The Volcano Acatenango hike is a bucket list item in Guatemala, perhaps the entire world.
The experience not only allows you to climb one of the tallest volcanoes in Guatemala, but hikers can witness an active volcanic eruption with their own eyes. The most popular version of the hike is the Acatenango Volcano overnight hike, where hikers can camp under the stars and watch Volcano Fuego erupt every 15 to 30 minutes.
After hiking Acatenango myself, I just knew I had to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with you. So in this guide, you’ll find out everything you need to know to hike this volcano near Antigua, from what to pack to tours and tips, we have got you covered!
So read on and find out how you can hike Volcano Acatenango in Antigua, Guatemala!
Why Hike Acatenango Volcano?
Hiking Acatenango Volcano is one of the most popular things to do in Antigua, Guatemala. But the most unique feature of this hike is the opportunity to see the nearby Volcano Fuego erupt, one of the three active volcanoes in Guatemala. Fuego Volcano is the most active volcano of the three.
Volcano Fuego erupts every 15 to 30 minutes, and visitors can witness the magic happening near the top of Acatenango Volcano. That is the main reason why people hike Acatenango Volcano.
Is It Safe to Hike Acatenango Volcano?
Volcanic eruption? Woah!
So is hiking Acatenango Volcano safe? Hiking Volcano Acatenango is generally very safe, but that isn’t to say that accidents have not occurred before. When I hiked Acatenango Volcano, our tour guide was telling us how a group of people died hiking it in 2017.
It happened because the weather got so extreme up there and their tent blew right off in the middle of the night. In an attempt to descend the treacherous mountain in the middle of the night, the entire group perished due to hypothermia. Remember Acatenango is nearly 4,000 meters high, so the temperature is very low at night.
Even though Fuego Volcano’s eruption is less than 3 kilometers away, hikers are completely safe. Instruments have been installed inside the volcano to make sure that the eruptions are in control. And if there is ever an abnormality, a warning is issued and people are evacuated.
So when it comes to hiking volcanoes in Guatemala, the Acatenango Volcano hike is as safe as it can get. But since it is a tall volcano, hikers must be aware of the dangers that come with high-altitude ascents, such as altitude sickness.
Volcano Acatenango Hike Quick Facts
- Elevation At Summit: 3,976 meters (13,044 feet)
- Elevation Gained: 1,600 meters (5,253 feet)
- Type of Hike: Out-And-Back
- Hike Difficulty: Challenging
- Total Distance of Hike: 13.8 km (8.6 miles), but might be slightly more depending on your tour company.
- Total Time Spent Hiking: 5 to 8 hours on Day 1, 5 hours on Day 2 (For overnight hike). 10 to 13 hours for day trip hike.
- Entrance Fee: 50Q
How Hard Is The Hike?
Before you pick up your wallet and book a tour for Acatenango, let’s talk about difficult is the hike. It doesn’t matter if you can taste heaven at the peak if you can’t make it there right?
We rate the overall Acateango Volcano hike as challenging, but it is in fact one of the most challenging hikes we have done in our lives.
What Makes The Hike So Difficult?
There are a lot of factors that make the Acatenango Volcano hike so challenging, such as:
- High Elevation and Altitude Sickness
- Difficult Terrain
- Carrying All Your Gear
High Elevation And Altitude Sickness
Perhaps the most common problem encountered on the hike is the altitude. The peak of the Acatenango Volcano is situated at nearly 4,000 meters, an altitude that can easily cause altitude sickness. Even the start of the hike is at 2,500 meters, which means there is already a considerably less amount of oxygen in the air.
At base camp, the altitude is around 3,800 meters, and this is when most people experience the effects of altitude sickness. Headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and so on.
“I puked so much I thought I was going to die.”-Some hiker at the peak of Volcano Acatenango
The terrain of the Acatenango Volcano makes the hike a lot more challenging.
Near the start of the hike when you are walking through crop fields, the ground is very soft and slippery. You take one step forward and the ground crumbles underneath you and you end up where you started. Combined with the stuff you are carrying, which will talk about below, it is a nightmare.
Carrying All Your Gear
Perhaps what makes the Volcano Acatenango hike more challenging than any other hikes is that you must carry all your gear with you. I’m talking about the sleeping bag, extra clothing, snacks, and water for drinking (and cooking near the top).
Plus a camera, which I HIGHLY recommend for this hike, you are easily carrying a 15 to 20-pound backpack.
Volcano Acatenango Hike Tour Company
Picking the right Acatenango tour agency is probably as important as the volcano hike itself. If you walk around the streets of Antigua, you’ll find loads of companies offering tours for Acatenango Volcano.
When you sign up through one of the tour companies on the street, you are randomly put in one of the few trekking companies that actually run the tour. What I mean is that by signing up with any tour company you see on the street, you run the risk of getting put in a bad trekking company.
Luckily, visitors can also book directly with the trekking company. Here we will talk about some of the most popular Volcano Acatenango trekking companies.
But before you start, you want to decide what type of tours you want:
- Day Trip Hike
- Overnight Hike (2 Days 1 Night)
- Night Hike Into Morning (This is rare, and I think only offered by illegal vendors)
Below we will talk about the overnight hike options offered by tour companies since that is the most popular one.
Tropicana is probably the most famous Acatenango tour company. Their tour agency is based out of the Tropicana hostel, which is rated as one of the best party hostels in Antigua.
The tour guides in Tropicana come from the local La Soledad community, which means you are supporting them by taking their tours.
- Food: 3 Vegetarian meals with vegan, gluten-free, and lactose-intolerant options. Free Breakfast on the day of the hike if you arrive at the hostel in the morning.
- Sleeping: Wooden Cabins
- What Is Included: Sleeping bag and mat at the wooden cabins
- Porter For Hire? No
Because lots of people that take the Volcano Acatenango tour from Tropicana are backpackers in their youth hostel, the atmosphere is always lively. Their groups are usually quite big so it can be quite loud for someone looking to have a peaceful trek.
Their wooden cabins are nice, but you are crammed on the floor sleeping with a bunch of strangers.
Pieces of equipment are not included but are available for rent.
You can rent 3 of the following items for $3 (plus a $3 deposit): Jacket, sweater, scarf, gloves, hat, and pants.
You can rent 1 of the following item for $7 (plus a $15 deposit): Running shoes, hiking boots, backpack.
You can rent a headlamp for $3 plus a $5 deposit.
Wicho and Charlie’s
Wicho and Charlie’s is another very popular tour company for hiking Volcano Acatenago. They are a very well-organized tour company that uses local tour guides from the surrounding villages, so you can travel more sustainably by picking this agency.
- Food: 4 vegetarian meals plus snacks
- Sleeping: A-Frame big cabins
- What Is Included: Beds with sleeping bags
- Options: Summit Volcano Acatenango for sunset or hike towards Volcano Fuego on Day 1
- Porters For Hire? Yes
The most outstanding feature of Wicho and Charlie’s tour company is the spacious A-frame cabins they have at base camp. This not only protects you from the wind and the cold, but visitors can find some decent comfort in them.
Their food is also some of the best you can get on an Acatenango Volcano tour company. You can have vegetarian meatballs, lentil curry, mashed potatoes and more. They also give you snacks, which is always nice when you are summiting a massive volcano.
Hikers can rent a bunch of gear from them, including warm clothing, technical trekking pole, headlamp, 40L backpack and more.
Our favorite part of the Wicho and Charlie’s tour company is that they are the only company (as far as I know) that lets you summit Acatenango on the first day for sunset. After arriving at base camp on the first day, trekkers have the option to summit Acatenango for sunset or hike closer to Fuego.
For those that might find the Acatenango Volcano hike too demanding, poters are also available for hire.
Old Town Outfitters
Though we did not see Out Town Outfitters tour company in Antigua, we have received feedback about its popularity and reliability. Old Town Outfitters started as an outdoor company in 1988 and has now branched out to offer tours on all adventure-related activities in Guatemala, including the Volcano Acatenango hike.
- Sleeping: High-Altitude Tents
- What Is Included: Sleeping pads and sleeping bags
- Porters For Hire? Yes
With over 20 years of expertise, the company is tailored toward giving customers a custom-made experience. The prices are currently $140 – $245 per person, depending on group size. This is definitely the most expensive one, but you can book the tour directly online.
This tour also doesn’t include the hiring of any equipment, so you need to bring your flashlight, jackets, and etc. A tip is also expected for the tour guide at the end. A porter is also available for hire.
Last but not least, we have one of the newer trekking companies in Angitua, OX Expeditions. Their setup is quite similar to Old Town Outfitters, as hikers sleep in tents at base camp.
However, OX Expedition offers hikers the often to hike as close as possible to Fuego Volcano after reaching base camp on day 1. This is quite cool as you can see the volcano erupting from a different point of view.
- Sleeping: High-Altitude Tents
- What Is Included: Sleeping pads and sleeping bags
- Porters For Hire? No
- Options: Hike towards Volcano Fuego after reaching base camp on Day 1
This tour company includes rental gear in their package, which means you don’t need to bring all your trekking equipment or spend extra money renting them.
Find out more about OX Expeditions Acatenango Volcano tour here!
Volcano Acatenango Day Hike
If you have a short Guatemala itinerary and don’t have much time in Antigua, then the Volcano Acatenango day hike might be better for you. This tour leaves at 5 AM in the morning and finishes at around 5 PM.
It’ll definitely be an exhausting day as you are out and about for 12 hours. You’ll also be hiking in the middle of the day, and the sun might exhaust you even more.
We typically don’t recommend the day trip hike because the beauty of hiking Acantenago is the part where you sit at basecamp and you admire Volcano Fuego erupting repeatedly. You simply don’t get to do that on a day hike because you are in a rush!
Our Experience With The Acatenango Volcano Overnight Hike
Day 1: Journey to Base Camp
The hike started at 9 AM when a transport van came to pick me and my friend up from Mathiox Hostel (now closed) and took us to the base of Acatenango.
The journey took about an hour and we arrived promptly at 10 AM. There, we were given additional clothing, walking sticks, gloves, hats, food, and backpacks to fit the things we brought with us and the additional equipment they were giving us.
We began our hike at around 10:30 AM, just three people in total; me, my friend, and the tour guide. The Volcano Acatenango trailhead took about 20 minutes to hike from where our tour company was giving us gear.
You will know when you reach the entrance as it has wooden fences and looks like the entrance to a barn or something.
Once you pass that you will reach one of the two hardest parts of hiking Acatenango. It is about an hour up on very loose sand that will inevitably cause you to slip and lose ground. Two steps forward, one step back was the motto of my life during that hour. You will also be able to purchase water once you pass this part.
After that gruesome part, it becomes easier. You will reach the ticket booth of the park where you have to pay 50Q to climb more of the volcano. At that point, you are probably thinking, “am I paying just to suffer more?”
That is exactly what you are doing, but don’t worry, the hike to the lunch spot is a lot easier than the beginning.
Soon you will rise above the clouds.
At around 12:30 PM, we reached our spot for lunch. It was a small shop on the side of the mountain where you can buy small things such as water and coffee. The lunch provided was a ham and cheese sandwich, a banana, a muffin (that muffin was probably for breakfast), and a juice bottle (that might’ve also been for breakfast).
We were so hungry that we devoured pretty much everything. We didn’t want to stuff ourselves because we had more hiking to do and the amount given to us was just sufficient.
When we began our hike again, the tour guide warned us that the most difficult part was coming up.
The next part of the hike consisted of two hours of switchbacks through a cloud forest at a very steep angle. It wasn’t tricky, you didn’t have to climb up rocks or anything like that, but it was repetitive and it was tiring.
After what feels like an eternity you will arrive at a fork, depending on which tour company you go with, you will either go left or right. Balam tours campsite is on the right, so we went towards the right side.
Congratulations!! The hardest part of the hike is DONE!!
Once you reach this point, the environment changes and the climb is much easier, and you are less than 45 minutes from your camp!!
We got to our camp at 3800m at around 3:30 PM, a total of 5 hours of hiking on the first day! Even though it was 3:30 PM in Guatemala, it was cold because of the high altitude. Our tour guide, along with other guides, started a fire for us. That was the only way to keep us warm up there!
And then, all of a sudden we hear a loud roar from the sky. At first, we thought it was thundering, but that would’ve been impossible. The skies were crystal clear. Then, the tour guide pointed and showed us Fuego Volcano.
It was ERUPTING from a few kilometers away and we could hear and see it; the lava spewing out at the pinnacle of the volcano and rolling down its steep sides. What a surreal experience!
We took some photos and watched the sunset, which was at around 5:30 PM. Afterward, the guides made us pasta for dinner with boxed wine and hot chocolate! It was absolutely amazing after a tiresome day of hiking.
We watched Volcano Fuego erupt until late at night. The eruptions at night are even more beautiful, you can see the brightness and intensity of the lava light up the dark skies. It is an image I will never forget.
We went to sleep in our tents where we were given blankets and a sleeping bag at around 10:00 PM. It was surprisingly warm in there and I slept in a t-shirt and boxers.
With our alarms set to 4:15 AM the next morning, we fell asleep like babies under the warm embrace of mother nature.
Day 2: Sunrise Summit + Returning Back To Antigua
Like a blink of an eye, we were already climbing up to the top of the volcano. But this time around it was very different, we were hiking in absolute darkness except for the light of our headlamp. Our fingertips were frozen due to the freezing cold of an early morning hike to 4000m up in elevation.
But one thing was the same.
We were huffing and puffing, and slipping and falling, just to reach the summit.
Even though the hike on the second day of Acatenango is relatively short, it was also very steep and filled with loose soil.
But compared to yesterday’s 5-hour hike? This was a walk in the park.
Soon, we finished the 1-hour hike up to the top of the summit. It was nothing like we have seen or felt before.
At around a 6-hour hike to the top of Acatenango, every second of it was worth it. At the top, we were rewarded with the most beautiful sunrise along with the ferocious views of Fuego Volcano.
It is an image that is still imprinted in my mind. Look away from where the sun is rising and you can see the shadows of the volcanoes of Guatemala cast onto the ground, like a projector showing the wonders of nature.
We watched the sunrise for 15 minutes or so and then descended back to camp. Back at camp, we were served a burrito for breakfast and coffee. Oatmeal was also included if you wanted, but we were full.
At around 7:30 AM, we were already descending back to the base of Volcano Acatenango. The descent is much easier, but be careful not to trip and fall. You don’t want to break a leg like one of my friends did.
By 10:00 AM, we were back at where we had started.
Full of sweat, dirt, and with the biggest smile of satisfaction, we handed back the supplies we had borrowed, and then a van full of eager hikers arrived, ready to start the hike and as we hop on to make our way back to Antigua.
We arrived back in Antigua at 11:30 AM, looking like we had just gone to war.
And it sure felt like we did.
What To Pack For Your Hike
- Proper Hiking Shoes (Him/Her) – Hiking Volcano Acatenango is definitely doable without hiking shoes, but my advice is to put them on for this trek. There is loose dirt and gravel that causes you to slide backward every step that you take, and on the way down, hiking shoes will give you that support and grip to prevent you from falling.
- Backpack With Hip Belt And Sturdy Frame (Men/Women) – Because you’ll be hiking with lots of stuff in your backpack, it is recommended that you get one with a hip belt and sturdy frame. A hip belt allows you to redistribute the weight of the backpack to your hips so your shoulders don’t hurt.
- 4L of Water – Before your hike, your tour company should brief you on how much water is needed. They might say 4L, 5L or even more. Though that might seem like a lot of water to drink and carry, it is somehow completely necessary. Remember that the water is also used for cooking.
- Warm Clothes – Packing for the Acatenango Volcano overnight hike is tricky because it is so hot in the daytime but so cold at night. Luckily, there are items of clothing that tour companies will rent out to you, but we recommend bringing your own clothes, at least for the ones that are a little bit more personal likes socks and gloves. The temperature can drop below freezing at night on Acatenango.
- Nice Camera and Tripod – It would be a shame to hike all the way up to Acatenango and not get a good photo of Volcano Fuego erupting. Because it gets so dark, you’ll need a nice camera and a tripod to take a long exposure. We recommend the Sony A7III, but if you want more recommendations, check out this guide.
- Face Cover – If there was one thing I wished I packed for my Acatenango hike, it is a face cover. No not one for COVID, but one that protects you from all the dust. Because the soil is so soft and silty, there is lots of dust in the air especially after someone just walked over it. And because there is only one trail, that is unavoidable.
- Trekking poles (Hiking Poles) – They are a must for a treacherous and strenuous hike like this one. We recommend carbon fiber ones because they are lightweight and sturdy. If you don’t get to bring one, you can rent a walking stick near the trailhead.
- Raincoat (Him/Her) – If you are visiting during the wet season, a raincoat is a must. Even in the dry season, rain can occur, especially near the top of the volcano.
Tips For Hiking Acatenango Volcano
- Prepare for Altitude Sickness – The peak of Acatenango is at 3976m, an altitude that could cause serious altitude sickness for anyone that is not acclimatized. When I hiked Acatenango Volcano, I got some serious headaches on the first night, but your symptoms might be different. Make sure you spend at least 2 days in Antigua acclimatizing before you hike.
- Be Careful Going Back Down – Because you are already so tired from your hike, going back down is the most dangerous part. It is easy to slip, miss a step, and fall. I’ve met hundreds of people that have done this hike and not a single person did not fall on the way down. Just make sure you fall as little as possible to minimize the risk.
- Get Some Travel Insurance – There is an inherent risk when it comes to climbing a volcano in Guatemala, especially the third highest one. I would recommend buying affordable travel insurance before visiting Guatemala, not just for the hike, but for the trip in general.
- Don’t Overpack Snacks – You might think that nothing is worst than being stuck at the top of a mountain being hungry, and that is reasonable. But exercise such as hiking actually curbs up your appetite, so you feel less hungry. Plus you are likely to be sleeping very early, so you much have many chances to snack. Don’t be like me and pack 4 bags of M&Ms and a loaf of bread!
Best Time to Hike Acatenango Volcano
Guatemala has a distinct dry and wet season. The dry season runs from November until April. The wet season runs from May until November. Of course, the best time to hike Acatenango Volcano is during the dry season. You are more likely going to encounter clear skies during your hike, but the weather is considerably cooler because during this time.
Hiking Acatenango Volcano during the rainy season isn’t all gloom and doom. Like most tropical places, rain comes in short but powerful bursts. With that said, the visibility can be much lower when hiking in the wet season, so you might not see Fuego Volcano erupt or have a good sunrise.
Volcano Acatenango Hike FAQs
Can You Hike Volcano Acatenango Without a Guide?
Yes, it is possible to hike Volcano Acatenango without a guide, but you’ll need to bring your own camping equipment if you are doing the overnight hike. We don’t recommend hiking without a tour guide because the hike is relatively treacherous and the weather can be unpredictable. Even experienced hikers might find it challenging, though the trail is easy to find so you are unlikely to get lost.
How Cold is the Volcano Acatenango hike?
The temperature can drop below freezing at night on Volcano Acatenango. And since you will be hiking in the early morning to summit the volcano, you’ll be hiking in pretty cold temperatures. In the daytime, the weather is perfect for hiking in just a short or long sleeve.
How Difficulty Is Volcano Acatenango Hike?
The Volcano Acatenango hike is a challenging hike. With its high altitude and tricky terrain, it’ll even challenge the most experienced hikers.
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I hope this Volcano Acatenango guide will have all the information, tips, and advice you will need for your hike. Hiking Volcan Acatenango is an experience I will never forget. Let us know what you think in the comments!!!
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