Climbing Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala has been on my bucket list for years! While living life on the Central American traveler trail, stories of climbing Acatenango volcano circulate frequently. Tales of how beautiful the view is from summit. How difficult of a climb it can be. Of course how spectacular it is to watch Volcano Fuego erupt bright red lava high into the sky throughout the night. No wonder it has sparked my interest for a very long time. Volcano Fuego…that is another highly regarded volcano experience. The amount of selfies I have come across of people with an erupting volcano in the back ground would literally blow your mind (like a volcano…see what I did there). I have been dreaming of experiencing the rumble of the lava beneath and observing the eruptions of a live volcano, and so when presented with the opportunity to climb to the perfect view, I could not pass it up.
I arrived at 8:00 in the morning to the Old Town Outfitters office in Antigua Guatemala. After making sure we had enough gear, purchasing a pair of hiking socks (no regrets on this one), and stopping off at the store to make sure everyone had the proper amount of water, we bounced our way to the start of the hike with our guide.
One hour of driving later, we arrived to a parking lot close to the trail start. Here we met our porters. The cost to hire a porter is $25 USD each day and believe me, it is well worth it. These guys are absolute stunners. With my day bag filled with some water, my camera bag and electronics, a few snacks, and layers for later (Arcteryx Jacket, Icebreaker long sleeve base layer, North Face Mittens, a buff), I was able to give everything else to the porters. Pro tip: Bring A LOT of garbage bags to wrap everything you own individually, including your backpack which the porters carry as they do not give you a duffle here. Wrap your sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, clothes and food, into these garbage bags because it rains here often. It is cold on the volcano. To be cold and also have your gear wet bodes poorly for sleeping.
Once our porters were ready, we grabbed some sticks given to us by our guide to help with our footing and away we went. The hike is done in 4 sections, farmland, cloud forest, a flat treed area, and finally the scree summit.
The first section took us through farmer’s fields, with corn growing on either side of a decently wide yet deceptively steep path. On this day the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and our particular group were positively chatting to one another. We would walk for 15 minutes take a break to catch our breath and then move forward. I was so happy we were given walking sticks because there are a few sections with deep loose sand and dirt where I had to focus pretty hard not to bail. We stopped to view some giant trees which were big enough to crawl into….onwards.
The second section was much steeper, this was the cloud forest. People love walking through cloud forests, I always wonder why. I mean, the view isn’t great (cloud white), and the temperature is cold and moist, but to each their own. The first part of the cloud forest walk was up around 180 built in stairs. After the stairs, we climbed an even steeper switch back path. I am not going to lie, I was breathing pretty hard here.
Finally we arrived at the lunch break location. Lunch! I was nervous about lunch. I had heard rumours and read reviews from others who have climbed this mountain receiving a basic cheese sandwich for lunch, and then for dinner, a second cheese sandwich. I am too hungry for that! Not to worry however, because our guide at Old Town Outfitters created a taco feast for us right on the volcano. We had tacos, a bean salad, peppers, crema, and a variety of other treats as well as nachos and dips. What a relief to be well fed.
The third part of the hike was easy. The sun was shining, the path consisted of more or less rolling hills. This took about an hour to complete. A few meters up a scree path and finally we arrived at our campsite. We enjoyed fabulous views of Volcano Fuego. We sat on the volcano in the sun watching mighty Fuego erupt as our guide and porters set up our campsite. Tents were chosen based off the size of the party and I loved my little mini tent.
Shortly after our tents went up it started to rain. How we missed the rain all day I do not know. We quickly scrambled into our tents, curled up in our sleeping bags, and took a post-hike-rainy-afternoon-nap. Whenever Fuego rumbled however, someone from the group would scream FUEGGO, and run to see if lava was visible…a little tough on the napping.
Curled up in our tents as its freezing on the mountain, we waited until the dinner hour rolled around. Our guide made us a delicious tomato pasta with fresh parmesan cheese and coffee to top it off. He even came around and delivered them individually to our tents.
After dinner, our guide and one of our porters built a fire for us to sit around as night fell. This was amazing, and really appreciated. As the day turned into night, the magic happened. Every time Volcano Fuego erupted, the sky would be filled with bright red lava shooting into the night. This was truly spectacular especially with the night time back drop. The ground would rumble and roar, and lava would shoot high into the sky then roll down the volcano. It was everything I expected and more. I spent the evening sitting by the fire watching Volcano Fuego spew hot lava into the air. An occasional flicker of lightning in the back ground made it ever so ominous. This was why I came here. This is why I chose to climb.
As the night went on, I decided to slip into my tent for the night. The 4:00am summit was going to come early. Fortunately for me, there was a window in my tent that faced Fuego perfectly, so as I fell asleep I could watch my new friend erupt.
4:00am came faster than I wanted. We were treated with a cup of coffee as we geared up to reach the summit. The summit push was legitimately difficult, not impossible, but difficult. It was dark, save for our head lamps. It was steep, and it was slippery deep scree. Luckily for me I have some practice climbing on scree from climbing Volcano Lascar in Chile. One foot, two foot, three foot, four as we trudged our way up to the bare summit area of the volcano. Stopping frequently for breaks because…we needed them. Once we were open to the elements it became cold, windy and downright uncomfortable. We trudged on. An hour later we were bouldering over rocks in scree high up on the volcano. Pro tip: Don’t look down.
When we finally arrived at the summit we were treated with absolutely stunning views of every volcano in Guatemala. The summit was freezing and hard to move on, a wind tunnel, but we made sure to traverse from side to side, taking in the views of not only Fuego but also Volcano Agua, not to mention the lights of the many towns in Guatemala. But after 30 minutes it was time to go.
The way down was fast for me, having a bit of experience on volcanoes. I really enjoy scree skiing. Sliding down the mountain on scree, taking steps that would equal three of my regular steps I arrived back at camp within 20 minutes. Into the tent I went to warm up in my sleeping bag.
Once again our guide delivered us breakfast to our tents individually. This time we had oats, yoghurt, and fresh fruit served with a side of hot coffee. Perfect. After warming up and eating breakfast, we packed up our gear and headed back down the volcano. Surprisingly, this only took 2 hours. Which is funny because going up to camp was about 6 hours.
Back to Antigua, I have to thank Old Town Outfitters for providing me with what I felt, was a excellent tour. We had great food, a wonderful and positive bilingual guide. I felt comfortable and safe. We had good equipment and I had a genuinely a great time.
Volcano Acatenango, thumbs up to another summit down.