Dabbling in Jet Lag
Acatenango is Guatemala’s third highest volcano, towering at a whopping 3976 meters (13,045 ft). While this stratovolcano has been dormant since the 1970s, its joined partner, Volcano Fuego, is still very much active. In fact, Volcano Fuego is one of three active volcanos in Guatemala, along with Pacaya and Santiaguito. And of these three, Fuego is the only one you can watch erupt. So, if you’re looking for an experience like no other, then hiking Acatenango and watching Fuego erupt from its summit is for you!
During my 10 days in Guatemala, I climbed Acatenango and had the opportunity to witness Fuego spew lava. There’s no doubt that this was a challenging hike, but I prepared for my trip in advance. So, to help you organize an epic trip, I’ve put together everything you need to know to hike Acatenango. It has information for both those who want to hike solo and those who prefer to hike with a guide. Either way, it guarantees an amazing experience.
Table of Contents
- Do You Need a Guide?
- Best Acatenango Tour Companies
- Practical Information
- Hiking Itinerary
- Packing List
- Tips for Hiking Acatenango
Do You Need a Guide?
Hiking Acatenango is one of the most exhilarating activities to do if you’re in Antigua or Guatemala for that matter. The nearest town to the trailhead is a little village called La Soledad. And once you arrive, the route to the summit is relatively straightforward.
So, why do you need a guide?
First, accessing La Soledad is not as easy as it appears. You’ll need to take about three chicken buses to get there. And, if your Spanish is not up to par, you may run into some issues. Second, the trail to the top is RELATIVELY straightforward. There are several diverging paths between base camp and the summit, some of which are more dangerous than others. Not only that but maps.me does not even give a clear route. Finally, the weather on Acatenango can change in an instant, so having a guide and group might be useful.
Useful Tip: During my hike, I met two solo hikers who got lost on their way to the summit. When we found them, they were heading towards a massive crater, without knowing. They, actually, needed to join our group!
Of course, there are dangers associated with every hike, but given the elevation, the weather, and Fuego’s activity, taking a guide is the safest and easiest option.
Best Acatenango Tour Companies
Here are the top three Acatenango Tour Companies:
- V-Hiking Tours – Touted as the best tour company. Cost: $65 USD.
- Wicho & Charlie’s – One of the few agencies that offer a sunset hike to the summit. Inquire at their hostel in Antigua. Cost: $65 USD.
- Tropicana Tours – The oldest and most experienced tour company. Inquire at Tropicana Hostel in Antigua. Cost: $67 USD.
When choosing a tour company for Acatenango, there are a few things to look out for. First, you’ll want to know the location of the campsite. Watching Fuego erupt under the stars is the highlight of the hike, so you’ll want to be sure that you’ll have a good view. Second, you’ll want to verify that the camping gear is already at the campsite. It’s a long slug to the top, and if you don’t have to carry all your equipment, it will be much easier. Third, you’ll want to be sure your guide is bilingual. Finally, you’ll want to know if a sunset hike is included. Some companies summit Acatenango twice, once at sunset and once at sunrise. If you are interested in doing this, be sure to check if this is an option.
Location: The hike starts and ends at La Soledad. The trailhead is at the following GPS Coordinates: 14.536674, -90.883385. There is also a bus stop at these coordinates. If you are hiking solo, you can ask the bus driver to leave you here.
Distance (one way): 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles)
Time: 2 days (5 hours to base camp, 2 hours from base camp to the summit, 2 hours from base camp to the trailhead)
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult.
Signage: There are no signs. In general, this is a well-trodden trail, but there are a few diverging trails. Make sure to have maps.me or ask the visitor center for help, if you are not on a tour.
Terrain: The trail is a footpath made entirely of volcanic ash and scree. There are almost no flat sections, and it gets significantly steeper near the summit.
Elevation: Lowest point – 2400 meters (7874 ft.), Highest point – 3976 meters (13,045 ft).
Useful Tip: If you want to acclimatize before this hike, consider hiking San Pedro Volcano.
Accommodation: Camping or cabins. If you go on a tour, equipment will be provided for you. And some companies have cabins. If you decide to hike alone you will need to either bring your own equipment or rent gear in Antigua.
Resupply points: There is no option to buy food along the trail.
Water: There are no water sources along the trail.
When to Go: Acatenango can be hiked year-round, but the best times are between November and April. This is Guatemala’s dry season.
Cost: $50-150 USD (depending on the tour company) + gratuities.
Hiking Itinerary for Acatenango
Warning! Volcano Fuego is an active volcano. And its last eruption was in 2018. This was considered the deadliest eruption in Guatemala since 1929.
Acatenango Itinerary – Day 1
7:00 am – Pick up from your accommodation in Antigua.
8:00 am – Most tour companies offer breakfast in La Soledad before the hike. If this is not an option, you will be picked up later.
9:00 am to 2:00 pm – The trek begins at the trailhead where you’ll have an immediate incline. You’ll be walking on volcanic ash, so it will be more difficult than your average hike. In the beginning, you’ll be engulfed in a dense forest, but as you near the top, you’ll notice that most of the vegetation is burned. This is from Fuego’s previous eruptions. When you arrive at base camp, you’ll have the afternoon to relax around the campfire.
Useful Tip: During the dry season volcanic ash fills the air and it’s difficult to breathe. A mask or hiking buff will help protect your face and prevent you from inhaling it.
5:00 pm – You’ll spend the evening around the campfire, eat dinner, and watch the sunset over southern Guatemala. If you’re a photographer, make sure to have a tripod. You’ll want to be able to capture Fuego erupting under the stars!
Useful Tip: Make sure to gather everything you’ll need for the summit before going to bed. It’s an early start.
Acatenango Itinerary – Day 2
3:00 am – Wake-up call! (Most guides boil water for a hot drink like coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.)
4:00 am to 6:00 am – You’ll begin your final ascent. From this point on the trail is very steep and the volcanic ash is at its deepest. Listen closely to your guide and walk slowly. On many routes to the top there are massive craters that are invisible in the darkness, so proceed with caution. You’ll arrive just as the sun begins to appear over the horizon, giving way to the most magnificent views!
7:00 am – Now time for some fun. On the way back, you’ll slide down the scree and volcanic ash, making the descent to base camp really fast!
8:00 am – At base camp, you should eat a small snack before heading back.
9:00 am to 11:00 am – After an hour at base camp, you’ll head back to the start. Be careful during the descent. The volcanic ash and scree can be very slippery.
11:00 am to 12:00 pm – Depending on the agency you chose, you may have breakfast with a family in La Soledad. Make sure to verify this ahead of time and have extra snacks in case you don’t have this option. After breakfast, you’ll head back to your hostel in Antigua.
Check out my ultimate hiking gear checklist for the specifics of each item listed below.
Camping Gear (if solo hiking)
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Mat
- Backpack (40-50 Liters) – check out my guide on choosing the right backpack.
- First Aid Kit (Band-Aids, disinfectant, and pills (ibuprofen, anti-nausea, and anti-diarrhea))
- Water Bladder/Bottle (4-5 Liters)
- Dry Bags (or rain cover for your backpack)
- Trekking Poles
- Trail Runners (Hiking boots are not necessary)
- Quick-dry T-shirt
- Standard Hiking Pants
- Waterproof Jacket
- Warm Hat
- Warm Fleece (for the summit)
- Mask (to protect your face from the volcanic ash)
- Thermals (for the summit)
- Hiking Socks
Personal Hygiene Items
- Wet Wipes
- Toilet Paper
- Extra Contacts and Contact Solution
- Toothbrush and Toothpaste
- Phone (with maps.me downloaded)
- Camera Gear
- External Battery
- Head Lamp
- Protein bars (5)
- Snacks: trail mix of nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate
Tips for Hiking Acatenango
- Make sure everything is in waterproof bags. Torrential downpours are not uncommon.
- Bring extra snacks. All tour companies offer ok food and you’ll need all the energy you can get. You’ll also want extra snacks for the ride back to Antigua.
- Hike slowly and drink a lot of water. You will be hiking at high altitudes, where altitude sickness is an issue. So, it’s important to hike slowly and drink plenty of water.
- Bring warm clothes for the summit. It’s very cold and windy at the top.
- Do not try to avoid the entrance fee. It’s rude and disrespectful. (If you are hiking with a guide, the entrance fee should be included in the price.)
- Make sure to follow Leave No Trace Principles.
Hiking Acatenango is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience. If you’re looking for a challenging and adventurous hike, then this one is for you! So, make sure to use the guide to help organize your trip. Then, afterward, plan a trip to Semuc Champey and take a dip in its beautiful turquoise waters. It’s the perfect way to reward yourself!
Read About My Other Adventures
Hope you found my post on how to hike Acatenago in Guatemala useful. Here are some of my other hiking guides you might find interesting.
- Climbing Chachani: Peru’s 6000m Volcano
- Trekking to Ciudad Perdida: Colombia’s Lost City
- How to Hike to Maragua Crater