Acatenango Volcano Hike – Complete Guide

Acatenango Volcano hike on our travel blog

If you are considering hiking Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala then this blog is for you! Here I reveal how to book and prepare for the hike as well as its difficulty and what to expect (Updated in 2019).

Acatenango Volcano Hike – Complete Guide

One of the best experiences on our trip to date would have to be the Acatenango Volcano hike in Guatemala. Unfortunately, many people are deterred from this hike due to its rumored difficulty,

And the truth is that it isn’t an easy hike. 

But, if you are prepared properly then I don’t believe that hike is too bad – and it’s definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss.

Below I reveal all of the information you need to know about Guatemala’s Acatenango Volcano overnight hike to b sure you can be prepared and enjoy the experience just as much as we did!

But first…a little bit about the Acatenango Volcano Hike

In case you are confused, the name of the volcano you will actually hike is called Acatenango, whereas the volcano you will be watching erupt is called Fuego.

Acatenango sits parallel to Fuego and is currently dormant. Some people do hike onto Fuego itself from Acatenango but it looked quite dangerous to me and most tours don’t offer this option.
Acatenango hiking tours depart from the city of Antigua and are almost always done over two days where you send one night camped on Acatenango overlooking Fuego.

The major drawcard to hiking Acatenango volcano is watching Fuego volcano erupt. This extremely active (and somewhat dangerous) volcano puts on a magnificent show and lava spews from its cone. When we were there, Fuego erupted every 20 minutes or so all night long!

…which brings me to the next topic…

Acatenango volcano hike
The view is amazing!

 

Is hiking Acatenango dangerous?

This is a tough one. Based on recent events (the eruption of Fuego in November 2018, as well as the eruption in June which took many lives) I feel like I have to stay “yes” in short.

There is a certain degree of risk involved when you go so close to an active volcano. For many years the volcanic eruptions never as much as harmed anybody, but this is nature and it’s unpredictable so you should be aware of this risk.

That all being said, there are no reports of tourists being injured or recorded deaths due to the eruptions. The people who suffered were those who lived on Fuego volcano near its base.

But besides volcanic eruptions, there have been deaths of tourists on Acatenango in the past because of the cold. It gets very cold during the night and people have died of hypothermia. It is VERY important to prepare properly and pack warm clothing (and plenty of it) at all times of the year.

Tour companies who bring people to the Acatenango Volcano are also taking safety a lot more seriously in recent years. They will tell you what to bring and many will not let you hike up without adequate clothing (our tour guide checked that everyone had a hat and gloves before we departed and two guys who didn’t were forced to buy some.) Each year safety standards for tourists hiking Acatenango increases.

The most important thing is to hike Acatenango with a guided tour. Most of the deaths or injuries on Acatenango Volcano occurred because tourists attempted to hike without a guide.

The tour only costs $50 USD…take my advice and go with an experienced guide and group of people!

Fuego volcano erupting in gutemala
You actually get to see lava erupt from the nearby Fuego volcano!

 

Acatenango Day Hike vs. Staying Overnight

In all honesty, the best part of the Acatenango Volcano hike to me was spending the night up there. Watching Fuego erupt in the dark is so much better in the dark than in the day time. 

That being said, it is possible to hike Acatengnao in one day. These tours are much less popular but can be found. They involve an early start and you should be reasonably fit if you plan on hiking up and back down in one day. 

If you want to book a day hike to Acatenango, I reccomend booking in advance so the tour company has time to get enough hikers. Click here for more information or to book. 

I would recommend spending the night (doing the 2-day, 1-night option) if you can just to get the entire experience and allow yourself some downtime. Sure, sleeping in a freezing cold tent doesn’t sound like fun, but believe me, it’s worth it!

Overnight Acatenango Volcano Tour: Schedule and What to Expect

The overnight Acatenango tours usually start around 9 am and will pick up at your hostel. It is about a one hour drive from Antigua to the base of Acatenango. At the base is where you can buy any last minute things or rent gear from the locals.

It took our group 4 hours to get to base camp, but sometimes groups take as long as 6 hours (remember, you’re only as strong as your weakest link!) We had four breaks of about 10 minutes and one 30-minute break for lunch.

The hike is ALL uphill. The first half is harder than the second half but both will get your heart pumping. But by no means is it unmanageable. Just take your time, especially if you aren’t used to the altitude, and you will be just fine.

We arrived at base camp around 3 pm and we just hung out by the fire waiting for the clouds to clear to get a clear view of the volcano.

It was an early night as we were all tired and knew it was an early wake-up call at 4 am the next day. This 4 am start is not mandatory. Basically, it is the most challenging part of the entire hike as it is 1-hour hiking very steep to get to the very top of Acatenango to watch the sunrise.

After the sunrise, everyone returns back to camp to pack up and then a 2.5-hour hike back down the same way you came up begins. Once at the bottom a van is waiting to take you back to Antigua. You should arrive between 12 noon and 1 pm.

The Acatenango volcano hike at night
During the night the real show begins!

 

Booking an Acatenango Hike Tour

You will need to do the Acatenango Volcano hike on a tour, it simply isn’t safe without a guide and many people have died. Plus, it is good business for the local economy.

Every tour agency and hostel sells the tour for the same price, 350Q or $50USD which is the most basic tour price with a large group, basic food, and does not include the park entrance fee of 50Q.

They have set a standard price to ensure a fair price and profit for all businesses involved. We met lots of travelers trying to haggle better deals by booking in groups, please don’t do this – they have set a standard price to ensure that guides can be paid a fair price and companies can operate profitably.

What you should ask around for before you choose a company to book with is if they require you to carry your own tent and sleeping bag to the top and what food is included. Some tours offer better food and some actually leave tents and mats at base camp for hikers don’t have to carry them (the less weight you need to carry the better!) Depending on your needs you can decide what is best for you.

I also recommend booking through a trusted source. Viator offers a great tour which includes lots of food and professional guides. Click here for more information or to book in advance.  Otherwise, you can book last minute when you arrive in Antigua through your hotel or a local company such as Gilmer Soy. 

Sunrise on the Acatenango Volcano hike
Our group at the summit for sunrise!

 

The Weather on the Acatenango Volcano Hike and the Best Time of Year

There are two main seasons in Guatemala, the dry season (November through April) and the wet season (May through October.) You can hike the Acatenango Volcano all year round, however, the weather will be different depending on when you go. 

The Dry Season (November-April)

During the dry season, the views are generally better. There is less cloud cover and mist which ensure you can get a clear view of Fuego. It also is less likely to rain meaning your hike will be a lot more enjoyable.

The downside of the dry season is that it is colder. From December to February are the coldest months so must be prepared for below zero temperatures at night!

The Wet Season (May-October)

We did the Acatenango Volcano hike during September which is the rainy season. The rainy season is often warmer but it does pose a few more challenges in terms of preparation.

First of all, rainproof gear was required. I had a raincoat and a cover for my backpack and then also brought an extra pair of clothes for when we got to camp to change into (you won’t want to be stuck in wet clothes all night!) Not only do you need a rainproof backpack cover, I would also recommend putting your extra clothes in a plastic bag inside your backpack just in case some water does get in.

During the rainy season, sometimes clouds prevent you from seeing Fuego erupt at all. In fact, we spoke to people to had to do this hike twice because the first time they saw absolutely nothing! When we first arrived at base camp we could not see Fuego Volcano at all. But luckily for us, after a couple of hours, the clouds cleared and we had good views all throughout the night and at sunrise.

The weather on the Acatenango Volcano Hike
The fire will help keep you warm in the cold night!

The Food on an Acatenango Tour

We heard mixed reviews from people about the food on the Acatenango Volcano hike. Basically, some tours seem to offer more food than others.

Our tour didn’t have a ton of food but it was a decent amount. We got a plastic bag at the start which contained:

  • one small bottle of water
  • packaged dinner of a piece of chicken with rice and salad and a piece of bread
  • one ham sandwich
  • one cup of instant noodles
  • one banana
  • one cup of yogurt
  • some powdered milk and a very small portion of cereal
  • one packet of hot chocolate mix.

Sounds like a decent amount of food for one and half day’s right? Wrong!

When you are hiking at this altitude you get VERY hungry.

We ate almost all of the food on the first day and then had next to nothing left on the second day. Remember, although you return back to Antigua at lunchtime, you have a 4 am start so it will feel like lunchtime around 10 am.

My advice, bring extra snacks. You will crave chocolate and salt. Our favorite hiking snack is a Snickers bar, we brought a couple of them, a few cookies, and some nuts and we were fine with that. Other good ideas of things to bring if you eat a lot are extra instant noodle cups (the guides will happily boil hot water for you) and even coffee for the morning.

It is always best to bring more food than you think you will need as at base camp there is nowhere to buy anything.

it's cold on the Acatenango Volcano Hike
Heading down from the summit, It’s cold up there!

What to Pack for the Acatenango Overnight Hike

The one thing you will need to clarify with your tour company is if you need to carry your own tent and sleeping bag to the top. Many tour companies are leaving everything set up at base camp but some companies are not.

If you need to carry a sleeping bag and tent then make sure you bring your big backpack (50L or bigger) to be able to fit everything.

However, if not, maybe consider just bringing a small backpack as long as you can fit the clothing you need and food.

If you are also worried about the difficulty of the hike I recommend going with a company that carries equipment for you as carrying less weight at high altitudes will be a life saver!

It is always cold at base camp on Acatenango and even colder at the summit for sunrise. Bring as many warm clothes as you can. Gloves are necessary as well as a beanie. I wore two pairs of pants first thing in the morning and was still cold! Be prepared for the cold, we have heard stories about people only bringing shorts with them. Not a smart idea.

Warm clothes can be bought for cheap from the second-hand clothing market in Antigua or at the base of the hike beanies and gloves can be rented for just over $1 USD.

Here is a detailed packing list for the Acatenango Hike:

  • extra change of warm clothing (a couple of extra pairs of socks is always a good idea)
  • raincoat
  • rain cover for backpack
  • extra snacks
  • Money for the entrance fee (50Q) and tip for the guides
  • Gloves and a beanie
  • 4 liters of water
  • some alcohol (if you think you will want a drink while watching the amazing show Fuego puts on in the evening)
  • a hat
  • sunglasses
  • camera and tripod for the night shots!
  • marshmallow’s (for roasting around the fire, you will thank me!)
  • a walking stick (also available for rent at the base of Acatenango for less than $1 USD and will be really helpful when you’re climbing through loose rock sliding everywhere)
hiking to the top of acatenango
Dan and I on the hike up Acatenango!

Other Tips

-Do get a walking stick and remember to bring it on the hike the second day to the summit. The hike can be steep and slippery and the stick helped me out a ton!

-Mentally prepare yourself for two amazing, but challenging, days. I honestly did not think the hike was as hard as some people we saying, but I also expected the worst.

-Book yourself a comfortable bed in Antigua before and after the hike. Get lots of rest before you go and allow yourself time to rest when you get back.

-Budget for an awesome meal when you get back from the hike. Antigua has all of the western comfort food including Little Cesar’s Pizza, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Taco Bell and more. You will want nothing more than the greasiest food when you get back to Antigua, and you just hiked for two days so you deserve it!

-Don’t forget to tip your guides. Their wages are not high enough for what they do and if everyone give them a couple of dollars it helps them out a lot.

That sums up our guide to the Acatenango Volcano hike. In all honesty, it was one of the best things we did in Central America. If you want to know more about how our personal hike went on Acatenango, be sure to read our full story.

We hope you enjoyed this post and most of all, enjoy the hike! Please let us know in the comments if you found this post helpful or if you have any questions, we WILL get back to you!
-Bailey

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