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Acatenango Volcano: The Experience
Hiking Acatenango Volcano was both the most challenging and most rewarding experience that we have had on our travels thus far.
We started our morning at 6:30 making sure that we had everything packed and ready to go with time to eat a filling breakfast, we weren’t sure when we would eat next. Our first obstacle came in the form of a knock on the door.
Unfortunately, something had happened to our English speaking guide that morning, so our only option was to have a guide who only spoke Spanish. Well… when life gives you lemons, right? We gladly accepted the challenge. We needed to learn more Spanish anyways.
The van arrived full of eager eyes to see this beauty that everyone says is a “must see” in Guatemala!
When they said our guide spoke no English… they meant no English. We mimed our way through them taking our luggage and getting us in the right seat.
My mind is always blown at how small this world really is… I had a hat on with my university logo (Go UK!) And right when we popped into the van, a very excited Australian said University of Kentucky?! I am doing a semester exchange there next month! I mean… what are the chances guys?! These are the things I love about traveling.
So off we went towards our journey. It was about a one hour drive to the mountains base + a stop to get our food. The tour included 3 (small meals), check out our guide (below) on what to bring on the hike to see what else we brought. We spent the hour chatting away about Kentucky to our new friend. Then we switched vans, our bag drove away in the other van and we climbed into the new one… still not sure on the translation of why yet. When there are language barriers, there is a certain amount of trust you have in the other person.
We arrived to a small house at the base of the Acatenango volcano. They gave us our gear here, adding on about 20lbs. to our already heavy bags. We highly recommend going with a guide for the Acatenango hike. It is very strenuous and some of the paths are quite confusing. Most of the tour companies will provide you with a sleeping mat, sleeping bag, tent, and some meals.
The hike itself is 5 hours straight up Acatenango. Do not take the “straight up” part lightly! This hike is not easy!
When Andrew and I read “challenging” we didn’t really see that word all the way through. We thought challenging was the Haiku Stairs, but little did we know, we hadn’t seen challenging yet.
So up we went, literally… up we went…. the Acatenango hike begins on a nice steep hill. I was out of breath before the first break. About 100 meters in, Andrew blew out his knee. I asked him if we needed to turn around but he refused, he was determined.
As we twisted and turned up steep hills, volcanic sand, and the occasional stairwell made from packed mud and tree branches, we weren’t sure if our bodies were going to make it. I had never known pain like this.
I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I only have one good functioning lung or if we were so accustomed to the Florida altitude…. which is below sea level. But my chest felt like it was going to explode.
Andrew’s knee was swelling by the minute.
But we kept on going!
It’s really powerful to test the strength of your mind on a hike like this. Watch what you can do when you change your thoughts from “I can’t” to “I can.” And “this is so hard” to “this is easy and effortless.” Suddenly steep hills would feel like flat sidewalks and sinking sand felt like concrete.
But nevertheless, we were tested mentally, emotionally, and physically up the famous Acatenango. I would slip in the sand and persuade myself to rise up. Andrew would lag behind because of his knee but would consistently come through.
Our group was split, a faster group and a slower group. We were there to cheer each other on! It’s amazing how inspiring a group of strangers can be. We were from all parts of the world; France, Germany, UK, Australia, El Salvador and we all wanted to see each other get to the top.
5 strong hours later we made it…
And the reward, is so much greater than the challenge.
Things to know for the Acatenango Volcano Hike
- We went in August… it is COLD at the top. In August it was about 30 degrees Farenheight when we arrived and dropped to about 20 over night. COLD.
- Here’s the kicker though… it was about 100 degrees at the bottom. Check out the list below for what to pack on the Acatenango hike!
- The meals are small – bring snacks.
- There are about 4-5 break points, a couple have people selling snacks and drinks.
- The path is pretty slick at some points, we recommend hiking shoes not sneakers!
There are some cute break companions!
What to bring on the Acatenango Volcano Hike
So, you will have about 40 pounds of gear… at least! Be prepared for that. The tour group will most likely provide:
- A tent
- A sleeping bag (note… it is used, but by the time we got to the top, we could have cared less if someone had rolled around in mud in our sleeping bag! A few people brought their own)
- A sleeping mat
- At least 3 meals (With our tour group we got: 2 sandwiches, a bowl of soup, and a breakfast pastry – one group had steak dinners… how ever they did pay about $250USD more than us)
Now what we brought and recommend that you bring to Acatenango:
- At least 2 liters of water!
- Snacks (we packed: 8 granola bars, 2 bananas, 2 apples, pack of trail mix for the two of us)
- A few extra quetzales (for some of the snack stops, oreos sounded pretty good to me half way up)
- Warm clothes (we packed 1 raincoat, 1 heavy jacket, 1 sweater, 1 extra pair of pants)
- Extra socks, my toes went numb overnight!
- Flashlight – it is pitch black up top, and you will be woken up at 3:30am to get to the summit for sunrise.
- Camera… you won’t want to miss these shots!
- Sunscreen – at least put it on before hand, we got a bit of sun on our cheeks
- Toothbrush and toothpaste – if you enjoy good hygiene
What to wear for the hike: We wore pants (Megan workout leggings, Andrew Cargo pants), a t-shirt, hiking socks and hiking boots. Some people had on shorts… but changed pretty quickly on the ascend.
Do not bring anything extra, you will regret any extra weight!
The Acatenango Volcano hike is seriously a must see in Guatemala!
At the top we saw our first live erupting volcano! We saw the sunset over the entire country, and we saw the sunrise peak over the volcano smoke. The Acatenango Volcano was an absolutely incredible experience!
Just a note: We started up the trail to summit at 3:30 in the morning. It was about a one and a half hour hike and was the hardest part of the trail. The trail was all volcanic sand and steep! The air was very thin and it was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. At the higher altitude my chest felt like it was closing in and Andrew’s knee started throbbing. We decided to head back down and 6 others joined us to watch the sunrise at base camp too. We still got a gorgeous sunrise view from base camp!