Acatenango Volcano Hike – Adventure Guide
Doing the Acatenango volcano hike was the main motivator for me to travel to Guatemala. If you’re thinking about heading there or planning to visit Antigua, I definitely recommend it! It’s one of the best things to do on a trip to Guatemala.
Watching a volcano erupt from the top of another volcano and seeing lava shoot into the night sky is unforgettable and not something you can see everywhere. If you love adventure, it should be on your bucket list. So here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about hiking the Acatenango volcano!
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One Hike. Two Volcanoes!
This hike involves two active stratovolcanoes that you can see towering above Antigua, Guatemala. Volcán de Acatenango and Volcán de Fuego. You are mainly hiking up Acatenango and seeing Fuego is the main attraction. Why?
Because Fuego erupts often. Every 15 minutes or so and has been for many years. Acatenango is still active, but it has not erupted since 1972 and is considered by many to be asleep. These connected volcanoes are in a complex of volcanic vents known as La Horqueta.
Best Time to Hike Acatenango
The best time to do the Acatenango volcano hike is during the dry season between November and April. These are the months you’re most likely to get unobstructed views and not get rained on with January being the clearest month. However, there are active trips year-round.
How Cold is the Acatenango Hike?
Over the course of the year, the temperature varies from 48F/8C to 78F/25C during the daytime. At base camp and the summit, it can be 42F/5C to 32F/0C at night and below freezing in the colder months of December to February.
How Long is the Acatenango Hike?
It’s a two-day, one-night trip. There’s a total of three different hikes. The main hike to base camp, the optional Fuego hike, and the sunrise hike to the summit of Acatenango. The standard hike is around 18km/11 miles total and 1550m (5,085ft) of elevation gain. Luckily you’ll stop for breaks often and at rest stops every hour.
Depending on your pace, and fitness level, it takes 4-6 hours to hike up to base camp. If you opt for the Fuego hike it’s an additional 3 hours roundtrip the same day. Intense huh?
The next morning you hike to the summit of Acatenango for sunrise. It’s 1-1.5 hours straight uphill. After sunrise, you return to base camp, eat breakfast, and collect your stuff. From there it’s another three hours back down to the bottom.
Basic Itinerary for the Acatenango Volcano Hike
8-9am Hotel pickup by company bus or meet up at your company’s office
9-10am Bus ride to the park is about an hour
10-11am Start hiking
1-2pm Stop for lunch 30-45 mins
3-4pm Arrive at base camp after five to six hours of hiking
5-6pm Leave for the Fuego hike if you’re going, you will return by 8-9pm and have a late dinner
(If you’re not hiking Fuego you can hang out at base camp, chat, watch eruptions, and rest)
7pm Dinner time
4am Wake up call
4:30am Begin the hike up to the Acatenango summit (1-1.5 hrs)
5:30-6:30am Enjoy the sunrise and watch Volcán de Fuego erupt from above
7am Return to camp for breakfast and to pack up
8am Hike back down to the bottom of Acatenango
11am Bus back to Antigua
12pm Arrive at the company offices to return your rental gear and say bye to your new friends
Cost of the Acatenango Volcano Hike
Acatenango trips are very reasonable and typically fall in the range of 500-700Q or $70-100. It can cost more if you rent gear, hire a porter, do the Fuego hike, or book a private cabin.
Which Company to Book for the Acatenango Hike?
The three reputable companies I recommend in order are Ox Expeditions, Wicho and Charlie’s, and CA Travelers. There are other cheaper options available, but they may not have the same views of Fuego from base camp or they likely cut corners in other areas.
These are all socially conscious companies. The biggest difference is the quality of accommodations and the base camp. All three companies offer meals and cater to meat eaters, vegetarians, gluten-free diets, and vegans.
Ox Expeditions has shared cabins directly facing the Fuego volcano. Wicho and Charlie’s have shared and private cabins available ($$$). CA Travelers is the better of the budget options.
A comparison chart of 3 reputable companies and their starting prices.
|Shared cabins. Dining tent. Outhouse toilet. Bilingual guides. Entry fee not included $13. Meet at office. Gear available.||$89|
|Private cabins available. No toilets. Bilingual guides. Entry fee included. Meet at office. Gear available.||$97|
|Sheltered tents no cabins yet. Outhouse toilet. Guides speak Spanish. Entry fee included. Hotel pickup. Gear mostly included.||$67|
Is the Fuego Hike Worth it?
It depends. It’s a gamble! Are you feeling lucky? The hike onto the saddle of Fuego is an additional three hours round trip from base camp. It ain’t no joke! There are no guarantees that you’ll see an eruption up close either. I wouldn’t recommend it if it’s not clear weather.
You can decide whether you have the energy and mental fortitude on the day of your trek after arriving at base camp. If the weather looks okay and you think you have it in you, go for it! (For me it wasn’t worth it, further explained below).
It’s also the most dangerous hike as you’re putting yourself in very close proximity 500m/1600 ft to an unpredictable volcano. At the present time, the Fuego hike costs an additional 200Q. It’s an easy add-on if you want to do it.
Hiking the Acatenango Summit for Sunrise
Hiking to the top of Acatenango for sunrise is included in every overnight tour. It’s difficult and steep, but I recommend it. Yes even if you’re tired and sore. Hey, you made it this far. However, it’s optional because you don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Not everybody does…
The hike begins on Day 2 at 4:30am.
If you’re choosing between Fuego and the Acatenango summit, the sunrise hike is the better bet. Because even if it’s cloudy, you are above the clouds and clouds make for nice sunrises.
The peak is at 4000m (13,100ft). Being up there at golden hour with your new hiker friends feels like an accomplishment. If it’s clear enough you can see up to eight other volcanoes in the distance. It’s a beautiful way to start the day and a highlight of the trip!
Hiring a Porter
Hiring a porter costs 200Q each way. I hired a friendly guy named Denny to carry my trekking equipment because I had my camera bag and a tripod. If you decide to hire a porter the bag must be 12-13kg/30lbs or under. You can weigh your bag at the company office.
I’m very glad I had a porter. It was a no-brainer for me. If you want the hike to be a little bit easier, hire one. Although if you’re only carrying standard gear with you, you’ll probably be fine without it.
Preparing for the Acatenango Volcano Hike
It’s best to arrive in Antigua a couple of days before the hike to acclimate. Don’t just turn up and go! Especially not from a low elevation. If you know you’re prone to altitude sickness you can get acetazolamide at a pharmacy in Antigua.
It’s also smart to eat carbs and rest the day before the hike. Don’t go out partying the night before. Your body definitely needs energy. Fuel up ahead of time and hydrate yourself.
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The weather in Antigua and up in the mountains can be vastly different. Keep an eye on the weather forecast. I went on a day that looked better, but it still rained on us in the dry season. There are no guarantees on what any day will bring. Be prepared!
It’s important to have your own hiking shoes. Sure you can rent some, but they’re not going to be as comfortable, and even worse they could be worn down or smell like nasty hiker feet.
What to Bring for the Acatenango Hike?
- Hiking clothes (synthetic base layer, fleece, rain jacket, quick-drying pants or shorts)
- Toilet paper
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Wet wipes
- Two pairs of wool hiking socks
- Solid hiking shoes
- Hat & beanie
- Camera (extra batteries & tripod)
- Portable charger
- Dry bag
- Two pairs of pants
- Two pairs of underwear
- Comfy travel backpack
Things Offered by the Tour Company
- Experienced guides
- Shelter (tents or cabins)
- Your 3 meals. Lunch, Dinner, and Breakfast.
- Coffee, tea, and marshmallows
- Transport from the company office or your hotel to the trail and back
- Water (4 liters)
- Sleeping bags
- Hiring a porter
- Trekking poles (can be rented)
- Storage if needed
What to Expect
The hike isn’t easy. It’s not for everyone, but it’s doable for anyone with a moderate level of fitness and a positive attitude. It’s really beautiful too!
The gear for rent from the tour companies is used and abused. It’s not in ‘like new’ condition but is generally sufficient. Gear rental is first come first served.
There are no guarantees. I met people who went up and didn’t see much because of fog or because the volcano wasn’t very active that week. It happens. Nature is out of your control.
You probably won’t sleep well. Don’t go thinking you’ll get a great night of sleep. Because you probably won’t. It’s not that kind of trip alright.
The toilet situation isn’t great. It consists of either handling your business in the bushes or using a smelly outhouse.
There will be difficulties. This is not a fun family outing or a casual jaunt. You’re mostly walking uphill for 5-6 hours to base camp. Even more, if you do the other hikes. You’ll also be cold at times!
Unfortunately, you’ll see some trash along the trail. Do your part and pick up your trash or grab a few extra pieces on your way down. You’ll see stray dogs too. It’s a nice idea to bring dog treats!
You’ll be sore for a couple of days. Unless you’re an elite athlete. It’s smart to book a private room in Antigua or have a spot ready to recover in after the hike. You’ll be glad you did!
Expect the good to outweigh the bad. It’s all worth it in the end when you see that lava shooting into the sky and have 360-degree sunrise views above the clouds the next day at dawn!
The Main Trail to Base Camp on Acatenango
The first section starts from the road at the bottom and winds its way up through farmland. It’s moderately steep and there is little to no shade. At the first stop, you’ll find vendors selling snacks and smoothies. It feels rather commercialized, but this is the last one like it. So enjoy the amenities!
Next, you start climbing up into the second section which is a lush cloud forest. It’s foggier, greener, the trees are covered in moss, and it’s very beautiful. It tends to be cooler and shadier along this stretch.
You’ll keep on walking until you reach the next major stop near the Volcán Acatenango sign where you’ll fill out a registration card and take a break.
After 20 mins or so, you’ll continue uphill. Fun right? This third section is kinda tough too. Maybe I was just getting hungry, but thankfully the next stop is for lunch about an hour ahead.
Time to recharge and eat! Believe me, food never tasted so good. From here you’re more than halfway. After relaxing on a log, filling up, and chatting with the group, it’s time to get back to it. You got this!
Two Sections Left
Moving along you’ll head into the fourth section of the hike and it’s getting noticeably drier again. This is a fairly steep exposed section of gravel. There are long grasses, pine trees, and more exposure to the sun.
Just before the trail finally flattens out you’ll take a break at an intersection. Where hikers going up and coming down converge. You’ll also see the pickup trucks parked there from the people on 4×4 tours.
After that, you continue onto the flattest part of the route. The fifth section to base camp is the easiest part. You’re just going over some rollers. It’s also shadier than the previous section.
Before you know it you’ll arrive at camp. Just in time to take a load off and chill. Enjoy some coffee or a glass of wine and sit by the campfire. Roast some marshmallows. It’s the best feeling!
Against all odds you made it. If you’re lucky you might see Fuego erupting right then and there. If it’s cloudy be patient, it should reveal itself in time. It better!
My Experience Hiking Acatenango
I went with CA Travelers. I was traveling solo on a budget and I’m no stranger to discomfort. Nor did I take the time to explore every option beforehand. I got a good vibe from the guy in the office and decided to go with them after others told me they were fully booked.
A few days before I went, I was anxious. Reading about how difficult it was, how cold, and how windy it could be was intimidating. I hadn’t done a hard hike in a while either. I was putting a ton of pressure on myself to take amazing photos.
By the time that morning rolled around though, I was raring to go! The bus picked me up, we went to get our gear, and we were on our way. I was fortunate to go up with a great group from around the world, including two guys from my home state of Colorado.
Overall the hike to base camp was moderately difficult for me. It took me 5 hours. But it was the Fuego hike that really got me! Even though it was looking kinda cloudy, we went for it. Consequently, we ran into some bad weather…
Hiking Fuego in a Lightning Storm
Hiking Fuego is brutal. It’s an additional 3 hours after arriving at base camp. Which is exhausting! Again I’d only recommend it if the weather is relatively clear. It requires some good fortune to work out.
It started to rain about 30 minutes after we left camp. We continued hiking but got stuck in a thunderstorm with severe lightning near the top. It was scary!
At one point we were ducking down and the time between the lightning flash and thunder was almost immediate. We didn’t see anything and had to turn around and come down. It just didn’t feel safe. There’s nothing worse than hiking 3 more hours for nothing. We also got soaked!
Of course, it blew over an hour later. We knew the other groups that left after we did saw it up close. So that was depressing. Fortunately, Fuego still put on a show for us that night and we had phenomenal views from base camp. It turns out that lightning made for some spectacular photos!
I’m a photographer and I can’t believe I took these…
Acatenango Base Camp at Night
Cold, tired, and wet, we made it back to camp for dinner by 8:30pm. It was nice to eat and relax by the fire. Most people were in bed by 10pm. Not me! I stayed up with another guy taking photos and watching the eruptions until 1am or so.
It was so mind-blowing I didn’t really care about sleeping. Our guide mentioned that Fuego seems to get more active later in the night and I think he was right. We must’ve seen 15 eruptions that night. It was incredible!
When I finally lay down, it was hard to sleep anyway. You could hear the volcano rumbling through the night. I also had my alarm set to be up again in just a few hours for sunrise…
Morning Wake-Up Call
It’s 4am and my phone starts vibrating. Ah fuck. Already? I slept for maybe an hour or two, fully clothed with my coat and beanie on. When I rolled out of bed, my feet were freezing.
To make matters worse, my shoes were wet from the Fuego hike. It was hard to motivate myself again, but I dug deep. Adrenaline is a helluva drug! Besides, who knows when I’d be back to do it again? Vamos!
The hike was tough. We were stopping every few minutes to catch our breath at times. But it was the right decision. The sunrise was breathtaking and I’m very happy I got to see it!
I’m not one to complain much, but here’s what I didn’t like. There was no dining tent at the CA Travelers camp. The campfire area had a roof over it and it wasn’t sufficiently ventilated. It was too smoky to enjoy at times and not ideal when you’re eating.
The accommodation wasn’t the best either. I think a cabin would be preferable. Apparently, CA Travelers is in the process of making them. However, at the time of writing it’s just a tarp over a makeshift shelter with a tent inside or worse just a bunk bed. Be sure to ask about it if you’re considering them.
Don’t get me wrong though their base camp had a great view and it was a good experience overall.
Most hikers choose one out of the two additional hikes. Out of our group of 25 people, only five of us did all three. Doing all three is extremely difficult. I can’t say I recommend it. Mainly because Fuego was an epic fail. Who knows maybe you’ll have better luck?
How Difficult is the Acatenango Hike?
It’s uphill like 75% of the way. I’d rate the difficulty 7/10 for the main hike to base camp, 9/10 for including the Fuego hike, and 10/10 for doing all three hikes. What makes it so difficult is the significant elevation gain over short distances.
My step counter was right around 26,500 steps or 21km/13 miles. I’ve been on other treks and climbed higher mountains before, but this was the hardest hiking trip I’ve ever done. It’s certainly much steeper and longer than the Pacaya Volcano Hike.
Is the Acatenango Volcano Hike Safe?
All volcano hikes come with some element of risk. This one is no different. It’s considered extreme tourism. However, it’s as safe as a volcano hike can be. The main dangers are altitude sickness, falling and twisting your ankle, or a larger Fuego eruption occurring.
In 2017 six hikers died during a cold snap after they did not heed warnings. There was a tragic large eruption of Volcan de Fuego in 2018 that killed nearly two hundred people when pyroclastic flows and lahars came down into a village with little time to evacuate. The worst eruption in Guatemala since 1929.
Hiking the Acatenango Volcano Without a Guide
It’s possible. You’ll have to arrange transport to Aldea La Soledad. Then bring and carry everything you need. You can find the trail on the Guatemala map of maps.me. Download it for use offline. You’re still required to pay the entry fee.
Unless you’re traveling with gear already, by the time you get everything you need, I’m not sure you’ll save much doing it alone. I think hiring local guides also gives back to the communities we visit and puts money into the economy.
Plus you’ll miss the camaraderie of hiking up with a group from around the world. Which for me was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the trip.
Can You Hike Acatenango in One Day?
Yes, you can. However, you’ll miss seeing Fuego erupt at night and at sunrise. So I’m not really sure what the point of that would be. In my opinion, this isn’t an experience to be rushed. It’s best to go when you have time to stay overnight.
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Acatenango Hike Rating
This hike is rated the best experience in Central America. Although I haven’t seen a ton of Central America yet, I can confirm it’s one of the best adventures I’ve ever been on. Furthermore, it was the highlight of my trip to Guatemala.
The Final Descent
It takes three hours to walk down from base camp. It gets warmer as you descend obviously, so be prepared to shed some layers. Many people run down the trail at the end.
Don’t feel like you have to do that. Pace yourself. Your knees will thank you later. I was eating ibuprofen on the descent because I had bad pain in my legs. Like bad-bad.
Is it me or is the way down sometimes worse than the way up? Luckily a bus is waiting to take you to Antigua. Because you’re done!
Acatenango Volcano Hike Photo Tips
Getting daytime shots is easy. The hard part is taking photos at night when the magic happens. So how do you shoot photos of a volcano in the dark?
Well, start by shooting both in manual mode and in RAW. That way you can tweak the file as much as possible in Lightroom or Photoshop without losing quality. Next, set your lens to manual focus.
Then you want to turn your lens to focus at infinity. It’s the little symbol in the window that looks like a horizontal 8. Shoot at a wide aperture like f/4 or f/2.8. This will allow for the maximum amount of light.
You need to shoot at a higher ISO like 3200, 6400, or above. A tripod is necessary if you want to take long exposures that aren’t blurry. Experiment. Watch and wait. Click the shutter when you notice it erupting. Good luck and bring extra batteries!
My Acatenango Volcano Hike Photography Gear
This is the camera equipment I used to take most of the photos in this guide!
- Camera: Canon R6 Mark II
- Wide-Angle Lens: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM
- Prime Lens: Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
- Zoom Lens: Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM
- Adapter: Canon EF-EOS R Mount Adapter
- Tripod: Manfrotto BeFree Travel Tripod
- Remote: Canon BR-E1 Wireless Remote Control
- Camera Bag: Wandrd PRVKE 31L Travel Backpack
Where to Stay in Antigua, Guatemala?
These are my top choices to book before you arrive or after the hike to reward yourself!
- Best Hostel w/ Bar: Maya Papaya 9/10
- Best Chill Hostel: Ojala Hostel 9.2/10
- Best Hostel w/ Pool: Casi Casa 9.3/10
- Best Cabins: Earth Lodge 9/10
- Best Mid-3-Star Hotel: Casa Bella Boutique Hotel 9.3/10
- Best Luxury 5-Star Hotel: Camino Real Antigua 9.2/10
It’s a popular trip. I recommend booking your hike in advance. At least 1-2 weeks ahead. That way you’re guaranteed a spot with a good company. I wish you the best on your Acatenango volcano hike and hope you have a great adventure! Godspeed.
“Don’t miss out on something that could be amazing, just because it could also be difficult.” –Unknown
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