After spending a few days roaming the vibrant colonial streets of Antigua, hidden in the shadow of the imposing Volcan de Agua, it was time to move on from lounging atop Cerro de la cruz and travel to La Soledad, the starting point of a fairly strenuous overnight Volcano hike.
Acatenango is a popular choice from the 28 volcanoes littered across the Guatemalan landscape for several reasons. One of which is its proximity to the currently active Fuego. On a clear night you are almost guaranteed to witness the extrusion of viscous lava flows having been consistently active for the past 15 years.
When you start thinking about planning your ascent, you should consider the different options available to you depending on both budget and the degree of effort you are willing to put into the excursion.
You can simply book onto an organised tour, available at most of the hostels and tour agencies in Antigua. It will set you back around $50-$80 depending on what is included and your bartering skills of course. Aim for the lower end and don’t believe the promises of superior food and tents, you’ll end up on in the same group as those who paid half the price with no added extras except lighter pockets. Typically your group will consist of two or three guides and 15-20 other tourists. Your food will be included and the guides will make a bonfire at the campsite besides which you can easily spend your night admiring the view (and the heat).
A cheaper and perhaps slightly more authentic experience is to make your way to La Soledad by bus, leaving at 2pm from San Pedro Yepocapa each day. It will get you to the small village at the base of the volcano in the evening so you’ll need to pitch your tent there for the night before setting off in the early hours. You can find many local guides who have vast experience in the climb offering to escort you for as little as 100-200 quetzals for your whole group, even if you are only two. A steal in comparison to $50 per person in a large group. You also have the added benefit of setting the pace and can have your pick of the routes.
If you are feeling really adventurous then you can climb alone, it is definitely possible using GPS but there have been reports of robberies and without a local guide you are a prime target. It is important to bear in mind that the ideal time to reach the summit is for sunrise, roughly 6am depending on the time of year. You will have to hike the final two hours in the dark and it could be a steep fall if you take the wrong path. So whilst I am a big advocate for solo exploring, having a local guide has its benefits, plus you are supporting the local economy.
The hike itself can be pretty tough but manageable for anyone with a reasonable amount of fitness. Taking spare clothes is advisable; you’re likely to sweat through a set in the heat on the lower slopes and you’ll want warm dry clothes to shelter from the wind chill when you set up camp at 3300m.
If you are planning to climb Fuego instead, you are best camping in the col between the two volcanoes.
If you have picked one of the latter two options and you find the weather is not behaving in your favour, learn from the terrible fate of 6 hikers in January of this year, whose bodies were found in a rescue mission following a high pressure system which caused plummeting temperatures.
Don’t let this put you off, the hike is safe if there is an adequate degree of planning and attention is paid to the weather forecast.
The views are certainly worth it.