If you’re looking to experience the adventure of the lifetime, hiking Acatenango Volcano better be on your bucket list!
At 13,045ft (3,976 meters), it is the third highest volcano in Central America. Trekking Acatenango will take you to the summit (a 5,000ft elevation gain) for sunrise with a front row view to the active Fuego Volcano and Agua Volcano in the distance. Additionally, extreme adventurers can hike directly on Fuego to get up close and personal with the frequent eruptions.
Standing on Fuego Volcano as it erupted was one of the highlights of my life!
I traveled to Guatemala solo at the end of month in May 2019. I only had six days in Guatemala, which ended up being five days due to a flight cancellation and delay (and it was technically only four days, since one day was spent traveling home). Once I found out it was possible to hike an active volcano and witness eruptions (something I had never seen before but always wanted to), I knew I had to include the Acatenango trek in my travel itinerary.
The trek is overnight (a full day and half day) and it is easy to incorporate into your Guatemala trip, whether you are in Guatemala just for a long weekend (I met several Americans in Guatemala who traveled there since it was Memorial Day Weekend) or part of a longer Central America trip (I came after spending a week and a half in Mexico).
Below I’ll cover everything you need to know to hike Acatenango and my personal experience from the trek!
How to trek Acatenango
A guide is required to hike Acatenango as it is a difficult and high elevation trek with unpredictable weather. Due to unfortunate deaths as a result of unprepared hikers without guides, the government has made guides a mandatory requirement for this trek.
I recommend booking your trek in advance (this can be done online) or you can book it once you get to Antigua if you are flexible.
OX Expeditions – Why I chose OX Expeditions
Several companies operate out of Antigua tour company options and I selected OX Expeditions for a number of reasons. I read great reviews and blogs online about traveler experiences and OX Expeditions did not disappoint. I was impressed by the professionalism of the company/guides, how all the details were arranged and provided (from meals to gear), that they are eco-friendly and support the local community. OX has been leading treks since 2004. They have a wealth of resources they send you to prepare from the hike, including informational videos and packing lists.
Since I was traveling only with carry-on luggage for a trip to Mexico beforehand, I wasn’t able to pack all of the gear I needed, so it was extremely helpful that OX had high-quality gear I could borrow free of charge to use during the trek. They even provided a 55 liter backpack (the one I was traveling with was only 48 liters to meet carry-on bag regulations).
Tour Options & Cost Breakdown
The Acatenango Overnight Trek is $89 USD and the Double Whammy (Overnight trek + hike to Fuego Volcano) is $129 USD total. I ended up doing the Double Whammy.
You can also do a full day hike (12 hours) for $59 USD that departs at 5am. If you have the time in Guatemala, I would highly recommend spending the night on the mountain to witness volcano eruptions at night and both sunrise and sunset from the volcano.
What is included:
- Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- 4 meals (Breakfast 2x, Lunch, Dinner)
If needed, OX can provide the following free of charge:
- 55L backpack
- Rain poncho
- Fleece jackets
What is not included:
- Tip for guide (100 Queztales or $10 a guide) – typically two guides on your trek
- Hiking stick (5 Queztales, less than $1 USD) that can be purchased at the start of the trail
- Snacks (Fruit, nuts, granola bars, chocolate bars, can be purchased in Antigua at a grocery store or small markets)
- Hiking shoes/boots (I bought these before the trek, I also love these hiking boots but did not bring them as I wanted to travel in something more lightweight for my two week trip)
- *Batteries for headlamp – unnecessary if you have a BioLite Headlamp
Visit the OX Expeditions website and select the trek you want, hit the “Book now, deposit $39” and fill out the form for your requested dates. If you want to do the “Double Whammy” select the overnight trek and you have the option to add it on. You can also add it on later when you’re in Antigua.
How to get to Acatenango
Typically, Acatenango treks depart from Antigua, Guatemala. Antigua is less than an hour (without traffic) from Guatemala City. I recommend spending at least a day in Antigua to explore this charming colonial town and also help you acclimatize before your trek. Antigua sits at 5,029 feet (1,533 meters).
If you’re coming via airplane, you’ll want to fly into Guatemala City and take an Uber at the airport to Antigua (roughly $20, I met another traveler heading to Antigua on my flight so we split an Uber, costing us only $10 each). Your accommodation can also arrange a shuttle for you (typically $40 for a shuttle, if you’re with a group you can share the cost), or if you are really adventurous you can take a public bus, commonly referred to as a “chicken bus.”
When to hike Acatenango
The dry season in Guatemala is in November – April. The rainy season is May – October. You can still experience rain in the dry season and dry days in the wet season. Dry season is high season, so you’ll likely have less people if you hike in the wet season.
From my personal experience, I did this trek in the end of May (May 26-27) and luckily did not have any rain with the exception of a short-lived, light sprinkle around 6:30pm on the full day of the trek. This occurred when we arrived back at the base camp after hiking to Fuego while dinner was being prepared, just as it was starting to get dark. We retreated to our tents briefly and when we came out for dinner, the rain had stopped. I know the day before, the tours experienced a few hours of rain at the beginning of the day but it was dry the rest of their trek. There are also people who trek in dry season and experience lots of rain (some people are unfortunate not to be able to see the volcano at all), so it is always a toss up.
OX Expeditions runs tours rain or shine and will not cancel unless something major occurs, like a hurricane or tropical storm. They ensure you are adequately prepared for all types of weather (they provide ponchos and other waterproof gear).
Pre Hike Meeting
One major factor that differentiates OX from other trekking comings is the pre hike meeting the night before the trek.
The night before your trek, you will meet at OX Expeditions. It is helpful to go over packing and expectations. You can pick up any additional gear you will need for the trip, from a backpack to ponchos, beanies, gloves, etc.
The meeting is great to meet your trekking group beforehand and befriend those who you’ll be spending the next 36 hours with before you hit the volcano. My group had five other people. The trek the day before had 16 people, so the size of the group can vary. I met up for a drink at Tropicana Hostel’s rooftop bar the evening before with people from my trek, which was fun to get to know who I would be trekking with before the journey. I ended up with a group of four Dutch guys who would end up being referred to as the “Dutch Bros.”
Accommodation in Antigua – OX Base Camp, Adventure Guesthouse
OX Expeditions has a hostel/adventure guesthouse “OX Base Camp,” which is convenient to stay the night before your trek. You will be in the right place for the pre-hike meeting and Base Camp is where you meet the morning of your trek at 7am.
Dorm rooms are $9, private rooms are $25. The dorms and private rooms share two bathrooms with hot showers. I stayed in a dorm room but I was the only person in it so it was like I had a private. If you stay at OX Base Camp before the trek, you can also shower there after your trek even if you have checked out, which is a luxury after spending a night on the volcano.
Base Camp has large lockers you can leave your luggage in that you are not taking on the trek, whether or not you stay on their property. Bring your own pad lock. I travel with a SWISSGEAR combination lock.
Acatenango Overnight Hike
In 1.5 days I trekked 19.6 miles and climbed 547 floors (according to my iPhone), gaining over 5,000ft in elevation with nearly 40 lbs of gear on my back the majority of the trek .
To kick off the trek we met at 7am at OX Base Camp and had time to finish packing our bags, adding in shared food and shared gear (like tents). Luckily for our group the tents were already up at the camp from the trek the day before, so we only had to carry them down.
Our group ate breakfast together, which consisted of eggs, toast, a banana, and biscuits (I pocketed the biscuits and ate them later on the shuttle ride).
There is the option for porters to carry your backpack up the mountain for 200 Q each way ($25.75 USD). You will carry about 30-40lbs of gear including 4.5L of water. With my camera and drone, I would guess my backpack was nearly 40 lbs. I debated using a porter (the American guy in our group did) but decided not to. It definitely would’ve been easier without the heavy backpack, but I was up for the challenge.
Shuttle from Antigua to Acatenango trailhead
We took a shuttle van from Antigua to Acatenango, which was about an hour long scenic drive.
If you haven’t packed trekking poles, you can buy a hiking stick for 5Q at the trailhead. I bought one and highly recommend having one for the volcanic rock!
You can also buy other snacks and beverages (including alcoholic beverages). There’s a bathroom at the trailhead, but this isn’t your last opportunity to use a restroom as there is another spot up on the trail. It will cost you 5Q.
Hike to Base Camp with view of Fuego Volcano
The hike starts off with a bang, as the descent is steep and on loose ground. There is also minimal shade and we had a clear and sunny morning. Every step up you slide down a little bit with the loose ground. I found this part one of the hardest and was genuinely worried as I huffed and puffed at the beginning under the weight of my heavy bag and my group pulled ahead at a faster pace. At our first stop I quickly started shedding layers.
Other hikers on their way down were friendly and encouraging. Everyone said it was worth it and some even told me that this was the hardest part. I was relieved to hear this and hoped it was true. I knew I was in for a long day but kept my thoughts as positive as I could, fighting off any self-doubt that attempted to enter my mind. We stopped several times for water and snacks and there were locals selling water, beverages and snacks at certain break points.
We hiked past farms and this part of the trail was mostly just straight up at a steady incline. I was relieved when we reached the cloud forest, which was cooler with shade from the trees and we also found ourselves literally in clouds. You hike through four different climates while trekking Acantenango. The trail wound through the cloud forest with switch backs and curves, which I preferred to the intense straight trail that passed through the farms. Alone at the back of the path, always with at least one guide trailing somewhere behind me, I decided to put in headphones and music for inspiration (Lizzo’s album was a great source of inspo!).
We were told when we reached the final place to buy snacks and drinks, including hot chocolate and coffee. At this point I told my group about my brilliant idea to have a dance party at each break point, which they were thankfully receptive towards haha and the dancing continued throughout our trek.
We stopped for lunch (sandwiches) at the end of the cloud forest before continuing onward.
We continued onwards in clouds, despite exiting the cloud forest and entering the sparse high-alpine forest. I didn’t mind the clouds on our way up as it kept us cooler, although they obstructed our views of the other highland volcanos on the way up. Thankfully we were able to see them on our hike back down the next morning.
“Double Whammy” Option – Hiking to Fuego Volcano with active eruptions
Once you reach the base camp, after a short rest, you have the option to hike to Fuego Volcano, which frequently erupts. I was relieved that I could leave my big heavy backpack at base camp and hike with just a day pack. My day pack included my camera, snacks, water, waterproof layers in case of rain and warm layers for when we sat on Fuego to watch the eruptions. Hiking with just a day pack made the difficult trek feel much easier after lugging all our gear to base camp.
I won’t downplay the difficulty of this hike. But I was happy that the first half of it was downhill (coming down off Acatenango) and relatively steep. I found my legs running down the mountain with my group and the hike was beautiful. We even hiked down across a log bridge. You find yourself in between Acatenango and Fuego and that’s when the ascent begins again as you head up Fuego.
This final part of the hike is very steep and slippery as you are climbing up loose volcanic rock. First you are climbing among trees and then you are just climbing up volcanic rock. Fuego Volcano was clear (it was originally covered in clouds when we reached our campsite, so we hadn’t had a full glimpse of it until this point) and we were greeted with a massive eruption up close! It was incredible.
Just before reaching the spine, I slipped (after taking video on my phone with my phone still in hand and my walking stick in the other). My hand that was clutching my walking stick broke my fall, causing my fingers to take the brunt of the fall as they landed on small volcanic rocks, breaking my skin and bleeding. It was a minor but annoying injury.
I caught up with my group at the spine and our guide took out his first aid kit to clean up my hand with an antiseptic that stung and then put a band aid on the worst cut on my thumb.
We watched in awe with our unobstructed view of of Fuego erupting up close! It was incredible!!
After we all took photos our guide told us it was time to go and I was a little disappointed that we were going to have such a short amount of time on the volcano. What I didn’t realize was we were actually continuing on further towards the eruptions!!
Looking down on either side from the spine was a little scary. On our left you could see towns far off in the distance below and to the right clouds hung below us, which reminded me of looking out an airplane window. I was grateful not to have altitude sickness, as one of the guys in my group was experiencing symptoms with a headache, a nose bleed, and some dizziness. Thankfully he was able to carry on.
The wind was strong on the spine and we sat in a smaller ledge that sheltered us from the wind. We witnessed one more epic eruption, which was one of the highlights of my life to be sitting on the spine of the mountain as it erupted. It was totally surreal! Soon after we found ourselves in a cloud. We could no longer see the peak of Fuego and the group decided to head back so we wouldn’t end up hiking back in the dark (although we brought our headlamps with us in case).
Evening at Base Camp
We reached our base camp again just before it got dark. We had lucked out the weather all day but a light sprinkle began just as we got back (around 6:30pm, when the sunset is). Unfortunately the sunset was obstructed by rain. We retreated to our tents briefly and when we came out for dinner in the dark with our headlamps. Thankfully the rain had stopped.
Dinner was a yummy pasta served with wine. The clouds moved quickly, providing frequent views of the stars as we saw the occasional shooting star as well as the lights of towns in the distance. Every now and then got a glimpse of the ocean far away in the distance. The most epic views were of Fuego’s eruptions, where red hot lava shot up into the skill and spilled down the sides of the volcano. It was crazy to think we were standing on that volcano just an hour earlier.
Unfortunately my camera was acting up (the screen wouldn’t turn on) and I didn’t have my tripod with me so I opted to watch the eruptions with my eyes instead of attempting to capture the unpredictable blasts with my camera. It was amazing to be present and enjoy these breathtaking moments. I’ve included one of OX’s photos from their website above so you can get an idea for what our night was like.
Sleeping at Base Camp
OX Expeditions has four person tents. Since there were only six of us on the trek, we had three people in each tent (two tents). Our two guides shared their own smaller tent. Sleeping pads and sleeping bags were provided, which kept us warm. I was one of the last people up and went to bed around 9:30pm, although I personally had a hard time falling asleep that early even after an intense day of hiking. It didn’t help I was sleeping between two snoring Dutch guys and could hear the other guys snoring in the tent next to us haha. I was also really excited/nervous about the final hike in the morning. Although we had sleeping pads, the ground was still very hard below us and I found myself frequently rolling over.
Sunrise hike to the summit of Acatenango
Our guides woke us at 3:30am while it was still completely dark out. OX Expeditions can provide headlamps if you don’t have your own, but asks trekkers to bring their own AA batteries, but this was unnecessary for me since I used my BioLite headamp. It is rechargeable via mini USB.
The hike to the summit of Acatenango is very difficult and steep 45 degree hike up with loose volcanic rock. All groups from various campsites hike at the same time so there were lots of people hiking (the most people I had seen the entire trek). Pre sunrise colors were coming up across the horizon, illuminating the other volcanoes in the distance. I found the hike similar to the last section of hiking up Fuego, but personally found it easier as adrenaline was pumping through me, knowing I wanted to get to the summit before the sun came up over the horizon.
We reached the crater just before sun began to rise. It was already light out and there were groups of people at the top. We could see Fuego nearby and Agua in the distance (where the sunrises). Fuego began to erupt again, we took photos of the volcano eruption on one side the sunrise on the other.
I flew my drone from inside the crater and up over my group to get an epic cinematic shot, suggested by one of the Dutch bros.
We began the hike back down to Base Camp for breakfast. Going down, my feet sank into the volcanic rocks and filled up my shoes. At first I tried to step carefully to avoid it but I realized it was inevitable. I had no option but to embrace it and imagined the sharp little rocks were giving my feet a massage haha. I took big, running steps down (as slow of a run as I could). This is where my hiking boots would’ve come in handy (or should I say footy ;)) over hiking shoes.
Breakfast at Base Camp
We returned to base camp for breakfast. It consisted of a delicious banana bread, which was one of the items I had carried up in my big backpack. There was a wide assortment of spreads from Nutella to peanut butter to jams along with our choice of coffee or tea. The morning was clear and we could see Fuego from our campsite.
I decided to fly my drone at breakfast in hopes of getting footage of it erupting. I got some decent eruption footage and before landing I was trying to take a photo of the campsite from above with everyone at breakfast. Unfortunately I made a mistake in the direction I was flying the drone which resulted in my first crash, as it hit a tree right above the campsite! Luckily we were able to retrieve it with only minimal damage and one propeller missing.
Hiking back down the volcano
The descent down was clear and we had beautiful weather, so we were able to see more of our surroundings than we had on our way up. I personally enjoy hiking downhill over uphill and this time didn’t find myself way behind the pack as I could hold my own with the group, including running down certain sections. We stopped for breaks as usual.
Our group had a quick pace and we reached the trailhead by 10am. One of the Dutch Bros got us all celebratory beers. We hopped back in our shuttle for the hour-long ride back to Antigua.
This trip was seriously one of the coolest adventures I’ve experienced. Sitting on an active volcano when it erupted was absolutely exhilarating, and the experience was heightened by the intense journey it took to get there.
You have to go in with a mindset that you can and will be able to do it (even if you might be doubting yourself, you have to shut that out in order to persevere and not self-sabotage yourself). To be honest I was pretty terrified that it would be too difficult for me, especially with a heavy backpack. The fear made the success of this hike that much sweeter!
*In full transparency to my readers, I partnered with OX Expeditions for this blog post. All opinions are my own. I do not make commission from the OX Expeditions links included in this post. I did, however, receive a complimentary tour. I only collaborate with companies I love and hope you’ll love too!
** Note: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. If you click an affiliate link and purchase a product, I will be paid a small commission but your cost will still remain the same or less. I will always disclose this at the bottom of the post. I provide honest reviews of the products or services mentioned in this blog.