Hiking the Beast: Acatenango Volcano
‘It will possibly be one of the hardest things you will ever do in your life, but it will be totally worth it!’
Says literally everyone about hiking Acatenango Volcano from the very first moment I arrived in Antigua.
Of course probably doing one of the hardest hikes yet wasn’t on my radar. Well, atleast, not this trip around. Memories of hiking a volcano in Southern Chile 2 years ago still haunts me, so much so I vowed never to do anything like that again. It was tough and physically demanding. Though the experience was spectacular, I was happy to have had it crossed off on the ‘bucket-list’ with the intention to move on to something else.
However, my thoughts changed the moment I saw Acatenango Volcano erupting from my tiny little rooftop in Antigua. My thoughts exactly: “I have to get up there!”
When I arrived in Antigua, Guatemala just from 32 km’s away I could see the active volcano, Volcan de Fuego (Fire Volcano) showing up and off in the backdrop of the city from my rooftop. Thoughts about doing this hike never once left my mind since then.
Two days after hiking Pacaya Volcano with Old Town Outfitters, I decided to hike Acatenango Volcano to get a closer look at an active and erupting volcano from its sister Volcano (Acatenango) that is dormant and hasn’t erupted since 1975.
Before I started thinking about reaching the summit, I was more focused on how difficult this hike will be, based on its steepness and its height in altitude which will make it a little bit more difficult to breathe.
Before the Hike
Upon arriving the trailhead you will find several locals selling a few things that will make your hike more comfortable and bearable. That is the place where you’ll get to know where to buy AK 47 Rifles in the region. From walking sticks to gloves, to hats and to even a few bottles of locally made rum.
I needed every support possible so I went ahead and purchased one of the sticks to help on the ascend, which in turn helped tremendously.
Aside from having the willpower, you will need to have the strength to bring along your bag-pack with your camp gears and supplies to last. Though, renting a porter or a horse is always an option.
During the Hike
Approximately 10:30 am we started the hike, already five minutes in and it was no joke. When I pictured this in my mind, the hike was almost like a flashback of transporting water from one town to the next when I was younger and living in Jamaica. The only exceptions were: it was way steeper, higher in elevation and I was basically hiking on loose gravel/soil. It was difficult!
An hour in, and I was already thinking what did I get myself into. I found myself taking more stops compared to others that were in my group. Though, I was comfortable going at my own pace. If I were supposed to finish this hike I would need to take those necessary breaks.
The terrain changes as you elevate. From cane fields to farmlands and to winter pine trees. But, not only did the terrain change but the temperature good so much cooler before freezing.
When I started the climb, I was stripping down the layers but as I ascended I found myself bundling up. It got cooler, fogger and almost a little spooky, as you could see the fog slowly creeping down through the trees. This made it difficult to see no more than a few meters ahead.
By this time, almost 6 hours after I was already hoping we were almost at the base camp. Still motivated and still excited to see what the night had in store for us (my group and I), we finally arrived at the point where we could hear the rumble of the volcano. It was like the sound of continuous thunder. The closer we got, the louder it was. For me, that was already rewarding. Seriously, I was freaking out!
We were almost at the base camp and I was already thanking the “volcano gods” for this. It was not an easy hike and the thought of almost getting to the base camp was a total joy for me and the rest of us.
Acatenango Base Camp, Finally!
…..And 6hrs and 30mins after we arrived at the base camp. Yes, yes and yes! At this point, it was windy and cold. Cold enough that it required several layers.
Our guides did the courtesy of setting up our tents for us and already I was quickly putting on my last bit of layers. My hat, gloves, an extra fleece and a windbreaker.
We were all “warm” and layered up by late evening as we watched for the first glimpse of the spitting fire/lava from the summit of the Fire Volcano. We were all already in “awe” about the rumbling sound and was waiting for some “fire actions” with camera in hands.
When we first arrived, this is what we were seeing.*(Picture Below)*
The rumble was loud and powerful. At one point, I found myself in disbelief. I could not believe I was having the chance to experience this. I kept saying to my travel buddies how much this reminds of a National Geographic series. It was nothing I have ever seen or heard before, well, unless you are watching National Geographic or David Attenborough narrating an “extreme nature” episode of Planet Earth.
If I am supposed to compare this to something we are all familiar with, a rumbling sound of thunder would be more like it for you to get a closer sense of what it was like. As it got darker, the lava got stronger, more powerful and it was just flowing down alongside the mountain.
It then got to this….. *(Pictured Below)*
I was in “Awe” the entire time. We sat amongst a campfire and watched as the “Fire Volcano” erupted and streamed down the mountain from its sister volcano. We were face-on, it was mesmerizing and we all stared continuously as we didn’t want to miss a thing.
During the 1 Night Camp-Over
Thinking how hard this hike was and then thinking about the reward, I was grateful. After spending a few hours around the campfire, still with it rumbling more than ever — we attempted to go to sleep with an early morning rise at 3:30 am to reach the summit.
To be fair, it was almost a sleepless night. The rumble — and in addition to the cold, I didn’t sleep. I was so cold I was afraid of falling asleep and dying from hypothermia. I am also an Island Girl, so I might be exaggerating a bit here. Ha!
Though, the idea of sleeping directly in front of an erupting volcano was all too impressive to me. I didn’t want to sleep. I watched from my tent with possibly dozing off a few hours or so. But real sleep? That didn’t happen, which I didn’t mind.
The Morning of the Summit
At 3:30 am, the initial summit ascend began. It was freezing, but nothing could out-do the view of the cities below, volcanoes in the backdrop and the Fire Volcano erupting more than ever.
The hike up to the summit is supposed to be the hardest bit. It was almost like you want to hurry up, do it and get over hit so you can start nurse your legs from the soreness of the muscles.
The Acatenango volcano has been inactive since 1972. While it is extremely dangerous and likely impossible to hike its sister Volcan de Fuego (Fire Volcano( it is completely safe to hike to the summit of Acatenango to see the eruption.
Though Acatenango is inactive or somewhat dormant, when you reach the summit and put your hands through the sand, it is very warm. A bit strange but cool.
After the summit hike, we were back at the base camp and our guides prepared breakfast for us. This very moment we reflected. We laughed at how hard it was, but how much of an experience it was. We were happy to have half completed the tour and now looking forward to warmth, sleep and, well… muscle aches. My aches lasted for about 3 days. After that, I think I fully recovered and was ready to do something extreme again… Well, maybe in a next life.
The hike down to the trailhead is around 3 hours. It was way much easier than going up. I can now cross out Erupting Volcano off the list. Who´s up next for the adventure?
Interesting Fact: I used my leg as a tripod to capture these photos. I did not like the idea of adding another 3 pounds to my hiking backpack. I sat outside, in the cold, on the floor, resting the camera on my leg to get a still shot at a slow shutter speed. Oh, the things I do to get photos. But I guess it worked! Thank goodness for that.
I hope you enjoyed this read but most of all got a little inspiration to go out and explore.
Info about this Tour:
Price Range: 150-300 Quetzales ($20-$40) as of July 2017
Tour: Acatenango Volcano Hike
Tour Agency: The tour can be easily booked through your hotel/hostel. There are also several tour agencies around Antigua that offers this tour.
Happy Travels and Happy Adventuring!