Acatenango Volcano : hard but not impossible
To be honest, one of my goals coming to Guatemala was to climb Acatenango volcano. Why ? Because it is facing Fuego volcano, still in activity, who can make up lava from day to night … You can guess the scene !
Unfortunately, Fuego just erupted after my arrival, causing dozens of deaths, shutting down the airport for 24 hrs and spreading ashes, smokes and toxic particules in the nearby area … and to Acatenango. While I was planning to do this trek at the end of my trip (you can find my whole trip here), I immediately figured out it will be complicated even impossible !
By chance, Acatenango re-opened just before I leave ! I grabbed this insane opportunity. I had already check for a company that offer this trek : Soy Tours ! Its price was unbeatable : 350Q for the trek + 100Q entrance fee.
Warning : climbing Acatenango without a guide is forbidden
What is included in the price :
- a guide (one for 5 people, 2 guides for 10 persons etc…)
- 1 night on the volcano camp with the equipment
- one lunch (vegetarian option available)
- one dinner
- a breakfast
- transfers Antigua-agency-volcano entrance
In option, you can rent a coat, gloves, a scarf, a walking stick, a backpack (if you don’t want to use yours). Yes, it is very cold up there ! Better be prepared !
Why did I choose this agency ?
First, for its price. Secondly, for a detail that makes the whole difference : the night equipment is carried up for you to the camp ! Indeed, in the others agency, the equipment is included in the price but you have to carry it up yourself to the camp place, in addition of your stuff !
How is the trek planned ?
In 2 days, 1 night. And here is my experience
Day 1 :
I have been picked up from my hostel in Antigua and been taken to the agency, not far from the volcano entrance. Gilmer Soy, the owner, explains us the instructions, the trek and the equipment to rent. You will also have to pay the trek in cash only. Then, we have been taken to the trek starting point at around 2000 meters of altitude. You might remember my altitude experience in Bolivia here, well this trek is about to become a pain.
Just to be clear from the beginning, it is only steep ! There will be no flat path during the whole 4 to 5 hrs, except at the end on a slight portion of the trail.
Like I said, there is 1 guide for 5 people. Our groupe is composed of 9 persons, which makes 2 guides in total. One to lead the groupe, and the other one for the slowest … like me. Basically, we were one of the first groups to climb the volcano after the Fuego situation !
Take the least possible personal stuff, anyway there will be no shower only dry toilets. Get water and snacks.
The slope is super hard and steep, I would say from 45 to 60° depending on paths. It is covered with volcano gravel and sometimes humid soil ! The effort is really REALLY intense. With the altitude, even more ! I never do sport but I got a good physical condition. The key is to pace yourself ! Personally, I felt like I was doing 5 steps and needing to stop every 50 meters. I was quickly out of breath, my heart was beating up to 200 that I felt the pressure in my head.
One girl from an other group gave up in tears in the first 20 minutes of the trek ! Do not feel to follow the pace of others more faster than you.
Several breaks are made, with longer one at lunch and half trek. You will see the differences in the vegetation, from jungle to dryers plants. Drink a lot !
Clearly, the effort is very intense and it might be one of the hardest treks I have ever done. I was in more difficulties than the other persons of my group, where my bag was carried for my to relieve me. The two guides were adorable because it wasn’t included in the price. But it makes no difference for me unfortunately.
Despite that, I could go up to the camp at 3600 meters height.
The view was covered, we couldn’t see a thing ! Shame …
Then, it started to rain, finally ! Yes, it would allow the cloud to go and appreciate the view.
It gets dark quickly. The only source of light was the fire camp and headlamps. Dinner was served after heating up at fire. It was pretty generous : pasta, frijoles and something else. In desert, we even got hot chocolate with grilled marshmallows (my first ones !!)
Clouds disappear, we can admire Fuego smoking and the all surrounding villages illuminating. It was beautiful !! Far away, we can also see the volcanos line up and lava from Agua volcano.
Finally, bed time … which I was worried about.
Comfort is very basic : a tent, a floor mat and a sleeping bag.
Day 2 :
After a short night, without any respiratory troubles, we get up at 3:30 am to leave at 4 am. We head up to the volcano summit. It is dark night outside, there is about 1 hour climbing. The path is just like the same as the day before. The effort is even more tough. So tough that I could make it to the top. I stopped 20 minutes before arrival. I just couldn’t anymore, at every step I made, I felt like I was about to pass out. So I decided to listen to my body. Even tough, the view was awesome … Just see below !
As for the others, they can see Fuego even closer ! The sky was cloudy so there wasn’t a true proper sunrise.
We go down to have breakfast at the camp. We pack everything and then begin the descent. The path is similar but some ways are different because they are more easier I think.
You might think that climbing is the most difficult part, believe me that going down is the same. Your knees and your feet will take hard ! And sometimes, it will be easier to run down ! Yes running on 45° slope ! Personal opinion.
What is fun is to see others fresh groups going up while you are going down … After the pain in the a** you wen through the day before, you feel sorry for them. We might have cross at least 6 or 7 groups while we were the only one the day before.
When you see the finish line, you will get emotionally happy and relief ! You will be so proud to say “I did it !”
After that, you give the renting stuff back to the agency before they drop us off to our accommodations.
Acatenango is a unique experience to live. My only disapointment is not te be able to see lava from Fuego like the pictures I could have seen … Well, this is a whim of nature ! This experience will drain out all of your energy but you will feel such an incredible personal accomplishment !