Climb Volcán Acatenango yourself for two dollars
published jul 15th, 2015
One of the most striking geographical features in Guatemala is the chain of volcanoes that go all the way from Mexico to El Salvador, forming the geographical backbone of the country. At 3,976m, Acatenango is the 3rd highest of these, and being conveniently situated near to Antigua, makes it a very possible little adventure.
The view of Volcán Fuego from Volcán Acatenango
If you book a tour in Antigua, it will cost you about $70, but this guide will explain how to do it practically for free. It's possible to do the hike in a day, but camping overnight is recommended, as at the time of writing (June 2015) Acatenango's twin volcano Fuego was continuously erupting, making for pretty spectacular fireworks (you cannot see the lava during the day, but at night it glows a strong red).
You can either catch a chicken bus directly from Antigua to Yepocapa, and ask to get off in Soledad (this should cost less than 10Q), or catch a bus to Parramos (3-5Q), and from there wait for a chicken bus or jump in the back of a pickup (5Q) again to Soledad.
Hitching a ride to Acatenango
There are basic shops and a guest house in the village, and also local guides can be hired for around 100Q if you would like. This is the last point where you can get food or water, so make sure you're stocked up for the hike.
The temperature at the top is a lot colder than at the base, so make sure you bring warm and preferably windproof/waterproof clothes (when we climbed in June, the temperature dropped close to zero in the night).
A variety of forest types can be seen on the climb up Acatenango
We met people who took 3 hours to go up and others who took 7 hours, the air is thin as you near the top, making it harder than you expect, so bring a little extra food and water for what you're planning. Walking boots are not essential, but are recommended.
The trail starts a few hundred metres before S* beside the cemetery, and is very clear due to the hundreds of foreign and Guatemalan tourists who climb the volcano each week. The only point that you could go wrong following the trail is at a very obvious T-junction amongst the corn fields about 30-45 minutes into the walk, where you should go left. The path then zig-zags up the mountain working it's way through three different “life zones” - a rain forest, a cloud forest and a pine and sub-alpine forest. The trees and plants are incredible, and there are information boards in both Spanish and English at strategic rest points along the path. Also the views looking out towards Volcan de Atitlán in the north are amazing at some points, although until you get over 3100m you remain in dense forest. The path was in wonderful condition when I climbed.
A clouded morning view from the top of Acatenango
As the trees thin out and you approach the top, you will be confronted with another fork in the path. This will be clear due to the prepared camping spots around, and if it's clear you should have a view through the trees towards Volcan de Atitlan, and you will finally be able to see the Acatenango's peak.
Myself and the beautiful scenery from the top of Acatenango
The path straight on (which initially descends) will lead you to a popular camping spot overlooking Fuego (where you can get some wonderful views of lava at night). The path to the left (which climbs) will take you up to the peak. If you want to camp out of the wind, it's better to stay either near this junction, or in the spot overlooking Fuego.
The nighttime spectacle of Fuego's eruption
When going up from the junction you will shortly leave the forest, bringing you in between Acatenango's twin peaks (there are a few camp spots here). The main peak is on your right, and has two main paths leading to the summit. When at the summit you have a wonderful panoramic view in all directions, with special mention to Volcan de Agua (over Antigua) and Fuego. It's possible to camp in the shallow crater on the top as well. To descend you follow the same path back down, marveling once again in the views and forests.