Conquering the Colossal Volcano Acatenango
Three nights in San Marcos meant three mornings watching Volcano Acatenango erupting from the lakeside, reminding me of the pain and exhaustion that awaited me back in Antigua. Having travelled back to Antigua, we booked the Volcano Acatenango hike for the following morning, ensuring that there was no way we could pike out. If you’re planning to do it yourself, make sure you read this!
It’s an overnight hike with approximately 6-7 hours hiking up Acatenango in the afternoon and about 4 hours to get down the following morning. You will sleep in a tent with your comrades – trust me, you’ll need the body heat. You can carry your own stuff or have someone carry it for you although no one from our group opted for the latter. Everyone should also share the load with carrying the tent pieces, some people take it up and the rest take it down – don’t be a slackarse! You’ll get picked up around 9AM from your hostel and return around 1PM the following day ready for a decent feed and some sleep. The cost of the tour was 225Q – about $30!
You’re gonna find out this isn’t a leisurely stroll pretty much straight away. The first two hours were steep and long as you ascend through the cornfields. At just the first stop I’m pretty sure everyone was trying to cover how hard they were breathing, and there was plenty more ahead of us.
You then hit the rainforest section where things get a little more technical but less steep. This is where you’ll be wishing for those hiking boots instead of your Air Zooms (slave to fashion right?). It’s pretty moist, but not really muddy. Any tree root that looks wet will be slipperier than an eel covered in lard. Surprisingly I actually made it through this whole hike without falling over!
Things will finally flatten out a bit and towards the top you’ll be walking along what looks like a perfect mountain bike flow trail straight out of Rotorua! We were passed by a few locals on this section, some of who had horses – that’s cheating!
We made it to camp with plenty of time to pitch the tents before sunset. Before long we had a roaring fire and hot noodles which went down a treat! At this point you’re at about 3500 ish metres above sea level and altitude sickness may be a thing – I had a cracking headache which only added to the exhaustion.
At this point you can just sit, watch and listen to Fuego spewing its red hot lava and ash into the sky, it’s truly an incredible sight! As the weather rolled in it was time to cuddle up with my fellow stinky hikers for what was to be one of the most sleepless nights I’ve had in forever.
At around 4AM you’ll wake up really, really grumpy, put on your boots and climb up to the peak to watch Fuego spew lava and do its thing. That is if you have clear weather. Unfortunately our group was treated to the incredible audio of a volcano erupting, but not so much the visual aspect. Thick fog completely shielded Fuego at the most inconvenient times, and with high winds and the odd rainfall it was pretty safe to say we were unlucky with the weather. Our group didn’t actually make it to the peak of Acatenango as our guide decided it was too dangerous, the risk of actually being blown off the top was a real possibility!
Lunch and dinner is provided but if you’re larger than a very small bird (or very picky) you may want to bring some of your own. I highly recommend cold pizza from the night before, you will be the envy of your fellow hiking buddies. Provided food consists of a sammich, 2 minute noodles, a banana, a tub of yoghurt and some cacao powder for hot chocolate.
The guides recommend 4L of water – I’d recommend a litre or two more because it will be used for coffee and hot chocolate up the top. Don’t be that hiker and rely on other people for water you should have brought yourself!
GLOVES ARE A MUST!! Just splurge the few extra bucks for a pair. Hiking clothes and a change of sleeping clothes. If you’re disgusting like me, these can be the same thing. Feeling a bit smelly after the hike up? Don’t worry, a few extra layers of clothing at night will not only keep you warm but will seal in that smelly goodness until it’s time to take it off and hike back down. Don’t be surprised if no one walks back home with you! But seriously it can be below freezing up the top so make sure you have a good jacket.
You can totally do this in your Nike Air Zooms. You will fall over, but what do we do when we fall off the horse? I bought some second hand hiking shoes from the markets for 50Q ($7) and never looked back. Except for when the blisters started because most of the shoe internals were missing.
OTHER HANDY SHIT
These items aren’t necessary but will either make your life easier or much, much cooler.
- A drone (duh)
- A walking stick – 5 Q from the lovely ladies at the start of the hike
- A bottle or two of some sort of tamarindo rum, perfect for the top – 20Q each
- Peanut butter because it’s delicious and not very good for you
- A decent camera to capture Fuego in all its glory. Phone cameras just don’t do it justice
- A big bin bag to wear as a poncho – if its big enough it can fit over you and your pack
- A super cool group – unfortunately you can’t choose this, but I got really, really lucky!
- Finally, someone to push you through the shitty moments. Sadly I lucked out on this one and had to make do with Penelope 😉
There you have it! Everything (probably) that you’ll need to know before doing the Acatenango Volcano hike!
Have you done this hike? Tell me your experience! Are you about to do this hike and you have a butt load of questions? Ask away!