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  • Writer's pictureDave Jackson

Hike Acatenango volcano | Amazing Guatemala volcano hike

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Hiking Acatenango Volcano is at the heart of most people's Central America Itinerary. Seeing Fuego expel lava like a fire-breathing dragon is a unique experience that we haven’t seen or felt anything like in all of our travels so far.


Volcan Agua in the background with Fuego erupting just after sunrise. Black smoke rising from the peak
Fuego and Agua for sunrise
 
 

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Acatenango & Fuego, facts at a glance

Acatenango

Fuego

Height

3,976m (I know, how annoying it isn't 4,000m!)

3,768m

Last Eruption

1972

2018 big one, however, it huffs and puffs every 15/20 mins!

Hike Elevation gain

Day 1: 1,274m to basecamp

Day 2: 286m gain, then 1,560m decent

568m loss and gain as you traverse the valley and double back

Hike length

Day 1: 5.7km

Day 2: 8.1km

3.9km

Hike difficulty

Medium/difficult

Difficult (due to long day)

Is Acatenango safe?


Taking on any hike is not without risks, especially when taking on steep accents or descents on uneven surfaces with tired legs!


The risk of injury directly caused by lava is very slim, you hike Acatenango volcano which although active only erupts around once every 100 years. It hasn’t erupted for 80 years so watch this space! The Acatenango hike is all about seeing Fuego erupt. Volcan Fuego is super active, erupting every 15/20 minutes. If you only do the Acanenango hike you’ll be roughly 3km away from the action, if you take on the extra challenge of actually crossing the valley to climb up Fuego you'll be about 1km away, but it does feel much closer when you are there.


Back in 2017 6 hikers died of hypothermia on Acatenango, there was a weather warning at the time not to attempt the climb due to adverse conditions but they chose to ignore it!


On our trek, we were absolutely fine, but we did see a few minor injuries. All were on the way down due to tired legs, a twisted ankle and a few scrapes. The worst we saw was a dislocated shoulder, a girl tried to stop herself from falling & it popped out of joint! She said that she had a weak shoulder & it’s happened a number of times. All of the guides (we only saw guides in action from Soy Tours and Tropicana so can’t speak for other companies) looked well-versed in first aid, were well-equipped & dealt with all issues quickly.


Do I need a guide to hike Acatenango Volcano?


No, for the Acatenango hike, you can absolutely take it on yourself by paying the entrance fee and arranging your own camping. Where possible we would normally opt to self-guide hiking adventures but I would not suggest it for hiking Acatenango and Fuego. The guides know the volcano much better than you, they can read the weather and the itinerary is pretty tight. Having someone prepare our food and having our camping pitch pre-erected we still only managed to sneak in 4 hours sleep! Additionally, the tours are very affordable. Go on a tour!


Final shot with Fuego erupting before starting our descent
Final shot with Fuego erupting before starting our descent

Acatenango volcano hike tour Companies


There are a number of different tour companies for taking on the Acatenango hike. Prices vary, starting at Q300 (£30/$36) up to over Q1,000 (£100/$120). This price will include 3 meals and full camping gear, most will offer free warm clothing but you will normally have to provide your own water and snacks. To take on the additional hike to Fuego the majority of companies seem to have a standard price of Q200 (£20/$24) per person.


The main difference between the companies is the location/quality of the camps and the food provided.


Soy tours Acatenango

We used Soy Tours and would highly recommend them. The tour group was between 30-40 which we first thought was a negative but it actually turned out to be a positive. There were 6 guides, 1 at the front, 1 at the back and the others floating between people in the middle. Due to the size of the group, it meant that you soon fell into a group of similar speed hikers to you, you were never far from a guide and you didn’t feel pressured to walk quicker than was comfortable for you or get frustrated by being slowed up by others. Throughout the hike, you take regular breaks to recover, eat snacks & help ward off altitude sickness.


There are a few reasons we chose Soy Tours;

  • Their camp is one of 2 companies whose campsite faces the side of Fuego where you can see the lava runoff (Tropicana is the other company). Most companies can only see the lave come out of the top as most runs down only one side of Fuego.

  • Their reviews were amazing and friends of ours used them & said they were great!

  • They weren’t the cheapest, but far from the most expensive.

Price - Q500 (£50/$60) per person which includes 3 meals, free warm clothes to borrow & all camping equipment and a sleeping bag at camp.


Extras

Fuego hike: Q200 (£20/$24)

Trek pole: Q5 (£0.50/$0.60)

Head torch: Q25 (£2.50/$3.00)

Backpack hire Q80 (£8.00/$9.60)

Horse: Q600 (£60/$72)

Porter: Q200 (£20/$24)

We didn’t know this in advance but we did see a couple of our guides work quickly & confidently in a couple of first-aid situations.


Tropicana Tours

Tropicana is a good alternative to Soy Tours but we didn't use them due to their price being slightly higher, but they are also rated very well.

  • Pro, their campsite also faces the lava runoff like Soy Tours.

  • Their campsites looked nice as we walked past them on the way to Fuego.

Price: $79, including 3 meals & camping equipment. The items to hire are very similar to Soy Tours.


Again we didn’t know this in advance but we did see a couple of their guides work quickly & confidently in a couple of first-aid situations too. I’m not sure if it’s the same with all companies but we saw both Soy Tours and Tropicana working very effectively.



Barco Tours

Our friends used these guys and said they were great. They are cheaper than Soy Tours but we opted against them for a couple of reasons;

  • Mainly, their reviews online aren’t great. They don’t seem to have many so not sure they push for them as most people book through Central Hostel rather than directly with Barco Tours.

  • Their campsite doesn’t face the lava runoff.


Price - Q300 (£30/$36) per person which includes 3 meals, free warm clothes to borrow & all camping equipment and a sleeping bag at camp (although tents are not private and a group of people sleep together in a larger tent). Our friends said the food portions weren’t great but fine, just make sure to take plenty of snacks.


Extras

Fuego hike: Q200 (£20/$24)

Not sure about extra equipment hire or first aid equipment.


Fuego erupting at first light
Fuego erupting at first light

Hiking Itinerary for Acatenango Volcano


All companies follow a similar itinerary but the below is Soy Tours itinerary;

  • 07:30 am | Pickup

  • 09:00 am | Brief & kit out hikers with warm clothing which they are missing

  • 09:30 am | Hit the trail

  • 12:30 pm | Lunch break (about a break every 30 minutes on the way to lunch)

  • 04:00 pm | Arrive at the camp (estimated)

  • 05:00 pm | Hike to Fuego* (extra Q200)

  • 06:00 pm | Dinner (if you don't do Fuego)

  • 10:30 pm | Arrive back at camp from Fuego (estimated) for dinner

  • 04:00 am | Summit Acatenango for sunrise

  • 07:00 am | Breakfast

  • 08:15 am | Descent

  • 11:30 am | BEER TIME!!!

  • 12:30 pm | Get those smelly clothes off in Antigua

Acatenango hike difficulty


I would gauge the Acatenango hike as a medium to difficult hike. If you take on Fuego too it becomes a difficult hike, I was stumbling a bit on my way back to camp simply due to the length of the day and my tired legs. Those who suffered from symptoms of altitude sickness in our group would definitely class the hike as challenging so make sure to drink plenty of water, fuel your body well and take it slowly to give your body the best chance at acclimatising. See our things to know before hiking Acatenango, for more details and tips and more information on how to avoid altitude sickness.


Acatenango overnight hike - our experience


Hiking Acatenango and Fuego was one of the highlights of Guatemala, yes it is a little tough but it should definitely be on your Guatemala itinerary (for more inspiration see our other Guatemala blog posts).


Day 1: Acatenango hike to basecamp


The day started with an early alarm, quick showers and a last chance to take on some much-needed fuel for the hike.


Our pick-up time was scheduled for 7:45 am and as you’d expect in Central America it was just after 8 am. We boarded the bus to find it was full, all except the fold-down aisle seats, great! No chance for an extra power nap on a seat where the back ends in the middle of your back!


At around 9:30 am we arrived at Soy Tours' office, had the safety briefing, and paid our owings before the scramble to get the best pick of the free hire gear. Just after 10 am, we’re ready for the off.


You start the hike straight from Soy Tours office as the entrance to the Acatenango hike is just up the road. Around 30 minutes in everyone was looking sweaty & everyone we spoke to was in the mindset that yes, this hike was going to be as hard as expected! The total time to get through the farmland (the main crops here are corn & snow peas); the first of four ecosystems on your accent; was about an hour. The end of the farmland is marked with the gates to the park where you register, your guide will pay for your entrance & you will receive a wristband.


After registration, the trek didn't get much easier for another half an hour. Up until that point, it was a fairly steep accent with uneven steps, especially not easy for Becca with her little legs! The good news was, in the second ecosystem, the Tropical Montane Forest zone, offers a lot more shade if you are unfortunate enough to have a hot summer start to your day. After that 30 minute push, the path "levels out slightly", it's still uphill but you lose the horrible uneven steps, as your accent continues with sloped switchbacks which are a lot easier on the legs!


Around 12:30 pm we stopped for a welcome longer break where we ate lunch. The lunch provided was chicken, rice & vegetables, accompanied by a chocolate bar, banana & a juice box. The lunch was lovely and ample size for us, contrary to many reviews we had read about the hike. This is the last point on the hike you can purchase drinks or snacks, they do charge a premium though, Q20 for a Coke or a coffee but what do you expect as they have had to lug it all halfway up a volcano?


After lunch, the accent continued, however, it was on further switchbacks rather than the dreaded steps! Before reaching the camp you pass through the next two ecosystems, the cloud forest, before reaching the alpine forest. Once you break the tree line and emerge into the desolate volcanic zone you know that camp isn't far now. From this point, it's roughly another 30 minutes until you can drop your bags at camp. We arrived at about 4.30 pm. Our arrival at camp was a bit underwhelming, unfortunately, although we were above many of the clouds, there was a stubborn one that hugged Fuego, masking its view.


Sitting on cloud 9 at Acatenango base camp - No Fuego in view though
Sitting on cloud 9 at Acatenango base camp - No Fuego in view though

Tip: If you get to camp and decide against doing the extra hike to get closer to Fuego and also find the afternoon's view obscured by clouds I would suggest you take a nap for a couple of hours. It isn't uncommon to find Fuego hidden by clouds in the late afternoon/early evening but there is hope they will clear later into the evening. Trust me, it's much more impressive once the sky turns dark & you will want as much rest as possible due to an early start for sunrise the next day!


Day 1 - Optional Taking on Fuego volcano hike


First things first, if you feel tired after the first hike to base camp I would advise against taking on the extra Fuego hike. We are keen hikers & so along with half the other trekkers in our group we decided to take on the challenge. However, those who didn't still witnessed impressive views from camp.


The hike to Fuego from Acatenango basically descends into the valley formed between the 2 volcanoes, before climbing the side of Fuego. When we were setting off, everyone in the group was in high spirits, all agreeing that the hike to basecamp although tough, was easier than we thought it was going to be (lets face it, if it wasn't we wouldn't be going to Fuego!). The descent was a little hard on the knees, but we were all feeling optimistic as although we still couldn't see Fuego our guides had said, due to the way the clouds were moving there was a 50/50 chance that Fuego would be clear when we got there, which we all took to be guaranteed, how wrong we were!


The descent from camp took around 1 hour, and around 45 minutes up the other side. The downhill was particularly slow for our group as the slowest walker in our group had decided to come and was wearing Cuban heels! After 30 minutes though he was advised to go back by the guides which in hindsight was spot-on advice as he would have been walking all night!


Our hopes of a clear view of Fuego were finally crushed when our guide told us to sit down on the edge of a ridge in driving wind with only about 5 meters of visibility due to the clouds. After 40 minutes of hugging Fuego with all of our layers on 3/4 our group were getting cold and mumbling that it may be time to give up and head back to camp. Being British we are a bit more hardened to the cold we were keen to hold out a little longer. However, another 10 minutes later we finally gave in as the grumblings from the other trekkers were getting louder. We realised we may have to give up and just keep our fingers crossed for a clear sunrise.


Feeling thoroughly disappointed we started our journey back, all the way keeping glancing back, in the hope that it would clear. 5 minutes in I glanced back and saw a twinkle of stars in the sky and shouted to the guide to get his thoughts. His response was "claro, claro, claro", to the other guides. He was hopeful too & he was right. Within 30 seconds the winds finally did their job & blew the clouds away, Fuego was there in all its glory with a backdrop of a beautiful array of stars. Then it happened, our first eruption, WOW!! We all sat down and took in its splendour. We were gifted with 20-30 minutes of clear skies and in this time Fuego was showing off its power every few minutes. All thoughts of being cold were gone!


Fuego when the clouds parted, with lava flowing down the sides
Fuego when the clouds parted

Sadly, the clouds started to return & the realisation that you were cold came back, so we all agreed to return. The hike back was LONG! The downhill wasn't too back but the accent back to camp was hard. The main thing that kept us going was hearing the thunderous roar of Fuego whilst walking through the valley every 5/10 minutes, and with the cloud gone again, being greeted by Mother natures fireworks! We arrived back at camp at 10:40 pm thoroughly exhausted & ready for dinner. It turned out the trekkers who stayed behind were already in bed. Dinner was a quiet affair, shovelling in beans, mashed potato & noodles on autopilot, occasionally looking up to see Fuego's might, before turning in for the night for a power nap.


Day 2: Sunrise hike Acatenango and the decent


The 3:45 am alarm was far from welcome after only 4 hours of sleep! However, getting outside and seeing the Milky Way in the clear sky & being greeted by Fuego is enough to wake anyone up no matter how much sleep you've had (or not had!).


Head torches donned, our accent to the summit of Acatenango took around 45 minutes and we arrived at the summit at first light. Every 5-10 minutes during our summit we were spurred on by Fuego.


The panoramic views from the summit were spectacular! As promised the morning was much clearer than the evening. We could see all the way to Lake Atitlan and Volcan San Pedro which we had climbed just a few days earlier.


As the light increased the orange of Fuego's lava was lost but we still were not ready to start our descent. We simply sat there enjoying Fuego's rumbles and puffs of black smoke.


Reluctant to leave the amazing view of Fuego erupting
Reluctant to leave the amazing view of Fuego erupting

The walk back to camp was easy and we were greeted with a really good breakfast (which the incredible porters had just arrived with having carried it up the volcano!) of two pancakes with syrup, a hard-boiled egg, an apple and a cereal bar. There was also the option of tea or coffee to warm you through.


The descent back to the office was hard on the knees, I made sure to have my knee braces tight & kept a firm grip on the pole (long stick, more than normal hiking poles). The descent was where we saw people accidentally hurting themselves, twisted ankles or knees being the most common, so make sure to concentrate on where you are putting your feet and use your pole.


Upon arriving back at the Soy Tours office, we were all greeted with an ice-cold Corona, everyone was in high spirits & agreeing it was an amazing experience. Even those who found the Acatenango hike more difficult said the views were worth all the sweat & tears!


Packing list for Acatenango hike


Things to bring when you go to a volcano


Suitable footwear - On our tour, people were wearing an array of footwear, trainers, trail runners, Converse & one guy even had on Cuban heels! We opted for our trusty hiking boots which have got us up Mount Kilimanjaro, around the Torres Del Paine & also across the Salkantay pass to Machu Picchu. It’s not that the trek is not possible in trainers however, all the people we saw injuring themselves didn’t have hiking boots on.


Clothes

Base layer/t-shirts - moisture wicking is best, Moreno or polyester, not cotton.

Jumper/soft shell/fleece - lightweight, not a heavy hoodie!

Down jacket - this is your warmth layer. A heavy jacket would do the trick but, the clue is in the name, it’s heavy. A down jacket is lightweight and offers great heat!

Waterproof coat - as always, Gore-Tex is best!

Zip-off hiking trousers - I love these as I normally hike in shorts but can add the bottom to the legs if I get chilly sitting still or at camp. Otherwise, you’ll water some shorts & some warmer trousers for the evening.

Gloves - I like gloves with ETIP so you can operate your phone without having to take them off

Warm hat - It gets pretty chilly overnight!

Sun hat - Although it gets cold overnight the UV is high when hiking at altitude. Make sure to take a hat to protect your head!

Buff- These are great as a scarf for warmth but also as a face covering in the dust. It wasn't too bad when we hiked but if it is very dry the dust can be bad on Acatenango.


Other items

Hiking daypack - Extremely important to have a well-fitted daypack. All that water means your pack will be pretty heavy when you leave and having a decent daypack will make your journey much more enjoyable!

Waterproof bag cover &waterproof bag liner. - Some would argue it's overkill to have both, I like to make sure my clean clothes stay dry so opt for both.

Headtorch- You will be hiking in the dark for sunrise & Fuego. The floor is uneven so it's best to keep your hands free so avoid a handheld torch.

Sunglasses - Category 4 lenses are required for hiking at altitude.

Sun cream - Hiking Acatenango is no time to be working on your tan. Make sure to take a high factor!

Tooth brush & toothpaste

First aid kit - Just a basic kit containing blister plasters, plasters, bandages & pain killers.

Camera - You need to catch those images to make your friends jealous!

Power bank & charger cables - You could argue it's not essential but it would be awful for your camera to die when experiencing something like this!

Tip: Batteries don't last as long in cold weather. Make sure to keep your devices warm and your power bank too.


3-4 litres of water is a must for hiking Acatenango. If you plan on doing the extra hike to Fuego, you may want to bring a 5th litre, especially if you drink a lot of water when hiking. We find drinking out of a hydration bladder like this one is far easier when walking than trying to get bottles out on the move.


Snacks

Light-weight, high-calorie snacks are best. Nuts, cereal bars, oaty biscuits and chocolate are good options. We had a small snack at each break to keep us fuelled.


To porter or not to porter?


We opted against a porter for our Acatenango hike as we are fairly accustomed to hiking carrying a bag. However, if you are considering missing the hike as you are worried about carrying a bag, absolutely pay for a porter. At the time of writing (April 23) the cost of a porter through Soy Tours was Q250 (£25/$30).

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