Climbing the Acatenango Volcano

Once I decided I was going to learn some Spanish Guatemala, a particular image of of a volcano came up when I was looking for information. Not just a volcano, an erupting volcano spitting lava! Initially I thought the person who took that must be really lucky. I mean, how often are you in the right place at the right time to see a volcano erupting?! But doing some more research showed that the Fuego Volcano (Volcán de Fuego) has been erupting for over a year! Nearly every day Fuego spits some lava, and from time to time nearby villages are evacuated.

Before you go: practical information on climbing Acatenango

To see this natural spectacle from a unique location nearby, enthusiasts can hike up the Acatenango Volcano (Volcán Acatenango), which is located right next to the Fuego Volcano. Nearly every tour office in Antigua offers tours to climb Acatenango. I booked with A Viajar Guatemala and paid about 150 Quetzales, which is as cheap as it gets for a 2 days / 1 night tour.

This package got me:

  • 3 meals (very basic sandwiches, it is recommended to bring some extra food)
  • Tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat rental
  • Shuttle to and from the start of the hike
  • Very nice local guides!

Suggested to bring your own:

  • Warm clothes! It can be very cold up there as you are going up to an altitude of almost 4000 meters. Cap, scarf, gloves, etc. Preferably a warm (rain proof) jacked (can be rented from the agency)
  • Water (4 liters was suggested) and extra food or snacks
  • Backpack of at least 40L (can be rented as well)
  • Paracetamol against possible altitude sickness
  • Entrance fee for the trail of 50 Quetzales.
  • Headlamp
  • Toilet paper / wet wipes
Acatenango start of trail
View from the start of the trail.

The actual climb / hike up Acatenango

From Antigua it was about an hour driving to the entrance of the trail. I treated myself a nice cold coke sold at the start of the trail, as it was still really warm. Also I bought a walking stick for 5Q (technically it’s rental, as you are likely to return it once you come back), which really helped me on the steep part to the top.

Acatenango trail entrance
The entrance of the hiking trail.

Personally I found the first part of the hike the hardest. Mainly because it was still very warm, and the thought of the end of the trail not even being close: respect for the guides that go up two to three times a week. But after about an hour the scenery changed, and trees provided shade. The temperature dropped, and the hike became very enjoyable. To be honest, this is a hike accessible for everyone. You don’t need that much experience to do it, however you do need some motivation and a good mood. 🙂

After about an hour, before the hike takes you more into a forest, there is one last stop that sells snacks and drinks. Again, enjoy the cold drinks, make sure to keep drinking enough during the entire hike.

Acatenango Halfway
Halfway to base camp.
Spooky forest.

The Acatenango base camp (3200 meters)

After a couple of more hours we reached the base camp located at about 3200 meters, where we set up our tents with help of the guides. I was doing the climb with three friends, hence we had our own tent for the four of us divided over our backpacks. As I selected one of the cheapest tours in town I did not expect too much of the location of the base camp, but I was pleasantly surprised as we had an uninterrupted spectacular view on the Fuego Volcano right from outside of our tents. A campfire was prepared and our guides made some hot drinks as the temperature dropped to almost zero degrees Celsius.

Acatenango base camp tents
Acatenango base camp.
Acatenango base camp benfire
Bonfire before dinner.
Acatenango base camp view
View over Fuego from base camp.

All night eruptions of Volcán de Fuego

It didn’t take long before we saw the first eruption. I was a bit worried as the weather forecast predicted clouds, and we could not actually see the Fuego volcano before we hiked above the clouds (which was right before base camp). My local friend had called the official volcano weather station the day before, who had said that we were likely to “see a spectacular show”. And guess what, they were right:

Fuego Volcano erupting

Fuego Volcano erupting

Fuego Volcano erupting

Fuego Volcano erupting

At the beginning we could just see some small eruptions, and no stars. But a couple of hours later the sky cleared and I could take above photos. Definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen! The noise, cold and excitement kept us awake nearly all night, but it was definitely worth it.

Climbing to the summit of Acatenango (3976 meters)

At 4AM we woke up to proceed to the summit at 3976 meters. The climb from the base camp to the summit was only 1.5 to 2 hours, but this part was by far the hardest. I was tired, and especially the first 30 minutes were so steep that I considered returning to the base camp (I had seen the eruptions anyway, and that’s what I came for I thought). It felt like “one step climbing up, two steps sliding down” as the soil was all dry lava gravel. But then my local friend – which I had realllllly underestimated big time – climbed up twice as fast without any hesitation. Fortunately the last part was not as hard and the view became even more beautiful the higher I got. So I went for it and eventually made it right before sunrise. From the top you could even see the volcanoes surrounding lake Atitlan.

Acatenango summit
Made it till the summit! Volcanoes around lake Atitlan on the background.
Acatenango summit
Our guide.
Acatenango summit sunrise
Sunrise from the summit.

The descent

After sunrise it was time to go back to base camp and then back to Antigua. The way down was much easier. From the summit we would now just slide down the gravel back to base camp. We cleaned up the camp, distributed the tents again, tipped the guides, and went down. Tipping the guides is a must in my opinion, you might pay only 150Q for the tour, but remember the guides only get a very small fraction of this. Hence I tipped the two guides 50Q each, but make sure to tip what you think is reasonable. As most of the 4 liters of water were now finished, our backpacks were also much lighter on the way back. If I remember correctly we made it back to Antigua in the early afternoon.

Acatenango descent
Descent from the summit back to base camp.


Visited in February 2017.

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