Acatenango Volcano Hike
A hike up Acatenango Volcano is at the top of many people’s Guatemala bucket list. The views are incredible, the hike is challenging, and it’s easily accessible as a long day or overnight trip from tourist hot-spot Antigua.
You won’t find much information online about what to expect on the hike up Acatenango Volcano, and not even my Lonely Planet guidebook provided us much information. But, we’d had friends who had done the hike and recommended it, so even without knowing too much about it, we knew we wanted do it during our month-long stay in Antigua.
This guide will demystify what to expect on the Acatenango Volcano hike, including what to pack, how to choose a tour operator, trail details, and information on how difficult it is relative to other popular hikes around the world.
Choosing a Tour Company
There are many tour operators and agents in Antigua, and figuring out where to book your hike is overwhelming. Here are some factors to consider, and why we opted to book with Old Town Outfitters.
Acatenango Volcano overlooks the very active Fuego Volcano, and as recently as summer 2018, a violent eruption left over 60 Guatemalans dead. Moreover, in January 2018, unexpectedly freezing conditions left 6 hikers dead at the campsite.
I don’t say this to scare you away from a hike up Acatenango Volcano, but rather to emphasize that you are hiking in a volatile and wild place. Safety needs to be a consideration, and you want to hike with a guide who can make good judgment calls on whether it is safe to hike, camp on, and summit Acatenango Volcano. Additionally, you want to make sure the gear the tour company provides will keep you warm and comfortable during the night.
We’d heard concerns from others we met while traveling that their guides didn’t speak English, and more importantly, that the sleeping bags weren’t warm enough. Some even said they had to share a large tent with up to 30 other hikers.
When choosing a tour operator, ask what temperature the tents and sleeping bags are rated for, keeping in mind that temperatures can be below freezing at night.
Another safety factor to consider is the altitude. At nearly 4000 meters, it’s likely that you will feel the impacts of the elevation. If you haven’t experienced altitude sickness before, it can be as mild as a headache and some shortness of breath, or as serious as death. Death is very unlikely at this altitude, but it’s important to hike with a guide who is equipped to determine whether it is safe for you to continue the hike at altitude and to provide first aid care if needed.
It’s important to eat enough to fuel your hike, and the quality of the meals included will vary greatly among tour providers. Some don’t provide meals at all, and you’ll need to carry in your own food (and carry out your rubbish). Others provide basic cold sandwiches and instant noodle cups for each meal. Few provide anything with fresh fruit and vegetables.
With Old Town Outfitters, we had a big lunch of tortillas with cream cheese, fresh guacamole, beans, corn, and chips, plus an apple, cookies and juice. For dinner, we had a stir fry of rice and veggies with a baguette. Breakfast was a big plate of fruit with granola and yogurt. We were very satisfied with the meals and grateful to have large portion sizes.
Make sure you understand what meals the tour company provides and how much food is included. Regardless, you will still need to pack snacks for between meals.
Group sizes can range from as small as a maximum of 6 people with Old Town Outfitters, to as many as 30 with other providers. Expect the prices to vary accordingly.
A more basic package to hike Acatenango Volcano will start at around $50 USD per person. At Old Town Outfitters, the prices are admittedly higher than you’ll find from anyone else, ranging from $110-150 USD depending on how many people sign up for that day. In this case, you get what you pay for.
You can also hire a porter to carry your big bags and tent for you at an additional cost of $25 USD.
What to Pack
Plenty of layers
It will be warm while you’re hiking and very cold and windy at night. We ended up wearing every article of clothing we brought. For me, this was two pairs of wool socks; thermal wool leggings, yoga leggings, and hiking pants; a tank top, wool sweater, down jacket, and rain jacket; and a hat and gloves. This is also what I wore to summit Acatenango Volcano at sunrise the next morning. By comparison, I hiked up and down in my yoga pants and tank top.
As already mentioned, you’ll want snacks for between meals.
You’ll need at least 4 liters, including a liter to give your guide for cooking dinner and tea/coffee.
A large pack
Unless you hire a porter ($25 USD), you’ll need to carry your sleeping bag, mat, and tent in addition to everything else.
Quality hiking boots
The terrain is slippery and steep.
Sunscreen and a hat
Much of the trail is exposed, and you’re hiking both at altitude and near the equator. I got a little burnt even wearing and reapplying SPF 50.
Facilities at the campsite are nicer than I expected (in that you actually get a little outhouse with a toilet seat), but toilet paper isn’t guaranteed.
Your sunrise hike to the summit will be very dark, so you’ll need a headlamp to light your path.
Drive to La Soledad
We met up with our group and guide at the Old Town Outfitters office in the heart of Antigua. They offered us a quick coffee and then we rode in a small bus about an hour to the town of La Soledad. From here, we attached our camping gear to our bags and set off!
Acatenango Volcano Hike Part 1 – Ashy Farmlands
The hike to base camp has three main parts, the first being a challenging and steep climb on soft ashy soil past local farms. Some find this to be the most difficult part of the day, since it is hottee outside in the lower altitudes and the soil tends to slide you back a little bit with every step you take. This portion will take about an hour and a half.
Acatenango Volcano Hike Part 2 – Forest
Eventually the ground firms up to a nice dirt path. It’s still an uphill climb, but at least you aren’t going one step forward, two steps back!
As we gained altitude on this portion of the hike, the foliage around us changed and the air became cooler. It’s really a beautiful trail, surrounded by trees and wild flowers.
During this part of the hike we also stopped for lunch.
Including lunch, this portion of the hike took about 2 hours.
Acatenango Volcano Hike Part 3 – Flat Trail to Campsite
From here on out the ground is mostly flat, with some gentle ascents, and you start to get views of Fuego and Agua Volcanos in the distance. After another 2 hours you’ll arrive at your campsite!
The views from the campsite are absolutely incredible, as you have a direct line of sight onto the frequently erupting Fuego. The views get even crazier at night, when you can see the glowing lava from each eruption.
Our guide woke us up at 4am the next morning to start the steep ascent to the summit of Acatenango Volcano. The ground is very soft and rocky in some places, as well as the steepest you’ve seen yet on Acatenango Volcano. It’s also very dark, and if it weren’t for our head torches and local guides leading the way, we would have easily gotten lost.
It took us an hour and a half with breaks to reach the summit. Standing above the clouds, looking down on both Agua and Fuego Volcanos, with the sun beginning to illuminate it all, I knew this would be a sunrise I’d never forget.
We only stayed at the top for a few minutes due to the insane wind and freezing cold temperatures. The descent went much more quickly than the climb up, since we were able to basically glide down the ashy slope on our heels.
After breakfast, we hiked a different path down to our starting point. It only took us about 3 hours to get back to the bus parked and waiting for us.
Drive back to Antigua
Once back on the bus, we rode an hour to return to the Old Town Outfitters office in Antigua.
How hard is it really?
This was a question I had leading up to the hike, but one I couldn’t get a solid answer on. I read blog posts that said it was the hardest thing that person had ever done, and others that said they weren’t even sure if they’ve be able to continue.
Having now done the hike, my advice is this. Yes, it’s a challenging hike, especially if you try to keep pace with your guide or others in your group. If, however, you just go slowly, manage your breathing so you don’t get out of breath, and bring plenty of water and snacks, it’s really not that hard.
For context, Tim and I both had salmonella poisoning for a full 6 days before the hike. We had about a week to get strong again after being sick before we made the climb. We did 45 minute cardio workouts in the living room of our Airbnb every day, and made sure to eat enough.
Even after having been sick and only training for a week, we both found the hike manageable.
Comparison Stats to Other Famous Hikes
If you’ve done a bit of hiking around the world before, here’s how the Acatenango Volcano hike compares to other popular treks.
Acatenango – 2 day trek (Guatemala):
Length – 11.2 miles / 18 kms
Starting Altitude – 2,400 meters
Highest Altitude – 3,979 meters
Climb – 1,579 meters
Descent – 1,579 meters
Finishing Altitude – 2,400 meters (up and back, where you end in same location as you begin)
Tongariro Crossing – day trek in New Zealand:
Length – 12.1 miles / 19.5 kms
Starting Altitude – 760 meters
Highest Altitude – 1,886 meters
Climb – 1,126 meters
Descent – 766 meters
Finishing Altitude – 1,120 meters (finish 12.1 miles from where you begin)
Inca Trail – Day 2 (the big climb) in Peru:
Length – 11 kms
Starting Altitude – 3,000 meters (Wayllabamba campsite)
Highest Altitude – 4,200 meters (Dead Woman’s Pass)
Climb – 1,200 meters
Descent – 600 meters
Finishing Altitude – 3,600 (Pacamayo Campsite)
Mirador las Torres – Torres del Paine National Park in Chile:
Length – kms round trip
Starting Altitude – 139 meters (Hosteria Las Torres)
Highest Altitude – 880 meters
Climb – 741 meters
Descent – 741 meters
Finishing Altitude – 139 meters (start and end in same place)
Acatenango Volcano is an amazing place in the world, and I highly recommend visiting if you’re up for a fun and rewarding challenge!
I hope this guide leaves you inspired and prepared for what to expect on the incredible journey up Acatenango Volcano!
Read more: Guatemala in a Weekend
Read more: Our Month in Antigua, Guatemala