Who hasn’t ever dreamt about climbing a volcano and catch sunrise after a long, painful and rewarding hike, facing the elements?
If a two-day trek climbing a 4000m high volcano from bottom to top, enjoying some of the most stunning landscapes ever seen attracts you, this article is made for you! Being alone facing an active volcano spitting lava, breathing fresh air doing a BBQ 3500m high was definitely one of the best experiences of my life.
I spent a week in Guatemala and was planning to climb a volcano over there, however, I was overwhelmed by the number of tourists around; hiking about 15h with a group up to 12 westerners was definitely not in my plans, so I did it my way. As a regular traveller, I always go local: local food, local hosts, local transportation, and of course, local tips. In the end, I was hosted by Lilian, spent sometimes with her family, and guided by Jairo on my way to the summit. They were both amazing and so happy to tell me about their country. Last but not least, Jairo has been climbing the volcano every week for 15 years and knows it perfectly well, he will take you through passes and camping spots away from the crowd!
Btw there are direct flights to Guatemala city from New York, Miami, Panama City and a few other major cities. This is the perfect escapade for a long weekend! Here is what I advise you to do:
Acatenango Volcano Information
Departure place: Guatemala City
Arrival place: Guatemala City
Length: Coming to Guatemala, you will most likely land in Guatemala City; if you come overland, you will probably end up there too as this is the main bus hub of the country. Keep going, I didn’t like it that much, this is a random big Latin-American metropolis, nothing exciting to see over there.
Head to Antigua Guatemala, a beautiful colourful colonial city surrounded by volcanos and former capital of the country, 50km west (1h). Count 3 days if you arrive in Guatemala City on the morning, 4 days otherwise, 5 days if you decide to relax in Antigua Guatemala on the way back.
You have a bunch of volcanos around (Agua, Antigua, etc.), Acatenango is not the closest nor it is the easiest to access, however, it is the highest and the only one facing an active volcano erupting dark smoke and lava every 40min! Locals say it is the jewels of the country, as is Atitlan Lake.
Budget (December 2016)
All prices in Quetzales, the national currency: 1 USD = 7,50 Quetzales, 1€ = 8 Quetzales.
- To the Acatenango
- Bus Guatemala City to Antigua, every hour, bus station downtown: 40
- Bed in Antigua (random youth hostel): about 100
- Bus to La Soledad (down the volcano), every hour: 10
- Bed in La Soledad (Lilian’s place): about 50
- Trek itself
- Guide for the trek (Jairo): 300. Fix rate, you can be with friends for the same price. He will supply coffee, look for wood and set the fire.
- Gloves and cap: 10 each
- Sleeping bag: 20
- Water (2L purified water): 8
- Food (sandwich, a lot of cereal, meat for the BBQ): 50
- Tent, mattress, jackets: I would say 100 (but I brought mine)
- Back from the Acatenango:
- Back to La Soledad around 12 pm noon, you can go back to Antigua and then Guatemala City the same day, in that case, 50.
Total: 600-700 Quetzales, about 90 USD (alone), 70 USD (not alone).
Things to Bring and/or Rent
What you must bring along and cannot rent:
- Good trekking shoes: don’t go with runners, this is dusty and very steep
- Water: Lots of water, at least 5L per person, no spring at all during the trek
- Good physical condition: around 10h up, 6h down, 2000m positive elevation, some people might experience height sickness above 3500m, drink a lot. Calm down, my mum is 63 and she made it to the top!
What you should bring but can rent:
- Warm sleeping bag: can go down zero at night
- Light tent and air mattress
- Waterproof Lamp: on day 2, you wake up at 4 am to reach the top for sunrise
- Warm jacket, gloves and cap
What you may want to bring:
- Powerpack: no electric plugs during 2 to 3 days
- Offline maps Google Maps and/or me if you want to see the track you’re going through
- Google Skymaps: except the eruptions, the sky at night is just crystal clear, you will see starts you’ve never seen before. This app is the best to spot constellations. (Download on iOS, Andriod)
For that price, expect no comfort, no hot shower, no western-style food, chicken buses and no wifi! Plan and book in advance, guides and locals, in general, have internet only once or twice a week when they go down in the valley.
- If you don’t feel like carrying a 10+ kg backpack all the way, you can have it carried by a Sherpa, they will charge you 200 each way.
- You might consider renting a car if you’re 3 or more, more expensive but much easier and flexible.
- Avoid going on weekends, you will have a lot of locals climbing the volcano
- Take a lot of cash with you, you won’t find any ATM outside big cities. USD are fine everywhere if you don’t have Quetzales, be ready to bargain on the exchange rate though…
- People have very basic English, if you do have the notion of Spanish it is a big added value to your cultural experience.
- Bargain, bargain, bargain, especially if you’re a gringo (nickname for white-skin Westerners), Guatemalans always substantially increase prices with tourists.
Best guide in town: Jairo Obed Equila, has some English notions
Phone: +508.59.19.91.21 Try to call, otherwise send an SMS.
Facebook: Jairo Obed Equila (online like once a week, no WhatsApp)
Best host in town: Lilian Quino Morales
+508.47.00.70.31, has a very basic of English. Try to call, otherwise, send an SMS.
No Facebook, no WhatsApp
If for some reason you don’t manage to contact them, or in case they can’t help you, stick to the plan and head to La Soledad (village down the volcano), there are a bunch of other hosts and guides.
Travelling expensively has changed me, even shaped me in a way. Today, I am very keen to share this experience with people, from all backgrounds: people willing to start travelling, or doing it even more often, wiser or in a more sustainable way. I have received more help, friendships and kindness that I would have expected. For me, this series is a way for me to give back, to help people in return, to inspire beginners.