Arrive into the beautiful city of Antigua.
Hike Mt. Acatenango
If you’re in and around Guatemala this is a MUST! Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard work, a 6-8 hour hike, majority of which is pretty steep, and at times you feel like you want to turn back, but the view you witness at the top is worth EVERYTHING! Not only do you get to camp above the clouds and witness the sunrise from the crater of a volcano, but the neighboring volcano, Mt Fuego, erupts every 15 minutes, allowing you to see ACTUAL LAVA pouring down the sides – a sight very few people have the chance to experience.
Before I describe this epic journey to the top of the world, I’d first like to make you aware that there are tons of tour groups who offer this experience, but for the best view of the active volcano, head to Hostel Tropicana. They have their own personal tour group that have certain permissions, allowing them access to a private area, enabling you to see Fuego head on. The trip costs around £40 and you are provided with food, English speaking guides, cooking equipment, sleeping bags and mats, coats and hats for when it gets cold and of course a tent!
After departing Hostel Tropicana and making our way to the base, we were given our equipment, sleeping bags and hiking sticks. As I mentioned, you are provided with some food such as a sandwich, a pot noodle and some fruit, but I would recommend taking as much as you can yourself and around 2 litres of water if possible. In terms of difficulty, I’d say the first half an hour is the hardest while your body is adjusting to the physical nature of the trail, and I’m not going to lie, I wanted to quit after the first 10 minutes. But persevere! It helps that you are constantly passing people on their way back down who keep you going by telling you how amazing it is at the top. Overall, if you are of average to good fitness, this is a difficult, but doable hike.
Not only is the view indescribable from the top, it’s consistently stunning from start to finish. As you hike upwards, the land is split into four zones.
Zone 1 — Farmland
Zone 2 — Cloud Forest
Zone 3 — Alpine Environment
Zone 4 — Volcanic Ash.
I really enjoyed the authenticity of Zone 1. Walking around the Farmland, you get a taste of the local culture, witnessing the residents farming and caring for their crops and livestock. The peacefulness of Zone 1 makes it easy to forget you are at the base of a composite 13,000ft volcano!
As you leave the Farmland behind, the change in vegetation is apparent. Huge old growth trees tower over the forest adding to the incredible floral biodiversity, the temperature dips as you enter the shade, clouds seeping through the conifers create an almost eerie fog, and the forest is bustling with the sounds of local birds and wildlife. When we reached the half way point (somewhere in the midst of the cloud forest) we stopped for lunch and a much needed break. It was at this point we began to notice that a lot of the leaves had a layer of ash on them from previous eruptions and acted as a reminder of the type of environment you were in.
Continuing our climb, we began to emerge from the clouds, feeling the sun on our skin once again. Simultaneously, the vegetation and terrain began to adjust. Trees became scarce and instead were replaced by shrubs and cacti. The ground was dry and grass like, and leafless burnt out pine trees from previous fires had taken the place of the coniferous ones. We were above the clouds and had entered Zone 3.
For me this was probably one of the most enjoyable zones which is weird because it’s also the steepest and the longest. I think my legs had just gave up fighting and my body had accepted its fate. It’s also a very busy section where other tour groups who have taken different routes begin to merge and head in their desired camp spot direction.
There’s not a more excited feeling than getting to the volcanic zone. The ground is sand like as you walk over dunes of ash. You begin to hear the thunder of Fuego erupting and after about 20-30 minutes of walking you finally get a glimpse of the smoke....
After around a total of 6 hours, we decided on a spot to camp and WHAT A VIEW. The only time I’ve ever seen a volcano erupt is on the News, but here it was right in front of my eyes explosively ejecting gas, ash, glass, pumice and boulders thousands of feet in the air creating a tower of debris.
As the sun sets under the clouds, tinging them a light pink, and twilight begins to creep in, the red glow of the lava becomes more visible, as pyroclastic flows pour down Fuego’s slopes. Words can’t describe how magical it is.
We sat around the bonfire with soup and pot noodles, playing games, and watching the spectacular «magmatic» firework show Mt Fuego was putting on for us. After a couple of hours, it was time for bed. Do NOT underestimate how cold it gets. I slept in my jumper, scarf, hat and gloves and was still freezing. It’s also near impossible to get to sleep. If the thunderous explosion of Fuego isn’t enough to wake you, the shaking and rumbling of the ground beneath you will. Although pretty scary, it’s also super cool to experience.
As morning approaches, you have a tight two hour deadline to make the final ascent to the peak. For me this was the least enjoyable. It’s very cold, its pitch black, it’s all up hill, and the terrain is incredibly steep and rocky. Some people chose to sit this part out and kept themselves warm by the bonfire, however if you are fit enough and willing enough, I would recommend going all the way. Not only do you get to see an actual volcanic crater (don’t worry, this one is dormant), but you get to see the sun rise above the clouds and a view like no other.
As the sun comes up, the temperature closely follows, and the glow of the lava begins to fade back into smoke. It’s time to head back down after an incredible journey.