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Volcano Acatenango Trek: Everything You Need to Know
It is certainly a bucket list item to see an active, erupting volcano. By hiking Volcano Acatenango, you can do just that.
Although it may be one of the most difficult things you do, both physically and mentally, it is absolutely worth it. It was our favorite thing we have done in Guatemala and Central America. It was absolutely stunning.
We’re going to go over just what you should expect on your overnight Volcano Acatenango trek. It is grueling and can be dangerous so we cover just what you need to know. We’ll cover what to expect from trekking Volcano Acatenango, some Acatenango facts, Acatenango weather, and more!
This post is all about what to expect for your overnight Volcano Acatenango trek!
As a note, we are basing our experience of hiking Volcano Acatenango around our trip with Ox Expeditions. These opinions are completely our own and we did not receive any compensation for booking with Ox or writing this overview of our experience.
What is Volcano Acatenango?
Volcano Acatenango (pronounced: Vol-can Ahca-ten-ango) is the third tallest volcano in Central America. Its summit reaches 3976 m (13,045 ft) overlooking the incredible Volcano Fuego.
This has become a popular volcano to hike up because of its views over a Volcano Fuego. Volcano Fuego is an active volcano that is constantly in a state of eruption. It has small eruptions every 15 to 20 minutes and are more frequent during the night. The last large eruption on Volcano Fuego was in June of 2018 and resulted in over 150 deaths and 250 missing persons. The last large eruption from Volcano Acatenango was in 1925.
How to Trek Volcano Acatenango?
This beast of a volcano is worth the climb although it is extremely difficult. It is only recommended for travelers in good physical shape and can hike for hours on end. To be honest, I am not in good shape and have never trekked a volcano or mountain before. This was the longest and hardest hike I have ever done and I felt it. I did make it up but I was the slowest in the group and took tons of breaks to catch my breath. Our guide was amazing and kept pace with us and was incredibly encouraging.
If you are up to brave the climb there are a few different ways to make it up the volcano.
Volcano Acatenango Day Trek
You can take a day trek up Volcano Acatenango if you really just don’t have the time to stay overnight. This hike is even more challenging than the overnight trek as you go a different route to shave off some time. This route is steeper and you are under the pressure to get up and down in one day. Plus the best part of the hike is to see Volcano Fuego erupting in the night to see the red hot lava. If you do a day trip, you won’t get to see this part. And although the hike and views are absolutely stunning, we just can’t say it’s worth it to do all that work for no chance of seeing Fuego.
> Learn more about Acatenango Day Hike with Ox Expeditions ($59.00 per person)
Volcano Acatenango Overnight Trek
This was the option we went with and it was so worth it. It starts at 7:00 am on Day 1 and you’ll be back in town around 12:00 pm the next day. The hike is extremely challenging as you gain about 1500 m (4,921 ft) in elevation over the course of a six-hour hike. But once you make it mid-afternoon, you can relax knowing that there are only food and volcano eruptions left for the day.
> Check out all the details of the Acatenango Overnight Trek with Ox Expeditions ($89.00 per person)
Volcano Acatenango and Volcano Fuego Overnight Trek
If however, you are truly an experienced hiker and adding another 2+ hours to your hike after reaching basecamp sounds fun, you should try the Double Whammy. This hike is the same as the overnight trek but once you get to basecamp in mid-afternoon, you will head over the saddle to Volcano Fuego. It’s an additional 200 m (656 ft) in elevation gain and 2-4 hours more of hiking. You’ll hike over to watch the sunset (if it’s clear) and then hike back for dinner. You don’t have to decide before you go and if you decide once you hike Acatenango that you also want to do Fuego, you can do that (at least with Ox Expeditions). No one in our group of six opted for that. The weather wasn’t great and we were all exhausted from our hike.
> Check out the Double Whammy Volcano Hike with Ox Expeditions ($129.00 per person)
What to Wear
I know this seems like a silly section, but it really was a question we all had when we got to our pre-trip meeting. The lower half of the hike is extremely similar to Antigua’s weather. For us, it happened to be a pretty warm day. We all started in shorts (biker shorts for her & gym shorts for him) and thin tees or tanks. They recommend not wearing cotton because it doesn’t dry as quickly and can be uncomfortable with chaffing. We both wore cotton and didn’t have any issues, but a synthetic shirt would be better. I would also recommend a hat (ball cap for him and ball cap for her) and sunscreen.
As for shoes, hiking boots would be best. Obviously, they aren’t the easiest thing to pack but will help you tremendously on this trek. We don’t have hiking boots so we wore our running shoes. They worked but weren’t ideal. We definitely would not recommend wearing hiking sandals, tennis shoes, or anything else. Your shoes will get beat up with mud and rocks so don’t wear white either.
You’ll want layers to start putting on as you go up and will definitely need some warm clothes for the evening and next morning. It was especially cold for us with wild winds and we were glad we had layers. See what to pack below!
What to Expect – Volcano Acatenango Overnight Trek:
Along with being incredibly difficult (I know I am saying it a lot, I just want you to be prepared), there are quite a few things you should be prepared for. This includes what to bring and what happens on each leg of the journey.
Again, this is entirely our experience with Ox Expeditions and each company may have different experiences.
The day before your trek begins there is a pre-trip meeting. Here you will meet with your guide and the rest of your group. You will go over what to bring and what to expect on the journey. They will have more details about the expected weather (although it is hard to predict on a volcano) and exact requirements for your journey. Be sure to ask any questions here about what to bring or any limitations you have.
They will show you the path you will take, how to pack your backpacks, and what you need to bring versus what you can borrow. One of the advantages of booking with Ox was that we were able to borrow warm weather clothes (which you will need!) for no extra fee. They have tons of fleece sweaters, coats, and gloves. They don’t have any pants or layers for your lower half so be sure to be ready with those.
You will also be paying the remainder of the fee for the trip. You pay a deposit when you book the reservation and the remainder on site. They only accept cash and in our experience didn’t have change so be ready for that. You can also pay the next morning if you need.
Day 1: Hike Up Volcano Acatenango
Now it is time for the big day! You’ll meet at the offices at 7:00 am to pack your backpacks. We brought a small backpack and grocery bag with snacks with us to the offices. And we were able to leave our backpacks in a locker at the offices. We left our luggage with our hotel in Antigua to pick back up once we were done. This is common practice for hotels in Antigua and usually doesn’t cost anything. If you aren’t able to leave it at the hotel, the offices at Ox have plenty of room to hold it as well. You can try on your pack and ensure everything is even in your pack and feels good to carry. Once you pack up all your personal gear, snacks, water, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tent pieces, and community food, it’s time to head to breakfast.
Packing tip: keep a rain jacket, water, sweater, leggings, and snacks easily accessible so you can grab what you’ll need quickly instead of digging through the whole bag.
Start of the Day:
They shuttle you over to breakfast and we ate at Rainbow Cafe. They had a typical breakfast there for us including coffee, eggs, fried plantains, tomatoes, and beans. This is standard for most hotels in the area as well. We liked the food here though! If you have to use the restroom, this will be the last good bathroom before your trek, so be sure to use it before you go!
From here you will take the shuttle out to the base of the volcano. It’s about an hour’s drive and is a relatively smooth ride. Perfect for a quick nap. Once you get there, you will load up your backpacks (or hand them over to a porter) and grab your hiking poles. These poles are rented from the locals there and are only Q5 ($0.65) per pole. We decided on two poles each since we didn’t have proper hiking boots. If you do have proper hiking boots and are comfortable hiking, one pole should be sufficient. We found them extremely useful on the way down though!
Now it’s time for the hike! You will trek a little way up the road to the trailhead. There will be 4 different environmental zones you pass through on the way up the mountain. The first is the farmland. There will be lots of traffic here with farmers and lots of groups starting around the same time. Everyone spreads out as you go because each group will have a different pace. You will also pass through the cloud forest, the alpine forest, and finally, end up in the volcanic zone.
Breaks on the Way Up:
Along the way up, our guide waited for us at every break and kept us motivated the last few minutes before each break. We had our first longer break at the Registration hut. Here we had to fill out a survey about why we were visiting and our demographics. Our entrance fee was included with Ox Expeditions so we didn’t have to worry about that. There is also a stand where they sell drinks. This will be the last stand to buy water or beer on your way up so if you want something for the evening, be sure to grab it here. We wish we had brought a few beers with us or at least bought them here.
The next longer break was a small hut where they were making and selling hot coffee and hot cocoa. We both opted for hot cocoa as it was starting to get chilly. It cost Q10 each ($1.29)and was super hot. Delicious with some Oreos for a quick snack though! Lots of other groups were having their lunch here but we hiked on and got to a nice flat spot. We were the only group and stopped for 30-45 minutes. Lunch was provided and was a delicious sandwich from a local bakery. We all changed into a bit warmer clothes since the clouds were really starting to roll in. And we put on our rain covers on the backpacks just in case the rain rolled in.
From lunch, it was about an hour and a half more to base camp. It was stunningly beautiful in this section and probably the easiest part of the whole hike. When we finally saw basecamp, it was such a relief.
There is a small structure where they place the fire and where dinner and hot cocoa are served. There is also wine and roasted marshmallows. Dinner was a really delicious pasta with veggies and red sauce. It was so much food and I don’t think anyone in the group finished their helping.
You will have a great view of Volcano Fuego from here over to the right and on the left, you will see Volcano Agua with Antigua sitting just behind it. Of course, that’s only if it’s clear. Fingers crossed for you!
You can see smoke from the volcano during the day and hear and feel the eruptions. Once it gets dark, though, is when the real show starts. Eruptions are more common during the evening and night. And each time it explodes you can see the molten red lava exploding up and down the side of the mountain. It was spectacular to see! We went in July and the clouds were heavy the entire night so we only saw one really good eruption all night.
We all went to bed pretty early. A six-hour hike straight up the mountain will wear you out. Luckily, we had the guides and porters to set up the tents and cook all the food for us. We just had to set up our sleeping mats and bags. For sleeping on the hard ground, I honestly wasn’t too uncomfortable and the sleeping bags they provided were high quality. Once you get in and settle down, it was incredibly warm. And that’s saying something because it was freezing up there.
Side note: there was an unexpected problem on our trip and even though we had 3 groups of 2 within our group, they only had 2 tents. One was a two-person tent and one was a four-person tent. We really got to know the other couple on the trip, so we ended up sharing the four-person tent with them. It wasn’t ideal, but we really weren’t sleeping for too long so it wasn’t too bad.
By the time we had gone to bed, we all got to see a really good volcano eruption on Volcano Fuego. The clouds parted and the red lava exploded from the top. Everyone in the group got to see it so that was really awesome! Our guide told us he would wake us up if the clouds cleared and we got a better view of the volcano. Unfortunately, we never did get a chance overnight to see it.
We all woke up in the tent around 1:00 am because of a huge eruption. It shook the ground and was incredibly loud. We all popped up and hurried to look out the tent door. We couldn’t see anything through the clouds, but it was still a cool experience to feel the eruption like that.
Day 2: Summit Volcano Acatenango & Return
The next morning’s plan is to wake up before sunrise and hike the remainder of the volcano to the summit at 3,976 m (13,045 ft). The sunrise from the crater overlooking the valley and other volcanos looks stunning. From there you hike back down to basecamp and have breakfast. Then pack up and leave. The part to the summit is supposed to be the hardest part of the entire hike. You’ll be hiking up in the dark, so be sure to bring your headlamp. It is also very slippery as it is a lot of loose volcanic rock rather than a sturdy path.
Weather conditions were pretty rough at our 3 am wake-up call so our guide woke us up and let us know he would keep an eye out for any change in weather. Nothing opened up so we were not able to summit the volcano. He did wake us up right at sunrise at 5:30 am as the clouds cleared. We were lucky enough to get a few more glimpses of Volcano Fuego erupting before the sun came up. And the colorful sunrise with Volcano Agua in the foreground was just gorgeous.
We had some much-needed coffee and talked about how crazy the wind was all night. Breakfast was bagels and banana bread with a variety of toppings (cream cheese, Nutella, peanut butter, and avocados). All delicious. Once we packed up, we were ready to head back down the mountain.
We took far fewer breaks on the way down and the backpacks were much lighter for everyone. I got a porter on the way down too for Q220 ($28.45). Well worth it again.
The path on the way down is much steeper but cuts off quite a bit of time from the overall trip. It took us three hours to get down. I thought it was going to be a lot easier to come down than it was. You use so many different muscles going downhill and my body was not used to it. It was also pretty slippery from the morning dew. I did slip once but just into some mud so not too painful.
We got back down the mountain around 11:00 am. We returned our poles, paid our porters, and headed back into the shuttle for the hour’s drive home. Once we got back to the Ox offices, we unloaded our bags, returned all the gear we borrowed, and grabbed our stuff from the lockers.
As for us, we were ready to sleep so we headed back to our hotel, Ojala (just around the corner), showered, order pizza, and napped. It was much needed.
What to Pack:
Our company, Ox Expeditions, provided us with quite a bit of supply and we really only had to pack our personal items. They provided a backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, tents, and all meals. They also provided additional layers if you don’t have them. It was really nice having their clothing as options since we travel full-time and don’t have a ton of layers.
Headlamp – f you will be heading up to the summit for sunrise, you will need a headlamp in order to see anything. It is pitch black that early in the morning. We carry these rechargeable headlamps with us for hiking and power outages. They have come in very handy! If you don’t have one, Ox has some you can borrow, you just need to provide the batteries.
CamelBak – They recommend carrying 4L of water per person. You will need it for drinking and for your coffee in the morning and hot cocoa at night. We didn’t come close to drinking all 4L per person but we also aren’t great at drinking water normally. It also would have been super helpful to have a CamelBak on so we could drink and hike. Another couple in our group had one and it looked so much easier than pulling out our giant water bottles every time.
Layers – You will definitely need layers. It was sunny and hot when we started at the base and by the time we were halfway up, it was already time for some layers. I would recommend at least 4 layers and a top rain jacket. We had long sleeve thermals (thermals for him & thermals for her) over our hiking outfit, fleece sweaters, and a larger coat with the waterproof rain jacket (rain jacket for him & rain jacket for her) on top. You will also want gloves, a beanie, and a scarf. It’s really cold and even colder with the wind whipping around like it was.
I would much rather have layers and not need them than not have layers and need them. Ladies, you should also bring leggings and maybe two! If your hands or toes get especially cold, you should bring a few hand warmers and feet warmers. We were so glad we had these for sunrise. Just be sure to take them off before starting your hike back down.
Also, you can borrow these outer layers (jackets and sweaters only) from Ox but just know they aren’t the best quality. I had a broken zipper and pocket on mine but I was so thankful for them!
Camera – We lugged all our camera gear up the mountain and it was honestly exhausting carrying it all, but it was so worth it. The views were stunning and we were able to capture the entire experience to remember forever. That’s one of our favorite parts about filming video and this one will certainly remember. Even if you just want to take some photos or capture the eruptions, we recommend a camera! We love our Canon EOS M50 since it is lightweight and of great quality. It has an interchangeable lens and is perfect for all the videos we take.
Backpack Camera Clip – If you do decide to bring a camera, you should use the Polar Pro Traverse Strap Mount. You can easily connect this to the backpack strap on the bag they give you. It will allow you to quickly grab your camera while you are hiking and be hands-free when you don’t need it. It was really convenient for us and Nate didn’t have to worry about stopping to pull out the camera every 20 minutes. Just make sure you know how to use it ahead of time so you don’t mess it up and drop the camera (yes, that happened). Also don’t leave it on the backpack when you return the next day (yes, that also happened).
Hand Wipes – We had a simple pack of hand wipes with us to use before we ate and it was so nice. You get really dirty and dusty coming up the volcano and being able to freshen up in any little way was nice.
Toilet Paper– Ladies, there is no TP anywhere. Once you leave that restroom in the cafe, that’s it. We brought what was left from our roll from the hotel. There is a “bathroom” at basecamp but it is a hole in the ground and my recommendation is just don’t look. To be honest, I just went in nature next to it because well, it was pretty nasty. Just make sure you keep your TP in a plastic bag so it doesn’t get wet!
Plastic Bags – We brought a few and they were super helpful. We put our dirty socks in here, our trash because there are no trash cans on the volcano, and our camera gear to keep it from getting wet. These were great things to bring and kept everything nice and clean in our bags!
> Must Read: The Ultimate Travel Essentials List
Since the hike leaves early on your first day and there is a pre-trip meeting the night before, you will need to be in Antigua before leaving for the trip. You also will likely be exhausted the day you return from your trip so having a place booked makes life a lot easier. We booked the same hotel before and after our stay and were able to store our luggage while we were gone. If you are on a tighter timeline, you can also go straight to your next destination. Just be sure to book a later shuttle or car in case you get back a bit later. There are showers at Ox’s offices for you to use as well.
Budget | Maya Papaya or Ojala – Both hostels are run by the same family and they are fantastic. Breakfast is included at both and they have both dorm rooms and private ensuite rooms. We always go with ensuite and had a fantastic time at both. Plus, Ojala is right around the corner from Ox Expeditions Offices, a major plus.
Mid-Range | Hotel Las Marias – This hotel is a perfect spot to relax after a day of hiking. With fireplaces in the rooms, private terraces, and a large king bed, it’s all you need.
Luxury | Porta Hotel Antigua – This hotel is all-out luxury with a great location in town. There is an outdoor swimming pool, a sauna (perfect for after the hike), and a restaurant and bar on property. This would be a perfect time to book a luxury location after a long day of hiking.
I feel like I have gone over just about every detail of our trip but I do have a few more tips to share to ensure you have the best experience possible.
You are starting a hike at 2,390 m (7,841 ft) and climbing to 3,551 m (11,650 ft) and potentially to 3,948 m (12,952 ft). Altitude sickness is really a thing and even if you are fit and young, it can still hit you like a rock. Be sure to get used to the altitude before the hike for at least 48 hours prior to the hike. That just means be in Antigua for a few days before you hike. We were in Lake Atitlan at 1,562 m (5,125 ft) before and were just fine.
I really can’t stress this enough. Some girls in our group were freezing the entire time and were really not prepared for how cold it was. They had three layers but coming from warm weather, it was really rough. Just do yourself a favor and bring layers!
They recommend you bring 4L of water per person. We didn’t drink nearly all of that but we definitely tried to stay hydrated as we went. Take small sips, don’t chug, but be sure that you are drinking some water. This will lessen the muscle pain and help keep away any altitude sickness.
Don’t Drink the Night Before
Our guide stressed this big time. Don’t drink the night before the hike. I would not want to even imagine what a hangover would feel like while trying to climb the impressive Volcano Acatenango. Do yourself a favor and just drink some water the night before and get some rest. It’s an early morning and a long day.
Know Your Limits
This is a really physically challenging hike. Only do what you can. I wanted to be like the rest of the group and carry my own backpack but I just couldn’t. I allowed myself the grace to get a porter and it was so worth it. If you need to take a break, take a break. Don’t think you have to keep up with your group. Your guide will wait for you (Alonzo at Ox was amazing and so patient with us).
We felt like we were going slow and kept apologizing but he said he had one group that didn’t get up to basecamp until 8:00 pm one night. It may have taken them 11 hours to get up the volcano but they did it and the guide waited with them the whole time. I just sincerely hope that it doesn’t take you that long. There have also been people that have turned back after starting and that’s okay too! You should never push yourself past what your body can do. Injuries can happen and your health is most important.
You can do this, it’s mostly a mental game and if you convince yourself that it’s only 6 hours of struggle, and then it’s over for the rest of time, it helps.
It’s Okay If You Don’t See Volcano Fuego
Weather is already hard to predict but weather on a volcano can be impossible to predict. You have to know going into it that you may not see Fuego erupt at all. We were lucky and got to see one really good one. But we got very lucky, it was entirely possible we didn’t see anything the whole time. I have seen some epic videos like Drew & Alex’s Acatenango Volcano where they got to see eruption after eruption and it was awesome! Just know that you are doing the hike for the hike and seeing all the volcanos erupting is icing on the cake.
Our guide did say the best time for the hike is from December to March. It’s definitely the coldest time to hike but you have the best chance of having a clear night to see the volcano.
The upside is you can still hear and feel the eruptions even if you can’t see them!
Bring Small Change
You will want to have some change on you for the hike. You’ll need Q5 per hiking pole and Q10 per hot cocoa along the way up. If you aren’t sure if you want a porter, be sure to at least have the exact change for one if you decide to. They take cash only and ours cost Q220 each way. You will also need to some cash to tip your guide. The standard tipping percentage is 10% in Guatemala and we ended up tipping our guide around 20% because he was absolutely outstanding.
Bring a “Pillow”
There are no pillows provided and with the bumpy floor, a pillow is definitely helpful. We of course didn’t pack one of the hotel pillows with us. If you have a camping pillow that can be helpful. We however packed our layers and extra clothes in packing cubes and used those as pillows. We had extra pairs of socks and a change of clothes (that we never used) and it worked perfectly to just prop our head up a bit.
Book with a Reputable Company
There have been a few deaths on the volcano due to a lack of preparation. Booking with a prepared and reputable company, like Ox Expeditions is extremely important. The weather can be unpredictable and drop suddenly in temperature. Guides should be prepared with how to handle these situations and be able to communicate the proper guidelines to you. The company should be prepared with the proper gear (like warm sleeping bags and working tents). We heard a few horror stories before our trip and we are so happy we booked with Ox Expeditions. Our guide spoke perfect English which was crucial if there were any emergencies. We had all the proper gear and knew we were in good hands as Alonzo has hiked this path hundreds of times so we weren’t getting lost.
Drones are a Maybe
Surprisingly, drones are allowed. However, with the unpredictability of the weather, it can be hard to know if you can actually use it. We brought ours but the wind was so wild the entire time that there was no way we were going to be able to fly it. That and we could barely see within 50 yards of the basecamp. Nate also did a little bit of research on flying near a volcano and there can be some issues with connectivity and GPS. If you are interested, be sure to ask your guide first and do some research on whether you and your skill levels will be able to fly without issues.