Hiking Acatenango

I'm gonna skip some stuff and post a bit about my volcano hike in Guatemala, because it was a really cool experience. When I was in Honduras I had heard a few good things from other backpackers about this hike. It’s a 2 day, 1 night type thing where you camp up near the top and then wake up early to hit the summit the following morning. It sounded right up my alley. So from Honduras I had to get to Antigua, which is another cool colonial city, and basically the tourism heart of Guatemala. I took a shuttle bus from the Mayan ruins at Copan in Honduras and ended up a hostel someone had recommended. So I spent one day wandering around Antigua's cobblestone streets, markets, coffee shops and so on. I also stopped in on of the tour offices that offer the Acantengo trip, and they had a group going the next morning. Sign me up!

 Antigua   

Antigua

 


We met that evening at 5:00 to go over the details. It was a pretty standard group trip, we had a guide, but no porters (unless you wanted to pay more), tents and meals would be provided, we just had to split up the camping and cooking supplies among us to carry. They had extra cold weather gear to use, as most of us weren’t expecting to encounter many near freezing conditions in Central America! There were 9 people in the group, all early 20’s to early thirties, in pretty good shape, and surprisingly all native English speakers. It looked like a good group!

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We met up at 6am the next morning, stopped for breakfast, jumped in the van for a bit, and then hopped out at the trailhead. The sun was gone, the wind was blowing, and everyone was throwing on layers! Of course 20 minutes of hard uphill hiking and some sun, and those layers were all back off again. It was fairly tough hiking, all uphill, but the weather was pleasant and the pace was moderate, so I was enjoying it. We took our lunch break about three hours in, our premade sandwiches that we had crammed into our bags. Surprisingly tasty though! About an hour an a half later we started getting up above the tree line, where views over several hundred kilometers of the Guatemala landscape could be seen, as well as Volcan Agua, which is the one that dominates Antigua’s skyline. Although apparently you would have to be an idiot to hike it, as you’ll most likely get everything on you stolen. But they say this one is safe!

 

After a bit more hiking we could see Volcan Fuego come into view, which is the one that erupts several times a day. Apparently last week it really went off, causing an ashy haze to hang over Antigua and Guatemala city, cancelling many flights. Supposedly the people on our same trip, on that night, had some incredible views! So after another hour and a half of hiking we hit our campsite, a nice gravelly shelf, which looks perfectly over Fuego. It really is one of the coolest places to camp I’ve ever been. Within 15 minutes or so everyone was on their feet to watch as a Fuego erupted, a nice black, billowing cloud of ash.

 the first eruption we saw

the first eruption we saw

 

 We settled in and watched as the sun slowly crept around the other side of the volcano. In between that time and sunset, Fuego would go off another three or four times. It was pretty damn cool. As it got dark we got the fire started, our guide got the veg curry going, and we got the boxed wine flowing. Lot’s insults to each other’s respective countries were dished around! (UK, Canada, and Australia). The food curry was really good and we had roasted marshmallows for dessert.

 volcan agua

volcan agua

 

Now when it gets dark it’s really impressive to see the volcano eruptions because you can actually see the lava spewing out of the top. A little bit after dinner we saw one such eruption! It was just a small one, but nonetheless it was the first time I had seen actual lava in person. After a while we didn’t see any more action and a couple of people started heading back to the tents. Those of us remaining were rewarded with one more eruption, this one much bigger, which was amazing. Then it was time for bed as wakeup was at 4:30am!

 someone else's cool photo of Fuego erupting at night

someone else's cool photo of Fuego erupting at night


It was an especially long night for me as I had forgone the complimentary foam sleeping pad for my inflatable air mat, which had somehow been punctured. So I was getting a really good feel for those little rocks underneath me. After a night of rotating body positions like a rotisserie chicken, I was relieved when our guide finally stopped by our tent and told us it was time to get up. Eventually everyone stumbled out of their tents and we were on the move through the darkness. This path was very steep and was filled with lots of volcanic rocks, so every step forward you took, you would slide back down a bit. I was feeling good though, and about an hour later some others and myself were at the summit with a panoramic view that reached all the way to the Pacific. We just needed the sun to get up soon because it was freezing!

 strollin

strollin

 finishing up the rim run

finishing up the rim run

 running down

running down

 

Soon enough the sun was coming up over the horizon and we had a pretty good view of course. I didn’t know this going in, but our guide was telling us that if we ran around the crater rim without stopping, which has plenty of ups and downs and is sitting at an elevation of 3,300m (10,000ft), then we would get a free t-shirt. At first I didn’t do it, but after seeing the first 3 people attempt it fail, I felt compelled to give it a shot. It’s much harder than it looks! But after 5 minutes of pretty slow jogging up and down the hills, and the straight uphill bit at the end, I made it successfully without stopping and collected my super awesome free t-shirt later. Now it was time to head back down, which was a lot of fun! Because it’s all loose gravel, you can basically just run down, so the hike from camp that took us over an hour was reduced to less than 15 minutes! We ate some bagels and had some coffee, packed up our gear, and then headed back down to the trailhead. The trail was mostly dirt and sand, so it was a breeze. Three of us and the guide had a race down to finish, as you could basically run the whole last part also, which was a fun way to finish up the hike! We bought some beers for the bus ride down, went to lunch in town, and after that I went back to hostel to pass out for a couple hours because I was absolutely wrecked! And that was my Acatenango hike. If you’re ever in Antigua, I highly recommend it!

 the last (and largest) eruption we saw before heading back down

the last (and largest) eruption we saw before heading back down