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ULTIMATE Guide to the Acatenango Volcano Hike, Guatemala

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 and a must-stop on your Guatemala travel itinerary. 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!

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, I don’t believe the hike to the top of Acatenango is all that hard – and it’s an experience you shouldn’t miss!

Below I share 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!

Overview of the Acatenango Volcano Hike

View of Fuego Volcano erupting from the Acatenango overnight volcao hike
The view we had from the camp of Fuego Volcano erupting on our overnight hiking tour!
  • Acatenago Volcano summit: 13,044 feet (3,976 meters)
  • Elevation gain: 5,253 feet (1,600 meters)
  • Distance: 8.6 miles (13.8 km) total
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Park entrance fee: 50Q, plus the cost of your tour
  • Time needed: 2 days and 1 night is recommended

The Acatenago Volcano Hike is one of the best hiking trails in Guatemala and the trail begins just outside the city of Antigua. The tours begin at 9 am with a shuttle to the beginning of the trail. From the trailhead, it’s a 4 to 7-hour hike up Acatenango to each tour operator’s base camp. From here, you’ll spend the night overlooking the Fuego Volcano as it erupts every 15 to 30 minutes.

The next morning at around 4 am, you’ll hike through the dark to the summit of Acatenango Volcano to enjoy the views of the surrounding area. You’ll then hike back down to base camp to collect your things before hiking all the way back down to the starting point. From here, you’ll take a shuttle back to your hotel in Antigua. Arriving back in Antigua between 12 pm and 2 pm.

Acatenango Volcano vs. Fuego Volcano

standing on the summit of Acatenango Volcano with Fuego Volcano in the background
In this photo we are standing at the top of Acatenango Volcano, you can see Fuego Volcano is the background.

One of the biggest confusions about the Acatenago Volcano hike is the volcanos. The volcano you hike is the Acatenago Volcano, which is a dormant volcano that has not erupted since 1972.

Acatenango sits parallel to Fuego Volcano, around 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) away, with an uninterrupted view. In fact, the volcanos are actually connected, and some people hike over to the Fuego Volcano for a closer look. However, this is very dangerous!

Fuego is the volcano that erupts, with eruptions occurring every 15 to 30 minutes and lava spilling from the top. So although the famous hike is called the Acatenago Volcano hike, the main attraction is Fuego Volcano.

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. These tours are undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Antigua.

Booking an Acatenango Hike Tour

tour group photo after hiking to the top of Acatenango Volcano for sunrise
Our tour group at the summit for sunrise!

The Acatenango Volcano hike is best done on an organized tour – it simply isn’t safe without a guide and hikers have lost their lives on the trail.

Tours can be booked in Antigua and even Guatemala City when you arrive, however, not all tours are equal.

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.

Below are my recommendations and the tour I did:

Acatenango 2 Day 1 Night (the tour we did) – This is the classic Acatenango Volcano Tour with OX Expeditions. The tour costs $90 USD and includes transport, an English-speaking guide, free rental gear (including a backpack, warm clothes, sleeping bag, and more), coffee and tea, wine, breakfast the day of the tour, lunch, dinner, and breakfast the last day. You’ll spend the night in a tent already set up on the mountain (very important) and have a base camp with fire and shelter. The views from this campsite are spectacular!

Acatenango day hike – If you’re short on time, you can choose to do the Acatenango Volcano Hike in one day. This is a long day with lots of hiking as you can go all the way to the summit. I would only suggest this for experienced hikers short on time. The overnight trip is much better. The tour includes transport, lunch, and a professional guide.

4×4 Tour – If you’re worried about the hiking part of this experience, you can now take a 4×4 vehicle to the top instead of walking. This comes at a premium of $700 USD for a group of up to 5 people but is a great option if you’re not up to the hike.

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

view of Fuego Volcano from above the clouds
In the wet season, clouds are more common and can obstruct your view of Fuego Volcano – we actually got very lucky!

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, but 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.

How Long Does the Acatenango Hike Take?

Bailey hiking up the trail to base camp on Acatenango Volcano
The hike isn’t too long, but it isn’t easy either!

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!

What to Expect on the Acatenango Volcano Overnight Hike

View from the top of Acatenango at sunrise
The view at sunrise is amazing!

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!

Arrive at the tour office – Day 1 (7 am)

You’ll need to make your way to the tour office of your choice if you booked a tour. Ours was with OX Expeditions, and they are located in the heart of Antigua. This is where they provided us with all our gear including gloves, hats, and more. If you need a backpack, ask if you can pick it up the day before so you arrive packed and ready.

Breakfast before the hike (8 am)

The tour we did included breakfast the day of the tour. Expect a big Guatemalan breakfast of eggs, bacon, beans, coffee, and tomato.

Antigua to Acatenango (9 am)

Our journey to the base of Acatenango started at 9 am from the breakfast spot. Almost all overnight Acatenango tours start at this time either from your hotel or the restaurant (if your tour includes breakfast.)

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!

On the way, they make a stop to pick up any last-minute supplies. Be sure to get batteries for your head torch and water if you need more.

The Start of the Trail (10 am)

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 approached by 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 (10:15 am to 2 pm)

group stopped for a rest break along the Acatenango Volcano trail in Guatemala
Just enjoing one of our few rest breaks along the trail.

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 ( around 2 pm)

sitting around the fire at base camp on the Acatenango Volcano, Guatemala
Sitting around our campfire at base 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.

Lava erupting from Fuego Volcano in Guatemala at night
This is the view we had at night – amazing!!!

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 (4 am)

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!

Heading Back (around 8 am)

hiking down Acatenango Volcano
It was steep climb up, and a slippery slide down!

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.

Is Hiking Acatenango Volcano Dangerous?

hiking down Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala
The hike can be a little sketchy in parts.

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

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 lives lost due to any eruptions. The people who suffered were Guatemalans who lived on Fuego volcano near its base.

But, there have been lives lost from 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 increase.

The most important thing is to hike Acatenango with a guide on a tour. Most of the lives lost 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 recommendations that will not only make you more comfortable on your hike but also safer.

The Food on an Acatenango Hiking Tour

eating our packed lunch along the hike on day 1 on Acatenango Volcano
Eating our packed lunch along the hike on day 1.

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.

Hot tip: Bring a few chocolate bars for the guides. They’ll really appreciate it!

What to Pack for Hiking Acatenango

Bailey and Daniel take a photo with Fuego volcano erupting in the background along the acatenango volcano hike
Good warm clothes are a must!

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 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 (our tour included them.)

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!
  • 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

  • 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…

Bailey and Daniel take a photo in the forest on the Acatenango Volcano hiking trail in Guatemala
Thanks for reading our blog and I hope you enjoy the hike!

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!

Be sure to also check the rest of our blogs. We’ve written tons of helpful travel blogs about Guatemala and Central America. Some you might particularly like include:

  • Semuc Champey, Guatemala – This complete guide to visiting Semuc Champey will have you ready to swim in blue water surrounded by waterfalls. To us, it is totally worth the long journey to get there!
  • 13 BEST Things to do in Tulum, Mexico – Tulum is the perfect place to visit in Mexico if you are a budget traveler looking for some crazy experiences. In this blog, we reveal how to best enjoy this awesome Mexican destination.

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