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The Acatenango kike in Guatemala is hands down one of my favorite adventures to date. While I found the hiking Acatenango incredibly challenging, it was worth all the pain. It’s one of the best adventures to have in Guatemala, if not all of Central America. If you’re looking for a unique and thrilling outdoor adventure, put the Acatenango volcano overnight hike on the top of your bucket list.
Incredible experiences aside, there are many things I wish I knew before heading off on the Acatenango hike. I created this guide to not only inspire you to try this epic adventure but prepare you so you can have the best time possible.
Who to Book the Acatenango Hike With
Although it’s possible to do the Acatenango overnight hike without a guide, I highly recommend going with one unless you are a very experienced hiker. This hike is not easy. You’ll be going up a steep volcano at altitude with other elements of nature, so you don’t want to worry about which way you’re going on top of that. The trails are not well marked. The guides know the trail, how to get there, and the right pace to walk on the trail. And trust me, you want to pace yourself on this trail.
More to that, by going with a tour company and guide, you won’t have to worry about acquiring and taking all the gear up on your own. Most will bring the tents/camping supplies up for you, as well as provide you with food. Many even give the option to hire a porter to bring your bag if you don’t want to carry it. It also is a safety precaution, should something happen to you on the trail there will be someone there to help you. They all bring a first aid kit with them, which I utilized after badly cutting my hand.
Lastly, by going with a tour company they will arrange transport to and from the trailhead from Antigua. The last thing you want is to be trying to figure out how to get back after you’ve just finished a two-day hike.
When choosing a tour company to go with for the Acatenango hike, it’s important to pick one with good reviews. I have heard some horror stories from travelers of unwashed sleeping bags, cheap camping gear, ect. The tour company you choose will make or break your Acatango hike, so make sure you pick a good one.
Full disclosure – I booked my Acatenango Volcano tour through my accommodation in Antigua, Tropicana Hostel. While I loved the trek, there were aspects that I felt could have been covered between such as food and camping supplies. If I were to do the trek again, I would go with Ox Expeditions because of their amazing reputation.
That said, our guide for the trek Luis was awesome. He bandaged me up several times (I kept falling), made us yummy food at the base camp, and told us lots of interesting facts about volcanoes. He also encouraged me by saying “You can do it Lora!” several times. I found the hike challenging and was appreciative to know that the guide was there for me.
The Acatenango Hike
The total distance of the Acatenango hike is 18km return. The trek is done over two days which includes an overnight stay on Acatenango. Most tours depart from Antigua, which is a beautiful town in Guatemala where you can see the surrounding volcanoes.
Our Acatenango tour started at 8 AM with an included breakfast on the beautiful rooftop terrace of Tropicana Hostel, where you can see the volcanoes in the distance. The group breakfast was a nice way to meet the other people on my hike, who were eight other lovely humans from all over the world. After breakfast, the bus picked us up at the hostel and we drove about an hour to where the trailhead starts.
The beginning of the trek seemed relatively easy until we got past the café, at which point the trail turns into steep, crumbling rock. At this point, I started to question if the entire hike would be like this and if I would even make it through to the end.
Further along the trail, we got to a lush, forested area, which surprised me considering it’s a volcano. The trail was scenic with huge beautiful green trees, albeit still very steep. Anytime there was a section of straight path it was a complete leggasm.
Luckily for me, my group found it just as challenging and we stopped for several breaks along the way. There are a ton of places to stop along this trail, as well as some cute doggos who may follow you (although most gave up about half way through).
The next section felt much more like a volcano as the trail turned to crushed rocks and ash, and the trees became desolate.
We reached the campsite around 4 PM so in total it was about 6 hours of hiking but this was with MANY breaks. Every other group I talked to made it in much quicker time (4 hours or so). This wasn’t surprising, considering our group’s nickname was ‘the Sloths’. You can expect the hike to Acatenango to take you between 4-7 hours.
Acatenango Hike Base Camp
You don’t actually camp on top of the volcano, because it’s hella windy up there. Instead, you camp about an hour below in a more sheltered location.
Volcan Fuego is the active volcano, which is what you will be staring directly across at from Acatenango base camp. Camping next to an active volcano is definitely the most epic place I’ve ever spent a night. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the views from base camp!
From the campsite, you can hear, feel, and see Fuego’s larger eruptions which is so exciting. Fuego had a lot of activity the night we camped. We saw it erupt about 30 times throughout the night (January 2018).
Update: In June of 2018 Fuego had a massive eruption that devasted the town below it and killed 190 people. I know people who hiked Acatenango Volcano in December 2019 but the volcano continues to be active, so keep up to date with the news before attempting to hike Acatenango volcano.
The sunset over Fuego from Acatenango volcano base camp was one of the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen. As the light began to disappear, you could begin to see the red lava spewing out of the volcano.
We spent the night by the campfire roasting marshmallows, passing around a bottle of rum and sharing stories, while admiring the millions of stars above us and erupting Fuego next door. Camping on Acatenango Volcano is one of my all-time favorite camping experiences.
I’ll never forget this moment. It was the start of my trip around the world that I had been planning for months. I had been dreaming of this hike for weeks leading up to it, and here I was on top of a volcano watching another one erupt. I knew it was just the start of a series of amazing adventures to come. It was the best feeling in the world.
We slept in shared tents (2 tents per group) which was actually a positive because it’s so cold at night you want the extra body heat near you.
Sunrise on Acatenango
Some people I know who have done this trek hiked up to the summit of Acatenango at sunset on the same day, but our group hiked up for sunrise the next morning. While this is one of the most amazing sunrises I’ve ever seen, it was grueling getting there.
At four am the guide woke us up in the tents. You can choose to skip the additional hike to the top but the views are so amazing that I wouldn’t recommend this. All that said, I found this part of the hike absolutely brutal. I’m not sure if it’s because it was cold, dark, 4 am, altitude, or dehydration, but I really, really struggled. As in I almost gave up.
But I didn’t, and I’m very grateful for that.
Fuego kept me going with his many exciting eruptions. The views became even more mesmerizing as the higher you climb, the further you can see into the top of the volcano.
Once I reached the summit I could see the beautiful sunrise with Fuego in the background and felt so much gratitude that I pushed through.
After watching the incredible sunrise, we hiked back down to the base camp for a quick breakfast and a last look at Fuego.
From there, we took the same trail back. Hiking down Volcan Acatenango is much easier on the heart rate but it becomes a whole new challenge because it’s so steep and slippery. The trail is made up of small, crumbling rocks down a steep hill, so we all wiped out left right and center. At one point we just resorted to sitting on our bums to get down.
It takes about half the time to get down Acatenango Volcano as it takes to go up. At the café, you can reward yourself with a well-deserved burger which was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
What to Pack for the Acatenango Volcano Hike
I really messed up packing for this hike, so learn from my mistakes!
What to wear
Layers are your best friend. You’ll be leaving from Antigua which is warm and sunny, so you may be tempted to just bring light clothing. Don’t do this, It becomes FREEZING at night (as in, below freezing). You’ll want to bring hiking clothes for two days (shorts and tanktops), and then warm clothing for the night.
You’ll need gloves, mitts, a scarf, a warm sweater, and a jacket. Thermal layers can also be very helpful on this hike. I had a fleece sweater with a north face rain jacket and was still freezing. Many other people took winter jackets which I’d recommend. If you don’t have these clothes with you, you can rent them from Tropicana hostel or the tour agency that you book with. At the start of the trek, there are also locals that sell gloves and hats for cheap.
Hiking boots. You’ll want a good pair of hiking boots for this trek. Do not attempt to do it in sandals, even in sturdy hiking boots I was slipping everywhere. I love merrells.
Hiking sticks: I generally don’t like hiking sticks but it was super useful coming down Acatenango because the trail is extremely steep. If you don’t have them, you can rent walking sticks at the start of the trail for 5 Quetzales which is less then a dollar. Worth it! Unfortunately for me I kept forgetting my stick every time we would take a break and Luis would find me another. I think he must have found be about 5 sticks by the time it was all said and done, what a guy.
What else to bring
Headlamp. This is essential. You’ll be trekking at 4 am in the pitch black, and without the headlamp you won’t be getting far.
Adjustable Backpack to bring all your gear in. Some tour companies offer these but if you have your own I recommend bringing it, since you’ll want something comfy that you can wear on your back for hours.
Portable Battery Bank to charge your phone and camera batteries at night. This trail is full of stunning photo ops so you’ll definitely want this.
Tent, sleeping bag, and mat. If you are going with a tour company they will provide this for you, otherwise you definitely need it.
Ear Plugs. In case you get stuck with a snorer in your tent.
Cash for the entrance fee to the park (50 Quetzales)
Toilet paper. Self-explanatory.
Asperin – The altitude may cause a headache so you’ll be thankful to have this. You could also take altitude sickness tablets.
Sun protection for the daytime. Sunscreen, sun hat, and sun glasses!
Water. This is VERY important. They recommend bringing 4L and I stupidly brought 3L. I ended up running out before the hike was over. Bring 4.
Extra food. Although food was included in our tour, it was not enough to sustain us for the hike. This seems to be a general problem with the Acatenango tours. Bring lots of extra snacks, if not meals with you.
Tips for Hiking Acatenango Volcano
Pace yourself – This is a difficult hike, there’s no need to rush to the top. As you get closer to the summit and the altitude increases, it becomes more challenging. Allow yourself lots of breaks and the hike will be more enjoyable.
Be prepared for altitude. The hike starts at about 1500 meters and ends just under 4000 meters, so you will likely experience altitude sickness on this trail. Everyone experiences altitude in different ways, some don’t feel it at all while others get headaches and extremely nauseous. Personally, I didn’t find the altitude to be that bad on this trek, especially in comparison to hiking in Peru. Bring asperin and if the altitude becomes too much, you can always go back down.
You can do it. There were many points on this trek that I felt that I couldn’t make it to the top. This is normal. Many people who hike Actenango feel this way, and the majority end up making it.
Be careful on the descent. Going down the volcano is extremely slippery, you’ll want to be extra careful to avoid injury.
Get travel insurance. You should always travel with travel insurance, especially when you’re doing adventure activities like this. I use and love World Nomads because they cover a wide range of adventure activities.
Pack as light as you can. You’ll be carrying everything with you, so only bring what you truly need on the hike.
Leave space in your bag for food. Although the tour company provides you with food, they don’t carry it for you. Make sure you leave space in your bag for the food they give you at the start of the trek. They may also ask you to carry some of the camping supplies (this usually gets split up between the group). Ask the company in advance what you’ll be carrying so you can plan accordingly for space.
Entrance fee. Most tour companies don’t cover the entrace fee, which is 50 Quetzales. Make sure you have this in cash.
You only need to be in amazing shape. While I’m sure being in amazing shape would make this hike easier, you don’t need to be. As long as you are in moderate physical shape, you should be OK. This was the start of my year around the world and I hadn’t hiked in months before taking on this trail, but I still managed.
ENJOY IT! Hiking Acatenango Volcano is a once in a lifetime experience. Enjoy the hell out of it.
Final Thoughts on Hiking Acatenango
Going on a hike up Acatenango Volcano is not for the faint-hearted but it is an experience I would recommend to any adventure seeker. I never thought I would have the chance to see a volcano erupt in front of my eyes. If you find yourself in Guatemala, take this affordable once in a lifetime tour!
There is also another volcano you can trek nearby, Pacaya, if you’re feeling up for it. You can do this as a day hike or another overnight hike. You may want to give yourself some time to rest if you plan to do both, my legs were killing me for days after hiking Acatenango!
Looking for more Guatemala Inspo?
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