Have you ever seen smoke and red lava coming out of an volcano, just in front of you? From Antigua Guatemala you can book a once in a lifetime experience: the Acatenango volcano hike. A two-day trek where you hike to the top of the Acatenango volcano and spend the night in a tent along the way. From the top you can look straight out over the surrounding volcanoes Agua, Pacaya and the famous Fuego, one of Guatemala’s most active volcanoes. Apparently one of the most consistently erupting volcanoes in the world, as there is an eruption every 20 minutes. Obviously this is not an easy tour. But where else in the world, do you have the chance to see such a force of nature up close? In this article you‘ll find everything you want to know about hiking the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala, useful tips and a packinglist.
The Acatenango volcano hike in Guatemala
Guatemala is the country of volcanoes. You will find inactive and sleeping ones but also many active volcanoes. And the cool thing is that you don’t have to do a lot, to actually see them. You can admire these giants from Antigua, Quetzaltenango, Lake Atitlan and from the plane, when flying over the country. But for a volcano that spews lava right in front of you, you have to put in a little more effort. Like hiking the Acatenango volcano, to enjoy the eruptions of the Fuego!
Since I had heard many different stories about the Acatenango hike in Guatemala, I was not sure what to expect. I went on a few tough hikes in the past, including the 4-day Inca trail and Salkantay trek in Peru and the multi-day trek to the lost city of the Tayrona in Colombia. I found the hike in Colombia quite intense because of the heat and humid environment. But hiking in the mountains is something that I am used to do and absolutely love. Besides that, the Acatenango volcano only takes two days. And you will be back already the second day in the afternoon. But still, you won’t know until you’ve experienced it!
Acatenango Guatemala ( 3,976m / 13,044ft )
Fuego (3,763m / 12,342ft )
- Latest eruptions
Acatenango Guatemala (1972)
Acatenango trek day 1 : (6 hours uphill)
A van takes you from Antigua to La Soledad, within an hour. A small mountain town, located on the slopes of the volcano, at an altitude of 2400 meters. Here the team of guides, porters and hikers gathers and the Acatenango trek officially starts. The hike takes you, through 4 different microclimates, in 5 to 6 hours. The first part consists of fields with maize and beans, where you can observe farmers busy at work. This part is very open, and can be quite intense, when the sun is out and shining.
The entrance of the Acatenango National Park Guatemala
After about an hour you will reach the entrance of the National Park. Here the environment changes and you walk through a tropical cloud forest with ancient trees, overgrown with mosses and plants. The guide explains that this type of vegetation is characteristic for volcano slopes in Guatemala. Along the way you can enjoy a beautiful green environment, the sound of birds and a nice fresh air. I think this is perhaps the most beautiful part of the Acatenango hike, because of the mysterious atmosphere. Most of this trek is uphill, where you will be climbing stairs and hiking the narrow trails of the Acatenango. This area is also the habitat of the quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. It’s hard to actually spot him, but if you do … wow! The colors and unique tail of this bird, are stunning!
As you get higher you reach the coniferous forest and a tropical dry forest, gradually approaching the tree line. In this area, you only see the trunk of the trees. It’s very special to observe how the vegetation changes along the way.
At this point you have been hiking for about 3 to 4 hours, depending on your pace. The last part of the walk is fairly flat, where you sort of walk around the volcano. Above the clouds! Wich makes it very impressive. When it is clear, you have an amazing view of the surrounding volcano peaks such as the Atitlan, Toliman, San Pedro, Santa Maria and Tajamulco.
The campsite of the Acatenango overnight hike
If everything goes well, you arrive at the campsite at the end of the afternoon. Here you have time to relax and take in the surroundings. The campsite is located on a mountain slope, at an altitude of 3500 meters, with a view of the Antigua Valley and volcanoes such as the Pacaya (active), Aqua and the erupting Fuego volcano. Even though the Fuego is still 3 kilometers away, you feel like you are at the crater!
Depending on the company you are traveling with, you will sleep in a private or group tent. There are also companies that offer little cabins with bunkbeds. It’s not very comfortable obviously, but enough for a night.
Since you leave for the top (4000 meters) the next morning at 4 a.m., it is important to take some rest. But if you are still full with energy and you are lucky enough to have a nice day, you can already hike to the top of the Acatenango volcano in the afternoon and watch the sunset. Unfortunately, this was not an option during my Acatenango tour, due to the bad weather situation.
After an early dinner you make your way to your tent and wait to see the lava of the volcano. Something only visible when it is dark! And this is absolutely fascinating. Because the volcano erupts every 20 minutes, there is a good chance of actually seeing it (the sky needs to be clear of course). During an eruption, the Fuego shoots chunks of rocks and red lava clouds into the sky. And believe me, you can’t miss an eruption. The sound is overwhelming and every time I heard it, I was shocked by the deafening sound.
Acatenango weather alert
Of course you need to be positive and hope that the Acatenango weather circumstances are going to be great, but unfortunately this is something you will never know in advance. The Acatenango volcano is doing what it likes. So you need to prepare mentally for hiking the Acatenango and bring the right things! First of all, when the sun is down, it can be cold and temperatures drop below zero. But when the sun is not shining at all, or worse, it’s raining. Then it is undescribable cold, especially because of the strong wind. Make sure you bring lots of warm stuff, including thermal clothing. Check my packing list below.
Day 2 of the Acatenango volcano overnight hike: (1.5 hours uphill and 3 hours downhill)
Due to the sound of the volcano, the altitude (you sleep at 3500 meters) and the early morning wake up call, you probably will not get much sleep. Around 4 o’clock your trip to the 4000 meters high top of the Acatenango volcano starts. It is cold, dark and you feel your heavy legs from the day before, so be prepared: This is tough. Besides that, you walk on loose gravel and sand, making it even harder. And because of the altitude there is also less oxygen in the air, meaning you will be short of breath all the time.
But after an hour and a half, as soon as you reach the top, you won’t believe your eyes. Here you have a 360degree view of the surrounding volcano peaks and the Guatemalan highlands that reach to the coast, Mexico and El Salvador. The morning light is so beautiful! And if you are lucky, you can see a stunning sunrise.
After this experience, you return to the campsite for a quick breakfast and walk all the way downhill, to the village of La Soledad, within 2 to 3 hours. From where you return to Antigua.
Antigua is one of the most beautiful cities in Guatemala. You can stroll around for days, enjoy the views, visit museums, shop in fancy boutique stores and eat in great restaurants. Check out my city guide for Antigua Guatemala, with the best things to do in the city and surrroundings.
Acatenango volcano hike difficulty
Hiking the Acatenango volcano is hard, especially because of the altitude and the lack of oxygen in the air. But you have plenty of time to make your way up. I personally thought the hike would be much harder (except for the heavy rainfall we experienced). I have seen all kinds of people hiking the Acatenango (young / old, in shape or not at all). When you have a normal physical condition (meaning you don’t have any injuries or physical limitations) and the right mindset, the hike is absolutely doable. The altitude is the most challenging part, because you don’t know how your body reacts to this. It is therefore important to take it easy, drink plenty of water and listen to your body.
The hardest part, is the trail to the top of the Acatenango volcano, at 4 AM the next morning. The trail is steep and it’s difficult to see where you walk. But is so worth the effort. After this hard part, the trail is all the way downhill and it only takes a couple of hours, before you are back in your hotel room, enjoying a hot shower.
How to hike the Acatenango volcano?
It is obviously not possible to do the Acatenango hike on your own and you have to go with a professional guide. It is important to head out with a reliable organization and keep in mind that you don’t want save money on safety matters. After all, you are hiking the Acatenango volcano, with extreme weather conditions. If you want to hike the Acatenango volcano, there are several options and companies you can find in Antigua Guatemala
I went out with Old Town Outfitters, a reliable and professional organization, well known for its great outdoor treks. It is important to do some research and check what type of organization suits you best. Make sure you ask the right questions in advance. How big is the group? What is included? (meals, tents, sleeping bags and the quality of it)? What is it that you have to carry yourself? How many meals are included and what type of food is offered? With how many people do you sleep in a tent? Are there camp beds or do you sleep on a mattress in a tent? How does the organization deal with sustainability? Read reviews and decide what’s a good price and Acatenango tour for you.
Acatenango volcano day hike
No time for the Acatenango overnight hike? You can also go on an Acatenango volcano day hike. But it is not recommended, as you miss the eruptions during the night and the sunrise the next morning, the highlights of this trip! Besides that, you really need to be in shape for this day hike, as you will be hiking all day long (more than 10/12 hours) to get to the top of the Acatenango and back.
Acatenango tour by four-wheel drive
Don’t feel like hiking the Acatenango at all? It is also possible to go on an Acatenango tour with a four-wheel drive. You will travel to the top by jeep, from where it is an easy walk to the campsite, for about half an hour. You can spend the night here and optionally climb the 4000meter high top of the Acatenango volcano the next morning. Or just enjoy the views and return to the place where you were dropped off, to go back down by 4×4. The costs are expensive (few 100 USD pp)
Packing list for the Acatenango hike
It is very important to prepare well if you want to hike the Acatenango volcano in Guatemala. In most cases the Acatenango tour company, including Old Town Outfitters, is taking care of your tent and sleeping bags (make sure to check this in advance). This is a packing list with useful items to bring during your tour. At most tour companies you can rent some of the equipment as well.
What to bring during an Acatenango volcano tour?
- Solid hiking shoes
- A windbreaker
- Walking poles (you can often lend / rent these from the Acatenango tour company)
- A backpack with rain cover
- Rain protection
- Warm clothes – fleece top/ long pants/ thermals for the evening.
- Extra socks
- During the day you can wear shorts and a t-shirt. You will get warm fast enough. Do wear layers, so that you can take clothes on and off during the day, while dealing with the different climates.
- A set of dry clothes, for when it rains during the day. You can also wear this set the next day.
- Power banks to charge your cameras
- Headlamp / flashlight
- Gloves / wooly hat / scarf / neck warmer
- Plenty of water + snacks, you need lots of energy (depending on what is already included with your Acatenango tour)
- Sunscreen, sunglasses and cap against the sun
- Toilet paper
- Paracetamol (+ own medicines and toiletries)
- Blister pads
Porter | is it recommended or not during your Acatenango hike
Should you contract a porter for hiking the Acatenango? I am a bit of luxury hiker (meaning I fully want to enjoy the hike with little extra effort), so I would always recommend to contract a porter. I think it is worth every extra cent. This way, you can fully focus on your Acatenango hike tour. Besides that, you support the local community by offering them a paid job. Make sure to check what the porter is allowed to carry in terms of weight.
More about Guatemala
Hiking the Acatenango is one of the highlights in Guatemala. Do you want to read more about beautiful Guatemala? In this article you’ll find the 20 best things to do in Guatemala, including off the beaten path destinations, best time to travel, travel itineraries and information about safety. Have a look in the Guatemala archive for a cityguide for Antigua and travel guides about Lake Atitlan, Lanquin, the famous market of Chichicastenango, a boat trip on the Rio Dulce to Caribbean Livingston and a Guatemala hotel guide. Interested in archaeology? In this article I’m taking you to the Maya ruins of Tikal and Quiriguá, a smaller and less visited Maya site with beautiful Maya stelae.