples light. Get the extra batteries to keep your head torch strong!
oh and last but not least…
When you return from the hike, check into Hotel Casa Santo Domingo!
It’s absolute heaven. Soak in the jacuzzi, the steam room, the sauna, the pools and lie on the loungers beneath the lush greens with a cocktail in hand post-hike. This will be the celebration that will get you through the final stretch to the summit! You can reserve a day pass. for just $40USD and you can pay by card when you arrive.
The Acatenango volcano overnight hike, Guatemala
The adventure begins...
Arrive at OX adventures and grab all the equipment you need ahead of the hike. They have lots of layers, backpacks, hats, head torches, gloves and more for you to borrow.
The shuttle drops you all at a breakfast spot in town for a traditional Guatemalan breakfast. This is your chance to fuel up for the day – don’t skip it!
The shuttle picks you all up from the breakfast spot and transfers you to La Soledad, the starting point for the hike. On the way you stop off in a little town to pick up supplies and snacks.
Things to get:
- batteries for your head torch
- water for the whole hike
- snacks, sweets, things to keep your energy up!
- anything from the pharmacy
You arrive to the starting point and have the option to hire hiking sticks. We only got these at the last second and I can tell you that I wouldn’t have wanted to do the hike without them.
Once everyone’s got their sticks and been to the toilet… it’s time to start the hike!
Arriving to basecamp (11,646 ft) - my diary
We’ve hiked near vertically for 4 hours straight, ascending 4000ft through the farmland, cloud forest and alpine forest leading up to base camp. It’s hard to control my breathing. My body’s reaching its edges consistently. We’ve had zero visibility so far. The sound of small eruptions somewhere in the distance is the only presence of the volcano we can witness.
We’ve made it to base camp, set up our tents and begun adjusting to the lower levels of oxygen whilst sipping on a packet of hot chocolate dissolved into boiling water from the camp stove. Though exhausted, we say yes to the extended 4-hour challenge. We cut our rest time short and continue to ascend to the ridge of the volcano itself. Down 1000ft, and up 1000ft to witness Fuego’s volcanic activity up close for sunset.
There’s no visibility. There’s no sunset. No volcano. The winds are blistering, it starts raining.
My head torchlight is weak and the rubble beneath my feet loosely holds each footstep. Another 1000ft down, 1000ft back up. Arriving back to base camp felt like it would never arrive. The relief of arriving was more than enough to feel accomplished.
I felt broken and cold but wildly alive at the helm of Mother Nature.
Exhausted, we lay on the uneven ground in the tent with just a thin mat and sleeping bag supporting us. The alarm set for 3.30 am to summit at sunrise. But here, at 1 am, I woke abruptly to the unimaginable energetic forces of Fuego ringing through my body. I sat bolt upright and I frantically reached for the tent zip in the dark. I peeked out.
There. She. Was. Under a sky full of stars.
‘Girls wake up right now, LOOK.’
We sat mouths open wide. There she was. Bright orange lava blasting out of the top and falling all the way around her.
That explosion, that moment, is one I will never ever forget. And suddenly I remembered why the darkness, the lack of clarity, the journey and the patience was so necessary to revel in the beauty. Here’s a selection of images from just after that moment, sat in my tent whilst trying to scramble some items to balance my camera on, setting up long exposure and waiting to time it with another eruption.
3.45am wake up call to summit at sunrise
The 3.45am wake up to ascend the final 1,300ft for sunrise was probably the most challenging part of the hike for me.
Waking up and beginning an immediate vertical incline on little sleep, no breakfast, tired legs, at altitude and with a head torch leading the way through the dark. I was also fighting a sicky tummy.
Though we could pace as we needed, we were against the clock for sunrise and we finally had visibility.
A couple of jelly sweets from the tour guide settled my stomach, thankfully, and it was back to one foot in front of the other. Pushing through tiredness was way easier than sickness. The final 1.5 hours was upon us. I’d say the last 5 minutes were the dig deep territory. You could see the plateau, the top, but it took all my energy to get the steps in and to push through the loose soft terrain.
As I neared the top of Mt. Acatenango, praying for a little assistance, the BIGGEST gush of wind quite literally carried my body weight the final stretch. A few happy tears fell from my eyes.
We made it. 12,953ft and above the clouds with views across Guatemala and the coastline. Just in time for sunrise.
Is there anything else you'd add to this Acatenango volcano hike travel guide?
Where are your favourite things to do in Guatemala? Anything you’d add?
Love as always and happy adventuring,
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