We heard about hiking Acatenango Volcano before we reached Antigua. Weaving our way down through Mexico and Belize we met numerous travellers coming in the other direction. About to go to Guatemala, we asked them about their highlights of Guatemala. “Hiking Acatenango to see Volcano Fuego erupt”, was usually the answer.
It sounded intriguing and we were keen to hear more. They explained that in Antigua you arrange to do an overnight hike. After hiking during the stay you stay in tents set up on Acatenango Volcano. You huddle round a camp fire, eating marshmallows and drinking red wine. In the background Volcano Fuego puts on a spectacular display, erupting and spewing lava into the air every 15 minutes.
It sounded spectacular. The hike is not technically hard, but obviously this will differ from person to person depending on fitness level. Climbing steeply at altitude, climbing over volcanic ash, you’ll start early and won’t arrive until 4 pm. It sounded tough but we were excited about undertaking this adventure. We couldn’t wait to start hiking Acatenango Volcano.
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Booking our trip with CA Travellers
Once we heard about hiking Acatenango Volcano we started to ask people who they had done their hike with. We heard varying reviews about all the companies ranging from excellent to downright dangerous. People told horror stories about being really cold, eating barely any food, having inadequate accommodation and no sleeping bags.
Although the hike itself is very cheap, with most companies charging only $50 USD for the hike and overnight stay. However, the quality of the companies differed wildly. People told us of arriving in camps that didn’t even have a view of the volcano. We heard the name of one company, CA Travelers, mentioned numerous times as we spoke to other travellers. They spoke of their professionalism and the unforgettable experience they’d had, so we decided to check them out.
C A Travelers: A company that gives back to the local community
CA Travelers provides you with a list of items and equipment you need to bring. Some items they can help you with. In addition to providing an excellent service, part of the profits are going towards helping to build a school.
In the bus, one of the owners gave us an impassioned speech en route to the starting point. She told us about the company and what they are trying to achieve. Previously they worked for another company that did the Acatenango Hike. They listened to the feedback the customers gave and fed it back to the company who changed nothing. They came to the conclusion that they do it better. So they invested in equipment and they are currently training local guides.
So the fee you pay is helping the families of the local guides and is also building a school for a locals. Her speech was full of emotion and hearing everything they were doing was incredible. Everyone listened closely as she shared their plans to help the local community.
Safety and equipment had been our top priorities when looking at which company to choose, but hearing this cemented our happiness with choosing CA Travelers. Later everyone mentioned how glad they were that they’d chosen a company that gives back to the community.
Additional equipment C A Travelers provide
Before we set off, we went to a property where we got the opportunity to get gloves, balaclavas and warm mountain jackets. You may think they may not be necessary, but take up the offer! It is cold up on the mountain. Take this opportunity to take as much warm clothing as possible.
CA Travelers also provide a food bag, with your lunch, dinner and breakfast items, in addition to your cutlery. You will need to keep all your rubbish in here along with the food items. All the meals provided are delicious and portions are generous. Lunch is a sandwich and fruit and then for dinner, spaghetti bolognese.
You also receive a sleeping bag liner which you pop into the sleeping bag in your tent on the mountain. The sleeping bags are very high quality and can protect you in very low temperatures.
Most companies only offer paltry meal, perhaps a cup of soup for your evening meal. CA Travelers provide proper meals and we even had leftover food at the end! We even had a few luxuries such as red wine and marshmallows for when you’re around the camp fire. The food and service exceeded all our expectations.Water-to-Go’s Unique 3-in-1 technology means you can drink from any non-salt water source around the world!
What to take when hiking Acatenango Volcano
50 litre bag for all your belongings and the food you have to carry
Warm clothes – jacket / jumpers / leggings
Change of clothes
Gloves / hat
Starting to hike Acatenango Volcano
Two guides accompany you up the hill, allowing people to hike at their own pace. There is no rush to the top. The first part of the hike is the hardest. Starting at altitude, the walk is tough, but in addition you are climbing volcanic ash which moves easily under foot. Plod on at your own pace, knowing that after lunch the terrain gets flatter and the walking easier.
I found the altitude really difficult and I felt like it was hard to catch my breath. Seeing the group power ahead whilst I was wheezing and catching my breath was a little disconcerting but there are always a couple of people keeping you company, telling you stories and wishing you on.
We were lucky to have a hilarious group of three young South African guys in our group. Walking ahead with Adam were two of the group. Their other friend lingered at the back with me. Occasionally they would walk down the hill to check on their friend and give words of encouragement to us both. I laughed at their funny stories and they definitely brought our group together.
Rent a stick at the bottom before you start the Acatenango Volcano hike
As you start your hike you see the groups from the night before coming down the mountain. Pulling to the side to let them pass, it was a great excuse to catch your breath.
The volcanic ash slips easily under foot and sometimes it felt like it was two steps forward, one sliding back. The path is steep. Luckily before we started the hike, we rented a stick. Definitely rent one as it’s about a $1 for the day. It’s great to have something to use as a grip.
Rising higher into the cloud forest to enter the Acatenango Volcano park
Soon it started to get a bit cooler. Cloud forest covered us overhead and the pathway started to be a bit more stable, allowing us to cover more ground quickly. The forest is absolutely beautiful and provides a lot to look at as you inch up the side of the volcano.
The entrance fee is in the price of the tour. At various intervals along the walk, everyone will wait so that we are together as a group. It was at the entrance to the park that we all caught up with each other again.
There are seats, allowing you to take a rest, as the guides sign you into the park and pay your entrance fee. With time to sit, we had a snack from the generous packed lunch CA Travellers provided before we started hiking Acatenango Volcano.
After signing in, we continued together through the damp forest. After another hour or so, we found a clearing and sat down to have lunch. It was nice to refuel and chat to people in the group, some who we’d only briefly met on the minibus or collecting equipment.
We’d been told that the section after lunch was a lot easier. Flatter under foot and more stable pathways. With this knowledge, everyone was keen to plough on and get to the top. Sadly we saw that some previous groups had left rubbish. Please remember to take all your rubbish with you when you leave.
The afternoon slog on the Acatenango Volcano hike
Knowing that the hardest part of the trek is over surged us on and up the side of the volcano. Soon we cleared the cloud forest and the views of were spectacular. You could see for miles. We could see Antigua in the distance and lots of the volcanoes that surround the city. Everyone took this opportunity to take lots of pictures and have another little snack.
At this point it was freezing. I was wearing a jumper, jacket and gloves, even though we were still climbing. Now out of the cloud forest, there were a few trees but the views were stunning. We only had about 45 minutes to go, so we were excited about getting to the camp.
Then we rounded a corner. There in front of us was Volcano Fuego and then as if on cue, she erupted. Black ash and red, hot lava spewed out of the top of the volcano. Suddenly the sound hit our ears, a good few seconds after seeing the eruption. It was absolutely breath-taking and we stood, mouth ajar, looking at this unforgettable sight. It was the reason we’d been hiking Acatenango Volcano and our first glimpse did not disappoint.
Getting to the C A Travelers camp on Volcano Acatenango
The last part of the hike went quickly after we’d seen the eruption. We started to see camps on the side of Acatenango Volcano where groups would stay the night. We saw quite a few camps that didn’t even have a view of the volcano, so we were glad we hadn’t arrived at camp yet.
Then soon we saw some tents in a row and a little shelter beyond where there were wooden benches. The view of Fuego Volcano in front of us was astounding. We found a tent to throw our things into and sat down on the benches to have a rest.
By now the wind had picked up and it was cold. We decided to add a few more layers. A fire was roaring at the shelter. Feeling warmer, everyone sat down to look at the volcano. Then a plume of black smoke went into the clouds again. We saw rock and lava flung from the volcano and the deafening roar of the explosion was ringing in our ears.
Then the clouds came in on Volcano Acatenango
As we sat looking at the view, we talked in the group about the achievement. We had worn supportive hiking shoes but many of the group had managed the climb in just trainers. As a team we admired the amazing views, discussing what an experience it had been.
The wind was getting stronger and stronger and we hadn’t been there too long when cloud shrouded the mountain. The cloud whipped past us, making it really cold and sadly obstructing our view of the volcano. We were so lucky to see quite a few explosions. Obviously we had been looking forward to night time descending and seeing the lava spew from the volcano at night.
We were happy to wait and sure that the cloud would clear, we chatted around the camp fire about places we’d travelled to or were going to next, swapping tips and hints on where to go and where to avoid.
Dinner on Acatenango Volcano
As darkness fell, the guides put pots on the fire to make us spaghetti bolognese. Into a big pot went the food to get hot. We all ate a large portion and felt happy and full afterwards. After hiking Acatenango Volcano it was such a treat to have a warming meal. We ate it in silence whilst sipping on red wine. The only thing that could’ve made it better would be a view of Fuego exploding.
By this time the cloud was so thick and the wind so fast, that there was no chance of seeing the volcano. Every now and then we would hear an explosion on the wind, but it was not to be our night to see Fuego explode.
After a fun evening of chatting and laughing, we headed to our tent, keen to get up at 4 am for the final 90 minute walk to the top. From here you watch the sun rise over Fuego. The whole world lies at your feet. The last part is all volcanic ash, so with achy legs we were keen to rest, we headed to bed.
A great night’s sleep on Acatenango Volcano
We crawled into the tent and into our warm bed clothes after brushing our teeth. The sleeping bags were thick and warm and we were so glad to be lying down. After a lot of fresh air and a strenuous hike, it was nice to rest.
We heard various alarms go off throughout the night to see if the cloud had cleared and the views of Fuego were now available. Sadly, every time, we’d be told that the cloud was still there. We were hoping that by 4 am it would be gone.
Then it was 3.50 am. The alarm went off and we put on our boots, coat, hats and gloves. We went to the shelter to find a few more members of the group. Nothing had changed. The thick cloud swirled around us and nothing was visible.
The guide came out, looked around and then at us. “We can’t go up”, he said, “It’s too dangerous”. We were so disappointed not to do the morning walk, but we understood that climbing to the top of a mountain in thick fog would not be a good idea. So we crawled back to bed and quickly fell asleep again.
Time to head back to Antigua
When we awoke we headed to the fire. We had a coffee to warm us up as we huddled for warmth. As soon as the sun came up it started to burn the cloud away and soon the stunning views returned. We didn’t want to leave. We wanted to sit there forever to watch Fuego perform. It had been mesmerising watching her explode numerous times and we weren’t quite ready to leave.
We had seen Fuego erupt for an hour and it had still been a magical experience. Sitting with a group of people around a campfire, listening to the frequent eruptions is something we’ll never forget.
After a quick breakfast we were off to meet the bus. The walk down was considerably easier but our legs were all a little tired and achy, so it still took a couple of hours. Using our sticks, we descended quickly. We reached the lunch spot in no time.
Occasionally we would wait for stragglers at the back and then descend together. We waited at the entrance to the park, sitting on the seats as stray dogs around us tried to find rays of sunlight to bask in. It seemed like we’d only just been sitting there waiting to go up and now we were back there, having had the most incredible experience with a lovely group of people.
Slipping down the volcanic ash to the start of the hike up Acatenango Volcano
As difficult as the volcanic ash was on the ascent, it was even more troublesome on the descent. Providing barely any grip most people were running down the steep slopes. My muscles had genuinely given up and instead of running I was doing a half lurching, half stumbling action down the hill. Feeling slightly out of control I was pretty certain I might lose a few teeth if I fell into a rock.
Soon we started to meet the people coming up the hill. Already out of breath and covered in ash, a lot of them looked like they were regretting hiking Acatenango Volcano. We spurred them on with promises of amazing views, which encouraged some and annoyed others!
As we slipped through the ash at the final part of the hike we saw the road ahead. Soon we saw the minibus and we realised we’d finished. We handed back our wooden stick we’d rented and made it onto the minibus to rest our weary legs.
As we sat on the minibus she asked whether we’d enjoyed our experience. The guides explained to her in Spanish that we’d had thick fog and hadn’t been able to see the explosions at night or do the morning hike. Judging from the owner’s reaction, we had pretty bad luck that the cloud had come in and obscured our view. But for us the experience had still been amazing.
To make up for it she generously offered us a discount on another hike, should we wanted to see rocks and lava. Maybe we’ll do it again when we go back, but at that very moment, I had no intention of climbing up another volcano for a while!
Giving back the equipment to C A Travelers
After finishing hiking Acatenango Volcano, we returned to the premises where we borrowed the equipment and were given food before we set off. You’ll be asked to return all the stuff you borrowed. If anything is lost or damaged, you have to pay to replace the items. It’s hard to get hold of equipment in Guatemala, so it’s important to look after the equipment.
Once all that is all done, we were driven back into Antigua and dropped off at our hostels. By this time your legs are getting pretty stiff and traffic can be pretty bad in Antigua. We suggest you wait until you are just outside your door. Any extra steps are not needed at this point!
An unforgettable experience: Hiking Acatenango Volcano
Exhausted and dusty, we were deposited at our lovely hostel Barbara’s Boutique Hostel, we showered and put on clean clothes and sent everything dirty to be washed. We flopped onto the sofa to reflect on the incredible 24 hours we’d just had.
From the rooftop of any building in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua in Guatemala, you see the city is surrounded by volcanoes. We’d climbed a volcano and seen another volcano erupt. It had been simply spellbinding to see. C A Travellers had totally exceeded our already very high expectations and we were so glad we’d been recommended such an amazing company.
All the staff were so personable and friendly. It had been so well organised. We felt safe throughout the hike and even during the strong winds which dropped the temperature. We may not have seen lava spewing from the volcano, but for us the experience had been incredible and everything we had hoped for.
The group of people we’d walked with had been amazing. Particularly our South African boys who kept us laughing the whole way up and down the mountain. We had a night out with them once our legs started working again and then saw them again on Lake Atitlan for Christmas. Special memories. Let’s hope you guys get to Base Camp sometime soon!
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