ULTIMATE Guide to the Acatenango Volcano Hike, Guatemala
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If you’re considering tackling the Acatenango Volcano hike 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!
The Acatenango Volcano hike is one of Guatemala’s most famous attractions. It gives those who are brave enough to tackle the freezing temperatures and difficult terrain the chance to gaze in wonder at the Fuego Volcano as it spews molten lava and ash from its crater.
Acatenango Volcano sits a mere 2.5 kilometers across the valley from Fuego Volcano and offers the best seat in the house for this once in a lifetime opportunity!
For us, hiking Acatenango Volcano was one of the best experiences we had in all of Central America! Unfortunately, many people are deterred from this hike due to its rumored difficulty,
And the truth is, it isn’t an easy hike.
But, if you’re prepared properly then I don’t believe the hike to the top of Acatenango 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 hike to be sure you can be prepared and enjoy the experience just as much as we did!
Acatenango Volcano Hike FAQs
Before we get into all of the details, I wanted to provide you with a few quick answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about hiking Acatenango Volcano.
Most people hike Acatenango Volcano over 2 days. It is an 18-kilometer return trip.
Expect to see Fuego Volcano, which is very active! Expect to see lava as it erupts across the valley. This is what makes hiking Acatenango so special!
It is a challenging hike with an elevation gain of about 1500 meters ( just over 5,000 feet.) Completing the hike over 2 days makes it more enjoyable. The high altitude must also be taken into consideration when accessing the Acatenango Volcano hike difficult.
Anybody who is relatively fit and can handle hiking uphill for 5-8 hours should hike Acatenango – it is an amazing experience and well worth the effort!
You can hike Acatenango Volcano all year around, but just need to prepare differently. The wet season is the warmest, but often cloud cover and rain obstruct views of Fuego Volcano. Read below for more information.
Yes. Hiking Acatenango is a challenge and a guide knows the best routes, how to prepare, and is more experienced in case of emergencies. Almost all of the deaths on the Acatenango Volcano hike occurred in groups attempting the trail without a guide.
Hiking Acatenango isn’t without its risks. Fuego is a nearby active volcano and while it doesn’t normally pose any problems, it has in the past.
Almost everybody accesses the Acatenango Volcano Hike from Antigua, Guatemala. From the city Antigua, you can reach the base of Acatenango with an hour-long drive. Almost all Acatenango hiking tours begin and end in Antigua.
Acatenango Volcano vs. Fuego Volcano
In case you’re confused, the name of the volcano you will actually hike to the top of 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 in Guatemala and are almost always done over two days where you spend one night camped on Acatenango Volcano 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…
Is Hiking Acatenango Volcano Dangerous?
There is a certain degree of risk involved when you get so close to an extremely active volcano. For many years, Fuego’s volcanic eruptions never 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 on Acatenango being injured or recorded deaths due to any eruptions. The people who suffered were Guatemalans who lived on Fuego volcano near its base.
But, there have been deaths of tourists on the Acatenango Volcano hike in the past because of the cold.
In the dry season, 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 that 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 guide on a tour. Most of the deaths or injuries on Acatenango Volcano occurred because tourists attempted to hike without a guide. Some tour companies are also much better than others, so keep reading for our tour company recommendation that will not only make you more comfortable on your hike but also safer.
How to Get to Acatenango?
Acatenango Volcano is best accessed from Antigua, Guatemala. The drive from Antigua to the start of the Acatenango Volcano trail takes about an hour. For this reason, almost all tours and guided hikes on Acatenango depart from Antigua.
Antigua is a beautiful colonial city that is a top tourist destination in Guatemala. In fact, it is also one of the best places to visit in all of Central America if you ask me! There are lots of fun things to do in Antigua as well as great places to stay! It is definitely a place to visit, and where you can easily visit Acatenanago!
Not to mention, you can see both Acatenango and Fuego Volcanos right from the city!
How Long Does the Acatenango Hike Take?
Most people hike Acatenango over the course of 2 days, splitting up the challenging hike with a night spent on Acatenango Volcano. It is an 18-kilometer round trip hike that gains over 1500 meters in elevation – it isn’t easy to accomplish in one day.
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 than in the light of day. During the day you’ll only see smoke, whereas at night, you’ll see lava!
That being said, it is possible to hike Acatengnao in one day. These tours are much less popular but can be found and there is a highly rated one available online. They involve an early start and you should be reasonably fit if you plan on hiking up and back down in one day.
I personally recommend spending the night (doing the 2-day, 1-night option) 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!
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 for the local economy.
Every tour agency and hostel sells the tour for similar prices. The cheapest tour you’ll find is $50USD per person 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 base 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 minimum 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 so that 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.
We booked this specific tour which although was a little more money, was highly rated and came with some serious perks. They included all of our gear and way more food than any of the other tour groups we saw! A super professional company and a smooth tour that was well worth the extra few dollars in our opinion!
If you don’t want to hike, there is a tour that drives you up the majority of the way in a 4×4 vehicle. This tour doesn’t come cheap though, but is well worth it if you are unable to hike the entire trail!
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 ensures 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! This is something you should be prepared for if hiking Acatenango in the wet season.
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.
What to Expect on the Acatenango Volcano Overnight Hike
Still want to know more about hiking Acatenango Volcano, specifically the overnight tour? Well, here is exactly how our experience went as well as the exact itinerary so you know what to expect too!
Antigua to Acatenango
Our journey to the base of Acatenango started at 9 am from our hostel in Antigua. Almost all overnight Acatenango tours start at this time and offer hotel pick up within Antigua.
Once we jumped on the bus we were introduced to our group. We got to know each other during the 1-hour bus ride from Antigua to Acatenango’s base. Our group was made up of 13 people including our guides. Our group was young, excited, and a touch crazy!
The Start of the Trail
After the short drive, we arrived at the base of the volcano and the start of the trail. As the bus doors opened we were bombarded with locals renting hiking sticks, beanies/toques, gloves, and selling everything from booze to marshmallows.
The families that occupied the surrounding area made their living through these small sales and rentals. Our group rented a total of 8 sticks, 2 pairs of gloves, and a beanie. These sales totaled a mere $10 USD, however, to the families this was huge. The children smiled from ear to ear and some practiced the small amount of English they knew shouting common phrases while jumping with laughter.
At the base of Acatenango is where you can buy any last minute things or rent gear from the locals. All tour groups stop here as this is where the trail begins.
Hiking Acatenango – Day 1
The start of the hike was steep. We passed through local corn farms taking small steps in the slippery black volcanic sand left behind from previous eruptions.
To get to the first resting spot it took a little over 30 minutes and although it was difficult, the entire group managed without too much trouble. The hardest thing about the first part of the hike was keeping my footing as I fought with the slippery sand and steep incline.
This is where the hiking sticks I rented from the local vendors came in handy. They gave that small bit of traction required to force the weight of my large pack forward and prevent a heavy fall. I highly recommend using hiking poles or renting the sticks as it will make this portion of the hike much easier!
After our first rest break, the landscape around us began to change and the local corn farms disappeared and were replaced with beautiful cloud forest. The forest was filled with large trees covered in moss and the clouds that provided us with the cool damp air reduced my vision to about 10m.
By lunchtime the damp cloud forest had slowly come to an end and a new surrounding embraced us. Tall pine trees filled the mountain’s side, the ground became dry, and the humidity disappeared. The weather had held up, although dark clouds still lingered above. We had been hiking for 3 hours now and our camp was now only 1 hour away. We cut our breaks short in hopes of beating the rain.
From the bottom of Acatenango, it took our group 4 hours of solid hiking to get to our camp. Our group was fast as most groups take as long as 6-8 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.
Arriving at Camp
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 view of Fuego Volcano.
Our camp was situated on a large flat terrace that was man-made. It relied on two large tree trunks half dug into the ground that sat vertically at each end. Two more were placed horizontally and both formed the large retaining wall that kept the volcanic sand from eroding away.
Four small tents were already set up waiting for us on the terrace. They were old tents and sheets of plastic were placed over them. We booked a tour that included pre-setup tents and mattresses which dramatically reduced the amount of weight we carried on our backs – worth every penny if you ask me!
At one end of the terrace was a small shelter, it was made of tree branches that formed an “a-frame” at the top. Sheets of black plastic made the roof and the shelter was open on all sides. There was a fire pit in the middle and a few logs around it for seating.
It’s a good thing camp was all set up for us before we arrived as we had only been at camp for 10 minutes before the rain poured down! We took refuge in the small shelter while trying to dodge the leaking roof. We sat here for a few hours conversing and hoping that clouds would disappear and we would be able to see the eruptions that up until this point, we could only hear.
Luckily, as the sun started to set the weather cleared up and we saw Fuego Volcano for the first time! We watched eruption after eruption, and as it got dark, the smoke we saw exploding from Fuego became bright red as we could see lava!
Dan and I didn’t get much sleep that night as we kept getting out of the tent to watch the eruptions – it was mesmerizing!
Summiting Acatenango – Day 2
Day tour started with a 4 am wake-up call. This 4 am start is not mandatory. Basically, it is the most challenging part of the entire hike as it is a 1-hour hike to the very top of Acatenango to watch the sunrise.
The walk was hard, the path was steep and the volcanic ash was like fresh snow. Every step was difficult and my lungs could now feel the high altitude. I hadn’t made it to the top yet when I saw the horizon begin to glow red. I sprang into action and made a mad dash for the summit scared that I would miss an epic sunrise!
I made it to the top of Acatenango (though it took another 5 minutes before I could catch my breath to even enjoy the view). The sky that morning was clear and our views of the surrounding landscape was breathtaking.
To the west, the Pacific Ocean looked seemingly like the edge of the world. Five volcanos surrounded us and the soft cloud below reminded us how high we really were. Fuego was still erupting regularly and with the extra light, the eruptions became large plumes of dark smoke. They formed a mushroom shape before they disappeared in the sky. This was the best seat in the house and for the next hour, I enjoyed the view!
After sunrise, everyone returned back to camp to pack up and eat breakfast.
We then had a 2.5-hour hike back down the same way we came up. It was quick as it was all downhill, our group completed the hike in under 2 hours.
Once we made it back to the bottom of Acatenango, our van was waiting to take us back to Antigua. You should arrive back at your hotel in Antigua between 12 noon and 1 pm.
The Food on an Acatenango Hiking Tour
We heard mixed reviews from people about the food offered on guided hikes on Acatenango Volcano. Basically, some tours seem to offer more food than others.
Our tour offered a decent amount of food. 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 small portion of cereal
- one packet of hot chocolate mix.
Sounds like a decent amount of food for one and half day’s right? Well, that actually depends on you and how much you eat.
When you’re hiking at this altitude you’ll get VERY hungry.
My advice is to bring extra snacks just to be safe. 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.
What to Pack for Hiking Acatenango
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 or not. 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 a 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’re also worried about the difficulty of the hike I recommend going with a company that carries equipment for you (like this tour) as carrying less weight at high altitudes will be a lifesaver!
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’ve 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)
- 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
- camera and tripod for the night shots!
- marshmallows (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)
Other Tips for the Acatenango Volcano Hike
- 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 gives them a couple of dollars it helps them out a lot.
Before you go…
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 and something I highly recommend.
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!
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July 27, 2020