Taking on the challenge of hiking Acatenango Volcano to see the mighty Fuego breathe fire is one of the best things to do in Guatemala, if not the whole of Central America. This guide will tell you all the things you need to know before hiking Acatenango.
The hike to the summit of Acatenango is a medium-difficulty hike, not really due to the distance, but due to the fact you’re either going quite steep uphill or downhill, there is no flat! If you choose to take on the extra challenge of hiking closer to Fuego, I’d class the hike as 'challenging', as you will be out hiking for around 14/15 hours (including breaks) in a 24-hour period and you are likely to only get 3/4 hours sleep!
Having completed the hike we can honestly say the pain and tiredness are totally worth it! It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! We have put together a list of all the things to know before you hike Acatenango and Fuego to help you prepare well and have a fabulous experience.
Table of Contents
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1. Food on Acatenango Volcano
If you are taking on the overnight Acatenango hike, most tour companies offer three meals. We did our tour with Soy Tours and we were extremely happy with the food provided.
The packed lunch for the first day was a big hunk of chicken, rice & carrots and squash. You also got a chocolate wafer biscuit, a banana and a juice box.
The dinner was noodles and tostadas, accompanied by mashed potato & beans. We also received a tasty mug of hot chocolate, which was very welcome during the chilly evening!
For breakfast, we received two pancakes with syrup, a hard-boiled egg, an apple and a cereal bar.
All portions were a good size however, you still need snacks for your breaks during the hike as you’ll be burning a good few calories!
2. Keep your snacks within reach
Although the meals are pretty filling on the mountain you will need snacks too. Great snacks are those that are low-weight and high-calorie. Avoid fruit like apples, or eat them first, as you are carrying a lot of weight for their energy return. Cereal bars, oat biscuits and nuts are great hiking snacks. Make sure to have a supply either in your pockets or the waist belt of your bag so they are easy to reach on the move. It’s important to eat your snacks little and often, keep constantly fuelled, don't wait until you feel hungry or low on energy to eat.
3. Toilets on the Acatenango Volcano
As you have probably guessed, there is no running water at the top of the Acatenango Volcano. The toilets are all long drop, composting toilets. As ever they aren’t too pretty to look inside, however, most were kept clean & had seats, no need for squatting! You do need to take your own toilet roll though.
4. Take a bag liner/waterproof bag cover
Acatenango has its own microclimate, even if the weather in Antigua looks good that doesn’t mean it will be the same on the volcano. Weather conditions can change quickly so be prepared for all eventualities. If it starts to rain and you get wet, without your trusty waterproof bag cover any clean clothes you choose to take with you may also get wet & that won’t be much fun at 4 am for the sunrise hike! If you are already travelling and can’t pick one up, a bin liner to wrap your clothes inside your bag is a good substitute.
5. Make sure you have a comfy backpack
Your pack is likely to be 8-10kg when you set off with all of your water, food and clothes, having a comfy daypack is essential! We took our trusty Osprey - Talon 33 & Osprey - Tempest 30, which were perfect for the job as they were plenty big enough, have a pocket at the back for a water bladder & are really comfortable due to the adjustable waist straps.
We saw people carrying all sorts of strange bags up, one girl had 2 shoulder bags, one strung off each shoulder and the others had 50-60L bags (not hiking backpacks) and almost invariably ended up having to employ the services of a porter halfway up. If you aren’t travelling with a suitable bag most companies offer to rent them for a small fee.
6. It's important to have the right footwear
Having the right footwear is essential! We opted for our trusty walking boots. I’m not saying it is not possible to make it in trainers, many people in our group had running style trainers on, a few had flat-soled Converse style shoes & one even had Cuban Heels!! All the injuries we saw occur on the volcano were on the descent. A twisted ankle, a few scrapes from falling on the sharp loose volcanic rock & even one dislocated shoulder which occurred when a girl tried to stop herself from falling. All injuries happened to people in unsuitable footwear. You need a good grip on the way down to avoid slipping and falling.
7. Altitude sickness
Hiking Acatenango does run into AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) territory, so altitude sickness is not guaranteed but is a real possibility. It’s so important to keep your body well-fuelled and hydrated. In addition, we took Diamox during the hike which offers extra protection against AMS. However be warned the side effect is that they, make you pee a lot! You can read more about altitude sickness and the drugs available to treat it here - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/altitude-sickness/
Also, spend a day or two in Antigua before your hike. As it’s at 1,545m altitude it will help you acclimatise!
8. Take plenty of water
As mentioned above, when hiking at altitude, drinking plenty of water is essential. Acatenango is just short of 4,000m so in the region you can suffer from AMS. Drinking plenty of water is essential to ward off the effects. The advice is to take 3-4 litres, 3 if you don’t plan to take on Fuego and 4 if you do. I actually took 5 as I know I drink a lot when I hike due to losing a lot of fluids through sweating. I wouldn’t advise taking more than 5 though as you’ll be carrying unnecessary weight. For most people, starting the hike well hydrated & taking 4 litres will be plenty!
Tip: We took an Osprey 3-litre hydration bladder as they are much easier to drink from little and often than a water bottle stored in the side pocket of your bag.
9. Take or hire a head torch
A Headtorch is vital for hiking Acatenango, as a) you will need a way of finding your way to the toilet after dark, but b) the sunrise hike will be an hour of hiking in the dark & if you opt to get closer to Fuego, you'll have roughly 3 hours of hiking in the dark. A hand-held torch isn’t ideal as at some points you will need to use your hands to get up and down rocks & you will want your hands free in case you slip.
10. Get an early night
Don’t go out sampling the delights of Antigua's craft beer scene the night before your hike. You want to start your hike in the best possible way. Make sure to have a carb-heavy meal like pasta the night before so you start the hike with plenty of fuel and get to bed early so you are well rested as you won’t get much sleep on the Acatenango volcano hike.
11. Mentally prepare for the hike
In all honesty, the hike wasn’t as bad as we were expecting having read some of the blogs out there. The first hour to an hour and a half was the hardest as it was the steepest section and had many uneven and large steps. After that, it is still uphill but with a gradual incline & switchbacks. Don’t go into the hike underestimating it though as I believe we found it easier than we thought as we were expecting it to be totally horrendous. Having said this some people in our group did find it incredibly hard and getting to base camp was a real challenge. Go in expecting it to be hard and hopefully like us, you will find it easier than you thought it would be.
12. Clothes - Layers are your friend
Weather changes fast on any mountain or volcano so it’s important to pack for all weather. Even if it’s glorious sunshine when you set off it’s important to have your waterproofs and cold-weather gear. You can check the forecast on the mountain here https://www.mountain-forecast.com/peaks/Acatenango/forecasts/3976 but remember this is a forecast only and can change quickly so it is best to prepare for the worst weather.
The layers I’d recommend for the hike are;
Buff/scarf (useful for the dust too)
Base-layer t-shirt, moisture-wicking is best.
2nd layer - soft shell jacket or fleece
Warmth layer - down jacket which can double as a pillow
Outer layer - waterproof and windproof jacket, Gortex is best
Hiking shorts/zip-off walking trousers
Thermal leggings - I didn’t take these as I don’t get cold easily, especially on my legs. Becca did and was glad she did.
Gloves - I took one pair but Becca actually took her own and hired a second pair as she gets cold fingers really easily.
Most tour companies offer free clothes hire which is great but it is first come, first served. One great option is to go to Antigua’s second-hand clothes market where you can pick up some cheap gear before your hike. Becca picked up her thermal leggings there for Q10(£1/$1.20).
Hiking Acatenango Volcano is an amazing experience and is totally achievable for anyone with moderate fitness levels and a positive attitude. Hopefully, if you follow the above tips it will make your experience more comfortable and enjoyable, but any pain you experience will all be worth it when you witness the majestic Fuego spurting fire, and the beautiful sunrise view from the summit of Acatenango.
Let us know in the comments how you found the Acatenango hike and if you have any other top tips you think we should add to this post!
For more inspiration for your Guatemala visit see our other Guatemala blog posts.