Volcan Acatenango

Sitting over 13,000 feet above the landscape, I knew there was no way I would get out of Antigua, Guatemala without hiking this beast. This non-active volcano provides front row seats to Volcan de Fuego, an active volcano that erupted in June 2018…sadly killing almost 200 people.

I had read previous blogs about it and was skeptical on my ability to complete it. I consider myself a fit person, but the stories I read were pretty intense. Nonetheless, all came to the same conclusion……the views made it worth it. Plus the fact you get to see an active volcano erupt…that wasn’t really on my bucket list but once I found out it was a possibility, it immediately became one.

The hostel I stayed at provided a package which included breakfast, the shuttle, 2 tour guides, camping grounds and food, and one free night with the hostel. (It’s an overnight hike.) I decided to spend my Christmas at the top of the volcano and booked it.

I recommend booking once you get to Antigua and not beforehand; everything online was $170-$180….I paid $89 while there. It’s freezing at the top…mind you, it was 85 degrees in Antigua at the time. Luckily my hostel rented out winter gear for a small deposit. A jacket, socks, gloves, and a beanie is what I rented. I went to the market square and purchased an extra layer of clothing, water, and snacks (including a bottle of liquor)…figured it would help with the cold. I also packed: a headlamp, chapstick, toothbrush,
toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitizer, a pocket blanket, extra pants, and tied an extra sweater around my waist. While they recommend hiking boots, all I had were Nikes (I definitely recommend hiking boots.) All packed in a tiny backpack and I was set.

Morning of: Breakfast at 8am and the shuttle picked us up at 9am. It took about an hour to get to the Mayan Village of Soledad and the Acatenango Trailhead. I partnered up with a fellow hostel guy I met a couple nights before, but there was 13 of us total, plus our 2 tour guides. No one spoke a lick of Spanish but me, so I was designated as the translator for the group. At the base of the hike, they provide the option to rent a walking stick…I went ahead and got one.

Now a couple things I have failed to mention:

  1. The reason the hike is so intense is because it is ALL. UP. HILL.
  2. There is a strong possibility that once you make it to the top, it may be so foggy to a point where you don’t get to see the volcano erupt, let alone any of the views that are up there.

You could potentially do the hike for no damn reason. We were told at the start of the hike that it was raining and it was foggy….but there was hopes it would clear up. We remained optimistic. Ten minutes into the hike and I’m wondering what the hell I got myself into. I’m sweating, I’m breathing hard, my legs are already on fire. It’s miserable. Due to the fog, there were NO views of anything.

It’s a 5 hour straight up hike. So we stop every 30 minutes for a 10 minute break. During our lunch hour, we would have had views of six different volcanoes at once, but again….NO VIEWS.

Six hours later, and we finally make it to the top aka our campsite. We set up shop and congratulate one another by drinking some beers and sharing some whiskey.

IT IS FREEZING. Literally. The wind was horrible. It was a little frightening on the way up because there were points you were so close to the edge, and the wind was so strong, you thought it was going to blow you right off.

Our tour guides made us dinner and hot chocolate, and thanked my translation services by providing me a shot and a beer. We could hear Volcan de Fuego roaring in the distance and every so often, the clouds would clear and a view of it erupting would cast its light towards us. We all oooed and ahhhed every time it happened.

5 roasted marshmallows and 3 hot chocolates with whiskey later, and I was ready for bed. I set my alarm for midnight. Since it was Christmas Eve, rumor had it Antigua….including all of the surrounding cities, let off fireworks at midnight. The volcano was the best seat in the house. Everyone in the tent said they wanted me to wake them up. Out of 8 people, only one other person got up with me. It was amazing. Photos couldn’t do it justice. I was freezing and miserable but in such awe of what was happening around me. It was as if the sky below me was lit up with thousands of tiny stars. Colorful ones.

I set my alarm for 4am because the hike was not quite over yet. We had the summit to reach. It was our last stretch until we reached the victorious top to see Volcan de Fuego and its eruptions. Some chose not to go but let’s face it, you came this far….why stop now? Headlamps out, full clothing on, this grueling 45 minutes was the worst hike I’ve ever done. Not so much the hike itself, which was extremely steep, not so much the cold, which was very cold….but the wind. I had to push my body against the wind and with every step forward, I took two steps backwards. Alas, we made it to the top. This is what we saw.

I was disheartened and disappointed, as the rest of the group was…but proud of my accomplishment at the same time. We started to make our way back to the campsite and that’s when I realized…what goes up must come down. My Nike running shoes couldn’t cut it. Instead of falling on the random sharp rocks, I decided to slide down. It’s a volcano, mostly ash, rock, and gravel anyway. I completely ruined my pants. Our tour guides began to cook us breakfast and that’s when it happened….the fog cleared up.

We finally got our views. Happy campers, we made our way back down and took in all the views we had missed the day before.

It took us 2 hours to get down ( I slid about 3/4 of the way) and since it was a much prettier day than the day before, there were a lot more groups coming up that volcano. We yelled out words of encouragement and while I was so happy and thankful I completed this journey….it’s one of those things where you’re happy you did it once, but can’t really say you’ll do it again. It will forever stand out as a Christmas for the books.

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