Day start to volcano hike up Acatenango in Antigua
Max’s alarm clock rings at four-thirty. From five on, he’s on the phone. This is also part of the life of a digital nomad. I’m already completely wiped out.
We booked our hike with a hostel in Antigua. Meeting point is there at 8:00 in the morning. At just before eight we shoulder our backpacks and walk to our tour provider. First we have breakfast. There are pancakes with fruit and syrup and an egg. I don’t know who eats egg before going on a mountain. In my opinion, it’s not the best start. Two vegans at our table get the same breakfast only without egg.
After the meal there is the possibility to borrow equipment in the entrance hall. There are shoes, backpacks, jackets, hats and scarves. Three parts are available for $2. Accordingly, many of the clothes look battered. I get myself a jacket, gloves and a hat.
After that, we are divided into two minibuses. Our group consists of about twenty people.
We drive along a country road for about three quarters of an hour before we drive up a gravel road and stop.
There is a wooden house. There is also a small outdoor seating area and an outhouse.
The start of the volcano hike up Acatenango.
Lunches are distributed then we get a short briefing. Our three guides do not speak a word of English. Another traveler does the interpreting. Max and I are apparently the oldest in the group – only one of the guides is older, probably in his mid-sixties and up. The rest of the group consists mainly of Australians, Belgians and Dutch. However, there are also two other Germans.
As we go the clouds around the volcano clear up and give views of an imposing and especially very high mountain.
The path starts quite leisurely the first meters. We run a grassy dirt road along. This becomes only slowly steeper and always a little sandier..
After the first stop, things really get going. It goes up a steep sandy piece of trail. You slide a little deeper with each step and some in the group also slide away completely. Already here the first muscles start to burn.
The first paragraph takes about an hour. Then there is a short break at the official ticket booth. By now, faces are red and breathing is difficult. Already over this first stretch the group has separated widely. The vegetation here consists of dense forest between which the clouds hang. it looks pretty, but feels a bit clammy.
Continues. In the next section, the ground becomes moderately firmer. There are always steps that make walking a little easier. There are still occasional conversations, but these gradually fade away between the huffing and puffing.
The first view from Acatenango to the Agua
Then the vegetation becomes thinner and thinner and for the first time there is a great view. We are now above the clouds and see in front of us the top of Agua, the volcano right next to Antigua. It is asleep at the moment and only its top peeks through the clouds as a brown cone.
To celebrate the view, we have lunch. The group leaving just as we arrive had tortillas with frijoles and guacamole warmed over the fire. For us, there is only burrito from the packed lunch, plus a muffin and an apple juice from the hydration pack. But that’s all I could eat right now anyway. A gentleman on the spot sells YumYum soups for 15 Queztal. Max who is still hungry affords himself one.
Then it goes on. Serpentine, after serpentine, after serpentine we torment ourselves almost endlessly up the mountain. It is no fun. Two girls from the group get lost at some point along with a guide and actually it is only curiosity about the volcano that drives us up the mountain.
At some point I get a slight headache and Max also speaks up that he is not doing so well. We are now at over three thousand meters, so I do not attach much importance to the whole thing. We have all drunk too little today anyway. In the meantime, the rest of the group is also enthusiastically exchanging tablets against altitude sickness .
A little later, the path becomes noticeably flatter. It now goes around the mountain. We walk past ash fields and over boulders. partly it goes beside the path some dozens of meters steeply or also straight downhill. A wrong step would be fatal here. Fortunately, the path is quite usable.
The volcano camp at Acatenango
Then finally we see the Fuego. Just now he is still sleeping, but just before we reach the camp he spits out a small cloud of smoke.
The camp consists of three tents that are tightly packed with cots . There is also a small board shack for the guides and a campfire area.
A few meters off there is a loo house. A little further off, there is another large tent with its own barbecue area. Except for another small two-person tent, there is then also nothing more here.
For the first while after arriving, I just sit and stare at the mountain, which coughs up a little cloud every few minutes . Behind the clouds, the sun is just setting, bathing everything in a beautiful orange light.
High altitude sickness on Acatenango
Max, however, is not doing well at all. He is extremely pale and complains of a headache. We make ourselves a pack of electrolytes against the exhaustion. Shortly after, Max throws up for the first time. I try to get him to drink more, but at the moment he can’t keep anything down. He lies down in the tent to ease his circulation and takes pills against altitude sickness and nausea. But instead of feeling better, he feels worse. He stillhas to throw up several times, gets chills and the headaches also increase.
The sun has almost completely set by now. Now you can easily see the glow in the ash of the fuego that rolls red down the slopes with each eruption.
Max is in the condition by now that he says he just wants to get down and back to the hotel. I consult with the help of another German in the group, who interprets with the guides, and their point of view by now is also: If it goes on like this all night, Max won’t make it off the mountain tomorrow under his own power.
Nightly descent from Acatenango volcano
The oldest guide tells us that he will take us down. Barely two hours after arriving on the mountain, we are already setting off again. Just as we leave the camp it rumbles behind us and through the trees I see how the mountain spits the largest fountain of lava so far. The whole summit glows bright red. I would love to sit there and take pictures. But Max is barely responsive right now. We urgently need to move on.
Our guide is great. He points out and on all dangerous and slippery place. Always tries to motivate us or makes a lot of effort to keep us happy with small talk. He himself used to be a vegetable grower. He has been doing the tour once a week for two years now. One more year he will do it, then it will be too exhausting for him.
The descent is torture. My legs are shaking with exertion, I am dog-tired and exhausted. Max runs pale as a sheet on autopilot. More than once he stumbles in the soft volcanic ash. Fortunately, he doesn’t hurt himself.
The most surreal moment during our descent from Acatenango
As we take a short rest, we meet a group of young Guatemalans who are walking up the mountain to see the sunrise over the volcano tomorrow. They briefly consult with our guide where is the best place to pitch their tents. Then they want to take selfies with us.It’s so surreal, I couldn’t make something like this up even if I wanted to. So we sit in the middle of the night on the verge of collapse in some shelter at nearly three thousand meters above sea level on a sleeping volcano in Guatemala and grin slightly suffering into some smartphone. As a thank you, the young men each give us a caramel.
Somehow we come down from this mountain. It’s more the fact that we have no choice but to keep going, but condition or will.
After the descent from Acatenango
Down at the mountain hut I am so exhausted that I can barely keep on my feet Can. A resident of the mountain hut drives us for four hundred Quetzal back to Antigua. Completely overpriced compared to the usual cab prices, but we are no longer in the mood to negotiate.
Max falls asleep as soon as we get in the car. I just feel nauseous right now. I navigate the car to our hotel. It takes three quarters of an hour to get there, and more than once I’m on the verge of throwing up.
Then we are finally there, pay and drag ourselves exhausted into the room. We take off our shoes in front of it. They are so dusty that a small cloud of ash rises as we take them off. Our socks are worn through and holey. My feet are black.
We stagger into the shower and wash off the dirt and sweat of the volcano hike. Then we fall into bed and fall asleep almost instantly.
Conclusion: the hike up Acatenango.
The hike up Acatenanago is definitely an experience. However, don’t underestimate how physically demanding it is. Don’t go too fast at the beginning of the day, but pace yourself and drink enough along the way.
Do not start the hike if, like us, you are notacclimatized to the altitude. To do this, it is best to stay in Antigua for a week or even higher before the hike.
Don’t underestimate the damage that lack of oxygen can do to your brain. If you smoke, you should refrain from doing so during the hike, as you will further reduce your oxygen intake.
Have fun and enjoy your time on the summit. We have our sights set on coming back again sometime as well.
- 65€ p.p. for the tour
- 45€ for the taxi
- 1,50€ for a YumYum soup
- Min 3L water for own consumption, rather more (Ask before if you have to give water for cooking on top, if yes take at least 4L per person! )
- Rain protection
- Light sports clothes and warm clothes
- Sturdy shoes
- Tablets against altitude sickness